Clegg challenges Brown over control of Parliament

Lib Dem leader says the Prime Minister is watering down plans to hand more power to MPs
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Gordon Brown is today accused by Nick Clegg of stifling plans to reform Parliament in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal. The Liberal Democrat leader claims proposals to hand more power over the Commons to backbenchers and the public are being secretly watered down by ministers.

The accusation follows Mr Clegg's successful demands for the Prime Minister to appear before the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war in advance of the general election.

Cabinet ministers are split over the plans, contained in a report by a senior backbencher, Tony Wright, to shift power from the executive to MPs. The Wright report, published in November, warned Parliament was in "crisis" after the expenses saga and called for radical measures to curb ministerial influence. Last week the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, said MPs would be given a free vote next month on some of the measures – but others will not be introduced, to the alarm of many backbenchers.

Mr Clegg, in a speech to the Institute for Government on Tuesday, will demand that the "Government's near-total control over parliamentary business" be cracked. He will say: "It is a betrayal of Gordon Brown's promises of political reform for the Government to water down the recommendations put forward by Tony Wright's committee. This government has had 13 years to fix our democracy, but instead it will leave office with Westminster's reputation in tatters."

MPs will be able to vote on four measures: for MPs to be able to elect select committee chairmen and members; for backbenchers to be given powers to schedule non-government business in the chamber, and for MPs to initiate debates on motions to be voted on by the House.

Yet two of the most radical proposals in the Wright report – for the public to initiate debates in Parliament, and to curtail the ability of ministers to block amendments debated at the report stage of legislation – have been buried and will not be put to a vote.

In the Commons on Thursday, Ms Harman refused to concede to MPs' demands for the proposals to be debated and voted on in full. She said: "You have a choice: you can either seek to work with us, to make progress, or you can get in a huff about the process."

Mr Clegg called on Mr Brown and David Cameron to commit to the report in full – in an attempt to remain "equidistant" between both leaders during the election campaign.

Labour will focus on the economy this week, with the Prime Minister and Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary, tomorrow marking the start of the scheme to give 100,000 18- to 24-year-olds a job, training or work experience if they have been out of work for more than six months. The Youth Guarantee, at £1.3bn a year, will offer places to 470,000 young people over the next 15 months. Figures are expected to confirm on Tuesday that Britain is no longer in recession, but in the 1980s, youth unemployment rose for four years after the recession ended. In the 1990s it did not peak until a year and a half after the end of the downturn. Figures last week showed unemployment had fallen slightly, but mainly because the number of those in part-time work had risen.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Yvette Cooper, said yesterday: "We still expect unemployment to rise again before the summer, so it is all the more important to invest in helping to find people jobs."