Secret talks plot changes for Commons

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Indy Politics
A protest about the secrecy surrounding a Government project to "modernise" the workings of the House of Commons was made yesterday, raising fears that ministers are seeking to take over more control.

Richard Shepherd, the Conservative MP for Aldridge-Brownhills, complained to the Leader of the House, Ann Taylor, about secret meetings of the cross- party modernisation committee over recent weeks.

Mrs Taylor said the committee, which she chairs, was meeting in secret "because that is what the House decided". She said it was still deliberating, but it is understood its draft report is being finalised and expected to be published before the recess of Parliament in a fortnight.

The report will herald a wide range of far-reaching changes to the way the Commons operates, which could be approved for the next session of Parliament.

The main change is likely to be the timetabling of all Government bills, ending the use of filibustering as a tactic to try to delay Government legislation.

Supporters argue it will mean MPs will have more orderly debates, with an end to all-night sessions. Tory MPs are ready to agree to timetabling, but were said to be digging in their heels over a demand that the committee stage of all constitutional Bills will be taken on the floor of the Commons.

One senior Tory source said: "It's non-negotiable." But MPs privately said they expected the report to go ahead next week, for a debate and vote in the autumn.

There were also claims that the Labour leadership could use a change of voting system for European elections to weed out troublesome left wing Labour MEPs.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, announced proportional representation would be introduced for the European elections in 1999 by the regional list system, allowing the party more control over which candidates go forward to the European Parliament. A Bill will be introduced later this session.

The introduction of PR would mean minor parties could expect to win seats if they get more than about 10 per cent of the votes. Ministers said the Green Party would have secured a seat, if PR had been in place in 1989.