One the best things this government has done so far was to allow the establishment of a Backbench Business Committee in the Commons. This Committee can choose the business roughly one day a week. This new freedom for backbenchers has brought us some crucial debates. Readers of this site in particular were pleased that this Committee gave us the time for a debate and a vote on an EU referendum when neither Labour nor the Coalition would give us time to discuss this crucial matter.
The reform was one of the results of the soul searching in the last Parliament about how the stature of Parliament could be enhanced. Many of us saw Parliament needed to be more relevant and more in touch with the concerns of electors and with their news agenda, even when this was inconvenient to Ministers and to Shadow Ministers who otherwise choose the business. Several of the Backbench debates have highlighted important issues that would otherwise have been ignored or played down – the European Court of Human Rights, the Hillsborough disaster and the plight of circus animals were other examples.
Yesterday the government rushed proposals through to change the way the Committee is elected in future, against the wishes of the current Committee. It was a sad and strange decision. Everyone speaking claimed the current Committee has done a good job. They were all elected by the whole House. They have not operated in a party political way. Now the government wants them to be elected by party, with Conservatives voting for Conservative members and Labour voting for Labour members. Backbenchers fear the front bench aim is to exert more influence over who gets these jobs.
I spoke against the government’s proposals. I urged them to leave it alone. Colleagues who also spoke wanted to wait for the Report of the Select Committee looking into it all before making any changes. The government used its payroll voters to push through its wishes. I will post my speech on this site. The main point I made was that Ministers should not see scrutiny and accountability to Parliament as a limit on their power. The true limits on their power are the EU, the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and the many independent quangos that have been set up. It this we need to address, not the power of Parliament to cross examine government.