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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
How would you change Parliament?
Parliament has been left behind by far-reaching social and constitutional changes and needs a radical overhaul, says a new report.
The 18-month review by the Hansard Society commission concludes there are serious gaps in the way MPs can keep the government in check.
The findings come amid growing calls from senior politicians for Parliament to reassert its authority.
The society says its proposals, which include making the prime minister answer to a select committee once a year, should provide a route map for reform.
What changes need to be made to Parliament? Should the prime minister be more open to scrutiny from MPs? How can the government be held to account?
This Talking Point debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
Abolish the stylised "gentlemen's club" atmosphere and allow politicians to question each other thoroughly, in the way that an interviewer such as Jeremy Paxman or John Humphries would, without the interviewee palming off the questioner with platitudes and weasel words. If a minister is lying or being evasive, he should be challenged until he comes clean.
Devolution is also a big mistake, as we will end up like America: some things would be legal in one part of the country, but not in another.
I would introduce Proportional Representation so that the Commons reflects the way the country actually voted, and replace the Lords with an elected Senate based on the Euro-electing constituencies. I would also introduce a powerful committee system with the power to summon ministers to give evidence, such as the Scottish Parliament has.
Allan Forrester, UK
I feel embarrassed and ashamed of our ridiculously out-dated political set up. The very idea that one unelected person should be head of state in the UK defies the most basic of logic. Although our system clearly creates stronger and more effective government than the multi-party system here in Italy, this is no reason for the complacency we find in so many British people - this translates into the political apathy so evident in the recent levels of voter turn out.
In the 21st century, we need to look forward and must firstly form a democratic, modern republic. We can then look to break down the powerful network of unelected political advisors - Ed Balls, Charlie Whelan in the past, etc - that is responsible for the personal rule that lies at the heart of our "popular" democracy. We will always be able to create "clearer" and more "transparent" government and we must always strive to do so.
I'd add a projector and a screen to the debating chamber, so MPs could display graphs and other visual aids. Impassioned speeches are all very well, but a point can be made clearer if you can use graphs, pictures, and other visual aids.
I would like to see a change in ballot papers that would allow me to register votes AGAINST candidates. Votes against a candidate should be deducted from all votes for that candidate. This would allow people like me, who could not find any party worthy of a vote, a say in the democratic process.
I think the Brits need to answer one question before discussing any reform in detail: are they willing to sacrifice the uniqueness of their system? The two-sided bench layout, the protocol not to mention the ceremonies involving the Queen, don't have too many analogies elsewhere.
However, if you really want red tape, go to Italy and corruption, try France and complete standstill, try Germany where I presently live. Proportional representation has made sure that nothing ever gets done. Also, quite frightening, Germany would like Europe to be run like Germany is run - Help! The system here is completely top-heavy with so many members of parliament that no one knows at all and each "land" has it own parliament as well so that one fights against or lobbies the other depending of what is to gain or to lose. No way! Old fashioned it may be but Westminster is still very transparent in comparison.
I'd abolish the party system for a start and have independent MP's for every constituency, and secondly, the MP will also vote on major legislation how the people in their constituency say to eg. a mini referendum on each bill. I cannot stand these useless New Labourites who actually believe that politicians are in it for us!!!
Hmmm...lots of interesting ideas here, Dutch-style second house good, larger constituencies bad, the last thing we want is MPs becoming more remote. Written constitution very good, right now after the Government has observed the niceties of an 18th century debating chamber it can act at will. Abolish the Monarchy and the Lords, they have proved an ineffective restraint on the wilder excesses of governments and their essentially conservative bias makes them obsolete.
The first thing to do is to make it truly democratic. That means scrapping the House of Lords and replacing it with a new, elected second chamber. I would prefer the new chamber to comprise representatives, elected by some form of PR, with equal numbers from the different regions of the UK, a bit like each US State has two Senators. Some way should also be found to include representation from the dependent territories like Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands who are not represented at all at the moment. The next thing would be to change the House of Commons from a Public School Debating Society Meeting to a place of work. This means ensuring all MPs having a job to do. We have too many MPs at the moment. They are clearly under-worked when they have time to appear on daytime TV quiz shows. I want fewer "celebrity" MPs and more legislators. Numbers should be reduced to about 350.
I do not want to live under legislation which was approved at 2.30am by the few MPs still awake and sober. They should work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday and the current extensive holidays should also be reduced to the public sector norm.
I would get rid of the ceremony and silly rules about being able to speak all night if you wear a top hat, and then can we please have a republic so that our head of state is elected.
