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Government Running Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 18th January 2000.

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Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Conservative, Chichester 9:15 pm, 18th January 2000

Everybody accepts that Governments of all hues are less accountable to the House than they used to be. I do not think that there are any takers for any other view. The health announcement that the Prime Minister made on the Frost programme is a reflection of that—it was the biggest single spending commitment of this Parliament and it was made on a television programme at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning, instead of to the House of Commons. That would have been inconceivable 20, or even 10, years ago.

We are living in an age in which Parliament is increasingly bypassed. The press do not get their information from watching our proceedings: they go directly to civil servants whom they hope will leak them information or they talk to Ministers who definitely leak them information. The public do not watch our proceedings much: they watch their elected representatives performing on television in interviews. There has been a steady erosion of the importance and relevance of the House of Commons in British public life, as I am sure the father of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) would wholeheartedly agree.

The Prime Minister almost wholly controls the House of Commons and he is in the process of ensuring that he can put his placemen into the other half of Parliament. That is mostly what the reform of the House of Lords is about. A group of people who had no logical right to be there—the hereditary peers—but who were at least independent, have been removed and are being replaced by appointed representatives, a disproportionate number of whom are from the Labour party. Some 195 life peers have been appointed by the Prime Minister, which is fast approaching as many in two and a half years as the Conservative Administrations between 1979 and 1997 appointed in 18 years.