Oral Answers to Questions — Deferred Divisions

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy 12:00, 3 April 2001

What assessment she has made of the experiment with deferred Divisions; and when it will be reviewed. [155219]

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

Deferred Divisions appear to be working well in allowing debate after the moment of interruption without forcing the majority of the House to remain until late into the night to deal with matters of minority interest. There had been 33 deferred Divisions as at 28 March, which is a potential eight and a quarter hours of voting time; in only eight were more than 100 votes recorded in the No Lobby, and in 21, fewer than 20 Members voted in the No Lobby.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the system will continue in the next Session? Does he agree that the official Opposition do not want serious debate in the Chamber and are intent only on wasting time?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

What I can confirm is that the system is an experiment, and it is a matter for the House to decide. I can say candidly to my hon. Friend that I support it. It saves time and is in the best interests of the House. Of course, there is an argument that if some Opposition Members—I stress the word "some"—had not been keen to devote so much time to certain subjects of so little interest, it might not have been necessary for the House collectively to assert its right to protect itself.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

I am sure that the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) meant to refer to the next Parliament, rather than the next Session of Parliament, when she asked her supplementary question.

Will the Minister not accept that deferred Divisions may well undermine and negate the influence of Back-Bench opinion on both sides of the House because the influence of Beck Benchers' speeches will have been forgotten by the time the Divisions take place, and that good government results from Back-Bench opinion on both sides of the House being properly expressed?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

Of course good government depends on exchanging ideas and opinions, and I have spent many happy hours late at night in the Chamber, listening to the debates. Those Members who wish to take part in the debate can, and they frequently do so at length, but I do not think that deferred Divisions have changed the weight of opinion or the importance of Back-Bench opinion.