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House of Commons Hansard
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Modernisation Committee
26 November 2009
Volume 501
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20. When she next plans to arrange a meeting of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. [301685]

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Modernisation of the House is taken forward in a number of ways. The parliamentary reform Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), is the most recent development, and it has now reported. The Procedure Committee also looks at ways of reforming the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that all that is important work.

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What the House of Commons desperately needs is sensible and considered reform. When this Government came into office in 1997, they set up the Modernisation Committee, under the cloak of which they have severely restricted the ability of the House of Commons to hold the Executive to account and, furthermore, have stopped us scrutinising legislation properly. Will the Government now scrap the Modernisation Committee, which has not met for over a year, and give us a proper opportunity, through making time available in the House of Commons, to debate the Reform of the House of Commons Committee report that has just been published?

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I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Modernisation Committee has achieved a number of things that have all helped with House scrutiny.

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Name them.

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The commitment to more draft Bills, earlier sittings on Thursdays, sittings in Westminster Hall—[Interruption.] Select Committee reports can be debated in Westminster Hall. Deferred Divisions—

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Topical debates.

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Yes, topical debates. For Select Committees, there has been the introduction of core tasks and the creation of the Scrutiny Unit. For oral parliamentary questions, notice has been reduced so that they are more topical. There are also earlier sittings, the carry-over of Bills, the connecting of Parliament with the public and Public Bill Committee evidence-taking. I rest my case.

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A Justice Department Bill is due to come before the House in early January. Can my hon. Friend give me a commitment that the compensation scheme for the victims of Mumbai, Sharm el-Sheikh, Bali and other terrorist incidents, which was promised by the Prime Minister and other colleagues and which the Government were supposed to put in the Queen’s Speech, will be included in the Bill?

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Order. As always, the right hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity is to the fore, but the relationship between that question and the question on the Order Paper is at best tangential, and at worst non-existent, so I suggest it is not answered.

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As the longest-serving member of the Modernisation Committee in this House, and as a past Chairman of the Procedure Committee, may I ask the Deputy Leader of the House whether she thinks it is time for the Modernisation Committee to meet again, not least to discuss the proposals in the Reform of the House of Commons Committee report, bearing in mind that many of them originated in the Modernisation Committee under the inspired leadership of the late Mr. Cook?

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The hon. Gentleman put a question to me on this matter some weeks ago. As he has said, there is a continuum of modernisation. On that earlier occasion, I said that we would bring forward our proposals to establish a new Committee on parliamentary reform. It was established, it has reported, and we are now considering its proposals.

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Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that we need to discuss the report of the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), and that we also need quickly to secure cross-party agreement to introduce the reforms before the next election? We must do this quickly.

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Of course the House will need to debate the report and come to a decision on any changes, but we should reflect on the fact that the report was published only two days ago.

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The Minister has acknowledged that although the Modernisation Committee has not met for some time, the process continues. Can we therefore have an early opportunity to make a decision on the Procedure Committee’s report on the principle of electing our Deputy Speakers?

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Recommendations have been made on that and are being considered.

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Having served on the Modernisation Committee, the Procedure Committee and, more recently, the parliamentary reform Committee, may I say that it makes eminent sense for the Modernisation Committee to be rolled into the Procedure Committee and for us to bolster the powers of that Select Committee, which has done valiant work and could do so even more?

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I do not think that I can add to what I have said on that matter.

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That is very disappointing, because a lack of urgency is being shown by those on the Government Benches, given just how little time is left to make these reforms stick before the end of this Parliament. The Modernisation Committee was a great betrayal, because it was meant to bring forward reforms to improve the accountability of Parliament. The promise was that we would get proper management of the business throughout the year in return for the programming of Bills, but instead we have just had guillotines by the back door. Many of the reforms that the Minister talked about have come from the Procedure Committee. It should be left to get on with reforming the procedures of this House and the Government should make clear how much urgency will go into ensuring that these reforms are introduced.

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I have said that we are expecting to have a debate and to come to decisions about any changes on which we need to proceed. A great deal of work is going on in this place; I have read out a number of the things for which the Modernisation Committee was responsible, and a great deal of consideration is being given at the moment to reform.