Caroline Lucas calls for overhaul of Parliament


4:54 pm - November 30th 2010

by Newswire    


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Green MP Caroline Lucas has published a report outlining her vision for a more efficient, cost-effective and user-friendly Parliament.

The report, entitled The Case For Parliamentary Reform, will shine a light on some of the most archaic procedures and processes of the House of Commons – and outline the urgent need for reform through changes to the way Westminster works.

Since being elected to parliament six months ago, I have been deeply shocked by the inefficiency of the outdated systems at Westminster.

As the Government’s programme of severe spending cuts to reduce the deficit comes into force, the financial cost to the tax payer of time-wasting in Westminster takes on a new and more urgent significance.

For example, an electronic voting system would make far better use of MPs’ time; just queuing up to vote accounts for around £30,000 a week in MPs’ salary costs. In the last Parliament there were over 1200 votes. Since it takes about 15 minutes per vote, that means an MP with an 85 per cent voting record would have spent over 250 hours queuing to vote – a huge waste of time and money.

Among the report’s proposals are:

  • The introduction of electronic voting, which it is estimated could save 1.5 hours or more (1) of MPs’ time a week, and thus for time wasted save around £30,000 salary costs per week
  • A systematic overhaul of Parliamentary language to make it self-explanatory, thus demystifying parliamentary processes, and increasing transparency and accountability.
  • Measures to prevent the “talking out” of Private Members’ Bills
  • Increase transparency so MPs (and constituents) know in advance if they have been selected to speak in a debate. Greater use by the Speaker on limits on backbench speaking time.
  • An end to late night sittings to make MPs hours and those of parliamentary staff more family friendly.

Caroline Lucas adds:

The reforms outlined in my report would be straight-forward and cost-effective to achieve. Some build on previous proposals from the Wright Committee and from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons.

Some have been agreed in the past, but not implemented. Others were rejected by previous parliaments at a different time. Some are new proposals, drawn in particular from experience in other legislatures. A new parliament, in new circumstances, should examine them again.

From a press release

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Reader comments


On a scan there are some good ideas on the face of it, not enough discussion of the consequences of deploying them, some guff about inaccessible langugage (seriously, if you don’t know what a word means, e.g. “sub-judice” crack open a dictionary or Google it!).

Is there anything we can do to support this?

I think they should perhaps vote the old way a few times a year (perhaps on confidence motions and budgets) to placate traditionalists, but electronic voting should be fine all the rest of the time.

The government of the day would certainly love to limit backbench speaking time. Great way to kill a debate. So not a good idea if you believe that an MP’s role is to the government to account.

Agree with the above.

V impressed with what Caroline progressively is putting forward. What next?

“some guff about inaccessible langugage ”

agree that there is no need to dumb down, but keeping stuff Jargon free and plain english whenever possible surely has its obvious advantages, not least so it means when an MP is talking bullshit, they aren’t hiding behind big and technical words in an effort to disguise such bullshit.

What the hell is the point of bringing in electronic voting. The last thing we want is to make it easier for MP’s to bring in crap laws. If they can pass laws through the press of a button then God alone knows how much pointless legislation they will churn out.

Personally I don’t fine a million pounds in salary costs particularly high for the making of all the laws in our country. Maybe the European Parliament wouldn’t churn out so much pointless rubbish if they actually had to get up off their seats to vote.

Lucas should concentrate on actually campaigning for useful changes rather than wasting time trying to make Westminster more like the EP, that benchmark for incompetence and irrelevance.

” For example, an electronic voting system would make far better use of MPs’ time; just queuing up to vote accounts for around £30,000 a week in MPs’ salary costs. In the last Parliament there were over 1200 votes. Since it takes about 15 minutes per vote, that means an MP with an 85 per cent voting record would have spent over 250 hours queuing to vote – a huge waste of time and money.

They are getting paid anyway whether they are queuing or not. Why would electronic voting save money? There may be reasons to introduce electronic voting but saving money is not one of them. If they were not in a voting queue they could be doing something else to screw up. Therefore, keeping them occupied in a queue may well save us money.

I understood one of the strongest reasons for supporting the traditional way of voting was that it meant that all MPs were required to be in the same place at once, so it makes it easier for an MP to buttonhole a minister on an issue. There’s no was a minister’s private office can prevaricate when the two people are in the same place.

I don’t really see how an electronic voting system would be less disruptive of an MP’s time. Unless we are suggesting that MPs should be allowed to vote remotely. At the moment votes take so long because they have to give MPs 8 minutes to run from their offices to the lobbies. Even if they swiped a card when they got there, they would still have to drop whatever they are doing and go vote.

I hope that nobody would support allowing MPs to vote remotely. The idea that MPs shouldn’t be a tiny bit inconvenienced to express their opinion on an issue and should be able to text in from wherever they are is ridiculous. Sorry if it’s inconvenient to go and vote, but MPs should remember the heavy responsibility they bear when they vote.

I also don’t see how selecting people before time to speak actually makes for a debate. It just means that you an MP doesn’t have to ‘waste time’ listening to other people’s arguments and participating in a debate. How convenient it would be to read out a speech at a set time and then leave.

Certainly they could end late night sittings, and the talking out of bills and not putting them to a vote is pretty scandalous.

