To be published as HC 1314-i




Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

The role and powers of the Prime Minister

Thursday 23 June 2011

Sue Pryce

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 66



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

on Thursday 23 June 2011

Members present:

Mr Graham Allen, was in the Chair

Sheila Gilmore

Andrew Griffiths

Simon Hart

Tristram Hunt

Mrs Eleanor Laing

Mr Andrew Turner


Examination of Witness

Witness: Sue Pryce, Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: You are most welcome. We were going to have a sparring partner in Professor Michael Foley but sadly he has had some domestic difficulties, so he is not going to be with us today. You will be very pleased to know that, since we have a two-hour allocation, we are not desperately determined to use all that time. We want to give you a fair hearing but we don’t want you to feel you are here for two hours under a spotlight. We will probably try and finish at 11.00am or 11.30 am, or whatever is helpful. So welcome, Sue. Would you like to say anything to start us off, any opening ideas?

Sue Pryce: I am happy to do that. I had a look at the submitted evidence that you have on the website and I did make comments on some of the other evidence that has come forward. I could start on an elected Prime Minister, if you like, which is perhaps one of the more radical suggestions. I am not somebody who is passionate about this kind of thing. I am an academic, so it is something I have studied and thought about. I think if you seriously want to create some form of accountability for the Prime Minister then that is the line you would take, if you wanted to do that, because I don’t really see any accountability for the current Prime Minister’s power. Of course, I am not referring to David Cameron; I mean the institution.

Q2 Chair: When did you write your book, Sue?

Sue Pryce: 1997, I think it was.

Q3 Chair: So that was the John Major-Tony Blair era?

Sue Pryce: I ended on Margaret Thatcher. I continued studying the subject, thinking of writing a second edition through the Tony Blair era, but I got distracted into drug policy and I have just written something on that. Whether it is something I will move back to I don’t know. It is just something I have moved sideways from for the moment.

I will go on a bit further. I suppose, basically, what we have is a Prime Minister who is a President in many of the ways he acts within the constitution, many of the powers he has. He is not Head of State but he operates residual Head of State powers-the prerogative powers. His role has changed. I looked at it from Harold Wilson onwards, because I think there was a more dramatic change from the time of Harold Wilson, but you can go back further than that, with the leadership idea. I have been looking at some political posters from around the time of Baldwin and Lloyd George, and that idea of selling a Prime Minister to the electorate, as opposed to a party, was already very clearly present at that time. So, while it may have taken a step change with Harold Wilson, it existed prior to that.

I think with Harold Wilson to some extent what you get is a learning from the American presidency that the future is going to be public relations; it is going to be television. I think in the Kennedy versus Nixon 1960 election Kennedy demonstrated that the future lay in a televisual Prime Minister, and I think that has moved on a pace since the Wilson period. I am looking forward to Margaret Thatcher. Each time you had a more presidential Prime Minister, they were usually followed by somebody who was a bit less presidential. I haven’t changed that view much.

If we think about it, following Margaret Thatcher we had John Major who appeared less presidential. He was perhaps less effective at controlling the media and, therefore, less effective at controlling the party. If we then move on from John Major to Tony Blair, Tony Blair comes in much more presidential, much more controlled and centralised. He is followed by Gordon Brown, who people thought would then go back a pace but perhaps he didn’t. I am not sure. He wasn’t around long enough to make a judgment about that. But even with the current Prime Minister, David Cameron, already we are seeing not a power grab-that is not perhaps the way I would really like to express it-but the minute anything seems to be going wrong publicly things get drawn into No. 10 very quickly. We have the example of the NHS reforms and Kenneth Clarke’s prison reforms-nobody is allowed to rock the boat. The boat really is controlled by the captain-that is the Prime Minister-and that is because, at the end of the day, parties know that they rise and fall with their leader, basically.

