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House Of Commons

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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Standing Order No 143

35.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received about the operation of Standing Order No. 143 (Withdrawal of Strangers from House). [36492]

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

None, but my hon. Friend may wish to draw any concerns that he may have to the attention of the Procedure Committee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the mechanism of "I spy Strangers" either does not or should not have any useful purpose in this day and age? Does not this archaic procedure, which is inexplicable to the general public, lower the reputation of the House and should it not be abolished without further ado?

Leaving aside any views that I might have on that matter, one view that I strongly hold is that changes to the procedures of the House are best made after proper consideration by the Procedure Committee and consultation through the usual channels. I know when I am getting into dangerous water, so I will refer my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee.

As the procedure in question is a way for Opposition Back Benchers from time to time to cause difficulties for the Government, does the Leader of the House agree that in the next Parliament it is far more likely to be used by Tory Back Benchers than by Labour ones?

It has already been used, I believe, once in the current Session, by a Tory Back Bencher sitting not. very far from me in a new capacity. However, I do not want to take any party position on the matter, which is for all of us to consider as good Members of the House of Commons.

Divisions

36.

To ask the Lord President of the Council how many Divisions there were in the House between January and 19 July 1995 and in the comparable period in 1994. [36494]

The number of Divisions in the House between 10 January 1995 and 19 July 1995 was 185. That period covered 116 sitting days. The number of Divisions in the House between 11 January 1994 and 21 July 1994 was 246. That period covered 118 sitting days, including an extended period during which the usual channels were blocked.

Does the Leader of the House accept that what has really happened is that the House of Commons sits for a smaller number of hours and the result is that there have been fewer Divisions? Does it not also indicate that there is not so much clear blue water between the two Front Benches? Perhaps in future he will remind all the speakers at the Tory party conference that the clear blue water looks a bit purple at the present time.

I readily accept that there is even more clear blue water between the Government Front Bench and the Bench below the Gangway on which the hon. Gentleman sits than between the Government and Opposition Front Benches. What I suspect is also revealed is that there is a lot of clear red blue water in the Gangway.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to do a little further analysis of those figures? Will he enumerate the occasions on which the official Opposition Front Bench has voted against measures to try to reduce crime, to reduce Britain's competitiveness and to increase public expenditure? Will he also analyse how often the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has actually voted against the wishes of the Opposition Front Bench?

I think in both cases the answer is probably that the occasions are too numerous to recall.

Electronic Information Services

38.

To ask the Lord President of the Council what plans he has to provide more information from his Department to the parliamentary data and video network and to improve electronic information services for hon. Members and the public. [36496]

The parliamentary data and video network is a private network exclusively for the use of the Houses of Parliament. Public access is expressly not permitted. As part of the recently installed Internet link, however, plans are in hand for the provision of a public World Wide Web server, which would allow access by the general public to limited information. Possibilities for future developments on the data and video network are considered by the relevant staff Committees of both Houses, together with the House of Commons Information Committee and the House of Lords Library and Computer Sub-Committee.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will have noted that I specifically asked about Members' services as well as access for the public. I welcome the fact that the public will be able to obtain more information on the Internet. However, as we are spending a large amount of public money putting in a network for the use of Members and their staff, would it not be better to move very quickly ahead with getting as much information as possible about what is happening in the House on to the parliamentary data and video network so that we can cut out an awful lot of the paper currently being created day by day?

I find myself quite in sympathy with that as a general proposition. However, as I have said, those matters would need to be considered by the appropriate Committees of the House.

We have a statement first. I shall, of course, come back to the hon. Gentleman.