Friday 19 February 2010

Reform will have to be fought for

A document has found its way to Lobbydog which reveals the level of frustration among MPs tasked with reforming Parliament.

The Reform of the House of Commons Committee was set up to decide how to strengthen Parliament, so it could better challenge the Government.

The group published a report last year called Rebuilding the House laying out changes which they expected would be included in a motion to be debated in the Commons on Tuesday.

But the leaked document – a briefing note from a February 10th evidence session – reveals the group felt leaders were not only dragging their feet, but that the motion the Government finally put forward waters down their suggestions.

The note shows reformers had planned to ask party leaders why things weren’t moving more quickly in setting up a “back-bench business committee” which would take over scheduling some Commons business from the Government.

Questions that reformers - including Nottingham MP Graham Allen (above) - wanted to ask included:

“Are all three of you signed up to this idea? If so, can we not go a bit faster than proposed? Surely you can get a Standing Order together which could get the Committee going in a new session?”

The note then shows that reformers believe the Government motion “does not seem to accept” the idea that MPs, instead of whips, should choose who sits on Select Committees.

This is crucial because the current system allows the Government to fill the committees – which scrutinise policy – with friendly voices.

Finally the note shows frustration that the Governemnt motion – to be put forward by Harriet Harman – simply ignores three recommendations the reformers wanted.

They include letting MPs decide who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, giving opposition parties more power over opposition day debates and setting up a committee to scrutinise how petitions are used.

The changes that are eventually brought in could dramatically alter the way we practice democracy in the UK.

So if these issues still have not been sorted out by Tuesday’s debate I hope the reformers have the courage to speak out and demand action from their own party leaders.

P.S. I should add that Graham Allen is not the source.

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