Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Cook's Common Sense

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mr Cook's Common Sense

Article excerpt

IT HAS LONG been one of the peculiarities of the British political system that the House of Commons, while constantly legislating for change in everyone else's life, believed its own archaic working methods to be beyond criticism. Traditionalists on both sides of the House have argued that it would be wrong to interfere with procedures which have endured since time immemorial polite way of saying that no-one can any longer remember why the Commons continues to behave in the antiquated way it does. The circumstances of the departure last week of Mrs Elizabeth Filkin, the Commissioner for Standards, were another example of the fustiness and narcissism of the Commons, and its inability to see how it looks from the outside. Yet the assumption that the British Parliament has nothing to learn from anyone else is finally being challenged, and reform is now firmly on the agenda. The fact that it is Mr Robin Cook, Leader of the Commons, who is promoting modernisation is not accidental, and from the public point of view a good thing. Mr Cook suffered a serious demotion when he lost the Foreign Office, but has since put his considerable experience and tenacity into attempts to restore the lost authority of the House of Commons. Opponents of modernisation have traditionally claimed that any reform of its hours or procedures would end up strengthening the executive at the expense of the rights of individual MPs to scrutinize legislation. There is no reason whatever why this should happen. Mr Cook's projected reforms, which curtail the overlong summer break and allow for more morning sittings, would give ample opportunity for MPs to do their job without the recurring farce of late night debates and schoolboy manoeuvres designed to wear down government ministers simply by tiring them out. Procedural changes will not of themselves restore Parliament's image, and disillusionment with politics has deeper roots. But it will make it a less willfully quirky, alien institution, run by people who take positive pleasure in being unable to communicate to the public how the system works. More sensible hours could also help to attract more women and business people into politics, both of whom have been put off by Parliament's silly, archaic, time-consuming rituals. …

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