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The President of the Council was asked—

Information Technology

42. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): What proposals he will make to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons about the future use in Committees and Select Committee proceedings of information technology. [17531]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): I understand that the Information Committee may well conduct an inquiry into the use of information technology. I am sure that the Modernisation Committee looks forward to that Committee's report and

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will wish to study it carefully. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his energetic persistence on this issue which I believe should now be taken forward. The Modernisation or Procedure Committee might wish to take this up in the light of the Information Committee's work.

Mr. Jack: I am grateful for the Minister's kind words and the content of his answer. I note that the agenda is moving forward. At a time when the Clerk in the Chamber of the other place is already using a laptop computer in connection with the work of the other place, it is a problem for the House of Commons that it is still struggling to determine which forms of IT and electronic equipment will be allowed in our Committees. In the light of the Minister's answer, I ask him to use his good offices to ensure that all those with an interest—the Committees he has mentioned, and the Chairmen's Panel—are co-ordinated in any further discussions to try to decide a way forward so that we can all gain the benefit of information technology in our Committee work.

Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has support in all parts of the House—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) indicated dissent.

Mr. Twigg: Well, possibly not from the shadow Leader of the House. The Chairmen's Panel has made a ruling on the matter that we may wish to consider afresh, bearing in mind that the panel consists of senior Members with a great collective experience of Standing Committees. We need to explore the reasons for their reservations. The Chairman of Ways and Means may discuss that shortly with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I endorse every word said by the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). It is not often that we are in full agreement with each other. When my hon. Friend the Minister considers the matter, will he bring to the attention of his colleagues and the Chairmen's Panel the fact that we are slipping badly behind in IT? For example, in the Estonian Parliament, the whole Cabinet is now run electronically. [Laughter.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) thinks that that is a joke, but if a small country such as Estonia can develop its technology after only 10 years of existence, surely Committees of this House can reach that level.

Mr. Twigg: I recall the allegation after the 1997 general election that Labour Members who had been elected for the first time were robots. I am sure that that is not the example from Estonia that is being recommended today.

This is a matter that needs to be moved forward. We have just had a repeat of exchanges that first took place five months ago, when I first stood at the Dispatch Box. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) raised this matter then, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) also made a contribution. The matter will be taken forward, first of all by the Chairmen's Panel.

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Parliamentary Recesses

44. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): If he will introduce proposals to reform the length and timing of parliamentary recesses. [17533]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I agree with those who would like more certainty over recess dates. I announced the dates of the Christmas Adjournment in our first week back, and I announced the February recess last Thursday. I shall endeavour to continue to announce recess dates as early as possible.

Mr. Borrow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is no longer in the interests of proper parliamentary scrutiny and accountability for the traditional long summer recesses to continue? Is not a reform of those recesses to give better balance urgently required?

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): That is a planted question.

Mr. Cook: I can assure the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who made his remark from a sedentary position, that it is not a planted question, and I am grateful for the opportunity to put him right at this stage in our proceedings. A number of people, both in the House and outside it, have asked whether the House really needs to be in recess for such a long, unbroken period. I am sure that that is a matter that the Modernisation Committee will wish to consider in the near future.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Does the Leader of the House recognise that there is widespread support for the view expressed by the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow)? However, does he also agree that although rationalising the parliamentary year is extremely important, it is also important to ensure that business is properly organised when the House is sitting? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the need to regularise the allocation and choice of subjects for Opposition Supply Days? That has got us into a mess in the past few days, and we clearly cannot go on—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are talking about the parliamentary recess.

Speakers List

45. Caroline Flint (Don Valley): What proposals he has made to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons regarding the House of Commons adopting a speakers list similar to that used in the House of Lords. [17534]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): This is a matter on which Mr. Speaker's views will be the most important. I am aware from a number of approaches that some hon. Members would welcome such a list.

Caroline Flint: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I take this opportunity to draw to his attention—and to yours, Mr. Speaker—that many hon. Members of all parties would welcome the production of

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a speakers list for debates? That would enable hon. Members to know whether they were going to be called. Debates could be organised in a way that ensured that everyone could take part in them fully. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the proposal on board, and that he will take the matter up with the appropriate Committees, and with Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Cook: I appreciate my hon. Friend's continuing interest in the business of the House, and I welcome her continuing support for change. There is such a speakers list in the other place, and it might be worth examining whether that works to the satisfaction of the Members there. However, I stress that any measure introducing such a list would have to recognise the Chair's discretion to vary it, as appropriate, and make sure that any hon. Member called to speak had heard a reasonable proportion of the preceding debate.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I welcome what the Leader of the House has said. Would he be prepared to go further and give a commitment that, in his roles as Leader of the House and Chairman of the ghastly Modernisation Committee, he would always give priority to the spontaneity of the House's proceedings and to the requirement that hon. Members attend those proceedings? Does he also agree that nothing should be done to allow hon. Members to leave, not attend, be absent or have a rather easy life? Will he therefore say that any proposed list that would allow hon. Members to turn up briefly, deliver a speech probably prepared by their research assistants, and disappear would be completely unacceptable?

Mr. Cook: Any such list would have to be indicative. It could not be mandatory and, as I said, the Chair would have to have discretion to ensure that the conduct of hon. Members was reflected in who was called to speak.

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is being fair to the Modernisation Committee, of which his own deputy, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), is a distinguished and valuable member. I am sure that he gives the right hon. Gentleman a full report on our excellent proceedings. Moreover, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman serves the House well by constantly running down the diligence, activity, presence and commitment of hon. Members. In my experience, all hon. Members work extremely hard and give of their best. It does not help for the right hon. Gentleman constantly to decry that.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): If there are to be any changes to a speakers list, could we also have a guarantee that people will be penalised for reading their speeches? I do not know whether the Leader of the House ever goes down to the other place, but a bunch of Zs are visible over people's heads because of the boredom of the many speeches being read into the record. That also applies in other legislatures. In the brief time that I have been in the House—nine years—I have seen an increase in the number of people reading their speeches into the record. If we adopt the idea of a speakers list without making it the rule rather than the convention that people do not read their speeches, this is in danger of becoming a very boring place.

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Mr. Cook: I can assure my hon. Friend that I have never found any of his speeches boring or in any way over-prepared. I share his broad prejudice on this matter. Indeed, I am the despair of civil servants because of my reluctance to read text given to me. I believe that debates are better if we stick to the standing convention that notes are aides memoire, not scripts.

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