Page last updated at 00:28 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 01:28 UK

Constitution reforms 'need work'

Parliament
Gordon Brown announced reform plans shortly after becoming prime minister

Ministers need to think more about plans to reform the UK constitution before they are ready to become law, MPs and peers have said.

Government proposals include giving Parliament more power to make decisions over war and cutting restrictions on Parliament Square protests.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill noted they were a "step in the right direction".

But it said "further work" was needed before a full bill could be framed.

The draft bill, published last year, promises to "rebalance power" between Parliament and the government and give MPs more ability to hold ministers to account.

Ponsonby Rule

It proposes giving Parliament powers to ratify treaties and decide whether troops should be deployed.

In its report, the committee says ministers should ensure that "ongoing deployments" are also scrutinised.

It also supports putting the Ponsonby Rule - under which treaties must be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification - on a statutory footing.

The draft bill also says protests in Parliament Square should not be subject to unnecessary restrictions.

The committee agrees, but says such freedom "must be balanced against the need for the police and other authorities to have adequate powers to safeguard the proper functioning of Parliament and protect the amenity value of Parliament Square".

It also argues that the government's proposed reforms of the judicial system come "too soon" after the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, which changed the way judges are appointed.

'Retreat'

The committee backs the bill in saying that the attorney general's legal and political roles should not be separated.

They should retain the power to give a direction in relation to any individual case, including cases relating to national security, it adds.

But a six-strong group of committee members has broken ranks, denouncing the bill as a "retreat from Gordon Brown's early promises".

Led by Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler, it calls for the separation of the attorney general's political and legal functions and says the role should not include sitting in either House of Parliament.

However, the committee's chairman, Labour MP Michael Jabez Foster, said: "The committee supports the government's objective of making government more accountable to Parliament and we welcome the draft bill as the first step towards achieving that goal.

"While we commend the efforts made by the government, our report highlights those issues which in our view require further work before the bill will be ready for introduction in the next session of Parliament.

"Pre-legislative scrutiny is vital to ensure due consideration is given to the detail of a Draft Bill. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to this process and look forward to the government's response to our recommendations "


SEE ALSO
Protest curbs 'will be reviewed'
25 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
UK needs Bill of Rights - Straw
25 Oct 07 |  UK Politics
Brown sets out reform proposals
03 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
At-a-glance: Constitutional plans
25 Oct 07 |  UK Politics

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