As usual the radicals are using the state opening of parliament to complain about the pomp and ceremony (personally I think the display of pageantry and sense of history is the best aspect of our democracy). In order to restore respect for democracy I would like to see the hereditary peers bought back, after all, Parliament has hardly gained respect from the electorate since they were axed. The Prime Minister should allow power for scrutiny to be decentralized and given to MP's. There is, however, little chance of this happening, the remaining hereditary peers are probably going to go, and the centralization of power is likely to continue. What is most important is that all the radicals who call for a written constitution and the end of the monarchy are ignored if democracy in this country is to gain the respect of the electorate.
It may have gone unnoticed down south, but Scotland has its own parliament. It has P.R. It has a coalition government. It has four main parties, as well as Greens, Socialists and Independents. It has a non-adversarial layout to the debating chamber. There is no second house, elected or non-elected. It even has electronic voting. Unfortunately it still has yah-boo politics, spin and evasion. These unfortunately must be part and parcel of modern politics.
However the Scottish Parliament has made a good start, so instead of wringing your hands over different solutions and possibilities (like you do with the English education system), just take a look over Hadrian's Wall.
There is more up here than fantastic scenery and great whisky!
MPs should be paid more, especially the cabinet. The heads of large companies get paid tens of times more money than the people who are running our country. The only way we're going to attract great leaders into the government is to offer greater rewards, otherwise they're all going to go and work for multinationals instead.
Andrew Hirsch, USA
The ceremonial isn't in itself harmful; if people want to keep it, that's fine by me. What I do feel is needed is some proportional representation, possibly having the second chamber elected like this, as large portions of the British public are cheated out of a voice at a national level by the present system. More regional power would also help re-democratise this country.
We need to do away with the elite clubs which are political parties. These days they represent no one other than themselves and the big business who fund their fraudulent campaigns. Secondly, via use of encrypted Internet traffic - we could vote as a nation on any serious issue put before us. MP's would be voted for on an individual basis, and would form a government to implement policies produced by the Civil Service at the instigation of the voters. Now that, my friends, would be Democracy. Surely it can't be any more difficult to do than the red tape nightmare we currently have? The only people who might lose out, would be those who award themselves two massive pay rises in the space of one week!
Try a written constitution, that way the different parties can't try and change your rights when they get in power.
It's not just procedure - it's MPs that must change. They currently do not exercise the rights they have. MPs vote to elect people to Select Committees (a frequent modernisation demand) but choose to vote as the whips tell them. Current rules also allow an MP to go and get a slot for a 10-minute rule bill by queuing at the relevant office early. The Whips cannot stop them, but MPs supinely ask the Whips if they can have a slot, and if told they cannot are generally too cowardly to queue in the way the rules allow them. I almost think backbenchers should be told they can have more rights when they us their existing ones properly.
Mike Stanbridge, UK
Could we just flatten it please..
Citizens in all the western liberal democracies are increasingly disillusioned because national governments and parliaments are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Hence the very low voter turnout rates. The old left/right divisions have been dissolved as all major parties fight to win the middle ground, so there are no substantial differences between major parties anymore. Furthermore, the issues that really effect people's lives are either too large or too small to be resolved at the national level. The answer is devolution. Large issues, like adequate management of the economy, keeping a check on big business and environmental protection need to addressed on a regional scale. Other issues, such as education and health are best run by local communities who know their own needs. Get rid of national parliaments and governments. They are a waste of time and money!
A Cutelli, UK
It is time we dropped the idea that politicians are there to make our decisions for us. With modern communications technology, it is surely possible to create democracy in this country, which allows the people to vote on matters themselves. We are not stupid. We do not need others to rule us. We can and should rule ourselves.
I don't want to see MPs voting by secret ballot. I want to see how my MP voted - whether she votes for or against foxhunting, or tuition fees, or any other issue that I care about - so that I can decide whether or not to vote for her again next time.
We should have a state of the nation address, similar to the State of the Union address that the USA has every year. Also, any statistics that the Prime Minister chooses to quote should come from the National Statistics Office, not from his own party estimates.
The problems go far deeper than Westminster. We need to start at a local level, get rid of party politics in councils and all these people who have made a career out of politics. Let's face it the majority of the people who "represent" us have never had any other job or aim in life other than to be elected to some political post be it council, Parliament or union reps. No person should be allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms at any level of political office. This means you could not spend your whole life in council or government. Give our councils and government back to those it was originally intended for - the people.
