Parliamentary Reform - back to
The recent series of revelations about MPs Expenses have focussed
minds on changing that system. However, there is as much, if not more, need for
attention on electoral and procedural reform. The main functions of parliament are to
ensure that the laws we pass are effective and to hold the Government to account for the
way taxation is raised and spent. Taxes should be fair and based on ability to pay and
should be spent wisely. As I recently pointed out in the debate on the timetable for the
Policing and Crime Bill, the Government controls the amount of time MPs have to consider
legislation. As is so often the case, only one day was allowed to debate the Bill, which
left us with no time to even consider amendments on extradition and policing reform. This
is what I said, explaining why I would not be supporting the Government's timetable:
19 May 2009 : Column 1357
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): If
there is something rotten with the body politic in this country as far as expenses are
concernedand there is, and I do not exclude myself from thatit is right that
there should be media and public attention on the work that we do. Equally, attention
should be paid to the rotten way in which we conduct our business. Today is a supreme
example of that.
I agree with every word that the hon. Member for
Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said. It is not as though there is pressure on
Government time. For weeks now, we have had days of general debates, and when we get back
after the Whitsun break, there will be at least two days of general debates. There is
time. The Government could, if they so chose, give time to important legislation such as
the Bill that we are considering today. For those reasons, I urge the Government to
reconsider and will be voting against the programme motion, as I have on several occasions
in the past.
The best way to restore our democracy would be to give more
power to elected representatives so that people feel that when they vote they are electing
people who can make a real difference if they use their powers effectively. When Labour
came to power in 1997, a Royal Commission, chaired by Roy Jenkins, was set up to look into
electoral reform. I supported the recommendation of the Jenkins' report published in 1998
and met with him to discuss the proposals. Below I reproduce what I wrote to constituents
who contacted me about the report:
"In an ideal world I would
prefer a unicameral system but we would need a drastic improvement in the way the Commons
Otherwise, I am a supporter of the proposals of Lord Jenkins' Royal Commission, which
was set up as a result of a manifesto commitment in 1997. Jenkins proposed that
candidates with the highest votes from minority parties, who do not succeed in the first
past the post constituency elections, would be allocated to additional member places
in accordance with their party's share of the votes on a "regional" basis.
I believe that the Jenkins proposals would ensure that voters in constituencies where
there is a large majority for one particular party will have as much of a chance of having
their views taken into account by the parties as voters in marginal constituencies.
The Jenkins' proposals maintain the constituency link but the presence of top-up members
with an affiliation to a local area will help keep elected representatives of safe seats
on their toes. These desirable effects should help encourage people to vote.
It is my view that Jenkins proposals offer a fairer voting system and will lead to
greater accountability of elected representatives and hence greater confidence in our
public institutions, and should thus receive support irrespective of any short-term
If we must have a second chamber, I would like to see it indirectly elected (for
example via local authorities, regional Government, professional bodies and trade
unions). If it were directly elected by PR (which I support for the Commons as
recommended by the Jenkins Commission) it would have just as much, if not more, legitimacy
than the first chamber and this could lead to problems."
Sadly there was no commitment to implement Jenkins'
recommendations, which were quietly dropped. Following the expenses row, if we are
to restore the public's faith in our democracy we need to go back to the work already
completed by the Royal Commission.