Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Part of Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 8th April 2010.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 1:15 pm, 8th April 2010

I shall gladly follow that suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer in particular, therefore, to the civil service reforms. One or two things were not included-for example, it is a great pity that the rules relating to evidence before Select Committees have not been tackled. They might be more a matter of convention and of Standing Orders, but when we require civil servants to carry out their duties with integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality, the fact that special advisers are not required to carry out their duties with objectivity or impartiality is relevant. That might be a statement of the obvious, but sometimes special advisers and their political functions create difficulties. Similarly, in the House, although we engage in political activities, as part of our duties we must deal with some matters with a degree of objectivity and impartiality; that is no less the case for special advisers, because questions of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality all rather tend to merge into one another. It is a pity that some matters have been differentiated in that way.

No one in the debate has dwelt on the question of the House of Lords. I simply say, "Here we go again." I commented on the questions of proportional representation, the alternative vote and electoral reform. I accept what the Secretary of State said about alternative votes not being the same as proportional representation in a precise sense, but all such questions are to do with fiddling with the mechanism and the feeling of the choice of the person who goes into a polling booth-or does not do so-to exercise his freedom of choice. Playing around with that is very dangerous and the reason for retaining the existing system is inviolate; it should be kept. It is about the essence of an individual's choice and that should not be reallocated according to a system of shuffling.

My party has been committed to the idea of an elected House of Lords, although I notice that those issues have now been put on the back burner. We have been talking about the matter since the mid-19th century; a certain relation of mine by the name of John Bright was calling for the abolition of the House of Lords even in those days. I am not sure that I would call for its abolition, because it does a fantastically good job, but I have serious doubts about whether it can continue without being elected. I am sorry that the relevant provisions have gone. I have no doubt that the mavericks who were referred to earlier were among those who were determined to maintain the House of Lords in its present state-much as I want to pay tribute to the incredibly hard work that it did. When I was in the shadow Cabinet I found that those people did amazing amounts of hard work. However, the question is about more than that: it is a matter of principle.

On the subject of treaties, I do not think that clause 24 should be exclusively devoted to the question of ratification. Consent is the issue and therefore the clause should be about treaties being laid before Parliament before consent. It is consent that really matters, and ratification is a much more complex question, which I do not intend to go into now, although I took up the issue when I took the Foreign Secretary to judicial review over ratification of the Lisbon treaty, so I feel strongly about it.

The general point on which I want to conclude is that there is far too much government, and the Bill retains far too much of the presidential nature of the direction in which our governmental system is going. The Bill deals with important matters, but there is a need for much deeper radical reform of the connection between the Government, Parliament and the voter than it contains. I would not want to dismiss it, but it does not grapple with the real question at the heart of what the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, and the significant number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who are here first as parliamentarians, know is going wrong: the disconnection between Parliament and the people on the question not just of allowances, but of the manner in which the Government impose their will. I spoke about that in the debate on the effectiveness of Parliament in Westminster Hall yesterday. The Bill does not deal properly with those questions and we must amend the Standing Orders to restrain the extent to which the Government have control over what happens. The Back-Bench and House Committees, and the reassertion of the rights of Back Benchers-

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