My proposals for reform are a smaller House of Commons, directly elected by proportional representation (on the lines advocated by the Jenkins Commission). The medieval nonsense of the House of Lords would be done away with completely, and replaced by a second chamber indirectly elected by local authorities and regional assemblies, as applies with the second chamber in the Netherlands. Thus an indirectly elected chamber would be complementary to a directly elected one.
Dan Ferrett, Britain
I can vote for my local representative but as soon as he or she reaches Westminster, almost all votes are directed by the whips - who are directed by the ministers. Where's the democracy in that?
Institute secret ballots (using a computer system, please!) and let our representatives vote by their conscience, not their party line.
Politicians should learn to talk TO each other rather than AT each other.
Stop the party political points scoring and start getting into genuine debate about the issues affecting the country.
Handing over responsibility for interest rates to the Bank of England seems to have worked well, so why not apply the same principle to other areas of policy? One of the biggest problems our public service deliverers face is constant meddling in how they work. The Government should set clear (and workable) targets, allocate funds and then monitor achievement, rather than tinkering the whole time with the details of delivery.
Step 1 : Abolish Lords
Pierre Werner, UK
Perhaps we could reduce the number of MPs. India has about the same number of MPs but it has 1 bn people compared to our 55 m. We need to replace redundant MPs at Westminster with more local government which would be closer to the people and their desires. Devolve power from Westminster!
Partisan politics, although important in creating rivalry among competing parties in order to produce better policies, sometimes leads politicians to put party interests ahead of national benefit. While the House of Commons should be fully elected to represent the people according to party affinity, the House of Lords should be an appointed chamber with all the parties concerned having the same number of representatives. This will give the Lords a much more broad and bi-partisan spectrum in which to undertake its 'advisory' role in British politics.
I would not rush to eliminate the PM's question time. Even if the style is now "gladiatorial" as suggested, that is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly when so much of politics today is just fluff and spin. The country can learn much about the PM when he or she is directly confronted with questions from the opposition, unable to hide behind a spokesperson. We do not have anything resembling this in the States. I wish we did.
Surely our MPs could function far better
as our representatives if they lived
full-time in their constituencies, away from
the temptations and isolation of Westminster.
So why, in the 21st century, do we still need a
physical Parliament - why not have a "virtual"
Parliament that meets in cyberspace? Then our
MPs can stay closer to the people and issues that
should matter most to them. Security would be an
issue for such a system, but it could be a separate,
secure network similar to those used by the intelligence
agencies to share information.
How about fewer MPs, which means
they're less anonymous, and with
larger constituencies we get more
marginal seats? I would suggest
400 MPs and a 100-strong
US-style upper house.
Make the terms two years instead of four. MPs would then be compelled to be much more in touch with their constituents.
Michael Kilpatrick has said it all! Politicians need to stop bickering and work together for the good of the country, rather than for their own interests. A revamp of Parliament would help. Stop waving your bits of paper around and jeering at each other, and do some work!
Michael Kilpatrick, Cambridge, UK
Make PMQT tougher on the PM. No advance notice of the questions. That should show how good a statesman the PM really is.
Also, give the Monarch greater political power, with the right to veto legislation that, in the Monarch's view, does not represent the will of the people.
Parliament as a democratic institution cannot be taken seriously when half of its members are not elected, but appointed behind closed doors. A fully elected House of Lords is essential if Parliament is to retain its credibility.
I'd like to see the performance of the Government independently assessed against their manifesto pledges to make sure they are delivering what they promise.
Too much of the news about government progress is spin and half-truths. If an independent body assessed the Government, the electorate would get a much better picture of their actual performance.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK
The Prime Minister must be held to account for the Government and a twice yearly appearance before a select committee is the way to do this. Equally the House of Lords must act as a check on the Government. The process of passing bills to the upper chamber should be much stronger and Parliament must not be allowed to pass any bill that has been rejected by the Lords without full examination by an all party select committee.
The big question is - who elects the members of the select committee?
Surely, the whole point of democracy is that MPs and governments are elected to represent the people who voted for them.
They are required, at least theoretically, to provide a manifesto stating what their political ideologies and intentions are and are thus accountable to the voters anyway at each election.
Why should we then have an unelected select committee taking away some of the control, which has been democratically given to the MPs by the voters?
I think one of the things we have to do is stop regarding Westminster as the only political body which matters. We need to recognise that devolution is a reality in Scotland, Wales and London, that local government is systematically undermined and that the regions have strong political cultures - which very often are much more connected to the real world rather than the hothouse gossip of Westminster. This will only increase as the Government moves towards regional assemblies.
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