The Sketch: Gordon brings no respect to Parliament with gimmicks

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At the end of the year's second term, let's consider whether Gordon Brown's promises to give greater respect, weight, significance to Parliament have delivered.

For those who don't want to beat about the bush: they haven't. But for bush-beaters, some evidence.

The new "topical questions" have meant that issues of the moment can be raised without having to torture the order paper.

They should have been a good idea.

In the event, the slot has turned out to be a quarter-hour of Business Questions. People pop up with unrelated observations (including whip-written patsies) and the government front bench chooses who answers. Lindsay Hoyle puts a sharp question to David Miliband and Megg Munn stands up to put her body in the way. MPs should be able to direct their question to a particular minister, at least.

Statements? Caroline Flint came up with an innovation, yesterday. She didn't produce, as Edward Garnier felt she morally should, a statement on the list of new ecotowns – she held an 18-person conference call instead. Thus Parliament has become the equivalent of a ramified phone conversation. Talktalk, indeed.

Topical debates. These generate no more excitement than previous Thursday afternoon adjournment debates. Nobody's there and it doesn't matter what they say because there isn't a vote. What excites and interests people is the sight of power being exercised. What about a weekly, six-hour Free Vote debate on a real issue taking place after PMQs (so MPs can more easily attend). Yesterday's might have been Should Cannabis Be Reclassified? With a binding, unwhipped vote. That would generate national attention week by week.

You can feel panic rising in the governmental mind at this suggestion. What? Parliament would decide on things? Not the Government? But that's the first step to mob rule! Debates? The Lisbon Treaty fiasco has been well rehearsed. "Line by line scrutiny" was a gimmick Gordon produced to fox the Tories. The sidelining of the Commons continues apace.

Legislation goes through like untreated sewage. I suggest that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House plan enough time to consider every needful thing to be scrutinised in the Commons (if only to justify their reforms of the Lords). But, they'd protest, there's so much to do and so little time to do it.

What rubbish. There's far too much legislation as it is. Too much of what goes through is a sort of legislative press release. The executive uses policy as publicity; government is one long election campaign.

Parliament only gets in the way of that.

The Commons is the most conservative institution in Britain, except perhaps for the monarchy. But it needs to mutate if it wants to survive. It badly needs some parliamentary activists to rock the system.

Comments