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29 Oct 2002 : Column 770continued
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): I begin by making what is perhaps a dangerous admissionI am not familiar with every dot and comma of the report that has been placed before us. I have taken a course of action that is perhaps even more dangerous: coming to the Chamber to listen carefully to the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and other hon. Members.
There is sometimes a temptation on the Conservative Benches to regard any proposal that the Government support as a plot against the interests of Back Benchers. I emphasise that that is not my view. Some of the proposals that the Leader of the House advanced are right and I shall vote for them. It makes sense to return in September. I have experienced only one parliamentary summer and it appeared to go on for a long time. The proposals about questions are also right, and I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) on that. However, I shall not support all the Government's proposals.
I want to consider the main subject of our discussionthe hours. I admit that it would be in my interest for the House to stop sitting at 7 pm more often. I represent High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. I live there and in London, and it would be convenient for me to knock off at 7 pm more often, but that does not apply to other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made that point in an intervention. Knocking off at 7 pm more often would not be convenient for him. However, the vote should not be decided on what is more convenient for me and less convenient for the hon. Gentleman. More important than my interests or the hon. Gentleman's are those of the House.
The House should fulfil broadly two functions. First, it should act as a forum for debatea point that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made welland, secondly, it should hold the Executive to account. I want to outline my view of the impact of the Government's proposal to sit at 11.30 am. If the House sat at that time more often, the Chamber would fill for Question Time in the morning, but tend to empty in the lunch hour. What would happen then? Ministers would make statements at lunchtime, and it would not be in the interests of good government if the House emptied when Ministers made important, controversial statements on which they should be held to account.
All sorts of duties compete for Members' attention. They include coming to the Chamber and questioning the Executive, attending debates in Westminster Hall, meeting constituents and serving on Select Committees. Sitting in the morning would mean either that hon. Members would be more likely to come to the Chamber, and not have time to see constituents, serve on Select Committees or attend debates in Westminster Hall, or vice versa. I appreciate that there is some overlap, but how much do we want? We should aim for as little as possible.
Perhaps the debate about hours and timed speeches comes down to one simple question: what is a Member of Parliament? There are two views. First, a Member of Parliament is a person who does a job. If we believe that, we should sit from 9 to 5 or from 11.30 to 7, we should not have outside interests and we should be paid as professional politicians, without outside work that informs our job as Members of Parliament.
The second view is that a Member of Parliament is not simply a person who does a job, but a representative whose outside work informs being a Member of Parliament. I have no interests to declare and my entry in the Register of Members' Interests is therefore empty. However, I believe that the House gains from Members of Parliament who also work outside and can bring their experience to bear. It is therefore good that the House can sit for hours that are sometimes inconvenient.
Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): How many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who have remunerated outside interests work on the shop floor or stacking shelves in Tesco? Are the majority earning significant fees in the City, in consultancies or the law courts? Will he comment on the fact that those who have remunerated outside interests tend to vote in an average of 65 per cent. of Divisions, whereas those without such interests vote in 91 per cent.? What conclusions does he draw from that about the commitment to Parliament of his hon. Friends who have outside interests?
Mr. Goodman: I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to make a party political point, but it does not obviate the choice before us. We must decide whether the first view of what constitutes a Member of Parliament is more sensible than the second. I take the second view, but I understand if he takes a different one.
The real question before us is whether a compression of the hours is more likely to enable the House to fulfil the objective of holding the Executive to account, or better to account. I do not believe that it is, which is why I shall not vote with the Government on their proposal to start at 11.30 am. I shall not, I am afraid, support my Front Benchers' proposal to start even earlier in the morning, either.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): It has been an interesting debate so far, and many Members on both sides of the House have said, XWell, there is a lot in the Modernisation Committee's proposals that I agree with," before picking out one or two aspects of the package proposed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that they do not like. That takes me back to 1 May 1997.
I must spoil the consensus by mentioning a couple of party differences. It is a mistake to think that there was not a clear party feel in May 1997we were a new Government with a new, large majority. When we came to power, we were intent on introducing the minimum wage, reducing youth unemployment and many other big things, but the public also wanted us to get a grip of this place, as they felt that Parliament had been male, clubby and set in its ways. One of the driving forces that led us to a considerable election victory in May 1997 was the feeling that we really would make a difference, especially to how politics looked and felt to us all. I was delighted, therefore, to be on the first Modernisation Committee.
Mr. Tyler: I do not want to dilute the hon. Lady's partisanship, but she will recall that the proposals derive from an agreement between her party and mine in the so-called Cook-Maclennan talks before the 1997 election.
Helen Jackson: It is lovely how the Liberal Democrats always manage to say, XMe too, me too" if it is a good thing or, XNothing to do with me" if it is a bad thing, although I am perfectly happy, on this occasion, to say, XYes, all right, you were on our side then."
The lesson for many Members around the House has to be that, without the establishment of the Modernisation Committee, many of the reforms that have taken place since 1997 would not have happened, because there is no question but that a Modernisation Committee and the proposals in this package of reforms that the Conservatives agree with simply would not have been on the agenda had they won that election.
I want to refer to a right hon. Member, but I cannot remember his constituency. He is the tall one who rides a bicycle. [Interruption.] Thank you. In the first Modernisation Committee, of which I was a member for a whole Parliament, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said that the Conservatives were adamant that sittings were not on the agenda. Why not? Because we did not finish at 10 o'clock, we did not programme legislation, debates were open ended and we frequently sat here until midnight and beyond.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I, too, served on a previous Modernisation Committee. My hon. Friend suggests that the existence of the Committee since May 1997 has led to considerable change. May I put a slightly different point to her? The Modernisation Committee on which I sat was rapidly becoming bogged down in the mud of past practice, but the vision, tenacity, energy and powers of persuasion of the Leader of the House have brought us to today's debate. It really is as simple as that.