Programming Sub-Committees

Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 2001.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:00 am, 30th January 2001

If she will make a statement on the operation of Programming Sub-Committees. [146224]

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this issue.

There have been some teething problems. I understand that the procedures adopted were at first significantly more prescriptive than the Modernisation Committee had envisaged, but experience seems to suggest that things are settling down.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for confirming her reputation as the mistress of understatement. Given the widespread concern that programming sub-committees are meeting in private and holding unminuted discussions, that there has already been unresolved disputes about who said what to whom and when, and that nothing in the Sessional Orders requires the continued adoption of this secretive format, why do not the right hon. Lady and the Modernisation Committee strike a blow for glasnost by recommending that, in future, such committees be conducted in public and that a proper minute be kept, so that right hon. and hon. Members can make their own judgment as to whether everything is fair and above board?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

The hon. Gentleman may or may not have had experience of business committees that meet from time to time when legislation is before the House. To a certain extent, it is a matter for Mr. Speaker's ruling. It has always been the case that such business committees meet in private. As for whether there is merit in a note being kept of their decisions, I should always be sorry if disputes arose about such matters. No doubt these are issues that we can continue to discuss. After all, we are engaged in an experiment. I hope—I say this in all seriousness to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has played a distinctive and constructive part in dealing with some legislation already during the Session—

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I am sorry about that.

It is the Government's hope that this will cease to be a matter of such party controversy, and will begin to be a way in which the House can better manage its business and its time. I think that there is scope for such a development, and I very much hope that that will occur.