Letter from Andrew George MP to the Clerk
of the Committee
I wish to make a few brief and rather hastily
put together remarks in response to the Consultation Paper on
Broadly speaking, the main thrust of the Paper
is welcome and I trust that the Modernisation Committee will bear
in mind that for a perhaps small but significant number of Members
of Parliament, the effort of travelling to and from the House
of Commons usually requires some significant forward planning,
a considerable amount of time, energy and, not to forget, the
resources of the Fees Office.
Certainly for an MP from the St Ives Constituencythat
is West Cornwall and the Isles of Scillynormal travel times
can exceed six hours, which can add to the very long working hours
on those Parliamentary days I choose to travel to or from the
I have the following comments to make about
the report itself:
I would argue that backbench speeches, especially
in Second Reading debates, should be kept to a maximum of five
minutes, but, in order to encourage a genuine exchange of views
and scrutiny of argument, that backbenchers be permitted, say,
an extension of their time by one minute per intervention up to
a maximum of, say, fivewhere those interventions are made
primarily not from their own Party benches.
Ensuring that notice of questions for an Oral
Question period can be tabled, say, a week before the event should
surely be sufficient notice for the Ministers and officials. Even
then it is inevitable that other more topical issues will arise
in the interim.
With regard to the proposed alteration in the
way in which "planted" questions are dealt with, I would
only add that the proposal is most welcome, provided the statement
is clearly made fully available to Members to read in the House
of Commons before the media get it. On far too many issues this
is not the case.
I have suffered, like many, many others, the
almost incomprehendably inane nonsense trotted out by those Members
who either wish to or have been instructed to "Filibuster".
I am sure that most people agree that watching paint dry is a
far more exciting prospect than suffering the time-wasting tactics
of others at the Committee stage of the Bill.
I have always felt that the Chairman should
have the power (perhaps with the agreement of the frontbenches)
to limit the length of speeches made from the backbenches or from
those not moving the amendments being debated.
On the other hand, I support the suggested removal
of the entirely unnecessary artificial hurdle of completing all
stages of a Bill within a certain period of months. This very
factor has encouraged the use of time-wasting and other obstructive
tactics rather than effective scrutiny.
Proposed alterations in the working week would
However, I think that the Modernisation Committee
needs to take into account that many Members will struggle to
get to the Commons from their constituencies much before 10.30
am, if they, like I often have, a particularly busy day on a Monday
which makes it almost impossible to get to London on a Monday.
This, I am sure, doesn't just affect Members for West Cornwall,
but those from other areas as well. Perhaps, instead of having
Question Time for substantial departments like Defence and Home
Affairs, etc, on Monday, there should be Question Time on Monday's
for those other departments which are considered, if I can dare
to say it, to be non "mainstream"such as Scotland,
Wales, Northern Ireland, Attorney General, etc.
These proposals are particularly welcome. Particularly
if Parliament takes account of those Members with young families
who would like to spend some time with their families during the
February and October half-term holidays.
Where there are a series of votes on which the
outcome of one vote would not inform, alter or have any consequent
implication for successive votes, I believe there must be a far
more efficient way of voting for three or four motions all at
once, rather than trooping through the Lobby about every 15 minutes
for, potentially, hours on end.
Congratulations on the efforts made to produce
this report and I look forward to future debates on it.
25 January 2002