LEADING ARTICLE: A tonic for Westminster

Share
Related Topics
Yesterday, Britain's political earth moved. The Nolan committee called for a legally enforceable ban on MPs taking money from lobbyists and a two-year cooling-off period before ex-ministers can take jobs in any industry they dealt with when in office. Even then, they would have to seek the approval of a new independent committee, before taking such jobs. A Public Appointments Commissioner would oversee selection of quango boards and chief officers. A Parliamentary Standards Commissioner would enforce House of Commons rules. If these proposals had been in force at the time, Lord Young would have waited longer before going to Cable and Wireless and Dame Angela Rumbold would never have sat on the board of a firm of lobbyists.

A defining feature of a modern liberal political culture is that its leaders are not a law unto themselves. There must be carefully designed checks and balances between the powers of the elected politicians and the judiciary. For too long British legislators have exempted themselves from the judicial scrutiny that is felt to be essential in other countries. The doctrine of "parliamentary sovereignty," as the Tory constitutionalist Ferdinand Mount has argued, has been used for a century to "hollow out" our constitution, by eroding previous checks and balances.

Nolan begins to reverse this. Yes, we can be reassured that backbenchers, like the Tories David Tredinnick and Graham Riddick, will not now be taking cash for tabling questions to ministers. But the report's significance is much greater than this. The Nolan committee will sit for two more years, simultaneously pressing for the implementation of yesterday's recommendations and opening an investigation into ethical standards in the House of Lords and local government. It is too early to say whether the standing committee should take on a permanent form, but it seems certain that some permanent body will be needed to maintain the pressure for a cleaner, more open political and administrative system. That would amount to an important and overdue step in the evolution of our constitution.

Some backbenchers say Nolan has gone too far. First, they say, Parliament is capable of regulating itself. This is not, regrettably, a credible proposition. Then they argue that able people will not offer themselves as legislators unless their time as MPs and Ministers can be combined with other work, or unless they can use their experience later on. There is justice in this point, but it is a question of balance; it is reasonable, even essential, in a healthy democracy, to expect public office holders to forgo some opportunity for personal reward and career enhancement. There is no defence at all for secrecy in these matters.

The driving principles of the report - transparency, openness and a system of checks and balances - are in tune with the times. Nolan is not an attack on Parliament but a catalyst for its potential reinvigoration. But it is only a start. Enlightened politicians and administrators should give the committee loud and sustained support.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Administrative Assistant

£60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments