A number of important reforms to our procedures and working practices this year are already in place or under way.
First, the changes to the management of the House, following the report by Sir Robin Ibbs—which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) played such an important part in initiating, and which we debated earlier this year—are far-reaching.
They will make it possible for the House to determine its priorities, and to reflect those priorities in decisions about the budget for works, as well as other expenditure, and they will introduce a new Committee and management structure that will reflect, to the extent appropriate, best practice outside.
Secondly, the new procedures for private Bills following the report of the Joint Committee of both Houses in 1988 require primary legislation. As the House knows, the timetable following the consultation period on the Government's response to the Joint Committee, which was published last summer, meant that it has not been possible to prepare the necessary legislation for introduction this Session. The Government have now made their response. That matter clearly affects the sittings and hours of the House, and I have already told the House that we shall introduce the legislation as soon as we can.
Thirdly, on the scrutiny of European Community legislation, we have been able to establish the two European Standing Committees this Session, and have gained valuable experience of how they work in practice. They have also had implications for the hours of this Chamber. As the House is aware, I shall review the operation of those two Standing Committees at the end of this Session.
Many other procedural reforms are being implemented following recommendations from the Procedure Committee, including the new arrangements for oral questions. However, right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House share the feeling that we need to take a wider and deeper look at our procedures and at the hours that we sit. Over recent months, I have consulted widely about the procedures and practices that determine the variety and amount of business dealt with on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and how long we spend on it. I have found that there is widespread agreement that the way we operate in this place needs review, and widespread disagreement on the solutions. I therefore propose to set up a Select Committee to look into those matters and I am pleased to say that I have reached agreement through the usual channels on how that will be done.
The suggested terms of reference and the membership will be set out in a motion which I will table very shortly. The Select Committee will be able to range widely, looking at the whole way we handle public and private business, the order and timing of business—including the use of timetable motions—the length of Sessions and the organisation of the parliamentary year, as well as the hours of sitting. The Committee's work will obviously extend into the next Session of Parliament, and I hope that it will be able to make recommendations that can be considered for implementation in the next Parliament. If a dissolution intervenes, it would obviously be desirable that the work of the Committee is continued in the new Parliament. We for our part would certainly wish that to be the case, and I hope that the same would go for those in other parts of the House.
I am particularly pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) has agreed to chair the Select Committee. The breadth and depth of his parliamentary experience make him particularly suited to take on that important task and I am sure the whole House will be grateful to him for agreeing to do so.
I appreciate that Members on all sides will wish to consider the review I am announcing today, and I intend to provide time for a debate before the House rises for the summer recess so that the Committee can be established immediately thereafter.
It may, nonetheless, be for the convenience of the House if I outline now a range of specific matters that I expect that the Select Committee will wish to take particularly into account in its work.
I must pay a particular tribute here to the work of the Select Committee on Procedure, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). The whole House owes him, and all the members of his Committee, a considerable debt of gratitude, but I think that my hon. Friend would be the first to agree that to deal adequately with the remit I have in mind, it is necessary to range more widely than the Procedure Committee's remit allows. The amount of time we have in this place is determined by private business as well as public business, and the Procedure Committee can deal only with public business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has, I am delighted to say, agreed to serve as a member of the new Select Committee. That will ensure that the wealth of experience of the Procedure Committee as a whole can be brought to bear during the Select Committee's deliberations. In particular, I am sure that the Committee members will have regard to the Procedure Committee's second report, Session 1986–87, on the use of time on the Floor of the House, which most usefully summarised and analysed previous experience of morning sittings. The Committee will obviously also wish to obtain the views of all hon. Members with an interest in the subject.
Among the points that I hope the Select Committee will bear in mind are changes over the past 20 or 30 years in the quantity and complexity of Government business and European Community legislation and their effect on the balance between business taken on the Floor of the House and that taken in Committee; the growth in the complexity and importance of the work of Select Committees; the nature and extent of the demands made on the individual Member of Parliament, including, particularly, the volume and complexity of constituency business; experience of overseas legislatures, especially those which follow closely the Westminster model.
