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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK

UK Politics

Tories pledge to bring government to heel

The Commons: Tony Blair is often there only once a week

The Conservative Party has set up a commission to come up with ways to strengthen the power of Parliament and its ability to scrutinise the government.

Conservative leader William Hague said he had taken the action because Prime Minister Tony Blair had repeatedly tried to sideline the House of Commons since he came to power.

Mr Hague pledged that the Tories would bring in radical reforms to reverse that trend if they were returned to power, although he admitted they would be making a "rod" for their own back.

[ image: William Hague says Tony Blair has shown
William Hague says Tony Blair has shown "total disdain" for the Commons
"From day one after the election, Tony Blair has shown a total disdain for the House of Commons," he said.

"He cut in half the number of days of Prime Minister's Questions without consulting Parliament at all. He handed over control of interest rates to the Bank of England.

"His ministers day-in day-out make major government announcements on the radio or leak them to the papers before coming to Parliament, if they come at all.

"Not that Tony Blair sees any of this with his own eyes because unlike previous prime ministers he doesn't frequent the House of Commons."

While acknowledging the Tories had also made "mistakes" in the past, Mr Hague said present structures of scrutinising government were wholly inadequate.

"Governments can tax us, spend our money, seize our property, constrain our freedom and take hundreds of decisions that affect out lives but our elected representatives in Parliament are insufficiently able to hold them to account," he said.

"I pledge that strengthening Parliament, giving it real teeth to hold the government of the day to account will be a top priority of a future Conservative government.

"I do not wish to prejudge the commission in any way but I can tell you now that the Conservatives will make far-reaching changes to Parliament that significantly strengthen democratic scrutiny in Britain within weeks of a general election victory."

Mr Hague added: "We will be making a rod for our own back, of course, but that is a price worth paying."

'Parliament too marginalised'

The commission will be chaired by Lord Norton of Louth, a Tory working peer and constitutional expert.

Other member include the former Tory ministers Lord Waldegrave, Lord Forsyth and Peter Brooke, Oxford University politics lecturer Gillian Peele and former Tory MP and Times political sketchwriter Matthew Parris.

[ image: Journalist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris will be on the commission]
Journalist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris will be on the commission
"Parliament has become too marginalised in the political process," Lord Norton said. "Undermine the House of Commons and in the long run you undermine the authority of government."

Mr Hague said he was concerned about governments forcing legislation through the House, as well as policy being discussed behind doors at a "remote government agency" or voted on in Europe.

"England is the mother of parliaments but our own Parliament has been losing power for decades.

"There has been a steady, sometimes accidental but often deliberate diminution in the role of Parliament in holding the government of the day to account.

"It has been happening for many years and under governments of all political persuasions."

He added: "We have had another week where Parliament has been sidelined as much as possible."

He cited the publication of the government's annual report without a statement in the Commons and the admission by two MPs that they were involved in the leaking of a select committee report.

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