Parliament and the Executive — 13 Jul 2000

I beg to move,

That this House believes that Parliament is the essential and definitive link between citizen and government and should remain the institution at the heart of the nation's democratic system; regrets the accelerated loss of power and influence from Parliament to the Executive since 1997, rendering Parliament less able to hold government to account; and calls for the urgent introduction of the reforms necessary to reassert the authority of the House and to reverse the bypassing and undermining of Parliament in recent years.

I said that this place must never be the Prime Minister's poodle. Unfortunately, it has become so.--[ Official Report , 13 January 1999; Vol. 323, c. 259.]

Or let us listen to someone who has spent much of his professional life following our proceedings from the Press Gallery--Robin Oakley. This is what he wrote in The House Magazine :

In over 30 years reporting Parliament I can never recall a time when the proceedings have been

The executive . . . cares little for Parliament . . . unless the government begins to respect the Commons more, will anybody else begin to do so?

All Members of Parliament understand that we got here with the support of party politicians and need to defend particular party political views, but we also have a duty to ordinary men and women who have let this Parliament grow up over 900 years . . .

Parliament is not a rubber stamp for the arrangements of Executives or of Front Benchers . . . If . . . those groups succeed in getting what they want, we shall know that Parliament no longer represents the interests of the United Kingdom.--[ Official Report , 22 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 687-8.]

the 1980s saw further encroachments of the executive into parliamentary independence. The use of guillotine motions escalated and the increasingly dominant position of the Prime Minister within the Cabinet affected the mood of the House.

the originators of the logjam--

are the Government . . . Bills are allowed into the legislative programme that are insufficiently prepared, and then subjected to rafts of Government amendments as they go through Parliament.

national insurance arrangements for the self-employed closer to those of employees--[ Official Report , 9 March 1999; Vol. 327, c. 187.]

the lesson of parliamentary change is that it has to be carried out with care and sensitivity . . . The rights of backbenchers have to be protected. They will . . . be wary of changes which appear . . . to make the job of government easier.

parliamentary change . . . has to be carried out with care and sensitivity

The rights of Back Benchers have to be protected

There has been a tendency to use the extent or frequency of debates on select committee reports as a criterion of success.

The absolute divorce of decision from discussion in the method proposed, for the convenience of government supporters, will heighten cynicism about the relevance of debate and discussion, and undermines the parliamentary process.

Parliament cannot be organised into a nice, neat tidy bundle so that the Executive takes decisions, tells Parliament what it has decided and produces Bill that, even if they are wrong, can be

presented as a package and pushed through, because no one any longer alters a word of them.--[ Official Report , 22 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 687.]

The Government are not convinced that a change to the current system is needed.

are superficial and give the impression that they have been drafted with only a cursory look at the summary recommendations, ignoring the analysis and the argument.

vacuum at the heart of New Labour;

is centralised and arrogant. It's all glitz;

the new elite's choice of friends strange;

I wish somebody could stop the spin doctors.

a culture in which the approval of advisers in Number 10 or Number 11 is more important than the opinion of the Ministers they serve.

the era of representative democracy is slowly coming to an end.

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

'congratulates the Government on carrying out in three years the biggest programme of constitutional reform for a century, including devolution to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, bringing government closer to the people; and welcomes the fundamental reform of the House of Lords and the establishment of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons which has doubled the number of backbench debates and quadrupled the opportunities to debate Select Committee reports as part of the 48 recommendations implemented so far.'.

[Interruption.] To be frank, if I were a Conservative Member, I would have left some time ago.

Far more than previous premiers she relied on a whole squad of advisers, speech writers, her political office, and assorted media fixers and spin merchants. By 1983 she had completely abandoned conventional electioneering in which she might encounter ordinary voters.

It may be that the age of pure representative democracy is . . . coming to an end.

plebiscites, focus groups, lobbies, citizens' movements, the Internet.

Parliament performs a number of roles in British democracy. Parliament makes the law and decides on how much the government can raise through taxation. Crucially, it also creates and sustains the government. Parliament provides the vital link between the electorate and government. Governments are accountable to the people through general elections . . . This form of accountability is generally termed Parliament's scrutiny role. Parliament performs this role by obtaining and publicising information about the government's performance and future plans. On the basis of that information, Parliament and others form a judgement as to whether the government is discharging its mandate effectively.

Effective scrutiny relies not only on the role of Parliament and MPs, but also on the role of government. The government has a duty to account for its policies, decisions and actions.