We have a permanently sitting electoral college in the House of Commons. I don’t want to offend anybody here, but I think that the control that the House of Commons can actually exercise over a Prime Minister is very, very slight. It is always there. Margaret Thatcher fell when her party thought she was no longer an electoral asset, but that is pretty rare. As long as a Prime Minister is perceived as an electoral asset they are pretty secure in their office.

Perhaps you want to ask me some questions, or put to me some of the things that you have asked and some of the other answers.

Q4 Chair: We will do that, Sue. One quick one from me about the change of prime ministerial type from presidential and then collegiate. I wonder whether that is to do with the Prime Minister, who follows a presidential-style PM, wanting not to be presidential and not to exercise that media level of their office. It is a reaction to the previous incumbent rather than them being desperate to be collegiate. Probably the contemporary example would be Gordon Brown following Tony Blair. Many people felt that Mr Brown was perhaps even less collegiate than his predecessor but wanted a change of style.

Sue Pryce: Yes. It is difficult to say. Obviously one can’t get into the mind of the Prime Minister, but it would seem that a Prime Minister certainly makes a bit of publicity about saying, "It is going to be more collegial now." American Presidents do the same thing. They come into power saying they are going to use their Cabinet and promptly abandon them. In a sense, I think Prime Ministers do the same now because they find that their back is against the wall, their party support is dependent on wider public support, which essentially is the media, unfortunately. That is just the way it is. The media is not democratically elected but that probably is our only check on power in this country. We may not like that but that is the way it is.

I am thinking of John Major. I moved on to get involved in studying drugs-I keep saying "drugs" and then people think I mean I was using them but I wasn’t-but I think I am right in saying that John Major had a bad press quite quickly; this depicting of him on Spitting Image as the grey man. I think I am right in saying that his private secretary or his Government public relations person-not a special adviser-was Gus O’Donnell. Am I right in thinking he is now the Cabinet Secretary?

Chair: Indeed he is.

Sue Pryce: Which is again indicative of how important public relations has become to Governments. Not only has it penetrated the whole of the advisory system around a Prime Minister, it has penetrated the Civil Service advisory system as well. If you are not a good communicator, if you are not good at portraying Government in the way it wants to be portrayed, then you are not going to get there.

Q5 Mr Turner: You said an emergency will happen suddenly. Was it sudden? Kenneth Clarke has been trying to sort out the rules for punishment, and so on, for six months, and it took six months for the Prime Minister to involve himself. The NHS took three months. Is that quick or slow? It sounds very slow to me.

Sue Pryce: I think it is quicker than that. I accept these things have been in process and that Government should be allowed to discuss, to hear and to change their minds, but that is not what we usually see them do. It would seem that Kenneth Clarke’s proposals became a very politically hot potato when the news media got hold of the idea that rapists were going to get their sentence halved if they cut the public expense, admitted it first hand and didn’t have to put a defendant in the dock to go through the whole rape trial. That is when it suddenly became prime ministerial, you are right. It was rumbling along for six months. Kenneth Clarke came in with plans about getting, say, drug addicts out of prison, looking at alternatives to prison sentences, trying to cut prisons down, but when those kind of issues become extremely important in the Daily Mail, shall we say, or some of the press and the news media, that is the point at which Prime Ministers feel things are going wobbly and they step in very publicly. I am an outsider but that seems to me what happened, observing the last month.

Q6 Mr Turner: Don’t you think that is part of the job?

Sue Pryce: I think it is part of the job but I am not sure it was always part of the job. I think that has become part of the job-that the Prime Minister feels the need to step in when the publicity is going wrong. It doesn’t mean the policy is wrong.

Q7 Mr Turner: How do you know?

Sue Pryce: I don’t know. I am not a policymaker.

Q8 Mr Turner: Maybe it was an absolutely barmy policy in the past; now we have put it right. Isn’t that the response of Conservatives?

Sue Pryce: I am not sure that I would agree it was a barmy policy, so perhaps I am a politically biased supporter of Kenneth Clarke because he is from Nottingham and we tend to see a lot of our Nottingham people.

