A matter of respect

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The Independent Online

If there is one person who summarises all that is wrong with the British parliamentary system at the moment it is Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary during the time of the Iraq invasion. He it was who ducked the question of the Government's intention before the war and then refused to answer every question after it, who stonewalled all inquiries of the Commons committees into the use of intelligence to justify the war and then failed to inform the Commons properly of the disposition of troops once we had invaded.

If there is one person who summarises all that is wrong with the British parliamentary system at the moment it is Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary during the time of the Iraq invasion. He it was who ducked the question of the Government's intention before the war and then refused to answer every question after it, who stonewalled all inquiries of the Commons committees into the use of intelligence to justify the war and then failed to inform the Commons properly of the disposition of troops once we had invaded.

Look to a man who might take responsibility for a government scientist in his own employ, driven to suicide by the pressure of exposure, then that man was not Geoffrey Hoon. Seek a minister ready to take responsibility for naming that scientist, Dr Kelly, and it was not the Defence Secretary. Admit that the defence intelligence experts were dubious of the intelligence used to go to war, Hoon wasn't there and had never been told. Hear no evil; see no evil; and accept no responsibility - if these are the watchwords of modern government, then the hapless Hoon is your man.

So what is one to make of this cypher's thoughts on parliamentary reform now that Mr Blair has mistakenly made him leader of the House of Commons? Well - surprise, surprise - Mr Hoon now thinks that the debates of Parliament ought to be more fully reported, and that MPs should be treated with more respect.

We agree with the new leader of the House of Commons that most MPs come into Parliament with high ideals and a genuine desire to do good. We agree also with his view that anybody concerned with politics must "wish to improve the standing of Parliament". But you will never get that so long as governments treat Parliament with contempt, neuter its committees, bypass cabinet discussion and demand that party members file through the lobbies like sheep through the shearing pens.

"There is a popular myth," argues Mr Hoon, "that MPs should be regarded as a bunch of second-raters who are in it for what they can get." But that is the view not of MPs but ministers, and until they start to show some independence, and the Government some respect for Parliament, neither will the public.

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