Call for happy clappy House of Commons

Colin Brown
Sunday 03 August 1997 23:02
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MPs could be given official approval to indulge in clapping in the Chamber of the Commons for the first time under plans being considered for the modernisation of Parliament by a committee chaired by Ann Taylor, the Leader of the House.

MPs traditionally are not supposed to applaud their front benchers. They can wave their order papers, and cheer "hear hear", but clapping has been out.

That could change as part the committee's remit under Ms Taylor to rid the Commons of outdated practices and bring it more up to date.

The spontaneous applause from the new intake of Labour MPs which greeted Tony Blair's first session of Prime Minister's Questions was one example Ms Taylor cited in an interview yesterday for allowing clapping. "I think if you had clapping at the end of every set-piece speech then it wouldn't work. It should be spontaneous. But to say it should never happen is a little strong," she said.

Sir Patrick Cormack, another member of the Commons modernisation committee, said: "The Commons has survived for centuries without this kind of thing and I see no reason to start now." MPs will have the chance to express their view on some of the changes in the autumn.

Ms Taylor made it clear that the slim committee report last week on changes to the Commons order paper was merely the first instalment of the radical changes to come. Out could go some of the flummery from the Commons including the top hat worn by MPs for points of order during a division.

As earlier reported in The Independent, she favours allowing MPs to vote by using a swipe card to register their presence in the division lobbies, in order to speed up the procedure.

MPs are required to vote by walking past tellers in the Aye and Noe lobbies. There were protests that the division lobbies were becoming overcrowded with the influx of new Labour MPs, and there were also complaints that the tellers did not recognise some of the newcomers, causing delays.

In future, they will still have to walk through the divisions, but the voting process could be speeded up. Ms Taylor does not favour the system adopted for television audiences of push-button voting from their seats. One attraction of the present system is that ministers have to mingle with backbenchers, and that will stay. But the system of "nodding through" sick MPs is likely to end.

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