Reform of Parliament

Reform is much discussed. It comes up at meetings to hear the views of the candidates for Speaker. What emerges when listening to them is that the role of Speaker is quite limited to push through reform, all the time the governemnt controls a strong majority and wishes to impede reforms which alow Parliament to challenge the executive more.

I would like Parliament to meet more often. At the very least we should have a September session, to interrupt the 80 day break from July to October. We need to hold the goverment to account in the summer as well as at other times of year. Too many regulations go through without debate during the recess. I doubt if any new Speaker will be able to insist on this. There should be more evenings when we can go on beyond 10 pm, if a bill needs more attention. There should be far fewer guillotines preventing debate.

I would like Ministers to have to tell Parliament first before telling others of their plans, so we can cross examine them on their intents with sufficient time to do so. A Speaker can urge and advise, but cannot demand, as the government has the votes. Will this government mend its ways for a new Speaker? Probably not.

I would like Parliament to have more time to debate laws and policies which are crucial. This year we lived through several months without a debate on the state of the banks and the economy. Week after week the government chooses for the topical debate a subject that is not central to the political controversies of the day. There are only the occasional exceptions when pressure builds up. Wy can’t opposition parties choose some of the topical debate subjects? This would not be the same as an Opposition day where we can table a critical motion, but a right to choose a general policy area for discussion.

Parliament needs to earn its keep. A strong Parliament will produce better government. Good Ministers relish Parliamentary scrutiny, because it can lead to sensible amendment of their plans. Bad Ministers leak and brief, try to avoid Parliament, and fail to answer the questions. For a good Minister Parliament is an opportunity to get things right by listening to other views and a platform to explain the policy. For a bad Minister it is a nightmare to be endured or circumvented.

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22 Comments

  1. Andrew
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    All very splendid stuff. Will it appear in the Conservative Manifesto for the next General Election?

  2. Javelin
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    The speaker is as the speaker does.

    If an announcement is made outside of Parliament that should have been announced inside Parliament then the speaker needs to punish the minister involved. I would ban the Minister from the chamber for a week whilst they think about how their actions weaken Parliament.

    The speaker has plenty of power, but to have authority you have to “be up for it”. I would make an excellent speaker because I would put the fear of God into MPs. Ironically they would be stronger for it.

  3. Richard
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The current speaker election is absurd – it seems to have turned into a partisan excercise to foist whomever is deemed least popular on the opposition. I can’t understand why a new speaker is being elected by this Parliament, when perhaps 50% of the members will change after the election, max one year away. There should be an interim speaker and then a real reformer elected by the new Parliament after the election.

    • Posted June 19, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      A conjurer does things with his hands while he is arranging the trick behind his back. The parliament is giving us a show of cleaning up while the Labour policitians and, yes, some Conservatives too, are lining their pockets. It’s magic!

  4. Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    “For a good Minister Parliament is an opportunity to get things right by listening to other views and a platform to explain the policy. For a bad Minister it is a nightmare to be endured or circumvented.”
    You said it!
    I wonder if that is why the present parliament is so very, very powerless and so very, very corrupt?
    If it really still held the reins of power in the country, then, presumably, it would sort itself out fairly quickly.
    We all know that it has over 3 out of 4 bills fixed by Coreper in Brussels and that it is now a place where you can get rich quick, but not yet as fast as in the MEP-ery.

  5. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Please add to your list – no more handing of power to the anti-democratic EU.

  6. Denis Cooper
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid everything boils down to the character of the MPs, and that’s determined by the character of the official candidates pre-selected and selected by the major political parties – three of which supplied 94% of the present MPs.

  7. David Logan
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    All good points. The shocker for me was when it was disclosed that a backbencher could not even enrol a substantive motion of no confidence in the Speaker. It does rather make you wonder what the majority of MPs are actually doing. Acting like unqualified, ill-informed social workers is one possibility. MPs need to regain control of the Commons if it is to survive in its current form. No legislation should be allowed to pass without debate. Committees should have the resources and support necessary to really set the agenda in policy areas. This Parliament is a disgrace but will the next be any better?

  8. alan jutson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    What very sensible comments.

    At the moment we have more Laws being passed through Parliament than at any time in its history, but no time to debate them properly.

