Memorandum from the NCVO
NCVO is the largest general membership body
for charities and voluntary organisations in England. Established
in 1919, NCVO gives voice to over 2,000 organisations; from large
"household name" charities to small self help groups
involved in all areas of voluntary and social action at the local
level. NCVO champions the cause of the voluntary sector. It believes
that the voluntary sector enriches society and needs to be promoted
and supported. It works to increase its effectiveness, identify
unmet needs and encourages initiatives to meet them.
1.2 NCVO welcomes the proposals for modernising
the House of Commons and the opportunity to comment on them. We
have worked with Stephen Twigg MP to help ensure that the voluntary
sector is aware of the proposals and how they might affect the
relationship of voluntary organisations with Parliament. Stephen
Twigg has spoken to NCVO's networks of voluntary sector parliamentary
and public affairs officers and contributed an article to Voluntary
Sector magazine. Mr Twigg will also be speaking at two regional
events in Taunton and County Durham.
1.3 Whilst Parliament should be the central
focus of political life in Britain, it is also part of the wider
political and policy community and does not have a unique position
in terms of political debate and interest. Parliament should try
and engage with those outside Parliament and recognise that particular
efforts are needed to reach out to smaller local and community
organisations without lobbying resources.
1.4 Voluntary organisations are an important
voice in considering these proposals because they:
engage with many communities (both
local communities and communities of interest) and make them aware
of what is happening in Parliament and Government; and
work closely with parliamentarians
to represent their interests, and they want and need an efficient,
effective House of Commons.
1.5 Much political and policy debate takes
place outside Parliament. MPs are in danger of no longer being
part of the debate between voluntary organisations and their supporters,
business and the media. The proposals below can help ensure that
Parliament engages with these voices and that events in Parliament
matter to those outside Westminster.
1.6 The suggestions below follow the proposals
in Robin Cook's proposals to the Modernisation Committee. We recognise
that some of the suggestions are more appropriately put to the
House of Commons Commission but we feel that an overall approach
is needed. Additional comments and suggestions outside Robin Cook's
proposals are at the end of the paper.
2.1 Making more effective use of time
NCVO supports the proposed measures to introduce
more and shorter debates in the House of Commons. Many voluntary
organisations and wider civil society would welcome greater opportunities
for debate on subjects away from the progress of Bills. We would
particularly welcome more debates on Select Committee reports,
particularly if they are within a reasonable time following publication.
There is concern amongst many organisations, especially given
that organisations devote considerable resources to supplying
information to Select Committees, that few concrete results come
out of Select Committee reports once published.
2.2 More "non-legislative" debate
could also allow for debates that engage with civil society and
are more engaging and attractive to the publicespecially
if these were scheduled well in advance throughout the year. Organisations
could provide information to their members about these upcoming
debates and provoke interest in them. These debates would also
allow organisations to engage with MPs on these topics well in
advance. For instance, there could be an annual debate on the
voluntary sector's relationship with Government to coincide with
the Compact Annual Report.
2.3 The Modernisation Committee might also
consider inviting the public to submit ideas for some Commons
debates as a way of encouraging interest in the work of House
of Commons. Voluntary organisations could work with the Commons
to invite such suggestions.
2.4 NCVO also welcomes the proposal to publish
a list of speakers in advance of debates. If a provisional list
of speakers was published a few days in advance, this could allow
organisations to provide information to those speakers rather
than bombard all MPs with information. We believe that this would
benefit both MPs and organisations.
3.1 Making question time more topical
NCVO supports the proposal to shorten the notice
period for oral questions. More pertinent oral questions would
provide better scrutiny and make the House more relevant to the
wider political community.
3.2 NCVO supports the proposal to put planted
Government notice questions in a separate place on the Order Paper.
The Modernisation Committee should also consider how information
is made available to outside organisations and individuals. This
is especially important if information is placed in the House
of Commons Library. This information is supposed to be on the
public record but is very difficult to access. The House should
consider how this could be made more easily available. One way
would be through the Parliamentary website.
4.1 Pre-legislative scrutiny
NCVO welcomes the proposal to consider more
Bills in draft form. Published Bills usually become "party
politicised" at an early stage. This makes it difficult for
non-Government amendments to be accepted and reduces the ability
of Parliament to effectively scrutinise legislation. It also makes
it very difficult for organisations who wish to raise their concerns.
