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Leader of the House

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

The Leader of the House was asked—

Hand-held Devices

6. What representations he has received on the use of hand-held devices during proceedings of the House and its Committees. (52656)

I am very conscious of the fact that anything I say on this subject may be tweeted and used in evidence against me. The Leader of the House has received no representation on this matter, which is ultimately a matter for the House. The Procedure Committee has produced a sensible proposal in its report. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House wrote to the Chair of the Committee saying that we would both support a motion in the terms proposed by the Committee to be debated in Back-Bench time.

I commend the report of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) and his Committee on this matter. Would it, however, be technically possible to install a screen in the Chamber so MPs could follow a live Twitter feed during the course of our debates and therefore be able to see what people are saying about us, including our own colleagues?

It is an intriguing thought, but I suspect there are enough distractions in the Chamber already.

While I broadly support the use of electronic devices for urgent messages and the like, I divided the Procedure Committee on the matter and voted against the report, simply because I took the view that if we were all to be sitting here tweeting, checking our e-mails and reading newspapers on screens, we would not be paying proper attention to the debates we were sent here to engage in. I therefore ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether he is ready to respond to the Committee’s report, and let me add that I hope his response will be more considered than the report’s conclusions.

I do think this is a House matter, and a matter for you, Mr Speaker—and you have given an indication of your own thoughts on it. I understand that the Chair of the Committee has asked the Backbench Business Committee for time to discuss the report, and I think it is appropriate that the House has a debate on the issue, takes on board the contrary views on either side of the argument, and then comes to a decision.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Questions

7. For what reason the time allocated to questions for oral answer to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been reduced to 45 minutes; and if he will review that decision. (52657)

Following a request from the official Opposition, the Government increased the time allocation for questions for oral answer to the Deputy Prime Minister. As a consequence of the pressures on the time available for oral questions, it was necessary for changes to be made to the rota. The status of the oral questions rota will, of course, be kept under review.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. I know that you, Mr Speaker, and, indeed, the Leader of the House and the whole House, put great store on there being sufficient supervision of Departments of State. In asking the Leader of the House to review his decision, I would suggest that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is a Department whose responsibilities bear greater scrutiny than 45 minutes allows. We have had the unfortunate incident over the sale of forestry and a number of delayed decisions, which we on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are not able to consider because of the delay before the summer recess—I am thinking here of bovine tuberculosis, the natural environment White Paper and the water White Paper. Please will the Leader of the House review his decision and give proper scrutiny of that great Department?

May I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does, as Chair of the appropriate Select Committee, in holding that Department to account? Of course we will keep this matter under review, but I just say to her that the time available for DEFRA questions is longer than that for 10 of the other oral questions sessions.