    We have the biggest financial crisis the Country has suffered in generations yet there has been no proper debate.

    We have gone to war in two Country’s without proper debate.

    We have the biggest internal scandle over Mps expenses and remuneration in recent history.

    Senior Politicians now openly tell porkies about policy, and future expenditure.

    We have unelected people being given peerages by an unelected Prime Minister, so they can work for the Government but not be accountable to, or be questioned by Parliament.

    Meanwhile other Country’s work to solve the problems, what a contrast.

    The problem is John, it would seem that most of our problems are caused by Politicians messing with things that they appear to me, to know nothing about.

    Good Government/Management is often less Government/Management

    The crisis in our Courts is often caused by bad Legislation (Politicians).
    The finacial Crisis was in part caused by poor regulation (Politicians).
    We have gone to war on what appears to be false information (Politicians).
    We have disgraced MP’s standing down over expenses and allowances blaming a system they designed (Politicians).
    We have unelected people in Power (Politicians).
    We are spun incorrect and vague in formation (Politicians)
    We have a raft of new Taxes (Politicians)
    We have more restricted Freedom than past (Politicians)
    We have huge Debt (Politicians)
    We do not control our borders properly any more (Politicians)
    Our public Sevices are failing (Politicians)

    Never mind lets have 80 days holiday, then perhaps it will all be forgotten.

    And you all wonder why the Gerneral Public do not show much interest or vote.

    Not an attack on you John, but I think you get the picture.

    We need change and change fast, before the Damage is not able to be repaired.

    Face up to it, our once Great Country is broke, in more ways than one.

  9. Posted June 18, 2009 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Parliament, with notable exceptions, was wrecked in 1997 by that massive Labour majority. A bad day but hopefully to be repeated in reverse and a real Government be able to rid us of the horrors of the last 12 years. Heres hoping.

  10. Jeremy Poynton
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Hmm. Of course Parliament needs M,AJOR reform; it no longer serves those it is meant to represent.

    BUT – if we confirm the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament will no longer have the power to serve us as it should.

    Given that – what is the point of reforming an institution that is being put down.

    After a lifetime of voting Labour, until Iraq, and certainly with a nose peg for the Blair “revolution”, I was going to vote Conservative, as a result of Cameron saying we would have a referendum on the EU.

    Now that he has qualified that, that won’t happen.

    I’m 57. In the 70s – 76? – I voted for the EU, touted than as a free trade zone. We were told nothing of a federal Europe or the loss of our sovereignty. Therefore, I will be ruled by an organisation I have never had a chance to vote for.

    Don’t they call that tyranny?

    I couldn’t bring myself to vote at the last election, even though I consider it a civic duty. I fear it will be the same again, as we will never have a Labour MP where I live, in the South West, so no tactical voting needed.

    If there was a “None of the above” option, I would vote.

    As matters stand, no party represents me, and I think there are many, many others who would say the same.

    I read as well that whilst dropping ID cards, there will be a huge push for biometrics toi be used.

    Shame they don’t work very well.

  11. Mick Anderson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    There is always the theory that the fewer laws MPs pass, the less damage they do. Thus, the lest time that they sit, the better the countries chances.

    However, because the Ministers still appear to be able to add in regulations unchecked, that doesn’t really work as a theory any more.

    So, perhaps there should be a rule that everything has to be decided in the chamber.

    As observed, it is surely meant to be Parliment that has the power, not just one person pulling everybodies strings.

    I know Hull froze over earlier in the year, but things don’t seem to have changed much….

  12. TomTom
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    How does Parliament currently differ from the East German Volkskammer or the Supreme Soviet of the USSR ? Both were essentially rubber stamp bodies serving the needs of The Party which controlled the Executive. It is hard to see why the Opposition in the British system even bothers to sit in Parliament when a Government has a secure majority, in other systems the Opposition would take to the streets and form an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition [APO] as happened in Germany under Kiesinger’s CDU/CSU-SPD Coalition in the 1966-69 period.

