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MPs support big reforms in way Parliament is run

Parliamentary procedure seems arcane and boring to most people, but actually it matters a lot because it largely determines what gets into legislation and what does not, and why so many of the changes the public wants to see happen get blocked.   For that reason it’s heartening to see signs that the old ways, which have always allowed the government of the day to manipulate the House and keep reform at bay, are beginning to change.   Parliament First, a cross-party group to drive parliamentary reform which I chair, has just surveyed all MPs on their support (or otherwise) for a series of major reforms.   The results were overwhelmingly favourable.

All MPs were asked their views on 6 main questions, and 120 replied, very nearly a fifth:

  1. Should confirmation hearings be held by the relevant Select Committeesfor key public sector appointments?   96% said Yes.   The practice has already started with the Treasury Committee, and we now need to extend this to all committees.
  2. Should brief explanatory statements be provided for all amendments laid to public bills at bothe committee and report stages?   87% said Yes.   This matters because most MPs vote on bills without knowing what they’re voting for – they just follow their whips.
  3. Should the House have the power to set up its own Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry (at present they’re set up only by the PM) when issues of serious overarching importance arise (e.g. Iraq war, public riots)?   77% said Yes.   This could potentially have big significance in holding the government to account.
  4. Should members of the Committee of Selection be elected?   72% said Yes.   This would very likely put a stop to government whips packing bill committees with government trusties and keeping ‘dissidents’ (i.e. those with an independent turn of mind) off committees.   It should ensure that bills get proper scrutiny.
  5. Should the Liaison Committee (composed of the chairs of all the Select Committees) have the right to table motions, drawn from the most important Select Committee reports, for debate and vote on the floor of the House?   67% said Yes.   This would ensure that key Select Committee reports, sometimes with far-reaching implications, get a proper hearing before the whole House instead of, at present, gathering dust in the archives.
  6. Should measures be taken to improve the effectiveness and raise the status of private members’ bills?   73% said Yes.   This would counter the artificial obstacles deliberately raised by governments to make it easy for a single MP (usually a whip) to derail such bills, however worthy, or to cause them to fall if a very high proportion of MPs (100) were not present to vote for them on a Friday when most MPs are away in their constituencies.

We are now planning the tactics to turn this overwhelming support into resolutions of the House carried by a majority.

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