But the fact that the report feels the need to explain who the Speaker is and seems filled with a sense of self-importance spoils it for me. (It could be paraphrased as “my time is so important… actually doing my job gets in the way of me being important”)

Lets look at these:

Among the report’s proposals are:

The introduction of electronic voting, which it is estimated could save 1.5 hours or more (1) of MPs’ time a week, and thus for time wasted save around £30,000 salary costs per week

How does less time voting save salaries which are paid to people regardless of where they are (see one Gordon Brown’s poor attendance for example)? Seems odd.

What electronic voting (from within the house obviously – it would have to be a closed system) could achieve though would be to weaken party whips by allowing MPs to vote as they felt appropriate at the time without having to physically demonstrate their support. Obviously, the way they voted would be recorded and published, but that would be after the event. That has to be a good thing – anything that cuts out the party machine is always positive.

A systematic overhaul of Parliamentary language to make it self-explanatory, thus demystifying parliamentary processes, and increasing transparency and accountability.

This depends on whether the language itself is in fact mystical and opaque, which I’ve never noticed. It is somewhat old fashioned at times, but has in fact evolved along with the institution (and language as a whole). A planned overhaul would also run the risk of selecting value-laden language which would influence the way MPs think, whereas the possibly archaic terms we have at present (if Ms Lucas is correct) are not a danger in that respect – they have little modern meaning and therefore represent only the rituals of parliament.

Measures to prevent the “talking out” of Private Members’ Bills

Well, any bill presented should be voted on surely, so I’d agree with that. I’d also like to see select committees have more rights to produce bills.

Increase transparency so MPs (and constituents) know in advance if they have been selected to speak in a debate. Greater use by the Speaker on limits on backbench speaking time.

Is this workable? And is the second suggestion not effectively allowing the Speaker more power over parliament than he or she already has? I don’t disagree with these, but I would suggest any reform along these lines needs careful thought.

An end to late night sittings to make MPs hours and those of parliamentary staff more family friendly.

Didn’t Labour promise this? I tend to find the notion of our elected representatives deciding they should only represent us for a few hours a day (for the period parliament is in session) somewhat concerning – I’d prefer to know my MP was prepared to stay up all night to protect the interests of me and my community. Put it this way – to get elected, MPs have to put hours in that are intensly non-family friendly; why is it then that they should expect to have family friendly hours when they have the position of importance they sought?

Speaking as an ‘electronic-voting’ dimwit – how would this work? Does it work infallibly elsewhere? – Could the hackers get to work and sabotage e-voting so that we end up with the unthinkable scenario of having an unrepresentative minority party’s foot in the door of power by default? -. This couldn’t happen of course with our current tried-and-tested system of horse-trading. There might be Neanderthal hackers/ or chinless ones with vested interests out there who would, by means of electronic chicanery, bring back hanging or hunting – we all know the Tories (except the nimble- footed Ann Widdy.Com) want hunting and hanging – and it has to be said that many would agree to it on that basis – but let’s keep it civilised. But I digress . . . I would appreciate an explanation.

@Mulligrubs, I understand your concern and I wouldn’t favour electronic voting in elections because I doubt if the system could ever be 100% secure, and even if it was wholly secure and reliable, that doesn’t mean it would be sufficiently transparent (an election needs to be not only fair but seen to be fair).

But I don’t think this concern applies to votes by MPs. With a vanishingly small number of exceptions (the election of the Speaker – is that it?), such votes are done openly, and I don’t think Lucas would change that. So a breakdown of which way each MP voted would be available, and anyone could add up the numbers and check them, and whips or constituents could check with their MPs (and MPs could check themselves) that the system had recorded them voting in the way they intended to vote. With such complete transparency, surely there is very little room for concern about hacking or the like.

Richard P @ 13 – thank you for that – kind of you to bother – it still leaves doubts about whether all votes have been cast on an issue and whether E-gremlins might interfere and an abstention recorded rather than a pro -or con vote – by which time – I assume it would be too late? – The bill would pass or fall – no revisiting the issue because of post-vote appeals by slippery MP’s who want to do a bit of e-filibustering for malicious reasons of their own – or their lobbyists. Which system saves time in the long run? Which system is the more easily understood, accountable and transparent to the below-average man in the street – among whom I number myself? – Like that parliamentary new broom – Ms Lucas – I’m Green on these matters – albeit with a small g.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  2. Broken OfBritain

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  3. Lorna Richardson

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  4. Taobh Clé

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  5. irene rukerebuka

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  6. Andrew Ducker

    Caroline Lucas calls for overhaul of Parliament. Some of the ideas sound like a big improvement. http://bit.ly/eV5XYz

  7. Complainathon

    RT @libcon Caroline Lucas calls for overhaul of Parliament http://bit.ly/hj0qqt ?? Nothing personal, but who is she again? I forget.

  8. Casper ter Kuile

    The fabulous @CarolineLucas sets out her vision for the modernisation of Parliament http://tinyurl.com/358zluu

  9. Nick H.

    RT @libcon: Caroline Lucas calls for overhaul of Parliament http://bit.ly/hj0qqt

  10. Agreeing with Caroline Lucas for a change

    […] suggestions ever, and I was fairly scathing about it at the time, but I have to admit that a lot of Caroline Lucas’ latest brainwave does make sense to […]

  11. Luis A. Cuevas

    Caroline Lucas calls for overhaul of Parliament | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/WaRpXZq via @libcon





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