Parties unveil plans to clean up politics following expenses scandal
Almost a year after Westminster was convulsed by the expenses crisis, the political parties are vying to take the toughest line on dealing with corrupt MPs.
Their rival visions for overhauling the political system in the face of widespread public disillusionment and hostility were thrust yesterday to the centre of the election campaign.
The Conservatives announced that their manifesto, to be published next Tuesday, would include a promise to give the public the right to "recall" MPs found guilty of fraud or misconduct and to slash the size of the Commons.
Gordon Brown set out detailed plans to change the electoral system, reform the House of Lords, lower the voting age to 16 and ban MPs working for lobbyists. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats responded by accusing the Tories and Labour of having only a skin-deep commitment to political reform.
The three main parties are now committed to introducing the power to "recall" errant MPs, forcing them to face their voters in a parliamentary by-election. They all also back tough curbs on lobbying by ex-ministers.
Under the Tory plans, the Committee on Standards and Privileges would gain the authority to recommend an MP is recalled. If 10 per cent of local voters signed a petition backing the move, a by-election would automatically be triggered.
Their manifesto will argue that the initiative would "end the concept of the 'safe seat' and make MPs directly answerable to their constituents over the whole of a Parliament".
It will also set out plans to ban former ministers from lobbying government for two years after leaving office.
Sir George Young, the shadow Leader of the Commons, said: "The last five years have been disastrous for Parliament and trust in politics has reached an all-time low. People want change and politicians must become more directly accountable for their actions."
In a speech in central London, the Prime Minister also backed the recall of MPs "where these members are guilty of gross misconduct and Parliament does not act".
Labour sources said the power would be triggered on the recommendation of the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and would need to be approved by between 10 and 25 per cent of the MP's electorate.
As The Independent disclosed yesterday, Mr Brown announced Labour's manifesto would contain a commitment to fixed-term Parliaments, which would be expected to last four years.
He promised to hold a referendum by autumn 2011 on replacing the First-Past-The-Vote system for Westminster election with the Alternative Vote, under which electors rank candidates in order of preference.
On the same day, the country would also be asked to approve moves to turn the Lords into a second chamber elected by proportional representation. Labour will propose that the Lords becomes fully-elected over the course of three Parliaments, likely to take until about 2024.
Mr Brown also said Labour would stage a free vote on reducing the voting age to 16 – a move he personally supports – after school citizenship lessons had been improved.
He said the moves amounted to the "most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform in this country for a century", and insisted the Tories were hostile to fundamental change.
But Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, claimed that Labour and the Tories both supported the status quo and could not be trusted to take the radical action required to clean up politics.
"They have systematically at every turn blocked every single reform – they have blocked party funding reform, they have blocked reform on lobbying," he told the BBC. "Believing any promises from them on political reform is a bit like accepting a consumer service guarantee from Del Boy – don't believe it, they are trying to treat you like fools."
But the Lib Dems back the recall of MPs who fall foul of the IPSA, where the move is supported by five per cent of local voters.
Reforming Westminster: The key proposals
* Hold a referendum on introducing Alternative Vote system for Westminster elections.
* Turn the House of Lords into a fully-elected second chamber over course of three parliaments.
* Introduce fixed-term parliaments.
* Hold a free vote on reducing the voting age to 16.
* Give voters the power to "recall" corrupt MPs.
* Ban MPs from working for lobbying companies.
* Require all MPs taking an outside job to obtain approval.
* Cut number of MPs from 650 to 585 and equalise the size of constituencies.
* Ban ex-ministers from lobbying government for two years.
* Dock the pensions of ex-ministers who break the rules.
* Reduce ministerial pay by 5 per cent and freeze it for the parliament's duration.
* "Recall" of MPs when supported by 10 per cent of voters.
* Public petitions with 100,000 signatories to be debated in the Commons.
* Bring in a fully proportional voting system for Westminster.
* Reduce the size of the Commons by 150 MPs and cut the number of ministers to 73.
* Replace the Lords with a smaller elected second chamber.
* Cap individual donations to parties and reform union funding.
* "Recall" of MPs when supported by 5 per cent of voters.
* Forbid ministers and officials to meet MPs on issues where the MP is paid to lobby.
Highlights of the day
Escape of the day
Downing Street aides would have been defenestrated, office furniture thrown and the No 10 typing pool drowned in its own tears. But in a nugget of good fortune for Gordon Brown, the nation's press photographers, gathered at the Innocent smoothies headquarters to record the Prime Minister's visit, failed to spot that he had paused momentarily beneath a 15-ft sign reading, "You can't polish a turd".
Costume of the day
A points victory to Michael Fabricant, who stood up at this parliament's final PMQs wearing what seasoned observers believed to be a new hairpiece. Good to see people making the effort.
Heckle of the day
Ben Butterworth drew first blood for the public in this four-week slog, shouting questions at the PM about why his eldest son can't get into the school of his choice. Brown ignored him and drove off.
Good news of the day
The "vulture funds" bill has been selected for the end-of-government wash-up and should pass through parliament. It is intended to protect the world's poorest countries from "vulture" investment companies who buy defaulted Third World debt and sue for immediate repayment.
Quote of the day
"Do you [the Prime Minister] agree that we must work with Chancellor Merkel and other leaders and not get into bed and breakfast with extremist politicians with views on homosexuals, the Holocaust, the Waffen SS that are unacceptable in our democracy?" Denis MacShane, former Europe minister, at PMQs.
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