Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Modernisation Committee

Now that Parliament is back, sittings of the Modernisation Committee have resumed. I sat through another fascinating morning of evidence [see last blog on the Committee - 28th March] This time there were two panels of witnesses. The first (09.35am) was the Deputy Speaker, Sir Alan Haselhurst assisted by David Doig (Clerk of Bills). The second (10.15am) panel was made up of senior Select Committee Chairs - Alan Williams (Liaison Committee); Tony Wright (Public Administration Ctte) Sir George Young (Standards and Privileges) and Michael Jack (Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).

Sir Alan's main point was "trust the Speaker". He discussed how the Speaker sought to balance the competing demands of backbenchers and Ministers - and was flexible and considerate of the demands upon members. He was concerned that Speakers lists - an issue the Committee seems quite interested in - could limit that flexibility. The impact could be to make debates more rigid and backbenchers could lose out.

Another issue was the question of short speeches. Standing Order 47 allows the speaker to restrict length of speeches [http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmstords/405/405.pdf]
Sir Alan expressed the view that the idea of 3 minute speeches was a well intentioned idea, which had not worked out as well as expected. MPs might be annoyed to find that a prepared speech of 10 minutes had to suddenly be reduced to 3 minutes.

Sir Alan also argued for greater flexibility in applying the 'moment of interruption', to allow for time taken by Ministerial statements. This was referred to as "injury time". It's certainly an useful idea.

The Select Committee Chairs provided some interesting ideas. Sir George Young suggested that Committee Chairs should, in addition to Ministers, be able to make statements to the House. There was discussion of the new 'Public Bill Committees' which replace Standing Committees. The Chairs were positive, but pointed out the differences with Select Committees.

The full meeting can be seen in the archive of parliamentlive.tv - and transcripts should be available on the Modernisation Committee's website in a few days.

Please pass on your comments about these ideas.