1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons speech on the Modernisation of Parliament, made on the 22nd July 2000.
MR JOHN MAJOR:
Mr Major: This was beginning to turn into a rather partisan debate. It is fortunate that the hon. Member for Stoke-
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Prime Minister took time out of the debate at the beginning of the afternoon for a statement that could just as easily have been made at the beginning of next week to permit more hon. Members to express their views on the procedures of the Commons. It was a foolish thing to do.
I am leaving the House at the general election, so I have no further ambitions here. There is nothing that the Prime Minister, or for that matter my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, can offer me that I wish to have. That puts me in an excellent position to express some home truths, and I intend to do so for the good of the House and for no other purpose.
The House of Commons has been a very large part of my life. I always wished to come here, and I have loved every moment-
Yet today this House and those of us who are privileged to be sent here to serve in it are held in less regard by our electors than I can ever recall. That is not true of Members of Parliament individually. There is still a great deal of affection for them in their constituencies. But it is true of Members of Parliament as a body and of the House as a whole. We are not popular out there, and that long-
That must be changed. I do not believe that it will be changed if the House is perceived by the electorate to be as putty in the hands of any Government with a secure majority and a good whipping system. It is in the interests of the institution of Parliament itself that we should have reforms to begin to reverse that perception and that reality.
The main reform that we need is to change the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, which has become unbalanced over the past 20 or 25 years. I believe that we must begin to change the perception that any Government with a large majority and an efficient Whips Office is a five-
Many years ago, under a different Government, Lord Pym warned of the dangers of too large a majority. I think that we have seen that vividly demonstrated in this Parliament. Too much legislation is pushed through, too much of it poorly considered. We have had twice as many timetable motions of one sort or another in this Parliament as between 1990 and 1997.
Parliament is often ignored-
The Government press machine has been almost wholly politicised. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), who is not in his seat at the moment, for tabling questions that reveal the scale and extent of that. No. 10 is being strengthened as the House is effectively being weakened.
I think that some of the proposals on modernisation are welcome, and I congratulate the Leader of the House on those-
It was a bad start to this Parliament when the Prime Minister decided that Prime Minister's Question Time should take place once a week, not twice. There was no consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. I know-
That has had a secondary malign effect. More often than not, once Prime Minister's Question Time is over on a Wednesdays, the House is nearly deserted, The Marie Celeste was crowded compared with this House on many Thursdays and Fridays when there is no special business as there is today.
Lord Norton says that Prime Minister's Question Time should be twice a week for 30 minutes. Good for Lord Norton-
The outcome of this debate should not just be that the Government outvote the Opposition. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the House should listen; they should set up consultations with Opposition parties and Back Benchers to consider changes.
In the circumstances that have developed over the years, more powerful Select Committees have become desirable. I would favour paying their Chairmen and allowing the House to elect their Chairmen and membership. If we can provide an alternative parliamentary career to parliamentarians, then Parliament will be strengthened instead of the Executive. That is the right direction.
I favour the announcement of the parliamentary programme for several years; the proposals should face pre-
We need such reforms. I would establish a Standing Committee of both Houses to consider constitutional reform. Before a Government just decide on such a matter, let that Committee examine it and take evidence. I would favour the Prime Minister breaking with past tradition and attending Select Committees to answer questions in a more clement atmosphere than that of Prime Minister's Question Time in the House.
The problems did not all arise during this Parliament-
The Prime Minister can still retrieve the situation. Let him consult all the Opposition parties and his Back Benchers on reforms to strengthen the House. Let him sack the spin doctors, who so mislead, and the political press officers who are a stain on Parliament's traditional procedures. Let him get rid of the advisers who have often become more influential than his Ministers. Let him instruct his Ministers that Parliament-