Q9 Mr Turner: Yes, fair enough, but what I am a bit worried about is that you seem to take the view that things are getting faster. I understand that, but you appear to be saying-and forgive me if I am wrong-that that is a justification for us to shift from the prime ministerial system to a presidential system.

Sue Pryce: I think in many ways we have shifted to a presidential system. When I wrote my book, it obviously was linked in a way with Michael Foley. Michael Foley wrote a book The Rise of the British Presidency and I was already well through my research into my book and I thought, "Oh, goodness me, he has done it before me", but I was relieved when I read his book to find that his is all about the electoral system and how we tend to elect a Prime Minister. What I was looking at was whether, given that change in the way people think about elections, that had an impact on the institution of the Prime Minister, and I am arguing that yes, it has. It has made the Prime Minister behave in a much more presidential way. He is no longer just elected as the leader of the party, perhaps, in the eyes of the public; he actually behaves in a more presidential way. His Cabinet becomes not quite as detached, perhaps, as an American Cabinet but moving in that direction.

Q10 Mr Turner: I see. So you are saying "presidential style". You are not saying that results in a directly elected Prime Minister, for instance, which would be presidential in my understanding. I think the two things are getting confused. Could you tell me whether, in your case, you do feel that this would include a directly elected Prime Minister?

Sue Pryce: If you are asking whether I would recommend that, that is different from saying, "What is the case?" It is the case that, certainly in the eyes of the public-partly because of the way the media focuses on personalities, and so on-we respond to Prime Ministers during election time in the way that you would a President. Margaret Thatcher always held the line against a debate-these head-to-head debates with the Leader of the Opposition. David Cameron has given in to that. Margaret Thatcher refused that on the basis that it almost made it too presidential. She was saying, "No, we don’t have a presidential system. No, I am not doing that", but we have moved further along. Certainly now I guess the general public-I don’t mean people who are reading books on the constitution but people and the public-are going to see this very much like an American presidential election.

Q11 Mr Turner: Yes, but I am trying to pin you down on this point of how the Prime Minister is elected.

Sue Pryce: Currently the Prime Minister-

Mr Turner: Yes, I know how, but how do you think it should be elected?

Sue Pryce: Oh, how it should be? The alternative would be a directly elected Prime Minister. This was tried in Israel. I don’t know whether you are familiar with the Israeli system?

Mr Turner: I knew it took place, yes. That is about all.

Sue Pryce: Just briefly, their Parliament is elected on a nationwide constituency and it produces lots and lots of small parties. Then there were lots of arguments about who was going to be leader, because there were often parties very evenly balanced. So some people in Israel wanted a change to our system, whereby whichever leader had the majority in the Knesset would automatically become the Prime Minister and then he had to build a coalition of support. That has subsequently been abandoned because apparently it didn’t work particularly well. Sorry, they didn’t go for that; they went for the elected Prime Minister. The Knesset elects the President; the people elected the Prime Minister-this is from 1996-and the people elected the Knesset on a nationwide constituency.

The result didn’t work particularly well, having an elected Prime Minister in that particular instance, but it is a different electoral system so it is not directly comparable. I think somebody has given you evidence to say it didn’t work in Israel so it wouldn’t work here. Again, no system is transplantable. It could work here.

Q12 Mr Turner: I am trying to work out, would you like it to be done here or would you not like it to be done here?

Sue Pryce: Okay. I would like it to be done here as a way of ensuring a more accountable Prime Minister.

Q13 Mr Turner: Right. The next point is, what happens if the Prime Minister has one political view and the remaining leadership in the people who have the majority in the House of Commons are from a different party? They may have completely different views.

Sue Pryce: Prime Ministers would be, in a sense, very like an American President. They would be forced to negotiate with other people within Parliament to build a coalition of support.

Q14 Mr Turner: Yes, but what is the benefit of this compared with the present system?

Sue Pryce: Electoral accountability.

