Reform bill sounds final cut for the guillotine

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The Independent Online
The Government will begin its changes to the Commons in the New Year, with a deal over the Scotland Bill. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says it spells goodbye to the parliamentary filibuster and the guillotine and hello to smart-card voting.

An extraordinary show of cross-party agreement will greet MPs when they return to the Commons after their New Year break, which is likely to herald the end for the filibuster and the guillotine.

Ann Taylor, the Leader of the House, and the Commons negotiators for all the main opposition parties, including Gillian Shephard, Ms Taylor's shadow, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats have signed a joint motion agreeing to limit the time spent on each clause of the Scottish devolution Bill.

By keeping to a strict timetable, all the parties believe they will be able to achieve a better, more reasoned debate on the floor of the Commons on one of the most important constitutional Bills to be put through Parliament for a generation.

A cross-party select committee is expected to propose timetabling all Bills in the future. That would end the need for MPs to filibuster to put pressure on the Government over single issues. Some MPs will argue that they are being robbed of one of their key weapons to hold up government business, but ministers would no longer need to impose a guillotine to cut off debate.

The move is the first important step by the Government in modernising the conduct of business in the House of Commons, and bringing the chamber out of the Victorian period and into the computer age. The Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, is studying more sensitive changes which could mean an end to the practice in which MPs - including women - were expected to don a top hat to make a point of order during a division.

A collapsible top hat is kept in reserve by the Commons badge messengers but wearers were often the butt of jokes from their friends - Dennis Skinner has been known to sing "Give me the moonlight" at those donning the top hat.

In an end-of-year radio interview, Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland, said the Scottish parliament would not be a "Trojan horse to independence". He hoped the other parties in the Scottish parliament would concentrate on domestic issues when it sits in2000, instead of pressing for independence. "My hope and my wish is that, when the parliament does meet ... we should get down to looking at what we are doing about the problems of housing in Scotland, what we are doing about delivering our promises in the health service," he said.