Headlines: September 6th, 2002

Ministers are to face a cross-cutting ‘question time’ to reflect the increasing policy work happening across traditional departmental boundaries.The change is one of many listed in ‘Modernisation of the House of Commons: A Reform Programme’ produced by the House Modernisation Committee.

The report recommends some radical changes to the way legislation is framed and debated, with much more emphasis on consultation and testing in draft form.

And it recommends changes to the hours Parliament works, with an end to the overlong summer break in exchange for longer recesses elsewhere in the year.

Key recommendations on scrutiny of legislation:

– publish more Bills in draft to ensure testing and scrutiny

– create more opportunity for Parliament to debate and to challenge legislation, with flexibility to carry over a Bill from one parliamentary session to the next

– other parties consulted on the shape of the legislative programme.

Key points on scrutiny of the Executive:

– reduce the notice required for Oral Questions, increasing the topicality of Question Time

– more debates with shorter speeches rather than few debates with longer speeches

– a new question session in Westminster Hall on cross-cutting issues – an example is given of the examination of Youth Policy, with questions to a team of Ministers from the Home Office, and the Departments for Education and Health

– Parliament resuming earlier, in September, offset by an additional constituency week added each year to either Easter or Whit recess

– announce the Parliamentary calendar a year in advance so MPs can make maximum use of time available in constituencies

– Commons to rise an hour earlier on Thursdays to give MPs a better opportunity to travel to their constituencies that evening

– extend the earlier start to the parliamentary day, introduced on Thursdays, to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The report argues that by bringing forward in the day the key Commons events such as Question Time, statements and opening speeches, Parliament would have a better opportunity to set the public agenda rather than just respond to it.

Link: www.privycouncil.gov.uk