Q15 Mr Turner: You are saying we can have an independent President-let’s call him "President"-who is elected at the same time or perhaps at different times. Anyway, he may be in a completely different party. He may only have three colleagues in the House, but you are saying we have to agree. What we have is a system that says the main party puts forward the leader and hopes that that person will be appointed by the Queen. So why are you going this roundabout route when you have a direct route?

Sue Pryce: You do have a direct route but then who is controlling that person’s power?

Q16 Mr Turner: Well, who would be controlling power with a President?

Sue Pryce: A President doesn’t have-what were termed in the 18th century-"placemen". When the Founding Fathers wrote the American constitution, one of the things they were trying to do was adapt the British constitution to make it more representative, more accountable, so they didn’t want a President who could fill the Senate and the House of Representatives with their own appointees. We have the system where they can.

Q17 Mr Turner: In one House, yes.

Sue Pryce: Well, to some extent in the House of Commons as well, obviously within much greater limits. Let’s go back to Tony Blair. We had David Miliband and Ed Miliband who were both members of the policy unit, I think. They were certainly prime ministerial advisers. Then they both get elected. Ed Balls was another one. I think Yvette Cooper was another adviser at the Treasury. Is it just by luck that these people get elected or is it because Prime Ministers are able to find constituencies with good majorities and persuade them to endorse these people as candidates?

Q18 Mr Turner: If people are barmy enough to appoint somebody from our side or somebody from their side, it is nothing to do with the quality of the person; they select somebody. It is not the Prime Minister who appoints somebody in the Conservative party or in the Labour party, I would have thought. It is probably different from the Liberals because they have never been elected.

Sue Pryce: They are not appointed. What the Prime Minister is able to do, by the power of patronage and appointment, is get his preferred candidates, not a huge number of them but you only need a few key people moving up through the system.

Q19 Mr Turner: They would be able to do the same thing if they were an elected leader, if they were a prime ministerially elected individual. He still wanders round and makes a few phone calls.

Sue Pryce: Possibly. I can see where you are coming from on that, yes. I guess a Prime Minister would still have some patronage power but he wouldn’t have as much patronage power. At the moment he can put anybody in his Cabinet, just as American Presidents can. Well, no, he can’t. That is not quite right, but he can at least put a few in. If you want somebody in your Cabinet, Peter Mandelson comes back into the Labour Cabinet. Why? He goes into the House of Commons.

Q20 Mr Turner: I don’t quite see what the difference is. Apart from the fact that these people are elected directly, I don’t see how anyone is prevented from making the kind of appointments you don’t like at the moment.

Sue Pryce: I see what you are saying. You are saying he is presented with a House of Commons, but he still might have chosen people or managed to manipulate ways of getting people elected to it. Yes, you are probably right on that. I would have to think that through a bit further. I am thinking on my feet here but I think that still might be a problem, yes.

Q21 Chair: To be helpful, is it true that, in systems where the most important political figure is directly elected, they are responsible for appointing people to their Government, and the Legislature is elected separately? Therefore, it is very clear one can make a judgment about whether it is appropriate that that leader appointed Mr X or Mrs Y to their Cabinet. So there is a distinction; there is a separation; there is a degree of independence. It is not a matter of getting people elected to the Legislature. It is more that there is a very clear line of account that that person has created a Cabinet of particular people, and you can make a judgment that you like that or you don’t like that?

Sue Pryce: Yes. If you are looking at a presidential system like America, yes. In fact, you can’t have them in the Legislature, so it is the opposite, the complete opposite.

Q22 Chair: To conclude, one of Andrew’s points about where there is a difference between the party of the Prime Minister-the President let’s say in your case-and the leading party, the majority party in the Legislature-this is commonplace, is it not, in France, Italy and Germany, sometimes in America-what the French call "cohabitation" takes place, which is discussion, debate and reconciliation of points of view so that movement can normally take place?

