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Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons

Bill Presented — Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 20th July 2009.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 9:53 pm, 20th July 2009

I beg to move,

(1) That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and make recommendations on the following matters:

(a) the appointment of members and chairmen of select committees,

(b) the appointment of the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means;

(c) scheduling business in the House;

(d) enabling the public to initiate debates and proceedings in the House; and

(e) such other matters as appear to the Committee to be closely connected with the matters set out above, and to report on these matters by 13 November 2009;

(2) That the Committee also consider such other matters as may be referred to it from time to time;

(3) That the Committee consist of eighteen Members;

(4) That Mr Graham Allen, Mr Clive Betts, Mr Graham Brady, Mr David Clelland, Mr David Drew, Natascha Engel, Dr Evan Harris, David Howarth, Mr Michael Jack, Mr Greg Knight, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mr Chris Mullin, Dr Nick Palmer, Martin Salter, Dr Phyllis Starkey, Mr Andrew Tyrie, Dr Tony Wright and Sir George Young be members of the Committee;

(5) That Dr Tony Wright be Chairman of the Committee;

(6) That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place, to report from time to time and to appoint specialist advisers;

(7) That this Order be a Standing Order of the House until the end of the present Parliament.

On 10 June, the Prime Minister announced in a statement to the House his support for the proposal by my hon. Friend Dr. Wright, the Chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, to set up a new Committee to consider reform of the procedures of the House of Commons. The motion before the House today gives effect to that proposal by establishing a Committee to make recommendations on the appointment of members and Chairmen of Select Committees, the scheduling of business in the House, and enabling the public to initiate debates and proceedings of the House.

This Committee will be an important step at looking at how the reform of parliamentary procedure can achieve stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament through a larger role for Back-Bench Members and the wider public. There have been earlier versions of this motion which attracted amendments. Because we are keen to proceed on the basis of consensus for this Committee, we withdrew the motion in order to see if we could reach a compromise with the hon. Members who tabled those amendments. Most recently, we accepted the amendment tabled by Mr. Chope and this is now part of the motion before the House today, at paragraph (1)(b).

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting my amendment, which had cross-party support on an important issue. However, the explanatory memorandum has not been updated to reflect the fact that my amendment has been accepted by the Government. Can the Minister explain that, or put it right?

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am sure that the issue was shortage of time, and I apologise for any shortcomings in the explanatory memorandum.

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Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

The Minister has been forthright with the House in indicating that she agrees with the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Chope and she has incorporated it in the motion, but can she indicate to the House her attitude and that of the Government to amendment (a)?

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I shall come to that question in a moment, if Members will give me a chance.

As we have reached agreement on a number of issues, I hope that the Committee can report quickly so that the proposed reforms can be considered for implementation early in the next Session. The three areas originally put forward for specific consideration are in the motion under paragraph (1):

"(a) the appointment of members and chairmen of select committees...

(c) scheduling business in the House" and

"(d) enabling the public to initiate debates and proceedings in the House".

We have made specific concessions in response to two of the amendments tabled to the original motion, and I shall speak about them briefly.

First, we have dropped the reference to timetabling "non-Government" business. I accept that it is likely in practice that any changes to the arrangements for scheduling non-Government business could have an impact on Government business, which is why we felt it sensible to accept that amendment. We remain firmly of the view that the Government of the day should have adequate opportunities to put their business to the House and, subject to the will of the House, to get their business through. I hope the Committee will accept that as an indication of the kind of recommendation that the Government are likely to view favourably.

Secondly, I know that some prospective members of the Committee were concerned about its terms of reference being drawn too narrowly. We have therefore inserted in paragraph (1) new subsection (d), which will allow the Committee to consider other matters that are "closely connected" with the main subjects referred to it-[Hon. Members: "It's paragraph (e)."] Okay. Our intention is that it should be a contingency provision to allow the Committee to consider consequential changes to areas of procedure that flow naturally from its principal recommendations.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

The Minister confirms that since another sub-paragraph was included, paragraph (1)(d) has become (1)(e), and I think that is what she is referring to. Does she agree that it would have been slightly more elegant if the Committee had been allowed to elect its own Chairman?

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

We are talking about a proposal from my hon. Friend Dr. Wright.

I shall recommend that the House resist the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay. First, it involves a substantial issue in its own right and I do not think it would be wise to add further items to the Committee's agenda for the very short period before it reports. More importantly, the proposal for Ministers in another place to appear before this House has implications for the work of both Houses and that is, therefore, not an area in which a Select Committee of one House could come to a set of recommendations that would be acceptable to both Houses.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am interested in the fact that the Minister says there will be only a short period, because it seems to me that there are four months before the Committee is due to report. We do not believe all that nonsense in the papers about going on holiday for 82 days: the Committee is perfectly able to sit during the summer recess and reach its recommendations. Given that the Committee is due to report by 13 November-a specific date five days before the state opening of Parliament-can the Minister confirm that if it makes specific recommendations the Government will consider them and put proposals before Parliament in the Queen's Speech so that they can be passed in the new Session of Parliament and take effect at the earliest opportunity?

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I very much hope that the work of the Committee will bring fruit in terms of reform in the next Session.

Finally, I have been impressed by the strength of feeling on both sides of the House-as is evident here tonight-in support of the work of the new Committee. I hope that the Committee can conduct a focused inquiry that will bear fruit in terms of reform, and I commend the motion to the House.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 9:59 pm, 20th July 2009

Many Members present agree that the business of the House can and should be planned and handled much better than it is at present. Many also agree that we could improve the existing Select Committee system. There is general consensus on the need to do more to re-engage the Commons with the public, particularly given the low esteem in which Parliament is currently held. For our part, Conservative Members have been proposing such changes for quite some time. Our party's democracy taskforce-

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Members Estimate Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons 10:00 pm, 20th July 2009

Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the shadow Deputy Leader of the House and for interrupting the flow of his eloquence in the process. We will return to him before very long. At this point, the House will understand, the appointed hour of 10 o'clock having been reached, there are two motions with which we need to deal before we can continue the debate. The first is on the subject of deferred divisions, and it may be for the convenience of the House simply to explain that the motion about to be moved by the Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household will be moved in moderately amended form, in recognition of the fact that the motions relating to Defence and to Hallmark in the names of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills have already been addressed.

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