Reform of Parliament should be prime target for next government

People understandably are angry at what they see as a raucous and rowdy mob at PMQs and at the MPs’ expenses scandal recently rehearsed by the Rifkind-Straw scandal of access for cash, but these are the more visible aspects of Parliament’s activities.    Sadly it is the much less visible dimension of how Parliament routinely works which is the real problem.   The purpose of Parliament is to hold the government to account, though most MPs spend much of their time scheming to secure their party advantage and to promote what they hope will be their ministerial career.   But in terms of holding the government to account, the real raison d’etre, Parliament is currently not fit for purpose.

At the committee stage of bills, when government legislation is supposed to be stringently scrutinised, the Whips choose the members of the committee, so that radicals or dissidents are kept out.   The government has an inbuilt majority on the committee, so that regardless of who wins the debate, the government virtually always wins the vote.   At the report stage of bills when the House as a whole has a change to change important legislation, most MPs follow their own Whips into the lobby and haven’t taken the trouble to find out what they’re voting for.   When the Lords send back (often very sensible) amendments to the Commons, they are often overruled by Ministers sitting in a tiny back-room with a small majority without debate.

Moreover, private bills presented by individual Members require 100 MPs to vote in favour, but are allocated by the Whips to Fridays when almost all MPs have departed to their constituencies, and even if a bill survives this hurdle it only has any chance of becoming law if it is wholly in accordance with government policy.   Votes at the end of Back-Bench Business Committee debates, where MPs themselves choose the subject for debate for the first time for 50 years (only conceded by the government after the expenses scandal), are simply ignored by the government.   When a major debacle occurs, Parliament fails to exercise its right to set up a public inquiry if the prime minister refuses to do so (e.g. after the 5 days of rioting in August 2011).   Too few cabinet ministers and other top public sector appointees are held to account, either at appointment or recall, by Select Committees.   And MPs themselves are not held to account by the electorate through a right of recall.

All of these failings can be remedied by a sustained public campaign demanding a radical reform of Parliament – sadly it won’t come about from within Parliament alone because too many MPs are concerned with playing along with the Whips to enhance the prospects of a ministerial career.   This whole issue should therefore feature strongly in this coming election.   Full details of all proposed reforms are set out in a booklet edited by me entitled ‘What They Never Told You about Parliament and How It Should be Put Right’, which is being launched next Tuesday and can be obtained free from my office in the House of Commons.

To obtain the free book, write to Michael Meacher MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA with your name and address or email Please note that the book will not be despatched between 30 March and 7 May whilst Parliament is dissolved. Alternatively you can download the book as a PDF.


7 thoughts on “Reform of Parliament should be prime target for next government

  1. Having attended several pre-election open meetings and non-party forums, I can assure you that Parliamentary reform is high on everyone’s agenda. Everyone. Accepting there probably were a few Tories present at the meetings, I can stress, everyone.

    The MPs and the present Govt have made Parliaments failings into an open invitation to behave like feudal lords over the plebs. Even the plebs that voted for them. I know some life-long Tories, Maggie fans, who are so disgusted they are planning to vote Labour, not Ukip which was an early favourite, not abstain, but vote Labour. For a 78 year old and a 82 year old to come over to Labour, for the first time ever, we must recognise the depths of alienation even among the so-called “pampered pensioners”.

    I keep seeing polls & pundits saying that the Tories will squeak in over the line. If that happens I can see the riots of 2011 being paled into insignificance. However, I have better faith in the electorate, and expect Labour to be returned for a really hard slog. Expectations are so high, and most people don’t realise how much damage has been done.

    Michael, if you can do one last thing in this current session, can you call Iain Duncan Smith to publish all the figures he is withholding – the Below Average Pay report (not been published in nearly 3 years), the deaths on ESA and other benefits – not published since 2012, the excess mortality of pensioners, scrapped after rocketing in 2012, the number of children sanctioned, the poverty reports.

    If nothing else, can Parliament not hold this man to account? The electorate have seen lie after lie from the Tories in the HoC, and waited for someone to take action, and waited, and waited,…………Or must we wait for the outcome of the UN Human Right violation report later in the year.

    Can we afford to wait?

  2. There will never be a better time to bring Parliament into the 21st. century. Westminster is crumbling and needs an estimated £3 billion to make it safe. That £3 billion should be spent building a new Parliament in the Midlands or North West. Westminster should then be sold off to developers and the money put towards the new building. MPs should be paid more but their numbers cut by 100. It is about time that Britain was “De-Londonified”(my words) and the M25 “bubble” burst.

  3. I’m a member of my local 38 Degrees group and electoral/ parliamentary reform is high on their agenda. Unfortunately, many members don’t realise how difficult it is for MPs to achieve anything with the current system as it is. They seem to think that the solution is to vote for the Greens, so it’s good to have some evidence to show that at least one Labour MP is prepared to stand up for reform. It’d be useful to know if there are others.

  4. When asked for is views on this highly important topic a bemused looking Ed Milband was seen to turn to Ed, “Sticky Fingers,” Balls, who then relied; ” yerwot ?”

    This is yet another legacy, (still poisonous<) of the Blair period in particular, (and even without the, "packing," of committees, quangos, charities, NGOs and other statutory bodies which you describe, for example; the use of semi executive powers, royal prerogative and government by statutory instrument and EU directives, that are being used too often to overrule or to exclude parliament almost completely from it's traditional roll of scrutiny and oversight,) and it seems highly unlikely to me that, (whatever they might say otherwise right before an election,) that the same people who have and who continue to so benefit from current rotten status quo, (Straw and Rifkin being merely the most recent examples of how widespread these abuses are,) would ever be seriously interested in diminishing their own influence or advantage.

    In fact many people, (myself included,) are now asking themselves and increasingly what really is the point, of most MPs and what are they really good for?

    Despite my issues with Labor policy and it's current "Tory," leadership I have still benefited from having a damn good, conscientious and hardworking, (did I add honest,) constituency MP in Meacheal Meacher, but sadly I'll still be voting UKIP although it will stick in my throat.

    Am I seriously expected to now believe that the same broken and completely rotten political system, that has been so completely, "captured," and "infiltrated," by people like Miller, Laws, Balls, Cooper and all the other people behind them at constituency party level is capable of real reform?

    A likely story?

  5. In fact this issue an, “old saw,” that traditionally gets wheeled out just before almost every general election, (in fact I recall that Cameron had some quite radical sounding proposals at one point, about holding MPs to account, following the first expenses scandals, ) and which is forgotten again or fudged just as quickly.

    Then there’s the matter of, “no more top down reorganization of the NHS,” and that vote we were promised on EU membership ?

    No one, these days, really believes a single word that any politician says about anything so why should we take this any more seriously?

    Desirable and overdue as most people of all political persuasions would probably regard this as being.

  6. “Why, Sir, most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things.2

    Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    “Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve!”

    Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859)

    “The most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform.”

    Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1889)

    “Every abuse ought to be reformed, unless the reform is more dangerous than the abuse itself.”

    Voltaire (1694-1778)

    “In England we have come to rely upon a comfortable time-lag of fifty years or a century intervening between the perception that something ought to be done and a serious attempt to do it.”

    H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

  7. Just had an e-mail from Andy Burnham detailing some of the subjects that the Tories are using to fillibuster Labours NHS bill. This just reinforces my case that Parliament is not fit for the purpose.

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