The structure of Government, and the context within which it operates, has changed enormously . . . The increased use of executive agencies by central government, devolution

the growing influence of the courts, the extension of EU involvement

We hope that the Government will not be overtaken by events and that when the pace of reform slackens, it will be found that all the separately constructed pieces of the jigsaw will fit together.

What ministers really fail to address is the dynamic nature of their programme. They treat each individual Bill like an item to be ticked off on a check list. But there are loose ends: not just issues which have yet to be resolved, like electoral reform, but also the consequences of measures already enacted.

I do think we are now in a political society where we're managed, where democracy really is about being represented. There's all the difference in the world between being a representative of your constituency, and your convictions, and being a sub-agent of the Millbank Tower Corporation . . .

An effective Opposition is essential to a healthy political process.

in principle, he agreed with the analysis

Parliament is at the heart of our political system. It is the essential and definitive link between the individual and government. Weaken Parliament and, in the long run, you undermine the health of the whole political system.

In the report, we identify the functions of Parliament and the purpose of parliamentary reform. Too often, reforms are proposed for different purposes. Some are designed to expedite the business of Government, some are for the convenience of Members of Parliament, some are designed to remove archaic practices. Others are designed to strengthen Parliament in calling government to account.

The focus of this report is precise and consistent. We are concerned solely with strengthening Parliament in calling government to account. Parliament fulfils many of its functions well but we believe that it could, and should, be far more effective in forcing government to explain itself, to justify its measures, to answer for mistakes and to heed the concerns of citizens. There is a clear imbalance in the relationship between Parliament and the executive. In the report, we identify the reasons for the imbalance and we put forward proposals to correct it.

However, I am conscious that previous Oppositions have launched policy commissions with great fanfares, and then conveniently left their reports on the shelf gathering dust when they return to Government. To make sure that that does not happen with the Norton Report, I can today make three specific commitments that will form part of our manifesto for the next general election.

It would be an insult to the work of the Commission to announce within minutes of the Report's publication which recommendations my party accepts, and which we reject.

Being democratic does not necessarily mean having elections.--[ Official Report , 19 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 124.]

The people of Britain deserve a stronger Parliament, better government and a revived and refreshed democracy, and I believe it is our duty to provide it.

as a former member of the Select Committees, as a former Minister who has been cross-examined by them.

He said:

I agree that we need to make them stronger and we need to start with the membership.

the essential . . . link between citizen and government

too much of the Select Committee system is worthy but also ignored.

The parliament moderateth the king's prerogative, and nothing grows to abuse, but this house has power to treat it.

The influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

The answer is quite simple: . . . he happens to be a friend of mine.--[ Official Report , 13 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 915.]

The extent to which committees are manipulated by the Tory Whips casts a cloud over the independence of the select committees system.

at the heart of our political system,

is in Parliament to support his opinion of the public good, and does not form his opinion in order to get into Parliament or to continue in it.

holding all governments to account, having been elected by the people for that purpose.

I believe that that is the right responsibility for all of us,--[ Official Report , 9 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 1042.]

Undermine the authority of Parliament and ultimately you undermine the authority of Government. The more Government seeks to achieve autonomy in making public policy, the harder it has to work to maintain its capacity to achieve desired outcomes. The more it distances itself from Parliament, the more it undermines popular consent for the system of government.

The more I look at this place, the more I fear that the House of Commons has surrendered its responsibility for representing people and has become a queue for office or for people hoping to get on the "Today" programme.--[ Official Report , 1 February 1999; Vol. 324, c. 627.]

The Government are not convinced that a change to the current system is needed.

this should be the norm, not the exception.

Question , That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:--

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 304.

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Party Summary

Votes by party, red entries are votes against the majority for that party.

What is Tell? '+1 tell' means that in addition one member of that party was a teller for that division lobby.

What are Boths? An MP can vote both aye and no in the same division. The boths page explains this.

What is Turnout? This is measured against the total membership of the party at the time of the vote.

PartyMajority (No)Minority (Aye)BothTurnout
Con0 138 (+2 tell)087.5%
Independent0 1033.3%
Lab304 (+2 tell) 0073.6%
LDem0 25053.2%
UUP0 1011.1%
Total:304 165074.5%

Rebel Voters - sorted by party

MPs for which their vote in this division differed from the majority vote of their party. You can see all votes in this division, or every eligible MP who could have voted in this division

Sort by: Name | Constituency | Party | Vote

no rebellions

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