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Whips Offices

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

20. If she will bring forward proposals for reform of the role of the Whips Offices as part of the Government’s proposals for constitutional reform; and if she will make a statement. (280592)

As I mentioned in an earlier reply, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Committee to be set up for a defined short period to look at issues of reform, such as making Select Committee processes more democratic, scheduling for more and better time for non-Government business, and engaging the public in topics for debate such as petitions.

The political process may need Whips to give shape and direction to efficient policy implementation, but the parliamentary system allows the Executive to take liberties with democracy, generating an atavistic herd instinct that strangles independent thought and objectivity. Does my hon. Friend agree that an ordered party is best obtained by persuasion rather than patronage, and by consent rather than compulsion? If we are serious about reform, we must abandon the coercion and inducements available to Whips, starting with having more powerful Select Committees chosen by this House.

I will try not to take that too personally; until very recently I was my hon. Friend’s Whip. I very much hope that he believes that the relationship I had with him when I was a Whip allowed him to be independent-minded and to decide for himself. Compulsion and the other things he mentioned are not facets of the Whips Office; Labour Members are independent-minded and the Whips Office just works to try to get the Government business through.

At the moment, programming seems to be decided by what are euphemistically called “the usual channels”: the Government and Opposition Whips getting together. Will the Government adopt the practice, used in the Scottish Parliament, of conducting a business committee on which all parties are represented? That would mean that decisions on programming could be taken much more transparently.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. When the new Parliamentary Reform Committee comes together shortly—we expect to table a motion on that next week—it will be able to examine the exact issue of programming non-Government time.