Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons

23 November 2006 Session 2006-07 No. 1

Modernisation Committee launches new inquiries

The Modernisation Committee is today launching two new inquiries: 'Strengthening the role of the backbencher' and 'Making better use of non-legislative time'. The terms of reference and calls for evidence are given below.

Launching the two new inquiries Jack Straw, Leader of the House and Chairman of the Committee, said "The Modernisation Committee has done a good deal to help Members deal with the demands imposed on them by their constituency role. Now we intend to spend some time looking at the central part of the work of a Member of Parliament€”in Westminster€”how the role of backbenchers in the work of the House can be strengthened and how the quality and topicality of debates can be improved. The inquiries are announced together as we hope they will feed into one another. We will begin by taking evidence on the role of the backbencher."

Strengthening the role of the backbencher


Backbenchers have many roles, from constituency representative and advocate to legislating and holding the government to account. In recent years, the public has pressed Members to devote more time and energy to their constituency role. Much of the Modernisation Committee's work has therefore been aimed at finding ways in which Members may accommodate that demand, by reforming sitting hours, introducing a parliamentary calendar and making changes to business on Fridays.

However, their primary role is at Westminster and we intend to examine how backbenchers might be helped and encouraged to participate more effectively and productively in the work of the House. In so doing, we will look in particular at whether newer MPs are given an adequate introduction to the practices and procedures of the House and how all Members can better participate in the work of law making and scrutiny.

The inquiry will therefore address such questions as:

What can be done to strengthen the role of the backbencher in Westminster?

What induction to Parliament do new MPs receive? Do new MPs feel that they are given an adequate induction into the workings of Parliament?

How can House induction programmes best explain the procedures and conventions of the House in ways that Members would find useful?

Would Members welcome greater guidance on best practice on setting up an office, serving on committees, and dividing time between parliamentary and constituency work?

Do current practices and procedures encourage or discourage backbenchers engaging in the work of the House? Are Members excluded from participation by the procedures and conventions of the House?

Making better use of non-legislative time


The House of Commons Modernisation Committee is to conduct an inquiry into ways in which better use can be made of non-legislative time in the House.

The inquiry will address such questions as:

How can the quality and topicality of debates in the Chamber be improved?

Should Members have more opportunities for initiating short debates?

Should more debates be on substantive motions rather than on motions for the adjournment of the House?

Should there be a Westminster equivalent of 'interpellation', as used in Sweden and Germany, where an opposition party (or a group of Members) can call a debate on a topical issue or a matter of public concern?

How could time be used differently?

Is there a case for reintroducing Private Members' Motions or for introducing some other vehicle to allow Private Members to raise and debate issues of concern?

Are ballots a suitable way of selecting subjects for debate?

Could more use be made of Westminster Hall and should some of the debates currently held in the Chamber be transferred to Westminster Hall?

Is the Standing Order on short speeches working? Is greater flexibility needed and, if so, how could it be achieved?

How can opportunities for raising topical or urgent questions be improved?

Please send written submissions for both inquiries to [email protected] or by post to the Clerk, Modernisation Committee, Journal Office, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Submissions need not address all the points listed above and should be as concise as is consistent with conveying the relevant information. Submissions should indicate clearly to which inquiry they relate.

Information about the Modernisation Committee, including its membership and the complete text of its previous Reports can be found on these pages by clicking on the links.