Beyond the Commons: John Bercow calls for new age of e-democracy

Speaker flouts convention with public claim that Parliamentary politics is becoming ‘irrelevant’

Parliament must be reformed to end centuries of “arrogant” control by ministers and make Britain’s democracy fit for the 21st Century, the Speaker of the Commons has said.

John Bercow said in future ministers should not have control over what the House of Commons debated. The idea of MPs being elected to constituencies based on geography would become “increasingly hard to sustain”, he added. Mr Bercow also suggested the UK should follow the model of recent democratic elections in Estonia which allowed voters to cast their ballot on the internet or secure mobile phones. He said that unless Parliament was able to adapt to changing world brought about by mass communication “we may go the way of Bebo or MySpace” and become increasingly irrelevant to people’s lives.

The Speaker, who by convention is not expected to stay into controversial areas of public life, made his remarks during a speech to Parliamentarians in New Zealand. But his implicit criticisms of the way the current system of Parliamentary democracy works led to a withering put-down from one senior minister – who told The Independent it was “very bad manners to offer a criticism of one’s own Parliament when abroad”.

However his comments were welcomed by other MPs including the chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Graham Allen who said he had raised “very important ideas which needed to be addressed”.

In his speech on the “Future of Parliaments” Mr Bercow said that while he had tried to make the House of Commons more relevant to the public by calling ministers to answer the question of the day, there was a case for going much further.

“The single biggest change at Westminster with which I have been linked is the revival of the Urgent Question,” he said. “In my time in the Chair I have allowed numerous Urgent Questions and Parliament is much the more topical and hence more relevant for it. In the Parliaments of the Future, the issue will be not whether but what new should be discussed.

“The historic concept of departmental questions held at fixed, often lengthy intervals will be antiquated. We will have to be far, far more flexible about what is debated and when across our whole timetable. And the dictum that the Government of the day should have control over virtually the whole of that business will seem astonishingly arrogant.” He added: “Deference is not a quality which will have much purchase in the democracy to come.” Mr Bercow also suggested the old idea of constituencies based upon geography needed to be re-assessed and MPs must be given more resources to deal with communications coming not just from their constituents but other interest groups as well.

“The level of e-dialogue between representatives and the represented is staggering,” he said. “The traditional notion of there being but one concept of a constituency, based on geography, will become increasingly hard to sustain. Issue or cause constituencies will matter just as much as territorial constituencies.”

Mr Bercow said he believed elections would have to be reformed to make them more relevant to people’s lives. “Estonia became the first nation in the world to permit online voting for its 2007 national parliamentary elections,” he said. “In 2011 almost one quarter of all votes were cast via the internet or chip-secure mobile phones. Whereas most European countries have a problem with participation in elections, particularly amongst younger adult citizens, Estonia is in a much stronger position.”

While Mr Bercow has won plaudits for some MPs for attempting to make Parliament more relevant he is disliked by many in his own party. They accuse him of favouring the Labour opposition and using the chair to grandstand and harangue ministers.

But Mr Allen said he supported Mr Bercow ideas and would go further – completely removing the control of Parliament from Government.

“What we need is a genuine separation of powers. If Parliament is to reform it needs to free itself from the shackles of Government.”

House moves: Bercow’s plan

* Introduce electronic voting via the internet and mobile phones for Parliamentary elections.

* Bring in a regular daily slot for MPs to debate pressing issues or question ministers.

* Re-think the traditional geographical constituency boundaries.

* Provide much more administrative support for MPs to deal with growing case work – and the rise of electronic communications.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices