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House Of Commons

Volume 205: debated on Monday 9 March 1992

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Select Committee Reports


To ask the Lord President of the Council how many reports have been produced by House of Commons Select Committees during the current Session; and if he will make a statement.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John MacGregor)

In Session 1991–92, to 5 March, Select Committees published 54 reports and nine special reports.

Will my right hon. Friend say how often these reports are considered on the Floor of the House? When he does, he will accept that it is not often enough. Will he take particular note of the excellent report on reading by the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts which established that reading standards have certainly not fallen and that teachers of reading should be congratulated on the excellent job that they do? If that report were debated, it would surely spread confidence in the teaching of reading which would benefit everyone, including hon. Members.

The reports are debated in the House and we follow the practice of the Select Committee on Procedure which recommended three days for such reports. When I was Secretary of State for Education and Science I recall being concerned about the implications of some methods of teaching reading if they are followed too acutely—in other words, without a balance of reading methods. I know that that caused some concern, but, broadly speaking, my hon. Friend is right to say that standards in our schools are very good.

Will the Lord President explain the priorities that he adopts in providing time for debating the reports? He provided time rapidly for the Select Committee on Sittings of the House which concerned curtailing hon. Members' hours. Yet for more than three months he has had in his hands the report by the Select Committee on Members' Interests which recommends changes in the registration of commercial lobbying interests. Is not that because many Tory Members are up to their necks in money received for commercial lobbying of one sort or another? The right hon. Gentleman did not provide time for such a debate because he did not want to embarrass the Tory party so close to a general election.

That is absolute nonsense. It had nothing to do with that. Hon. Members of all parties who have interests have them declared in the register, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The reason why we have not been able to debate the report is that we have had a great deal of other business to do. We have made extremely good progress with the most important business—Government legislation. However, I thought it right to debate the report of the Select Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) because many hon. Members of all parties, which was not the case with the other Select Committee report, asked me to find an early opportunity to enable the House to give its initial response to that splendid and important report.

Palace Of Westminster (Security)


To ask the Lord President of the Council what new arrangements he proposes to improve security in the Palace of Westminster.

It has been the long-standing practice of Leaders of the House not to comment on matters of security within the Palace of Westminster. I can, however, reassure the hon. Gentleman that we regularly keep security matters under review and take all necessary further steps in the light of such reviews.

Will the Lord President urge the security services to concentrate their search for the alleged theft of information from hon. Members on the organisations that regularly spy on hon. Members, including the organisation that last week published a ludicrous volume full of slanders and innuendos about hon. Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman stop the self-defeating, ludicrous, sleazy, muck-raking by the Conservative party's thought police?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the document that was recently published by Conservative Central Office—

"Who's Left?". There is no need to have any security inquiry into that document because it uses published, freely available sources. There is no sleaze. It is a document about the Labour party's policy attitudes and it rightly points out that more than half of Labour Members have either recently belonged to or still belong to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It is an important contribution to discussion and to policy attitudes on important matters.

As the Lord President has successfully demolished the Opposition's spurious arguments, will he get back to real questions of security and take time to pay tribute to all who look after security in the Palace of Westminster? It is a nightmarish and difficult job for them all and sometimes we sound a little bit too critical.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am happy to pay tribute to the security services. They do a good job in the House, under the Serjeant at Arms. It is not an easy task and it depends, for example, on thefts being reported. It does not help when distorted and misleading accusations, often with no foundation, are made by one or two hon. Members.

Question Time


To ask the Lord President of the Council whether he has any further plans to propose changes to the order and method of Question Time; and if he will make a statement.

It is a question. Do not panic. Is the Lord President aware that the Prime Minister has not been doing very cleverly lately in Question Time? He had to apologise about that young girl Carly because he got it all wrong. Then he got the public sector borrowing requirement wrong. Will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the idea of giving the Prime Minister a mentor who could sit by his side for these last two days to help him out? Perhaps he might use the ex-Prime Minister to give him a chuck on. May I make the further suggestion that when it is all over on 9 April we get the right hon. Gentleman a new job—a walk-on part in a re-run of "Crossroads" or as a substitute for Ken Barlow.

I sometimes think that the hon. Gentleman is so busy thinking up his contorted questions that he does not observe what is going on in the House at other times. If he had been observing, he would have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been scoring heavily at Prime Minister's Question Time —winning hands down. Whenever the election comes, the hon. Gentleman will find that the electorate has also noticed that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that very few people in the country will share any of the views of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? Question Time is unique to this Parliament. It is very much admired by foreign parliaments and enables the Prime Minister and others to answer questions in front of us all. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done extremely well and will continue to do so for many years to come.

As always, my hon. Friend talks great sense, and I agree with everything that he has said.

May we have a change in our procedure for questioning the Leader of the House who last week announced the business for the following week even though he apparently knows that the election is to be called for 9 April and that the business will therefore be changed? Why should the Leader of the House be in a position to give the wrong information to the House, given that he will almost certainly be making another business statement this week? As Leader of the House, does not he have a responsibility to the whole House?

My business statement every week is based on the position as I see it at the time and we have organised matters at the time. There are occasions—there have been occasions in this Parliament—when I have to make a supplementary business statement. I always make the statement at the time—as I did last Thursday—based on the information available to me and on the right process for the House for the following week.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us would like to ask how it is possible to contemplate spending an extra £38 billion without increasing taxes, increasing unemployment and increasing prices? Will he therefore amend Question Time to allow us to ask questions of the Leader of the Opposition?

My hon. Friend makes a point which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will be making on many occasions in the weeks ahead. The reason why the Opposition do not like Question Time and try to drown my right hon. Friend out is that they know that we are right in everything that we say and that the country will not support them on their policies.

If the election were not to be held until May or June, would an announcement be made next time we have business questions?