I should say finally that the review is not in any sense a party matter, or one where the Government and the Opposition should adopt entrenched positions. Our working practices and the hours we sit are essentially matters for the House as a whole, and I am glad that, in my capacity as Leader of the House, I have been able to reach agreement on establishing this Select Committee. When we come to our subsequent debate, I hope very much that the House as a whole will agree to the motion establishing this Select Committee without reservation.
This is a rare, perhaps unique, occasion, on which I can say that I wholeheartedly welcome the totality of the statement of the Leader of the House. I thank him for responding to the request to make an oral statement on the matter so that, at the outset, Members could have the opportunity to ask questions and make points, although I recognise the importance of a full debate later on the terms of reference and membership of the Committee.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on taking this important, perhaps historic, opportunity to have a wide-ranging review of the practices and procedures of the House, which I hope—I believe that it is his intention—will go well beyond a simple consideration of the hours of sitting of the House. Our intention to review some of our more arcane and idiosyncratic procedures and the conduct of business in the mother of Parliaments will be welcomed inside and outside the House.
I join the Leader of the House in welcoming the appointment of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) to the Chair of this important Committee. He and I would not agree on many matters, except on what is best for Cumbria because we are constituency neighbours, but he has our full support in chairing the Committee. The Leader of the House said that after the next general election the Government will continue the work of this Committee. I assure him that that will be the case, although there may be some changes in personnel.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) asked for an opportunity to question Labour Front-Bench spokesmen. The hon. Gentleman may get that opportunity sooner than he wishes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) says that this is some sort of carve-up. I thank the Leader of the House for his wide consultation and for giving all hon. Members an opportunity to speak before he makes final decisions about the terms and nature of the motion. That is the great value of today's statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South has an opportunity now to question the Leader of the House.
Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Committee will have unrestricted terms of reference and that it will be able not only to examine matters on the basis of the status quo but to deal with the parliamentary year as a year? Will the right hon. Gentleman take account of the important work carried out by the parliamentary Labour party review committee which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), who is also chairman of the parliamentary Labour party? May we be assured that that and other evidence from minority parties or individual hon. Members will be considered by the Committee? Will he assure us again that the Committee will have the power to look at the workings of other legislatures? I join the Leader of the House in thanking the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) for the work of the Procedure Committee on these issues.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the statement. I thank him for his co-operation on the matter and for the support that he expressed for my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
It will be for the Select Committee to decide exactly how to proceed and what matters to cover. It is certainly within the Committee's terms of reference to look at the parliamentary year as a year and not to be bound by what happens now. As I said, it is open to all hon. Members to submit views to the Committee. I agree that the Committee will wish to examine the work carried out so far by the parliamentary Labour party review committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme). I confirm that it will be possible for the Committee to look at other legislatures if it feels that that is appropriate and relevant to its work.
Order. I remind the hon. Members that the Leader of the House said that he intends to provide time for a debate on this matter before the House rises for the summer recess. In view of the pressure from hon. Members to speak in the debate on the Royal Navy, I propose to allow questions on the statement to continue until 5 o'clock. I ask hon. Members to confine themselves to questions and not to voice their ideas and thoughts about what might happen.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the appointment of the Committee, whose powers to cover public and private business will be wider than those of the Procedure Select Committee. That is essential for a fuller review of our procedure. Will the Committee be able to consider constitutional factors, such as the size of the membership of the House, which is one of the largest democratic Parliaments? Will he assure me that the recommendations of the Procedure Select Committee will be carried out, as he has promised, and not further delayed by the establishment of the new Committee?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and repeat my gratitude for his work on these matters. The number of hon. Members who are rising shows that there is great interest in the subject. I shall therefore endeavour to be as short as possible.
My hon. Friend asked about the size of the membership of the House. I did not have it in mind that the Committee would consider that. I assure him that I intend to carry through the recommendations of the Procedure Select Committee, which I have already said we wish to proceed with, before the House rises for the summer recess.
