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43. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): What plans she has to ensure that newly elected hon. Members are able to begin their work quickly and effectively after their election. [150779]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I am pleased to say that the Departments of the House are working to ensure that newly elected Members are given speedy access to the facilities of the House and that introductions to the House's work are readily available.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I recall, when I was first elected, a period of confusion and muddle, in which people who taught new

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Members the procedures of the House were not skilled in teaching even though they were skilled in the procedures of the House. To help the House get down to its business well, it would be useful to ensure that those who are responsible for teaching new Members about procedures have some teaching skills. Has any progress been made on that? Could existing Members act as mentors for other Members to enable them to understand the procedures of the House quickly, and quickly to become effective Members of Parliament?

Mr. Tipping: I know that my hon. Friend has a teaching background. I will take her as a volunteer, when she is returned after the general election, to take part in such induction courses.

There has for a long time been an unofficial mentoring scheme, and my hon. Friend's proposal is worth considering. I shall ensure that her comments are considered and taken forward by the working party involving all the Departments of the House, which considers such subjects.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): When the successor to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) arrives in this House, she will have to buy her own computer, deal with her own staffing and so on. I understand that the Senior Salaries Review Body report is with the Leader of the House, although I may be wrong. The right hon. Lady shakes her head. However, the SSRB report will suggest a complete change in the way in which we do things. Can we have emergency action from the Privy Council Office so that we can see the report and implement its recommendations? In that way, when the successor of the hon. Member for Slough arrives, she will not have to change horses halfway through.

Mr. Tipping: I know that the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) takes a great interest in election results. He should do--he has a majority of just 77, and is clearly counting every vote that is straying away from him. More seriously, the hon. Gentleman knows, and the House knows, that the SSRB is at present considering the issue. I look forward to seeing its report and to its recommendations being implemented as quickly as possible.

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"Shifting the Balance"

44. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What representations she has received from hon. Members since 17 February on the first report of the Liaison Committee, "Shifting the Balance". [150780]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): None.

Mr. Bercow: That deficiency must now be made good. As an admirer of the talents of the right hon. Lady, I urge her to shift the balance in her own work by recognising that she is not only the Government's representative in the House but the House's representative in the Government. Given that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has acknowledged that the Government have a hand in picking the Committees that scrutinise their work, why does not the right hon. Lady cease to defend the indefensible and resolve to scrap a system which is a charter for Back-Bench sycophancy and Front-Bench skulduggery, and replace it with one based on independence, transparency and accountability?

Mrs. Beckett: I take seriously my governmental responsibility for the House, which is one reason why I have some anxiety about some proposals in the report to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is quite right; many Members on the Conservative Benches share those anxieties. There is a danger that such proposals may introduce a system that would have effects other than those expected, which could damage the conduct of the House.

I am forcefully struck by the fact that further representations on the matter are not the only area of silence. In our many discussions on the Liaison Committee proposals and on the advice that some means should be sought to provide a more open process of appointment, to which there would be input, we have repeatedly described the system that operates in our own party. It is by no means perfect, but it includes many of the features recommended by the Liaison Committee. Yet no Opposition party has made it plain that its procedures match those standards. If the Opposition want to put matters right, I suggest that they start with their own parties rather than meddling with the whole House.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Advocate-General for Scotland, in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), suggested that there had been "filibustering" in the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. I have raised the matter in advance with you, Mr. Speaker, and ask you to confirm that the three Chairmen of the Committee--the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams)--would have intervened had there been any filibustering. Since the issue has been raised, each of them has confirmed that all the Committee's proceedings have been in order. The Advocate-General for Scotland should apologise, and withdraw her comment.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend has made one of the points that I intended to make, but I take personal exception to the point made by the Advocate-General for Scotland. I received uncalled-for compliments from the Minister in the Standing Committee about how pertinent my remarks had been. Quite apart from the question of filibustering on Committees, the programming of the Committee will mean that 50 clauses will be dealt with on the final day. It is not the Government who are losing out, but the people of this country who will face legislation that has gone entirely unscrutinised.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me. As far as the Committee is concerned, the Chairmen on the Speaker's Panel are excellent, and I make no criticism of them.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the beginning of Scottish questions, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning)--not a famous Scottish location since it is in Devon--appeared to suggest that she was the shadow Secretary of

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State for Scotland. Were you made aware of that, Mr. Speaker, as no such courtesy was extended to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I respond, since the hon. Gentleman gave me no notice that he would make that point? If he and his colleagues study carefully, they will find that I have shadow Cabinet responsibility for the constitution, which includes Scotland and Wales.

Mr. Speaker: That puts the matter right.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been touring the television studios? In particular, he appeared on Sky News, making what appear to be announcements about foot and mouth disease rather than making time to come to the House. Have you received any indication that the Minister will come to the House today to answer questions from hon. Members, including me, who have serious concerns on behalf of constituents worried about the foot and mouth crisis?

Mr. Speaker: The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will most certainly be here on Thursday for his Question Time, so the hon. Gentleman need not worry.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave an undertaking last week that he would be available to the House to keep us properly informed and updated about the crisis. Since that undertaking was given to you as well as to the House, are you satisfied that the Minister seems to deem it fit to be in the television studios to make what amount to daily announcements but does not come to the House to be questioned by Members whose constituents are affected by the crisis?

Mr. Speaker: It is a matter of judgment for the Minister. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is quite right: the Minister gave the House an assurance that he would come to the House, and he has given an assurance to me. However, the Minister is entitled to use his judgment.

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