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Mr. William Cash (Stone): Are we to understand from the rather delicate way in which this has been expressed that the recommendation that the Speaker be under no obligation to give precedence to Privy Councillors implies that Privy Councillors have, in the past, perhaps had a rather undue share of the cake in terms of the length of time allocated for speaking in the House? It has been rather difficult to understand why people who have had a lengthy career, but who have not necessarily illuminated the House during that career, should get the biggest share of the time.

Mrs. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman has illuminated the House with the reasons for the change. That is why I said that it was one of the more welcome changes we have proposed. There are one or two Privy Councillors who have some reservations, but many others think that it is a reasonable change.

I hope that the House will accept the principle that all Members are equal, and that we all have an equal right to be considered to speak in any debate. It is a fact that some Privy Councillors will receive priority in certain debates because of specific roles that they occupy. For example, they might be the Chair of a specific Select Committee, which might mean that they receive preference in a particular debate. However, they should not get automatic preference just because they are Privy Councillors.

The second point in terms of proposals that do not require a change to Standing Orders is the old practice of banning direct quotations from speeches made in the House of Lords in a current Session of Parliament. We recommend that that should be abolished, and it is right that we should be able to quote whomever we wish without fear of being pulled up.

The third recommendation concerns how we behave in the House. Members who are here for a debate should be here at the beginning, should listen to others who speak, should stay after speaking, unless they have compelling reasons not to, and should certainly reappear for the winding-up speeches. On many recent occasions, it has been brought to the attention of the House that Members have not obeyed the usual courtesies of debate and have not listened to the speeches of others. Members who fail to observe the normal conventions of the House should not expect to get priority in being called to speak in future.

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We have suggested that the Speaker should indicate to Members that that will be the case if they do not observe courtesies that should be obvious to any Member who is genuinely interested in a debate. Madam Speaker has indicated that she is "fully sympathetic" to that idea, although, understandably, she does not want to be placed under an absolute obligation to write to every Member on every minor transgression. We can leave it to the Speaker's discretion.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish): In discussions around the building over the past fortnight, I have become aware that many Members do not appreciate that recommendation, but it is one of the best to come from the Committee. It is extremely discourteous to expect other people to listen to our speeches, but to fail to return to the Chamber to listen to others. Can my right hon. Friend give any hint of how such matters willbe quickly made known to Members so that the recommendation is enforced?

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend raises a genuine point. We sometimes assume that every Member reads every Select Committee report--including those of the Modernisation Committee--and every line of Hansard. That may not be the case. There will be occasions on which Madam Speaker will wish to draw points to the attention of Members; on other occasions, the Whips will wish to do so. Members who are not presentfor winding-up speeches cannot expect Ministers automatically to respond to their points. A combination of those factors may lead Members to understand the reasons for the conventions. They are simple courtesies, and, if a Member is genuinely interested in a debate, they are the least that can be expected.

Our fourth recommendation relates to the absolute ban on direct quotations in supplementary questions. We recommend that it be lifted, although, as we have said, the Speaker should not hesitate to stop lengthy questions. The fact that a Member is quoting is no excuse for making a question unduly long. I am sure that Madam Speaker will not hesitate to act when necessary.

We recommend a new procedure for raising points of order during a Division. At present, we have the opera hat, and, although some Members may feel that they look particularly fetching in it, it makes the House of Commons look ridiculous when someone wearing the hat is trying to raise a point of order from a seated position while everyone else is milling around and going to vote.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The point is that everyone is milling around. If we must get rid of the opera hat, there must be some means by which a Member can indicate in the melee that he or she wishes to make a point of order.

Mrs. Taylor: We dealt with that point in the report by suggesting that Members, having indicated to the Clerk or the Chair that they wish to make a point of order, should be able to do so. We suggest that a Member should do so from a position on the second Bench, as close as possible to the Chair and the Clerks' Table so that he or she can be heard by the Chair and by the Official Report without obstructing the movement of Members to the Lobby. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to be sure

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that Members will still be able, in rare circumstances, to make points of order, but we have offered an alternative that might be used.

Mr. Bennett: I accept that it is difficult to make a point of order during a Division. When we put the hat on, most of the rest of the House is amused by our appearance. However, although having a special place to stand is perfectly all right for the person making the point of order, it often happens that once a Member has made a point claiming that something is absolutely outrageous, another Member wants to rebut it quickly. If one is standing in the far corner, it will not be easy, after hearing a point of order, to rush to the second Bench to make a point.

Mrs. Taylor: It is not for other Members to rebut points of order, but for the Speaker.

If we adopt the new procedure, what should happen to the top hats that have been in the Chamber until now? I understand that we have two hats here normally. Perhaps one could be displayed in our archive near the old annunciator downstairs. I am sure that many Members would like the other as a souvenir, but I do not think it best to do that with it. Perhaps we should find a way to raise money for charity by disposing of the hat. Perhaps Madam Speaker could give some thought to that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): We could put it in the Dome.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend makes an intriguing suggestion, and I will convey it to my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio. Wherever the hat goes, we will make sure that any money raised is used for a very good purpose.

The Committee also recommended a couple of simple administrative changes. First, the constituency as well as the name of the Member who has the Floor should be displayed on the annunciators that are visible throughout the Palace of Westminster. That simple change would be of assistance, as would our second suggestion, that details of proposed time limits on speeches should be put out to Members on the annunciator and the PDVN.

Madam Speaker has made it clear that she sees


but she adds:


    "Equally, however, there will be occasions when I am not in a position to do so."

That relates to whether Members inform the Speaker early enough that they wish to speak in a debate. Sometimes, Members inform her office rather late in the day, and it would not be possible at, say, 1 pm to indicate that a decision had been taken. Madam Speaker has undertaken to use her "best endeavours" to provide such information, and the House should accept her offer. If Members give the Speaker better notice of a wish to speak, it will be more likely that they will get a warning that a time limit has been placed on debate.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way.

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Does the Modernisation Committee acknowledge that its recommendation threatens the spontaneity of debate in the House? I have always thought that one of the points of having debates in the Commons was that Members could listen to speeches and then feel moved to seek to catch the Speaker's eye. Does the Leader of the House accept that to oblige us all to write in advance, before we have heard the debate, could stultify the process and kill off the spontaneity of debate that I hope the House still treasures?

Mrs. Taylor: If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the spontaneity of debate, I hope that he will support the suggestions on interventions, time limits and injury time that I am about to move on to. They are critical if we are to ensure that debates are more spontaneous.

Time limits can apply at the moment. If they are to apply, and Madam Speaker can make an early decision on the matter, it is reasonable that hon. Members who wish to speak know that that is the case so that they can prepare a 10 or 15-minute speech, rather than thinking that they have the time to make a long speech and having to curtail it at the last moment. If there are to be time limits, surely there is nothing wrong in informing Members that that is to be the case.


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