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


Letter from Sandra Gidley MP to the Committee

  Please note the following comments on the consultation document:

  Numbers refer to the paragraph number in the original consultation document:

  8.  States that "programming Bills has made the hours of scrutiny more predictable, and has enabled the House, including Government backbenchers to focus on the main issues for debate"

  This is fine as far as it goes but programming and timetabling must be sensible and take into account the fact that MPs often focus on one or two policy areas. If you take health as an example it was not sensible to timetable debate on Health Reform Bill on a day when the Health Select Committe sat. It also acts against the interests of smaller parties if two health team bills are in committee at the same time when a larger chunk of the year is free of committee activity in this department.

  10.  Agree that procedure looks antiquated and wordy. Would be in favour of more time limiting of speeches as it would force Members to be concise and not ramble.

  11.  The word "occasionally" in line 5 is open to wide interpretation. Would not be in favour of regular use of three hour debates in the Chamber but would agree that even greater use should be made of Westminster Hall. Paper does not say how "topics of interest to members" will be chosen.

  12.  Agree. Would also ask for fairer proportion of debate to be allocated to third party!

  13.  Question Time. Why not have 40 minutes of questions that are timetabled two weeks ahead with 20 minutes for shorter notice questions. Three days should be more than enough time to provide briefings as most are recycled with regular monotony anyway. If you wanted it to be really exciting you could have a short slot that was run along the lines of PMQs when there is no notice of the question. Most MPs aren't that original and would either come up with a hot current issue or rehash their pet subject so it shouldn't be too difficult for Ministers to keep roughly on top of things.

  14.  Define "Major" please as again this is a weasel word that means different things to different people. Would argue that less significant ministerial announcements are not made by written answer—MPs usually learn about them by listening to the morning news. It is this practise that is so irksome.

  15.  Agree

  18.  This sounds good in practice but Select Committees already have a significant scrutiny role and this additional role would take a lot of time and energy and Government could "divert" Select Committees attention from a hot issue by issuing a draft bill. Would be more in favour of greater use of Special Select committees with unlimited scope for enquiry. Membership could comprise part of the relevant departmental Select Committee plus MPs who had an interest/expertise in the field. This is only one option and doubtless others will come up with other suggestions but there is a need for greater discussion around this area.

  19.  "Government will seek to continue to produce more legislation in draft"—I am relatively new and may have missed it but am not sure which Bills have previously been produced in this form.

  20. and 21.  Very sensible—probably too sensible for this place!

  23.  Again—this is one of those proposals that sounds very good but see comment on 18 (above). There is little real detail here and the cynic could suggest that this is yet another cunning plan to keep back bench MPs occupied so that they can ultimately be less trouble!

  24.  Agree that there must be a more robust system of scrutinising SIs subject to negative procedure.

  28.  This is the biggest red herring going and ignores the fact that being an MP is not a 40 hour a week job. How, exactly, would finishing earlier in the evening help the majority of MPs spend more time with their families? Many MPs have families based in the constituency and would not be able to travel back easily. In fact—speaking as an MP who lives 1.5—2 hours away —a 7 o'clock finish would be a disaster. By the time I have voted and arrived in the constituency most events will be winding up and there would be little left of the evening to spend with the family. Whereas, currently, if there is a pressing constituency engagement I can usually put in an early appearance and be back to vote at 10.

  I have no problem with starting earlier and packing more into the parliamentary day. Indeed there is a good case for an earlier start which would mean that the media could divert more attention to questions and any Ministerial statements. This would have the knock on benefit of a greater section of the public having an awareness of what we are doing.

  32.  It would also do very little to help MPs with constituencies further away.

  33.  Agree. And this could be achieved if we adopted something like a 11-9 day on Mon-Thur.

  34.  This is a bit contradictory. In 32 you are saying that more local MPs could go home to their families etc. but here you are saying that we could do some Friday work and more scrutiny work. Or is the plan to have scrutiny by MPs from further afield and not those people from the SE!!!

  37.  Support but need to consider potential clashes with standing committees etc.

  40.  Oh yes please!!!! Welcome to the real world and an acknowledgement that we have a right to be treated like grown ups.

  42.  This will not be much of a problem if we can commit to the rolling programme of legislation.

  44.  Would it not be more sensible to introduce this as a temporary measure—and in the long term move the party conference season forward to early Sep so that we can return end Sep/beginning Oct.

  45.  Would suggest that more could be done but this is not the place for that discussion.

  47.  In favour but question the assertion that it would free up much more time for debate because the vast majority of votes take place after 10.

  48.  Support change.

  53.  Who would work up the communication strategy? Agree that one is needed.

  54.  The cynic in me says that the timing of release of written answers will not make a jot of difference

  55.  Too true—Select Committee reports reinforce the impression that we are stuck in a timewarp.

  58.  Very keen to support young people but wouldn't it be more exciting for them to see Parliament in Session (although I concede you would want them to see something relatively lively).

  60.  It is a big concern of mine that inadequate attention is paid to the scutiny of legislation from the European Parliament. We are in danger of looking like the poor earthlings in Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy who didn't realise that the Vogons were really in control . . .

  To sum up I think this document is very timely and would acknowledge the recent EOC findings that said that Parliament should adapt working times/practices. Interestingly, the working times argument was put forward less frequently by those candidates who were subsequently elected.

  If I am to spend half my week in Westminster I want to make the most of my time here and would strongly urge that there were not too many early finishes. Thursdays are currently lightly whipped. If we finish early and potentially finish at 7 on a Wednesday many MPs will be tempted to go home. The press will quickly pick this up and the stock of politicians will diminish further as we will be perceived as a bigger lot of shirkers than ever.By the same token there is merit in starting earlier as this will help put paid to the perception that we are all busy earning our second living in the morning. If we are seen to work harder here AND be out and about in our constituencies on Friday (at the very least) then this will help the public to see that most of us do work rather hard and take our job very seriously.

  On the IT front—please consider letting us use electronic devices in committee at the very least!

23 January 2001

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