Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Seize This Unique Moment in History for Real Reform; COMMENTARY

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Seize This Unique Moment in History for Real Reform; COMMENTARY

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Clegg Lib-Dem leader

AFTER the political scandals of the past two months, today's election of a new Speaker ought to mark a new beginning for Parliament, starting the process of rebuilding people's faith in politics. It's a huge challenge. The expenses debacle has exposed rottenness right at the heart of our democracy.

The scale of change that's needed is unprecedented. Whoever turns out to be the new Speaker by the end of today should, to show they are a true reformer, this very week, bring party leaders together and set before them a series of significant changes to be implemented before Parliament returns in October. They shouldn't be requests, but demands.

At the top of that list, once expenses have been dealt with, should be change to the machinery of what gets debated, and under what terms.

For too long, the weaknesses of our Parliament have been hidden under the pomp, its failure to hold the Government to account disguised by sentimental rhetoric about the "mother of Parliaments".

The truth is, our Parliament has been emasculated by an over-mighty executive. The fundamental problems are that the Government wins almost every vote and debates are either deserted, with just three or four MPs on the benches, or vitriolic slanging matches such as Prime Minister's Questions.

It was bizarre during PMQs last week to watch David Cameron and Gordon Brown fighting about public spending figures. Cameron had one set of figures. Brown another. They both thought the other was lying, but neither was permitted to say so. So they just read out lists of numbers at one another for 10 minutes. It is clear this sort of strange show-fight adds nothing to public understanding or political debate.

The other big problem is that it's almost always the Government that decides the subject of debates. That's very convenient for them, but a hopeless way of securing real scrutiny.

The new Speaker can change this: he or she can summon ministers to answer to the House more regularly, accept many more debates on urgent matters under the rather obscure Standing Order 24, and in the longer term, push for debate to be decided by an all-party committee instead of government whips. …

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