Sue Pryce: Yes, but it is movement that takes place after negotiating with a lot of people. When I first started teaching American politics I was always very scathing. I thought our system had everything to teach the world and nothing to learn from it, but I have changed my view on that. I think that the American system does err on the side of representation rather than efficiency, I accept that, and you see all the fuss over healthcare and all the problems of getting things through. But Presidents are forced to negotiate with a wide constituency. In America, you can get a lot through but only when an awful lot of people think it is a good idea. So when you need to-as with Roosevelt’s New Deal and then with Great Society under Johnson-you can move things along but, in the ordinary run of things, you have to negotiate with a lot of people. Power is much more diverse and fragmented. I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

Q23 Simon Hart: I have a number of questions, some of which follow on naturally from Andrew Turner’s line. The first thing I wanted to ask was this: do you have any evidence that the public shares your concerns, that the public thinks that the system doesn’t work and the public want us to change it, or is this just another occasion where a bunch of enthusiastic academics and lawyers close ranks and disappear into a bubble and come up with ideas? Maybe it is different in Wales, but I am not aware of any great public thirst or any great public concern for the situation as it is. The reason I say that and the question is this: do you not think, as a consequence of things like the TV debates in the run-up to the last election, that more and more the nation is making its decision at election time on the basis of the available leaders rather than necessarily Andrew Turner, Tristram Hunt or Simon Hart? Probably 98% of my vote in 2010 was as a consequence of David Cameron and 2% as a consequence of me. That is probably putting it generously. I wonder if that is a trend that you have noticed has changed in recent years.

Sue Pryce: No. I would accept that constitutional change is not something that is top of the agenda for most people in the public. I agree with that. Nobody is going to be clamouring at your doors for constitutional change because the bottom line will always be the economy, the health service, the education service.

Simon Hart: Okay. Do you therefore agree or disagree with-

Q24 Chair: Simon, could I just press Sue on your point, which is whether you accept that we have got more and more into it as the leaders who people-

Sue Pryce: Oh, definitely.

Chair: Which I think was at the heart of what Simon was saying.

Sue Pryce: I accept what Simon was saying, definitely. I think that is a trend and I think it is going to be more and more so. Most people in the street, I guess if you ask them who they voted for they will go, "Oh, that nice Mr Cameron or the nasty Mr Clegg", as he has now become, but whatever. Do you see what I mean? I understand that, yes, and that is partly the way things have moved. I think that is because of the media and it is easy to focus on the individual.

Q25 Simon Hart: You said earlier on, which I was concerned about, that you felt that the media was the only vehicle that could keep a Prime Minister in check. Do I have that right?

Sue Pryce: I think that is right. Let me defend that position.

Simon Hart: We are unimportant as Back Benchers but I didn’t realise we were that unimportant.

Chair: You have to be here a bit longer then, Simon.

Sue Pryce: I accept that Prime Ministers have to keep their parties onside but, let’s face it, Prime Ministers can keep their parties on side. How many appointed Under-Secretaries are there, or Parliamentary Secretaries, spokespersons and all the way down? Is it about 120 now? So you have 120 people who are somehow placemen. Of the people who are left, you probably have at least 70 or 80 who want to be placemen and the rest have been placemen and have no further hope, except preferment to the House of Lords. So I don’t know which category you fit into. I haven’t looked at anybody’s profile.

Simon Hart: None of them.

Sue Pryce: I do see that that is how a Prime Minister can bring in the bacon. A President can’t do that. Of course he does use patronage to control or to try and manipulate the Legislature in America. He will turn up at your constituency when you are fighting your election or he invites you and some important people to Camp David or for breakfast at the White House, or whatever. He has ways of making you feel good that make you feel like supporting him, but he doesn’t have that direct patronage. Thinking about what Peter Hennessy has to say-all that list of powers-what it really comes down to is, I think, that the Prime Minister’s key powers are patronage; setting the agenda in the Cabinet; being able to control the Cabinet in some way, like setting the agenda and who is going to chair committees; the fact is that he is obviously the central figure for security services-the person who sees everything if he can read it all and get through it all, and so on. So he has those powers. The key prerogative powers are those powers of appointment.

