Most of us think Parliament's broken, but no one has a convincing idea how to fix it. That is, the remedies are apparent but no one knows how to get them into practice.
A brief summary of the institutional deficiencies is as follows.
The vast majority of legislation isn't read by the vast majority of legislators.
MPs vote on Bills without being there for the debates. Sometimes they vote on Bills that haven't been debated. Many – and sometimes most – clauses receive no scrutiny at all. Very often MPs vote for one side or the other only because their whip tells them to.
A million words a day are spoken in the two houses and their committees and most of them have as much effect on the body politic as junk DNA has on the body physical.
The powerlessness of the Commons is at the heart of it. The Government doesn't care about the Commons because the Commons can't hurt the Government. And the Government is keen to keep it that way.
The Wright report, commissioned with many pious prime ministerial words last year, recommends taking powers away from the Government and giving them to the House. Let the House choose select committees. Let a backbench committee say how many days a Bill should be debated for.
But it is the Government that has to schedule the debate, and they can't see what's in it for them.
The Leader of the House keeps getting asked when the report is going to be debated in the Commons and she keeps saying "How should I know?" I assume that's what "There will be an opportunity to debate and make a decision" means.
Whips' power to appoint MPs to committees is an important lash in their cat o'nine tails. When Kelvin Hopkins voted against some wretched anti-terror clause he was instantly sentenced to six months on the Crossrail Bill committee.
But let's not spend all our energies vilifying the whips. Robin Cook got some of these proposals to debate, with a substantive vote – and what did the stupid clucking turkeys do? They votes them down! They didn't have the giblets to defy their whips in an unwhipped vote.
PS John Bercow gave a pretty well-received speech to a Gallery lunch. A BBC man asked about Mrs Speaker, the Labour candidate. There was tutting at the back, at the temerity of the questioner but Mrs Bercow's views on David Cameron are of legitimate interest.
It's as if the Archbishop of Canterbury was married to a practising Satanist. When he preached holy abstinence and she preached cloven-footed sex magic there would be comment. Rightly or wrongly, comment would be inevitable.Reuse content