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Commons mini-chamber `will mean more hot air'

PLANS FOR an extra Commons mini-chamber which would allow more time for scrutinising parliamentary business moved closer to reality yesterday.

MPs were expected to endorse proposals for a "baby chamber" in the Grand Committee Room, just off Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster, where uncontentious business would be debated, in a free vote.

The experiment would start in the autumn, with MPs sitting in a Continental- style semicircle. Presided over by Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Deputy Speaker, it will run in tandem with the main chamber and a quorum of only three people will be required per sitting.

But the plans, put forward by the cross-party Modernisation Committee, have come under attack by some MPs who said the whole parliamentary procedure needed to be privatised.

"We are told that we need this new sideshow because we have not enough debating time. But this week we are all going to bunk off a day early because the House is rising on Wednesday instead of Thursday... The Government wants to create another opportunity for people to drone on and on," the former Tory minister Eric Forth, said.

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, added that Fridays, where MPs had the opportunity to debate private member's bills, were already characterised by time-wasting. "This chamber will be another place were we are just submitting hot air," he said.

But Margaret Beckett, the Commons Leader, said the proposals were a "simple change" which would benefit both MPs and their constituents because there would be more time to raise their concerns.

"There used to be a time when MPs would sit through a full-day six-hour debate. But often they failed to be called to make a speech. This is now regarded as a waste of time, both by MPs and their constituents, and the new chamber would give them an increased opportunity to raise their concerns."

Mrs Beckett also stressed that it would be wrong to suggest that the bulk of work was still done solely in the Commons. "MPs are busy with increasing correspondence and committee work," she said.