Q26 Simon Hart: That is all very well. I am always a bit cynical when people say, "It works in America or it works in Israel or it works in Australia, therefore it would work here". We went through all of that over the voting systems conversations we had in this room, which went on for quite a long time, but the fact is we are not Australia, Israel, America or any of these other countries. We have British values and British culture, whether we like them or not, and I think the dynamics are different. That is my own particular view. So I am not sure that we can simply transport one particular system into the country and assume that it will work, as you hinted earlier on. But what I am trying to get at in a way is that, under your model, you could have a situation where the Prime Minister has the confidence of the voters but he or she doesn’t have the confidence of his or her own Government, and I am not sure under our system how that necessarily would improve the plight of voters.

It seems I am one of the few people in this building who isn’t a lawyer, a constitutional expert or an academic, to give you a rough idea of my background. So I am coming at it purely and simply from a voter perspective. How is this going to improve the plight of voters who, as far as I am aware, haven’t expressed any dissatisfaction with the system as it is and who, indeed, would go further than that and say that once in a while we, the voters-not we, the MPs-want a situation where we know that there is somebody in charge who occasionally will stand up and say, "Look, everybody shut up. This is how it is going to be"? As long as they make the right decision, that is quite a reassuring feature of the boss, whether it is of a company, whether it is of a department or whether, indeed, it is of a country, I would suggest. Do you agree or disagree?

Sue Pryce: I think leadership is important, clearly. You need somebody in leadership but it can be that that is a recipe for a form of tyranny really, if somebody is always able to close the discussion and say, "Right, that’s it". The American system does require negotiation. The President can dominate the Cabinet, obviously-they are like the advisers in No. 10 in a sense-but he cannot dominate the Congress. It is a power to be reckoned with. Whenever we are teaching government in this country, one of the things we say is that Legislatures have lost out all over the world, and that is true of Congress as well but it is still a power to be reckoned with when it comes to controlling the Executive. A President cannot ride roughshod over Congress.

I remember a cartoon that I used for foreign visitors. I do a couple of lectures to foreign visitors in the summer for them to get used to English being spoken in lecture halls, and I do contemporary British politics. When John Major was in power I used the front cover of-I can’t remember whose book it is-one of the well known standards on British politics, and it is a picture of him riding the House of Commons with big shoes on, stamping Bills and implying that a Prime Minister can literally control all aspects of state; he has the crown tipped back on the back of his head. If you look at the British constitution-I know you can’t look at it like the American one but it is there, we know it is there-there are very few limits on a Prime Minister’s power at all, if any. As long as he has the support of his closest people in the Cabinet; you don’t need that many people to control a Cabinet, I would have thought-half a dozen?

Q27 Simon Hart: The final point is that the last six Prime Ministers I can think of were, in the end, executed by their own people, so somebody else had the power in the end. That will do.

Sue Pryce: Yes, I grant you that, but they can have power for a very long time.

Q28 Chair: And they were executed by their own people rather than the people.

Sue Pryce: Yes, they were executed by their own people but in a sense that is not as democratic a control. You don’t have to accept what I am saying. What I am saying is it depends whether you are serious about democracy, representation and control. If you are not, then I think our system rumbles along quite well. It is not that much of a problem, but if you think that democracy is important then it is a problem.

Q29 Tristram Hunt: Partly democracy is about electing a Government to do something, because you put faith in them. I don’t quite understand why you and our esteemed Chair have this enthusiasm for the US model, which seems to me absolutely breaking down. It is gridlock in Washington, and it is very interesting, regarding your examples of when things were done with Roosevelt and Johnson, that that is no longer the case. Politics has changed; you cannot get that consensus. The filibustering, all the techniques-you look at the data-the dynamics of Washington have changed. So President Obama, elected on a mandate, cannot achieve anything on a mandate. You might think that is rather good because we have lots of democracy here, everyone is talking and there is lots of to and fro and endless transparency and accountability, but if you placed your vote in someone and he won and there was a mandate and you expected change to happen-change we can believe and all that stuff-the American model does not seem to work any more, does it?

