House of Commons Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:31 pm on 3rd November 2005.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 3:31 pm, 3rd November 2005

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There is an argument for providing access to the full range of political debate through our website. It is a reality of life today that the number of single-issue pressure groups is increasing, and political issues are debated outside the traditional confines of the democratic process. We need to find a way of ensuring that Parliament is seen as part of the process, and not detached from debates such as that on the environment.

There is much work to be done on the website. I agree about the desirability of improving links with MPs' websites. They tend to be rather buried at the moment, but then a number of things are buried. We need to devote a smart design mind and a smart strategic mind to a project to redevelop the website to make it more approachable. That is the direction in which we are going. I hope that that will contribute towards a final product that will help to make Parliament more visible.

The Puttnam commission's recommendation to ensure that we educate young people better about the workings of Parliament is extremely valuable. It contains some good ideas that merit further discussion by the Commission and by hon. Members generally. I echo the compliments paid to the education service, which is our front line in ensuring that we have high-quality information for young people.

Finally, may I say a few words in my capacity as Chairman of the two audit committees? It is a new role for me; I have chaired only two meetings. The hon. Member for North Devon has also chaired only a couple, so we are learning the ropes. I pay tribute to the two gentlemen who have shouldered the bulk of the work of the Administration Estimate Audit Committee and today have the bulk of the Committee's expertise: our two independent members, Sir Thomas Legg and Mr. David Taylor. They have certainly been wise guides to me in my new role. They have committed a lot of work to the committees over the years and they know their stuff—frighteningly so, sometimes. It will take the hon. Gentleman and me some time before we know as much about the workings of the place as they do. However, they are a good example of how the House can benefit from using the right external expertise in the right ways to ensure that we do things in the most effective way possible.

The committees also offer an example of the continued process of tightening the working relationships between the two Houses. In two weeks' time, we will have the first meeting between the audit committees of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The initial object will be to share information, but I have no doubt that after that joint meeting we will have a clearer sense of ways in which we can streamline our processes, work more closely together, share expertise and generally improve the workings of the audit teams, who do a great job.

Their work load is scarily substantial—looking at the schedule at my first meeting I saw that there was a huge amount to get through. However, this is a large and complicated place, and doing a proper internal audit on it requires diverse skills and hard work, and necessitates the auditors going into places that I suspect many of us, as hon. Members, will never get to. I am sure that those who have been hon. Members for longer than I have know that there are always people somewhere in the Palace of Westminster doing a job that none of us ever gets to see.

The report is important. It shows hon. Members, those interested in the workings of the House and those who work in the House the real extent of what is done here. It shows that we are part of a complex organisation. It shows that the smooth working of our democracy is dependent upon a team of people who work long hours and who deliver a range of excellent services. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The Commission can learn much from what they do and what they advise. We must ensure that we always listen to them, because they have a distinct and important perspective on how we can improve the workings of Parliament. It is an excellent team. It makes the House of Commons work smoothly. That is why we remain the mother of Parliaments.