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Gordon Brown's Proposals for constitutional reform in the UK

Gordon Brown's Proposals for constitutional reform in the UK

Categories: Latest News

Friday June 12 2009

In the wake of the expenses scandal and a bruising at the ballot box last week in European and county council elections, the Prime Minister on Thursday announced a series of reforms to be undertaken to improve the workings of the political system.

Excerpts from the Prime Minister’s statement to the House, and the reforms envisaged, can be read below:

First, Mr Speaker, transparency. All MPs’ past and future expenses should and will be published on the internet.

‘Second home claims submitted by MPs from all sides of the house over the last 4 years must be scrutinised by the independently led panel. This will ensure repayment where it is necessary, and lead to discipline where there have been inappropriate claims.

‘This House has already agreed to restrict expenses further to those needed for parliamentary duties alone; to cap the costs for housing; to require all spending to be receipted and to ensure that incomes from second jobs are fully accounted for.

‘All parties have committed themselves to accept the further recommendations of the independent Kelly Committee once they are received later this year – provided these proposals meet the tests of increased transparency, accountability and reduced costs for the taxpayer.

‘At its first meeting yesterday, the Government’s democratic council decided to bring forward new legislative proposals before the summer adjournment, on two issues which have been the subject of constructive cross-party discussion.

‘First, we propose that the House of Commons – and then subsequently the House of Lords – move from the old system of self-regulation to independent, statutory regulation. This will mean the immediate creation of a new parliamentary standards authority with delegated power to regulate the system of allowances.

‘No more can Westminster operate in ways reminiscent of the last century where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

‘Second, the House will be asked to agree a statutory code of conduct for all MPs, clarifying their role in relation to their constituents and Parliament – detailing what the electorate can expect from their MPs and the consequences that will follow for those who fail to deliver. It will codify much more clearly the different potential offences that must be addressed and the options available to sanction.

‘Mr Speaker, these measures will be included in a short self standing bill – on the conduct of members in the Commons – which will be introduced and be debated before the summer adjournment.

‘The current system of sanctions for misconduct by members is not fit for purpose and does not give the public the confidence they need that wrongdoing will be dealt with in an appropriate way.

‘There will be consultation with all sides of the House to come forward with new proposals for dealing effectively with inappropriate behaviour, including potentially the options of effective exclusion and recall for gross financial misconduct identified by the new independent regulator and the House itself.

‘And the House of Lords needs to be reformed too….For the first time there will also be legislation for new disciplinary sanctions for the misconduct of peers in the House of Lords.

‘We must also take forward urgent modernisation of the procedures of the House of Commons….We will work with a special parliamentary commission comprising members from all sides of this House, convened for a defined period to advise on necessary reforms – including making select committee processes more democratic, scheduling more and better time for non-Government business in the house, and enabling the public to initiate directly some issues for debate.

‘…Given the vital role transparency has played in sweeping away the decrepit system of allowances, and holding power to account, I believe we should do more to spread the culture and practice of freedom of information.

‘So as a next step, the Justice Secretary will set out further plans to look at broadening the application of freedom of information to include additional bodies which also need to be subject to greater transparency and accountability. This is the public’s money. They should know how it is spent.

‘…We will reduce the time for release of all other official documents below the current 30 years, to 20 years.

‘…So that Government information is accessible and useful for the widest possible group of people, I have asked Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who led the creation of the world wide web, to help us drive the opening up of access to Government data in the web over the coming months.

‘Mr Speaker, democratic reform can not be led in Westminster alone. Rather it must principally be led by our engagement with the public. It cannot be top down. That is part of the lesson of the last month. The public want to be, and should be, part of the solution. So we must build a process that engages citizens themselves, people of all parties and none; of all faiths and no faith; from every background and every part of the country.

1. The Government will come forward with published proposals for the final stages of House of Lords reform before the summer break – including the next steps we can take to resolve the position of the remaining hereditary peers and other outstanding issues.

2. Proposals will be subject to wide public debate and ultimately the drafting of such a constitution would be a matter for the widest possible consultation with the British people themselves.

3. Third is the devolution of power and engagement of people themselves in their local communities…. We must consider whether we should offer stronger, clearly defined powers to local Government and city regions and strengthen their accountability to local people.

4. …We published our review of the electoral system and there is a long-standing debate on this issue. I still believe the link between the MP and constituency is essential and that it is the constituency that is best able to hold MPs to account. We should only be prepared to propose change if there is a broad consensus in the country that it would strengthen our democracy and our politics by improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of both Government and Parliament; and by enhancing the level and quality of representation and public engagement. Mr Speaker, we will set out proposals for taking this debate forward.

5. …We will set out proposals for increasing public engagement in politics. To improve electoral registration we will consider how we increase the number of people on the register and help to combat fraud. And on receipt of the Youth Citizenship Commission Report – and having heard from young people themselves – we will set out the steps we will take to increase the engagement of young people in politics – including whether to give further consideration to the voting age.’

There’s one part of this statement that is deeply encouraging:

We propose that the House of Commons – and then subsequently the House of Lords – move from the old system of self-regulation to independent, statutory regulation.

‘No more can Westminster operate in ways reminiscent of the last century where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves

If only reforms to end the self regulation of Parliament were similarly envisaged for the presently self regulated press.

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