Graham Allen, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
"The Coalition Government has broken a clear promise to Parliament, made in the Coalition agreement, to set up a House Business Committee by the third year of the Parliament. It seems Governments of all complexions still fear an active, independent Parliament, rather than having the confidence to see it as a partner. The Select Committee that I chair bent over backwards to help the Government honour its promise, offering assorted compromises and possibilities but to no avail. Parliament is unable to even influence its own agenda, and remains a supplicant in its own House."
The Committee’s report reviewed progress since 2009 on the recommendations of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons - known as the Wright Committee after its Chair, Dr Tony Wright.
- A key Wright recommendation - a House Business Committee which would give backbenchers an influence on the rest of the House’s agenda - can and should be introduced without delay. The Coalition Agreement said in 2010 that the Committee would be established by the third year of this Parliament.
- The House’s petitions procedure is failing to meet public expectations. There is too much confusion between the roles of Government and Parliament. The Committee argues that there is still a case for the establishment of a petitions committee and recommends that officials work up a detailed and costed proposition which could then be put to the House for its endorsement.
The Government’s response rejected the Committee’s proposal for a consultative House Business Committee, saying that, although the Committee’s suggestion had "some merits", there were also weaknesses.
On e-petitions, the Government questioned the Committee’s assertion that the system was failing to meet public expectations, but agreed that "there is a case for some form of petitions Committee, which could provide support for petitioners, help the House determine what should be debated and help facilitate the provision of responses by the Government, where appropriate."
Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen MP, stated
"Our original report proposed a detailed model for a House Business Committee. It would have enabled the Government to redeem its original Coalition pledge to introduce such a Committee, while ensuring that the Government’s programme was still considered in a timely way. I am disappointed that the Government has not responded more positively to a serious attempt to find a way forward that serves the needs of Ministers and Backbenchers alike.
The Government’s reaction to our proposals to improve the e-petitions system was more encouraging and I am pleased that it agreed that there is a case for some form of Petitions Committee to support petitioners and help provide effective responses.
I strongly believe that the Wright process has strengthened Parliament in many ways – not least through the election of Select Committee Chairs and Members – but there is still a great deal to be done. I am pleased that the Government stated that it ‘will continue to support efforts to improve the effectiveness of Parliament.’ The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee looks forward to the Government’s support as it pursues its work on making the legislature as effective as possible."
Image: Parliamentary copyright