We welcome the announcement that the Leader of the House has made, but will the Committee be wide-ranging? For example, when considering timetables, will it be able to consider fixed-term Parliaments, which offer the best arrangements to ensure certainty of business? Will it be able to ensure a balance between the Executive, which represents a party elected by a minority, and the legislature, which represents the whole community? Will it have the power to ensure that we stop the nonsense of our procedure, whereby we seek to legislate for the most minute detail in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, and devolve power so that we have less to do here and so that people have far more power near to where decisions should be taken?
When I table the motion, I hope that it will be clear to the House that I intend the review to be wide-ranging and deep. The House will have to decide that when we debate the motion. I am simply giving notice of how I intend to proceed. Most of the points that the hon. Gentleman made will be within the Committee's terms of reference. The constitutional question of the devolution of power is not a matter for the Committee, which will have much to do and will have to consider many conflicting views from hon. Members. As it must tackle so much, I do not wish to add other matters.
As the problems are here and the expertise to deal with them presumably is also here, does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be no great need for the Committee to spend much time travelling abroad?
That will clearly be a matter for the Committee to decide. I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that it is right for me to give it powers to do so. From the representations that have been made to me and the discussions that I have had, I have found that experience of other relevant legislatures is raised. It is right not to exclude that, but it will be for the Committee to decide what it does.
Does the Leader of the House accept that this has the appearance of a carve-up between the two Front Benches? How can a Select Committee have a Chairman when it has not been announced or appointed by the House and when the Select Committee itself should elect its Chairman? Does he accept that when the report of the parliamentary Labour party review committee was discussed by the parliamentary Labour party, the overwhelming expression of opinion was against the proposals?
That is not true.
Would not it have been better to hold a debate first to ensure that the decision was completely open and the views of hon. Members were taken, rather than for something that appears to have been fixed beforehand to be rushed through the usual channels so that, I suspect, the critics of some of the changes, which will suit London Members more than provincial Members, are faced with a fait accompli?
The hon. Gentleman ran into the problem that I have run into in the past six months. The reaction to his remarks showed that there are divided views in the House on a number of the procedural matters. He is right that there are often conflicts between hon. Members who represent London constituencies and those who represent more distant constituencies. That will be a relevant matter for the Select Committee to consider, and I hope that it will reflect those differences. That is why it will be no easy matter for the Select Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find that the arrangements that I am proposing will cover all these points.
The House wants us to get on with establishing the Committee on a non-party basis. That is what I am endeavouring to achieve, but it will be for the House to make its view known in the debate on the proposal that is recommended.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Select Committee will include a Member of the 1987 intake, because, with respect, it appears that the longer we are here the more institutionalised we are?
I hope that we shall be able to achieve a broad mix. It is becoming apparent that the longer we go on, the more the point that I made about the wide differences of view applies.
I welcome the Leader of the House's statement and the establishment of the Select Committee. Will he ask the Select Committee to bear in mind that the hours of the House are one of the reasons why there are so few women Members of Parliament, and that unless we change our hours Parliament will continue to be deeply unrepresentative of the country? I hope that the initiative succeeds. The right hon. Gentleman has taken a bold move, and I wish it success.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Her views on women in Parliament are well known and have been well rehearsed. If she is not a member of the Select Committee, I am sure that her views will be put to it. The Committee will cover that point, but its remit is much wider. Although I share her desire—this will be no surprise to her, because I have said it to her before—to see many more women Members of Parliament, I believe that it is often what happens outside this place rather than inside it that prevents more women from becoming Members of Parliament.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), my right hon. Friend said that he did not think that it would be appropriate for the Committee to consider the number of Members in this place. Will he give further thought to the question and say at some future date that it might consider that subject? He spoke of the increased work-load from Europe and constituency correspondence, but did not mention the huge amount of bumf that we receive from lobbying companies. In the meantime, will he provide a few shredders around the House so that we can deal with the problem immediately?
That separate matter perhaps should be considered by the Services Committee. I shall reflect on the question, but we must be careful not to give the Select Committee too wide a range of tasks by including the consideration of constitutional matters. It is clear from the views that are being expressed on the subjects that the Select Committee will cover that it has a big task. It would be a pity to divert it on to other things when we want it to report within a reasonable time.