Organisations often have specialist knowledge as to the implications
of Bills and it would be to the advantage of legislators if those
organisations could raise their concerns in a less politicised
4.2.1 We also hope that this pre-consultation
could form part of a wider process of effective consultation.
This would be from initial consultation by departments (in line
with the guidelines laid down in the Compact between Government
and the Voluntary Sector for a 12-week consultation period), to
pre-legislative scrutiny, the passage of the Bill through Parliament
and post-legislative scrutiny. Select committees could also make
better use of Government departments' past consultations around
White and Green Papers. For instance evidence submitted to departmental
consultations could be passed on by Government departments and
used as written evidence in Select Committee inquiries.
4.3 Wider discussion and earlier publication
of regulatory impact statements would also be welcome. Select
Committees could play a role in this.
5.1 Longer scrutiny of legislation
NCVO welcomes the carry-over of legislation
past the cut-off point of the session, although there are concerns
that this might weaken the power of Opposition parties. A more
even spread of legislation through the year would be of benefit
to organisations wishing to raise their concerns over legislation
5.2 The wider use of Special Standing Committees
would be welcome. Expert witness contributions to scrutiny of
Bills would help, especially on more contentious issues. We would
also welcome this as a way of "opening up" the House
of Commons and promoting intercourse with those outside Parliament.
6.1 Post legislative scrutiny
We welcome the idea of more post legislative
scrutiny. As we said above, we believe that consultation and scrutiny
should be an ongoing process from initial departmental consultation
to Parliamentary scrutiny to post legislative scrutiny.
6.2 Select Committees will be well placed
to look at the impact of legislation and should consult widely
in these inquiries. Voluntary organisations should be well placed
to help select committees in these inquiries. The support and
resources available to select committees should be increased to
enable them to undertake this extra work. Further suggestions
on Select Committees are in paragraphs 11.3, 12.2 and 14.1.
7.1 Scrutiny of secondary legislation
As Robin Cook's Memorandum to the Modernisation
Committee says, there is little detailed scrutiny of secondary
legislation. Most voluntary organisations lack the resources to
examine secondary legislation and we welcome the proposals for
a secondary legislation scrutiny committee. We trust that the
Committee would provide readily accessible and comprehensible
information on the secondary legislation they consider.
8.1 Making time for constituency work
NCVO welcomes proposals for more Friday morning
style debates on Wednesday mornings where we would help that attendance
would be higher. Friday debates (for example adjournment debates
and private member bills) are important for voluntary organisations.
They allow for non-party debate and MPs are more inclined to pay
heed to outside views.
8.2 We would also welcome announcements
of Friday morning style adjournment debates well in advance so
that organisations can inform their members about the debates
and encourage their members' interest. This would also help organisations
to prepare information for MPs in advance so that MPs are fully
informed about the issues of the debate.
9.1 Making oral statements earlier
NCVO welcomes the intention to list the planned
statements for the week on Monday. This would help more organisations
to plan a response and inform MPs of their views. It would enable
a better debate on these issues and would enable those organisations
without large public affairs resources to be able to take part
in public debate.
10.1 Making the Parliamentary calendar more
We welcome proposals to make the parliamentary
timetable more predictable. As stated earlier, this would enable
a wider interest in Parliament and help organisations to plan
their work with MPs and peers.
11.1 Making more use of modern technology
NCVO supports proposals to use the Internet
for developing Parliament's relationship with the wider electorate
and civil society. However, the current website requires a high
level of knowledge in order to access useful information quickly.
There needs to be more signposting within pages to related information.
More explanations of terms used could be includedfor instance
by having links to a glossary or explanation for certain phrases.
There should be links to other information and "pop-up"
help boxes on most pages. NCVO believes that the Internet and
Parliament's website offers a way to give many more organisations,
particularly smaller and community organisations, the chance to
find out what is happening in Parliament. The present website,
which is very much based on existing written publications which
have barely changed for many years, does not encourage those outside
Parliament to pay attention to what is happening in Parliament.
