Letters: Respect for MPs at a historic low

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your paper has published a number of stories recently over what is seen as the decline and unpopularity of the Commons.

It does tend to be the case that when a government is deeply unpopular, this feeling extends to Parliament itself, and even more so if there is a good deal of individual economic insecurity.

A report from the Commons Procedure Committee in 1946 compared the atmosphere then and what its predecessors found in 1931-2.

Whereas previously the country was undergoing severe economic stress and there was therefore a tendency to criticise all the institutions of government, including Parliament, the post-war committee found itself in a different situation. The report said: "The country has recently emerged from a war in which parliamentary activity was maintained and contributed in large measure to its successful prosecution. Consequently, there is not at the present time any strong or widespread desire for changes in the essential character of the institution. Indeed, the prestige of Parliament has probably never been higher."

In his The Power of Parliament Ronald Butt quoted John Strachey and Professor Joad writing in 1931; the two wrote: "Parliament is dying and dying discreditably ... nobody, except the professional parliamentarians, can sit through its languid and half-hearted proceedings and doubt it."

That, incidentally, was part of the statement of Mosley's New Party before it went fascist. Indeed the truth, as many commentators have pointed out, is that there has hardly been a time (except in the immediate 1945 post- war period) when it was not said that Parliament's prestige was low.

The Commons has evolved over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to do so. A change of government after 17 or 18 years, and a large influx of new members, should help to improve matters, and this should be even more so if policies passed by Parliament are then seen as being in the interest of most people - as were the policies of the 1945 parliament.

DAVID WINNICK MP

(Walsall North, Labour)

House of Commons

London SW1

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