    The fact is the British parliamentary system cannot operate with whipped party machines and is more conducive to 19th Century factions built around personalities and principles than ideologically-structured and metropolitan-centred political machines

  13. Adrian Peirson
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Parliament shouldn’t need reform, all our Parliamentarians have to do is obey the Law as set out in our constitution.
    Most of our Laws could be repealed backed to the Original bill or rights, Magna Carta and Common Law.

    EG our monetary system is a Fraud, had they obeyed the law in this matter we would not be in this mess and the financial system would not need reform.
    Second the entire world, seeing we were still prosperous would have to follow suit.

    Getting us into Iraq was built on ‘fitting the evidence around the policy’ this is commonly refered to as lying to Parliament and I’m failry sure is covered by the above.

    Selling off our Industries abroad, making us dependant on others weakens our ability to fend for ourselves, making us more liable to manipulation by other bodies like the IMF, UN etc, I’m pretty that weakening our country in this way comes under the Treason Laws.

    Similarly surrendering our sovereignty to the UN and the EU, Treason.

    Giving away our fishing grounds, Treason.

    All of our Problems stem from the lack of respect for the rule of our own Laws.

    we don’t need Reforms

    All the Govt / Parliament has to do is OBEY THE LAW.

  14. Freeborn John
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Parliament has not been able to hold the government to account for 100 years. It lost that ability when the executive moved from the monarchy to a cabinet decided by the Commons, and by the elimination of the House of Lords’ ability to block legislation from the Commons.

    Extending the hours of the Commons will not make any difference. It is a sham reform. The same is true of Gordon Brown’s talk of an Alternative Vote system to repalce FPTP, and his idea that a group of existing ministers should be responsible for Constitutional renewal. Whenever politicians are allowed to reform the Constitution that they must work within we always see the same concentration of power into their own few hands. We saw it 100 years ago with Lloyd George reducing the power of the Lords rather than making it directly elected. We have seen it the last 30 years with the creation of undemocratic institutions in Brussels that allow national ministers create EU law that is binding on their successors without the need for inconvenient debates and votes in the House of Commons.

    You are one of the few MPs who might be expected to see that real reform of our democracy is necessary, so it is disappointing to hear this talk of longer opening times.

  15. jean baker
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, your time and effort is greatly appreciated.

    I’m appalled – roll on the day when Labour’s ousted and true democratic process is fully reinstated.

  16. Posted June 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    How about ensuring that the number of MPs for each party closely matches the number of votes cast across the country?

  17. Posted June 18, 2009 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    I can only say I hope Ms. Widdecombe gets your vote.

  18. Mike Clarke
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    A good start would be to reverse ALL of the “modernisations” made to parliament since May 1997, including reinstating the hereditary peers in the House of Lords.

  19. colin
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    It seems clear that Cameron does not intend listening to the wishes of the people either as regards the EU.So there will still be no true democracy with a Conservative government.UKIP and BNP will surely prosper and rightly so.
    How do you propose changing this situation?

  20. DBC Reed
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Very rarely agree wholeheartedly with Mr Redwood but his proposals are more than sensible: you wonder why they are not in force already.
    Clearly the opposition parties should have the right to participate in the drawing up of a timetable of debates; perhaps with the big opposition party getting more debate nominations than the smaller one on a pro rata per mp basis.An opposition with nearly as many
    MP’s as the government would get to nominate a lot of debates,which would be no bad thing.Opposition parties might begin to act in concert,keeping up sustained pressure on the executive .
    Debates later in the evening are a concomitant of paying
    MP’s allowances to live near the Commons.You cannot expect help with your rent or mortgage to live in Central London and then claim it is excessive to stay late .If more MP’s were commuting this claim might have more validity.

  21. Adrian Peirson
    Posted June 19, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Surely the Executive cannot just invent Laws, there has to be some limit, they must remain within our constitution, for example, If I became Prime Minister and decided all people over 5ft 9in should be executed that would be wrong because it is illegal to go round Killing people, for no good reason, similarly, giving away our sovereignty cannot be done by the exective, nor indeed anyone.
    It is Illegal under our constitution.
    Do we have Laws or once you get into No 10 can you make any laws you wish, there are limits, and those limits are laid down in our constitution.
    Parliament can make any law it wishes but there’s no Murdering people over 5ft 9 inches and no Surrendering Sovereignty,

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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