Early-day Motions

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 23rd April 2007.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 2:30 pm, 23rd April 2007

What assessment he has made of the merits of establishing an online system for tabling and signing early-day motions.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, Parliamentary Secretary

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—who, unfortunately, is abroad today—is aware of both possible advantages and possible problems associated with e-tabling of and signatures to early-day motions. The Procedure Committee is examining the matter, and I understand that it is due to consider a report in the near future. The Government will pay close attention to any recommendations that the Committee makes, and will respond in the normal way.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

Does the Minister accept that the currency of the early-day motion is now considerably devalued? It is now little more than parliamentary graffiti, and is used as the equivalent of parliamentary snout in this place. Could it not be returned to a central position in our deliberations? Perhaps the early-day motion that has the most cross-party signatures each week could be debated without a vote on a Friday.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, Parliamentary Secretary

My hon. Friend is right to stress the value of the currency of both early-day motions and questions. There is concern in the House about the number of questions tabled. Another Committee of the House, the Modernisation Committee, is examining the use of non-legislative time, and among the issues that it is considering are early-day motions and the number of signatures to them. I understand that its report may be available before the summer recess, and will provide an opportunity for discussion of my hon. Friend's point.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

The Deputy Leader of the House will know that, for the reasons given by Mr. Allen, many Members on both sides of the House do not sign early-day motions at all. Before we adopt the proposal in the question and make it even easier to table and sign early-day motions, does it not make sense to wait for the more substantive review to which the Deputy Leader of the House has referred?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, Parliamentary Secretary

I agree. That is precisely why the Procedure Committee is examining the matter, and I understand that its report is fairly imminent. As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is important for early-day motions not to be abused and to have significance, and I hope that we shall be in a position to reinforce that in the future.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

In echoing the concern expressed by my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, may I reinforce the argument by suggesting that the problem with the current system—and it would also be a problem with a system allowing early-day motions to be tabled online—is that it appears to many people to be profoundly ritualistic and to have no end result? Will the Deputy Leader of the House consider again the idea that if a decent number of signatures is achieved, that should be the threshold for a substantive debate, as suggested by Mr. Allen—but preferably not on a Friday? Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday would do.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, Parliamentary Secretary

The hon. Gentleman can name the day, as long as it happens. He will not mind my saying that he gave evidence to the Modernisation Committee fairly recently, and one of the issues discussed in the session that he attended was giving effect to early-day motions. I am not sure what the Committee will recommend, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman, fairly forcefully, that we will look carefully at any recommendation that the Committee makes.