Parliamentary tradition should not hamper efficiency and progress


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The Independent Online

Walking into Parliament is like stepping back in time. Men in tights, the odd way in which MPs address each other in the Commons, and a voting system that requires Parliamentarians to physically walk through a lobby to cast their ballot. Harmless, if arcane, traditions.

But there are other, more detrimental, ways in which the House of Commons and our system of Government in general has failed to adapt to the modern world. Its rules, procedures and regulations can stifle important debate while, despite supposedly being sovereign, in reality Parliament is too often powerless in the face of the executive.

Government whips can exclude troublesome MPs from examining legislation in committee – even if they are experts on the issue. Private members bills are a joke. The only way a backbench MP can successfully instigate legislation is if it already has the backing of the party in power.

There have been some improvements. Allowing MPs to elect their own Select Committee chairs has gone some way to improving Parliamentary scrutiny (think Margaret Hodge).

At the same time the Speaker John Bercow has made huge strides in making the Commons more relevant by regularly forcing ministers to the House on answer questions on the topic of the day. But there is still far more to be done – there is a strong argument that the time has come for a complete separation between the executive and the legislature.

It seems bizarre that in today’s complicated and multi-faceted world that all ministers must be either MPs or appointed to the House of Lords. Equally, surely being an MP is a job in itself – and not just the first rung of the greasy poll to becoming a minister.

Just because we are proud of our traditions does not mean that we should not examine if there is a better way of doing things.