Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Harman denies blocking MP reforms

Houses of Parliament
MPs will get a vote on the Wright proposals

Commons leader Harriet Harman has urged MPs not to be "suspicious" after claims she is trying to block reforms aimed at beefing up the powers of backbenchers.

Ms Harman said she backed the Wright committee's proposals, which include electing committee chairmen and giving MPs a greater say in what they debate.

She said MPs would get a chance to vote on 21 of the proposals on 23 February.

The Conservatives claim Ms Harman is using procedural moves to kick the Wright plan into the long grass.

Shadow leader of the House Sir George Young told MPs: "There is now a widespread suspicion that the government has created an approach that is simply designed to fail."

Some MPs have been angered by the fact that the proposals will be tabled in a form that could allow a single member to halt any part of the plan.

'Very positive'

But Ms Harman said if that happened, those sections would be voted on by the Commons at a later date.

Mark D'Arcy
The argument seems to be that such changes are so profound that they can only be introduced on the basis of unanimity - a truly bizarre idea
Mark D'Arcy, Democracy Live blog

She did not explicitly say if that would be a free vote, but indicated it would be House business, a sign that one is likely.

Speaking at business questions in the Commons, she said: "I would say you shouldn't be suspicious because we are trying to be very straightforward about this.

"The government has been very positive about reforming and improving the way the House of Commons works.

"We are keen to continue that reform by taking forward the recommendations contained in the Wright committee Report."

She told MPs there would be a full day's debate and then at the end of that, 21 of the Wright committee's proposals would be voted on by MPs.

Expenses scandal

The 21 proposals would cover four "big ticket areas that we want to make change on", she said, but also where she believed MPs had a "good prospect of achieving a consensus".

"There is not a unanimity in this House which the government is standing out against. There are different views where we have got to work out where there is a consensus," she told MPs.

The four areas to be voted on include elections for select committee chairmen and members, said Ms Harman.

They would also include making sure private members bills, which at the moment rarely make it into law, are voted on by MPs and a backbench business committee to give MPs more of a say over what is debated in the Commons.

Labour MP Tony Wright was asked last year by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to come up with plans to help restore faith in politics in the wake of the expenses scandal.

His committee's report, published in November, proposes an elected business committee - to work with the government and opposition on a weekly agenda for the Commons.

One day a week, Commons business should be dictated by backbenchers, it says.

The committee also recommends that Commons select committees be streamlined and given more independence from the government, so they can scrutinise Whitehall more thoroughly.

Their chairmen and women ought to be elected by the whole House rather than effectively be agreed between the party whips as at present, the report says.

The report says that, at the moment, many MPs "do not see the point in attending debates or making the House the primary focus of their activities".

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