Without transgressing on other parts of the United Kingdom such as Northern Ireland and Wales, may I ask whether the Leader of the House is aware that his statement would have had more efficacy if he had showed more interest in setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and had not been so laggardly? It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland on the radio the other day blaming the House of Commons rather than the Government for the failure to set up that Committee.
Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a wide-ranging discussion and representation on the Committee? I know that there is a palsy-walsy feeling between the usual channels, but is the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) happy that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) should maintain chairmanship of the Committee after the next election?
There are obviously a number of imponderables in that respect. It was one of the issues that I was taking into account. Having canvassed widely in the House, it seemed to me that there was a feeling that the work should be started and, if possible, finished within the lifetime of this Parliament. I believe that if that is not possible, the work which I hope that the House will agree to the Select Committee doing will enable it to be completed in the next Parliament.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the suggestion to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is not a matter for this Select Committee. He knows the difficulties involved in setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and I have nothing further to add. The hon. Gentleman knows also that, after difficult negotiations, the Scottish Grand Committee is now meeting again, pretty regularly.
I commend my right hon. Friend on at last having the courage to grasp this nettle. Does he realise that many of his colleages and, I suspect, a far larger number of people outside believe that many of our procedures are ramshackle, archaic and absurd and that they bring us no credit? I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the work that the Hansard Society has done in this direction.
No doubt the Hansard Society will wish to give evidence to the Select Committee and its work will be taken into account.
I note my hon. Friend's first comments, but I should like to make one point to him and the House as a whole. It is important to take practical steps that will have an effect. I concentrated on that earlier this year, in particular on getting the European Standing Committees off the ground.
I am aware that, with such a wide variety of views on all these initiatives, it is easy for some not to succeed. It is important to think the matter through thoroughly and, as far as possible, to have support from the House so that the procedures can work. I am glad that that is happening with the European Standing Committees. I was afraid that it would be too tempting to set them up and then to give way to demands to consider a number of matters again on the Floor of the House, as we did before. That would have defeated one of the purposes of the European Standing Committees.
Another of the purposes of the European Standing Committees was to allow for proper scrutiny of European legislation, and in that they are succeeding well. They have also enabled the House to rise earlier, on average, during the past few months. That shows the importance of taking account of practical aspects and, we hope, steps that command a consensus in the House.
We, too, welcome the setting up of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that its work would be wide-ranging. Will the Select Committee be able to consider the way in which Northern Ireland business is handled, which, I assure him, is a cause of general public outrage in Northern Ireland?
Will the Committee be properly balanced and comprise a wide range of Members, including regionally based Members? While the procedures of the House discriminate against Nothern Ireland, there is a distinct view which should be represented.
I very much hope that the Select Committee will be representative. It will be open to all Members from Northern Ireland, as it will be to those from anywhere else, to make representations on points that are within the Select Committee's terms of reference. It will be for the House to decide on the Select Committee's recommendations.
My right hon. Friend is right to take credit for his initiative and to give credit to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). Will the Select Committee consider ways in which Back Benchers can have more say, particularly in debates on Adjournment motions on wider political issues, by not having such debates preceded by a statement?
Yesterday, because a statement preceded an important debate, many Back Benchers could not speak in that debate. An advantage of having general debates is that they would give us more time to inspect the Opposition's plans. In an abject performance yesterday by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the Labour party gave away an opportunity. General debates would give Back Benchers a much better opportunity to question inconsistencies in the Labour party's policies.
All those matters can be put to the Select Committee. There will always be practical problems in trying to fit into any parliamentary day the many demands to debate issues, for statements to be made by Ministers and so on. I fear that those practical problems will remain, whatever the Select Committee recommends, but it will certainly be possible to put suggestions to it.
I, too, welcome the setting up of the Select Committee, which is long overdue. I stress the importance of the Select Committee being able to balance our differing needs. We have to attend to parliamentary business, spend time in our constituencies and spend time with our families.
Will Crown immunity be part of the Select Committee's remit? To take part in proceedings, we need to have the resources to do our job and to have office space here. The conditions in which we all work are unsafe. It is high time that the issue of Crown immunity was taken up, too.
