Scheduling of Parliamentary Business

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:57 pm on 17th July 2017.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 6:57 pm, 17th July 2017

It is a great pleasure to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Kirstene Hair, who delivered a superb maiden speech. It is a great pleasure to see her in her place today, and I look forward to hearing further such contributions from her in the months and years to come. It really was a fantastic start to her parliamentary career.

I fear that today’s debate has been something of a missed opportunity. No institution, let alone Parliament, should be set in aspic. We need a strong parliamentary institution, and if that is what it is, it should evolve. It should have adult conversations about the way it conducts itself. There are strong arguments for change in the way the parliamentary business is scheduled, but I am afraid that Valerie Vaz did not make them, and nor indeed did Pete Wishart.

That is a great shame, because debate on improvements in this place, including improvements to scheduling, is what our constituents would expect us to cover, despite what some hon. Members were implying earlier. That should be what we discuss, and the focus should be on what would make us more productive and what would reduce the costs of Parliament, which are still considerable and not to be ignored. Perhaps the Opposition should have focused this opportunity on areas where real change is needed—change that has already been recommended by publications such as “The Good Parliament” report and in the work of the all-party group on women in Parliament.

I want to focus briefly on three of those changes, which I hope those on the Opposition Front Bench and, indeed, the Leader of the House will consider in a little more detail.

First, I should like a Division hour to be introduced. That would give all of us parliamentarians an awful lot more certainty about how we can plan our days. At present, we suffer from the archaic system of voting at the end of debates, and Members are very uncertain about when the votes may come, particularly during the Report stages of Bills. Division hours, which are common in the European and Scottish Parliaments, might give us the extra productivity that we now expect regularly from our constituents when they are going about their everyday work.