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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 12:50 GMT
Time to modernise the Commons?
UK MPs are calling for radical changes to the process for selecting the speaker of the House of Commons, after it took seven long hours for the Labour backbencher, Michael Martin, to be elected.
Mr Martin beat 11 other candidates in a contest which angered MPs, who were prevented by the arcane Commons procedures from taking the simple step of voting for all the candidates at once.
Veteran Labour MP, Tony Benn, was one of those who urged the father of the House, Sir Edward Heath, to change the rules and opt for a straight forward ballot.
Mr Benn said that the process only succeeded in further undermining the power and public standing of the House of Commons.
Do you think it's an archaic system desperately in need of modernisation or should we keep hold of our historic traditions?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Relative to other countries, the Commons has served the United Kingdom very well for many years. However, with the pace of information technology now rapidly accelerating, it seems appropriate to me that the way the Commons conducts its business, its buildings and facilities should now be the subject of a fundamental review. In particular women and minorities should be better represented.
It is not the lack of PR that is disenfranchising the electorate, but the raft of EU obligations. It is pointless having a parliament (Scots, Welsh, NI, or UK) if most of what it has to do is rubber stamp decisions made in the EU.
Bring back democracy and let the people decide!
Paul Harris, England
Sorry! I thought the Commons was just a new soap opera!!!
The Commons needs to get on with its job of holding the Government to account rather than worrying about ephemera such as working hours and the Speaker's attire. It is time that MPs started to give the Executive a harder time in the chamber and in select committees.
Why not scrap the Commons completely? That way Phony Tony could just do what he wanted without having to stand up to all the nasty people that expect him to actually be accountable to those that foolishly elected him.
The main change that needs to take place in the Commons is about how much time it takes to get a bill passed, and how they can't be carried over from one parliament to the next. There should also be more time allocated to private members' bills.
Changes needed? Half the number of MPs, pay them a bit more, provide paid civil servants as admin assistants, give them decent office facilities, crèches etc, and sensible working hours. Introduce electronic voting, not walking through lobbies to vote, keeping that anachronism for ceremonial occasions say once a year after the state opening of parliament. One big change to counter all these reforms, make it illegal for an MP to have any other job during their membership of the Commons.
Steve Foley, England
What? Give up our heritage? What a preposterous idea! We are a nation of shopkeepers, it was once said so why should we act like sheep and follow the rest of the world? Let us keep Britain British and retain our out-dated ideas and ways of life. We like it that way! If you want the American way of life then go and live in America!
I say keep the present system, it allows the average person to feel they are being represented and their views heard.
Fiona James, UK
It is so laughable, so embarrassing, to
think that we rely on a parliament whose
voting procedure requires all members to
walk out of the chamber and file into the
'yes' and 'no' lobbies. What a gross waste
of time and an insult to the intelligence of
the British public. The Commons needs
dragging in the 20th Century, never mind
the 21st Century!
Parliament needs to go through some serious changes. We need to have an English Parliament, a directly elected Upper House, and a sensible system of Government. Personally, I think the position of Speaker should be open to a public vote. We have seen the 'traditional' system, and can all see what a farce it was. Let's not be scared to try something different, we need a modern Government.
James Desborough, UK
Just count up how many MEP's you have in your electoral district compared with the MP's and then you'll see where the real redundancy and parliamentary crassness lies.
The House of Commons has worked well for centuries, slowly (admittedly, sometimes too slowly) evolving into the modern democratic institution that it is ... and long may it continue to evolve; no sudden and dramatic shifts, please. Perhaps, on the other hand, it is our politicians that need modernising?
What is needed is not
so much a reform of
the Commons as a
revival in its powers.
consists of Downing
St spin doctors and
leaks, there is a
real danger that
the Commons will
become a total
Perhaps the MP's should be more like MP3's: free of cost and accessible 24 hours a day all year long.
David de Vere Webb, UK
Change is desperately needed to ensure MPs hold the Government to account rather than either pointlessly time wasting (some Tories) or sycophantically cheerleading (most Labour).
However, there is a serious concern that every other time the Commons has been "modernised", powers of backbenchers have been removed, rather than powers of the Executive.
The Commons badly needs reforming for many reasons.
Firstly, it has ceased to be a representative of public opinion and is too much a voice of the party machinery.
As an avid follower of British politics, especially the work of the Commons, I think some modernisation would be in order. Chief among these would be more "family-friendly" times for the sittings of the House. A ballot system for the Speaker election is also necessary. I am also impressed with Tony Benn MP's fight for the restoration of Parliament's role. Democracy in Britain would be better served if the Commons could fulfil its duty as a deliberative body. I hope that Speaker Martin vehemently defends this important aspect of the Commons, reversing the recent subversion of this grand institution.
Alex Duggan, UK
Whilst there is a genuine need to reform the House of Commons,
there is as much need not to sacrifice the spirit of the House as
embodied by most of its many traditions. The reform of the House
will require sensitivity and boldness in equal measure.
The Commons is way past its sell-by date. We need proportional representation so that people aren't disenfranchised and an end to the confrontational debates in the chamber. Like many institutions of government, the Commons is still living in the nineteenth century.
David K, England
Laws are for people - not the other way round.
Personally I am fed up with people who interpret procedures and rules to the literal meaning, when common sense says something else.
Let common sense return to the Commons! Of course its procedures should suit the requirements of the day.
This country should have the same structure as America. The American system is more democratic and its constitution altogether more citizen-friendly. In the US no one body can take control, ensuring total democracy and safeguarding the constitution. Britain is outdated and needs deep reform. What Britain really should do instead of joining Europe is join America!
Ian Bailey, England
The Government have said that parliamentary time is too short to implement some of their manifesto, e.g. ban on hunting with dogs. It seems that these medieval traditions must be streamlined, if only to actually get more done.
It's been clear that the old method does need reform and by the look of the Commons yesterday, this is going to change next time, no problem. As for Mr Martin being the leader, I hope he keeps his personal feelings and thoughts to himself, and is impartial to all MPs.
Change is much like adding salt to a meal: a little improves the flavour, too much ruins the entire thing. The real scandal, as far as the House of Commons is concerned, is the way in which the debate-challenged Tony Blair ignores it, governing by soundbite and news conference instead.
When you see fox hunting continuing in this country simply because the debate in the commons ran beyond the allotted time, it's hard to have faith in the current system.
23 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Commons at its best and worst
24 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Speaker's election sparks reform calls
23 Oct 00 | UK Politics
MPs' anger over Speaker vote
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