The hon. Lady may want to make her points to the Select Committee. Crown immunity would be outside the Select Committee's terms of reference. The Services Committee, on which the hon. Lady plays an important part, deals with such matters, and it would not be right to ask the Select Committee to go into them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) said, those of us who became Members at the last election welcome the proposed changes. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), may I remind my right hon. Friend that fathers have families too, and that we are just as concerned about finding time to spend with them. The changes should relate to all Members, whether London based or not, so that we can all find time to fit in the many duties placed upon us.
In some cases, the Select Committee will have to try to square the circle. Conflicting views will be expressed on many matters by London Members as well as by Members from other constituencies. It will be for the Select Committee to sift those views and to make recommendations to the House and then for the House to decide.
Will the Leader of the House accept my congratulations, too, on this great initiative? I warn him that conservatives on both sides of the House will jealously protect their little niches under the current procedures and the jobs that they have accumulated while they have been here. Will he take care to ensure that people outside who currently regard our proceedings as a farce and as irrelevant to our democracy reclaim this place by having full-time representatives here, working with proper facilities and the proper number of people to assist them here and in their constituencies? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that those matters are included in the Select Committee's terms of reference?
The Select Committee will not consider offices or similar support. There are other ways in which such issues are addressed, and we are making considerable progress in that respect. The biggest issue is how to acquire accommodation. That programme is taking some time, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is moving ahead fast.
It will be for the hon. Gentleman to express his view to the Select Committee, and I know what it is. It is legitimate for other hon. Members to take a different view and to make known their views. I reject the idea that those who bring to the House a wealth of experience from other employment should be ignored. I have always believed that that has a ligitimate role to play, but that is my personal view.
I do not accept that everything that happens in the House is bizarre. Over many years, we have built up procedures to enable the proper democratic process to take place. We are investigating whether we can introduce reforms to make that more effective.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a danger that the inquiry may get wider and wider and take longer and longer? Will he recommend that the Select Committee come up with an interim report, recommending a simple change of hours involving moving all our procedures forward three hours? We could try those hours for a month or two to see the full implications, rather than the inquiry taking a long time to look into all the implications.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but there is a danger in asking the Committee to go too wide so that nothing happens. That is why I have rejected some of the suggestions made in the past few minutes. It will be open to the Select Committee to make interim recommendations if it wishes to do so. My experience is that sometimes the greatest progress is made by undertaking reforms bit by bit, but it is certainly not outside the Select Committee's terms of reference to adopt such an approach if it so wishes.
I speak as a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Surely the so-called Select Committee is merely a delaying tactic, because we could agree almost overnight to change the hours of the House. Back home, factory workers start at 8 am, or perhaps 7 am or even earlier, so we could follow their example and perhaps finish at 7 pm so that hon. Members could attend public meetings and face their constituents to explain their political views and organise how to fight back against the Government. The real challenge will come from outside—from the working class —so the hours of the House will have to change for the benefit of hon. Members who represent the socialist point of view.
The hon. Gentleman cannot resist rambling off the point whenever he speaks. He has a very simple view of life if he thinks that one step could be taken straight away and that it would have the support of all hon. Members. It is clear that he has not listened to the exchanges that have taken place, which show that there is a wide variety of views.
Order. May I say to the hon. Members whom I have not called that I shall bear them in mind during the debate on the motion that the Leader of the House is to table, even though they be Front Benchers, to give them the opportunity to make known their points of view.
Order. It is always easy to go beyond the allotted time on these occasions, but other hon. Gentlemen who wish to participate in the debate will be disadvantaged if I call the four extra hon. Members. I shall in any event have to ask those hon. Members who wish to participate to shorten their speeches so that they may all be called.
You cannot kid me with that, Mr. Speaker. As the inquiry will be wide-ranging, I want to know whether you, as Speaker of the House, have been consulted, because some of us were not. I wonder whether you will give evidence to the Committee, because it would not be a bad idea. If so, perhaps you might tell the Leader of the House that if we are to shorten the hours of the House, let us also introduce clocking on, let us stop the pairing system and organised truancy and let us also stop the moonlighting.