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HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked--

Braithwaite Report

42. Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what progress the Commission has made on the implementation of the Braithwaite report. [141606]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): Considerable progress has been made since the debate in the House on 20 January 2000. The Commission thereafter appointed an implementation manager to carry forward the implementation of the report's principal recommendations on an agreed timetable. Two reports detailing the steps taken have been made to the Commission and both are posted on the parliamentary intranet.

Mrs. Fitzsimons: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Is he aware of the frustration felt by many hon. Members who speak to him privately about the progress being made by the Commission, post-Braithwaite? Will he consider alternative mechanisms that would facilitate the greater efficiency, transparency and accountability that Braithwaite was meant to bring to the work of the commissioners?

Mr. Kirkwood: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Lady for her interest in the matter. I share her frustration and I understand that hon. Members in all parts of the House are perplexed about the way in which the place works. The Braithwaite Commission dealt more with strategic planning, effective management and financial control than anything else, but I detect a view in all parts of the House that some of the issues should be taken forward as soon as possible. Once we see the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body, which is expected in February, I shall be willing to meet informally--possibly it would be best to do so in concert with my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), who is the Chairman of the Finance And Services Committee--with some of the hon. Lady's colleagues to find out the views of Back-Bench Members and help them to achieve their own ends.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to read the Information Committee report on computerisation for hon. Members? Has he noted that the rules of the House, which bind the Commission as well, prevent us from using efficiently the tens of millions of pounds that are being wasted on information technology in this place?

Mr. Kirkwood: The issue is before the Commission, particularly the way in which the departments of the House are acquiring their own IT equipment. We shall consider that as part of the Audit Committee process in the near future. The Senior Salaries Review Body is

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examining Members' services. I counsel hon. Members to wait for the report in February before we take any further steps.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

The President of the Council was asked--

Modernisation Committee

43. Gillian Merron (Lincoln): If she will make a statement on the proposals she plans to bring forward to the Modernisation Committee. [141607]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The Modernisation Committee has proposed radical changes in relation to programming and deferred Divisions, which it will want to evaluate in due course. I understand that the Committee is likely to consider matters such as the use of laptops in Committee Rooms in the near future.

Gillian Merron: I welcome the steps that have been taken so far towards the more efficient running of Parliament, which many of my constituents are looking to us to achieve.

I emphasise the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny. Can we look forward to more Bills coming to the House in better shape before we debate them?

Mr. Tipping: One of the more important recommendations of the Modernisation Committee acknowledges that pre-legislative scrutiny can be helpful. It enables us to obtain responses from outside the House, and provides the opportunity for Select Committees to examine draft legislation. The Queen's Speech contained a number of draft Bills. I hope that we can all benefit from such scrutiny and become more efficient as a result of it.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I wish to follow up the answer that the Minister has just given on the scope of the work of the Select Committees. Can the Modernisation Committee look again at the remit of the Select Committees? Several are not linked to Departments, which means that they can be very effective in crossing the boundaries between departmental interests. We should not have to wait until Whitehall sorts itself out. Pre-legislative scrutiny, in a general sense, was carried out in the preparation of the rural White Paper. A holistic approach was taken in that case, and there should be a holistic Select Committee to scrutinise it.

Mr. Tipping: The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Modernisation Committee, and pursues several of these matters vigorously. I make two points to him. The Select Committees have many powers, and are in a position to use them more widely. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that on some occasions Select Committees can meet jointly to examine issues, such as the rural and urban White Papers, that cross departmental boundaries.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): Given the answer that my hon. Friend the Minister has just given

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about the use of laptops in Committee Rooms, would it be beneficial if the House set up one electronic Committee Room, with links to the parliamentary intranet? Such a Committee Room could also provide the means for electronic voting, which would allow us to see how it could operate on a wider basis.

Mr. Tipping: My hon. Friend is an influential member of the Chairmen's Panel and has great knowledge of these matters. The Modernisation Committee has considered that issue, and I shall draw its attention to his remarks.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Can the hon. Gentleman understand what an affront it is that a Select Committee of the House dealing with matters relating to the Standing Orders and procedures of the House is chaired by--and questions such as those that we have heard this afternoon are answered by--a member of the Executive? Is it not an affront that last Session's sessional report on the Minutes of Proceedings of the Modernisation Committee--a riveting and very quick read for those looking for last-minute stocking fillers, at only £3.40--gives the dates of the Committee's sittings, the names of those who attended and then simply says, "The Committee deliberated"? The following month's minutes also state, "The Committee deliberated", as do the minutes for all the sittings.

Is it not an affront not only to the House but to our democracy that such a Committee is run by the Executive and that the Executive answers for it and produces this kind of a report? Should such a Committee not be in the hands of Back-Bench Members?

Mr. Tipping: I must say that I had hoped for something a little more exciting in my Christmas stocking.

The Modernisation Committee introduces proposals, and consists of hon. Members from both sides of the House. We have had vigorous, stimulating and--dare I say it--lengthy debates about the Committee's report. At the end of the day, these are matters for the House to decide.

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PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

The President of the Council was asked--

British Indian Ocean Territories

44. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If she will propose the establishment of a Select Committee to consider Britain's relationship with the British Indian Ocean Territories. [141608]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The matter is already within the remit of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Dalyell: Given the documents that were revealed under the 30 years rule at Kew--which I brought to the attention of my hon. Friend--as well as the court documents, is my hon. Friend at all shocked by the cynical lying to the House of Commons by the Governments of Harold Wilson and of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath)? Are we simply to shrug our shoulders and say that that does not matter very much? If there is not to be a Select Committee, how should the matter be pursued? Or should the House of Commons just accept cynical lying?

Mr. Tipping: Of course it matters. My hon. Friend has pursued these matters vigorously since 1967; I believe that he was the first Member to bring them before the House. He mentioned the documents that were disclosed under the 30 years rule. The only factual and accurate sentence in those documents is the one that states:


My hon. Friend did not give up then and he has not given up now. The way forward is for the Foreign Affairs Committee to look at the matter, which is in its remit, and I hope that it will do that.

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