Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Sir George Young MP to the Committee

  I would like to respond to the leader's memorandum "Modernisation of the House of Commons: a Reform Programme for Consultation."

  Para 9. I agree that Westminster Hall has proved its usefulness and should be put on a permanent basis. I do not agree that the provision for deferred divisions should be made permanent; divorcing debate from division reinforces the views of the cynics about the political process.

  Para 11. I agree that there should be more shorter debates; and more shorter speeches. Front benchers could be briefer than they are; and I believe that, with self-discipline, most Members could convey their views on the subject for debate within a maxiumum of 15 minutes.

  Para 12. I agree that there should be a published list of those who wish to speak in a debate. However, if the list is too long, the Speaker should retain total discretion on whom to call—for example giving preference to those who have not spoken for some time, or who have particular knowledge of a subject.

  Para 13. The Prime Minister is able to field questions on almost any subject with no notice, so I believe a Departmental Minister should be able to do the same. I would go further that what is proposed and reduce the period of notice to two or three days; but have the last 15 minutes entirely open, so long as the questions were relevant to that Department. This would enable questions to be asked that were topical to that day and give additional flexibility.

  Para 14. I would "trade in" some of the Opposition's Opposition Days for the right to demand statements that the Government is unwilling to volunteer. I believe this would make more effective use of Opposition time; enable it better to hold the Government to account and make Parliament more topical and relevant.

  Para 21. I agree with the proposition that there should be more carry-over of Bills; but this should be balanced by other measures that prevent the Government overloading Parliament. There must be some measure of disipline to replace the current one.

  Para 23. I agree that Select Committees should be more involved in pre-legislative scrutiny, and in post legislative scrutiny. But they will need to ensure that their agenda is not, as a result, determined by the Government.

  Para 34. I am concerned that, if normal business on a Wednesday stopped at 7 pm, and there continued to be light Whipping on Thursdays—when we often debate subjects on the adjournment—we will be accused of stopping work even earlier in the week; and Thursdays may be marginalised.

  Para 50. I am cautious about tabling questions by email because of the scope for abuse; but I do not believe the same argument need apply to tabling amendents.

  I agree that we should make better use of information technology; so I am submitting this by email.

8 January 2002

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