Memorandum from Richard Burden MP
1.1 The Modernisation Committee has before
it a Herculean taskto ensure the Commons is effective in
its scrutiny of Government and legislation; to adapt the Parliamentary
system to make more efficient use of Members' time and to do both
in a manner understood by the public. I agree with the Leader
of the House that the test of success for these reforms will be
in whether they increase the esteem of the public for their Parliament.
1.2 With such far-reaching ambitions it
is important that consideration of the modernisation of the House
of Commons is taken as part of an overall re-assessment of our
whole system of democracy. This submission is an attempt to respond
to the reform programme laid out by the Modernisation Committee
but the overall emphasis is intended to address "Parliament"
as a whole. I hope it will be seen therefore in the context of
other aspects of Parliamentary improvements such as reform of
the second chamber and a more proportional electoral system.
2.1 I believe the Consultation paper put
forward by the Committee is a good start and agree with many of
its proposals. It maps out important steps in the right direction
but I believe reform can be taken further, especially in terms
of the Parliamentary timetable and the role of Select Committees.
3.1 As the Modernisation Committee are considering
publishing their report on Select Committees, which I am informed
may be sometime in early 2002, I will not place here my full list
of comments or suggestions for these bodies. Nonetheless I believe
it is relevant in this consultation to state that the Departmental
Select Committees must have their powers and resources expanded.
They must be clearly positioned as the key bodies in the country
for scrutiny of government policy and ministerial conduct.
3.2 I warmly welcome the suggestions of
giving Departmental Select Committees a role in Pre-legislative
Scrutiny  and I would like to see this taken further with
the kind of approach already being tried out in the Scottish Parliament,
where Committees can even initiate legislation. There may also
be a role for members of a reformed second chamber to join the
Select Committees at this foetal stage and I refer the Committee
to my response to the White Paper on second chamber reform which
expounds on this. [Appendix 1]
3.3 Following this logic, perhaps Select
Committees should not have their membership restricted to MPs
only. There is much that could be gained from expanding the role
of outside bodies in the Select Committee process both in terms
of specialist knowledge and connection with the public at large.
This can build on such innovations as the Human Rights Committee
which has equal numbers of Members and Peers.
3.4 I welcome the direction in the Consultation
paper to make Committee publications more attractive  and
to make live coverage of public committee sittings available through
the internet . We also need to think of other ways of making
committee publications more attractive and should consider better
use of specialists to achieve this.
3.5 In my experience I have found presentations
such as PowerPoint introductions to topics immensely beneficial.
I would welcome moves to allow greater use of technological aids
such as these during official committee meetings and generally
recommend the use of more technology and creative methods to convey
information to Committee members.
3.6 I welcome the suggestions for post-legislative
scrutiny  and believe a key role in this can be played by
other levels of government such as local authorities and the emerging
regions. There needs to be an expanded role for citizens in reporting
to their Parliament on how they are being affected by the legislation
enacted on their behalf.
3.7 The importance of expanded Select Committees
will be judged partly on the basis of the time allocated to them
in the Parliamentary Timetable. I believe there is room for a
radical re-think of the timetable that could allow for this.
4.1 The Parliamentary Timetable must enable
individual MPs to balance their roles of government scrutiny,
constitutency representative, legislator and contributor to discussions
of the issues of the day.
4.2 I acknowledge and welcome timetable
reforms such as the possibility of the publication of an open
list of speakers , greater transparency of ministerial statements
, the possibility of the carry over of Bills from one session
to the next , and a regular slot for Statements , I would
also like to see Hansard publish the speeches of Members who attended
debates but were unable to speak because of a lack of time.
4.3 I welcome as helpful and positive the
suggestions for debates which are shorter but fewer in number
, making better use of the mornings [29-32], making the Parliamentary
calendar more predictable [40-44], and the idea of more constituency
Fridays . However, maybe we can go even further. Is it really
the best use of MPs time, whether they are considering legislation
or scrutinising the Executive, for the Commons to sit in what
are often fairly theatrical plenary sessions for at least four
days every week?
4.4 Could we not have a monthly cycle in
which one designated five-day week focuses Parliamentary and public
attention on the deliberations of expanded Select Committees,
one week devoted to giving MPs quality time with their constituents
and one or two five-day weeks bringing Parliament together in
plenary session to consider the work of different departments
(and proposed legislation relating to them) on a rolling basis?
Select Committee report backs could have equal status to those
of ministers in their allocated week and time could also be set
aside to discuss matters of urgent concern.
5.1 Democracy in Britain faces a profound
crisisevident from the lowest turnout at a general election
since 1918. Too many people feel disconnected from the political
process and I am convinced that many of the ways we conduct our
affairs add to that disconnection.
5.2 This consultation along with the current
debate on the future shape of the second chamber provides a unique
opportunity for re-assessment. We now have a long overdue chance
to rectify some of the glaring anomalies of the present system,
to strengthen the powers of scrutiny and accountability and thus
the role and standing of Parliament as a whole.
5.3 If we are to tackle the fundamental
problems within our democracy and reconnect citizens with the
political process then we must look holistically at Parliamentary
reform. In that context we must be prepared to be bold in reform
of the House of Commons and implement the measures necessary to
allow members to perform all of their roles successfully and efficiently
30 January 2002