11.2 NCVO also considers that the House
of Commons could do more to use Internet technology to proactively
reach out to the public and interested organisations. For instance
there is little use of e-mail lists to inform those interested
in what is happening in Parliament. There is no reason why there
could not be one central area where individuals could register
their interests, say, in the work of a particular select committee
or the passage of legislation, and then receive regular e-mail
updates on that topic.
11.3 Select Committees might also use Internet
technology to engage with more people in their inquiries. Whilst
there would obviously still be a place for formal submissions,
select committees could use Internet technology to run online
consultations which could reach many more. NCVO has developed
its own online consultation system which has enabled us to reach
many more organisations and to run consultations in response to
events much more quickly. Select committees might find this particularly
useful if they want to run an inquiry rapidly in response to a
particular event. NCVO would be very willing to share our experience
with either individual select committees or the Modernisation
11.4 We also feel that there may be other
opportunities to use the Internet to engage more people in Parliament's
work. One idea might be to use Early Day Motions as a way of encouraging
the public to contribute to political debate. Individuals could
sign a separate petition backing particular EDMs, giving their
name and postcode to avoid multiple signatories.
12.1 Making the Commons more open to the public
Government Written answers should be made available
from a single source and should be published and made available
to outside organisations as well as press on the day answered.
If a WPQ is answered that day, it should be made available that
day. There should not be privileged access to information.
12.2 Select Committees need to be more pro-active
about encouraging debate on their reports. More Commons debates
on Committee reports are welcome. However Select Committees should
also consider working with outside organisations to promote discussion
of reports and should, where appropriate, think about working
with them to press for their recommendations. The use of case
studies supplied by outside organisations in Select Committees'
press work around report publication could be one such way.
12.3 The House of Commons should consider
how it can be made more welcoming and how more information can
be provided to those visiting, whether for work reasons or out
of general interest. Maps of the public areas and better information
signs should be considered.
12.4 Although we recognise that there are
particular problems because of the age of the building, the House
of Commons is very inaccessible to those with disabilities. Whilst
everyone theoretically has a right to go to Central Lobby, it
is not practically possible for those with wheelchairs. Wheelchair
users also have greater difficulties attending events as they
have to be met by a pass-holder at the Carriage Entrance. This
unequal treatment should be tackled.
12.5 The House should also acknowledge the
reality of booking rooms. Although events are booked in the name
of an MP, the actual administration and dealings with the House
authorities are often made by outside organisations. Outsiders
are given little knowledge of how the bookings system works and
what rooms are available. The House should consider providing
information on this.
12.6 NCVO welcomes proposals to improve
the Commons' education services. It is important that education
services should link in with citizenship education. NCVO is keen
that citizenship education includes an active citizenship aspect.
13.1 Disability audit
The House of Commons should conduct a disability
audit. As well as addressing issues of access to the building,
the way that the House communicates should also be looked at.
For instance, supplying information in Braille or large type.
14.1 Further suggestions for Select Committees
Whilst voluntary organisations wish to work
with Select Committees, Committees should understand that oral
and written submissions require much workespecially given
that the evidence then becomes the copyright of the Committee
and cannot be used by the organisation without the Committee's
permission. Copyright ownership by Select Committees means that
organisations are often unwilling to submit formal evidence as
they are then unable to use that in their own campaigning or policy
14.2 The Modernisation Committee should
look at whether other ways of submitting evidence can be more
appropriateincluding more informal ways of supplying information,
use of the Internet can Committee meetings away from the Palace
of Westminster. Select Committees could also look at greater use
of secondments from voluntary organisations and business in inquiries.
15.1 MP voluntary sector secondment scheme
MPs gain a great deal of knowledge from the
secondment and fellowships schemes that are offered, including
NCVO's scheme with the voluntary sector. We are keen that the
learning that MPs gain from the secondments can be of benefit
to the whole House of Commons and NCVO is developing ideas on
how this can be done. There could also be ways to recognise secondments
as part of the career development of backbench MPs.
16.1 Advisory committee/people's panel
The proposals above aim to aid the ability of
the House of Commons to communicate and engage with the wider
community. This would also be helped if an advisory committee
or people's panel were created. This could be formed of those
who work closely with the House and representatives from the wider
community. It could comment on proposals for modernisation and
the way that the House of Commons engages with those outside Westminster.
Its role would only be advisory and would not diminish the sovereignty