Programming of Bills
Mr Paul Tyler (North Cornwall, Liberal Democrat)
I am delighted to follow Mr. Fisher, whose contribution lasted only 18 minutes yet was more thoughtful and provoked more sensible exchanges than what went before. I am grateful to him.
However, I draw the House's attention to the Modernisation Committee's first report of the 1997-98 Session. It contains an excellent chart that shows how the scrutiny of legislation can, under the existing Standing Orders, be undertaken in a number of different ways. If those options were taken up, there is no doubt that the legislation emerging from the House would be improved. The report contains some other suggestions for enhancing those different options.
The House faces some very important matters. The motions before us do not offer a panacea. The proposals do not amount to a magic wand that will do everything necessary to improve the way in which the House does its job. However, in a modest way and with good will, which has already been mentioned, they can make improvements.
Let us consider the context of the proposals and much of the discussion in the Chamber since the general election. Mr. Salter said earlier that the fall in turnout should worry every Member of Parliament. I read an excellent Library briefing on turnout, and discovered that, when I was first elected in February 1974, the national turnout was 78.8 per cent. In my constituency, which was then called Bodmin, it was 83.3 per cent. This year, the national figure has dropped to 59.4 per cent., and even in the great constituency of North Cornwall, where we take politics seriously, it was down to 63.8 per cent. That is a 20 per cent. difference in a relatively short political lifetime. If the trend continues, it will be disastrous. In that context, this afternoon's debate is very important.
How do we rediscover Parliament's ability to demonstrate to the nation that it is the place where we conduct our business in an orderly manner? Scrutiny of Executive action is as important as that of legislation. In that respect, the Modernisation Committee's proposals have been successfully realised in Westminster Hall. A Minister has to attend proceedings and explain a specific part of the appropriate Department's responsibility. That is an important demonstration to the country of the way in which we do our job properly. The media have not picked that up, but that is another story for another occasion.