Sue Pryce: I think it is difficult to maintain that when you have America, which is probably the only superpower, working quite well. It has no problem running its Government. In the nitty gritty they do have to negotiate; of course they do.

Q30 Tristram Hunt: They are raising their debt ceiling month by month by month because they cannot agree a budget. I don’t like this coalition Government but Governments are meant to put through budgets. The Americans cannot put through a budget because they can’t achieve political will.

Sue Pryce: They have to negotiate it, but America goes on. They do run a budget; they do run a Government. What happens in America is that basically as an election draws near, which it is now, people’s coincidence of wants come together and they agree things: "We’ll do this. You’ll do that. We’ll do this if you do that". It takes quite a lot of agreement but is that a bad thing when you are running a country?

Q31 Tristram Hunt: I would suggest it is, if you have to raise your debt ceiling every month because you can’t push anything through, but clearly we will agree to disagree on that. What is the relationship between your presidential Prime Minister and the monarch?

Sue Pryce: I don’t think it would change greatly, except the monarch would still have some of the prerogative power of appointment but not the appointment of the Prime Minister. If we go back to the monarch for a second, in reality what does the monarch do now? Before the last election, when we were coming up for a possible coalition or hung Parliament-that is what we were talking about-what we said was, "Oh, the Queen might have to make a decision". That seemed preposterous to me that the Queen would be making that decision. It was clearly going to be an outgoing Prime Minister or an incoming Prime Minister who the Queen would have to accept-the advice coming through the Civil Service, through lawyers, academics and everybody else. To suggest that the Queen would choose between Gordon Brown and John Major and say, "I think we haven’t given this nice Mr Brown long enough, we’ll give him another go" is just nonsense. I mean, it is nonsense. The Queen does not appoint a Prime Minister or the Cabinet.

Q32 Tristram Hunt: No, I accept that, and I think the new Cabinet Manual is relatively clear on that, but if America is not your model there are certainly nice noises about France, in terms of whether the monarch is still the head of the Army or whether it is the President/Prime Minister.

Sue Pryce: Again, in the current system, the monarch is in name head of the Army. My husband was in the forces, and you are commissioned as an officer to the Queen. But in fact the idea that the Queen would call out an Army against-

Q33 Tristram Hunt: No, not that idea but it is important for people because people in this country don’t like having a politician as head of the Army, because it is not a republic. Would you regard your-

Sue Pryce: It wouldn’t worry me. I wonder how many people would even know the difference.

Q34 Tristram Hunt: It would worry those who serve in the Mercian Regiment in my constituency. Would your presidential Prime Minister be the titular head of the Army, do you think?

Sue Pryce: I don’t see why he shouldn’t be. While I accept the armed services like the idea that they are answerable to the Head of State not the political head, again it is like the appointment of the Prime Minister. That is not true. Does the Queen actually say, "We will go to war"? No. Does she say, "I think it is time our boys came home from Afghanistan"? No. These are decisions of the Government.

Q35 Tristram Hunt: No, but that is the view from a social science faculty rather than the view from the squaddie or the broader culture of the armed forces where it does matter.

Sue Pryce: I agree with you that they see it as important but then they don’t understand how power works in that sense, do they? I agree with you. Having lived in the armed forces most of my life, including my parents being in the armed forces, I agree, but you are talking about the squaddie. The squaddie doesn’t understand how power works, so I think that the culture of the armed forces is different from the facts of how power works. I don’t say that is a bad thing. If people feel a greater sense of loyalty to the country by their loyalty to the Queen you could leave it that way. It wouldn’t change how war is fought, and that is the real power, whether you commit soldiers and airmen in this country to be killed in war and to kill other people.

Q36 Tristram Hunt: Finally, every time we try to write these things down and have a sort of statutory attempt at powers, it seems to me that we end up with greater powers for the Executive. If you take the recent legislation, we are now going to have potentially the longest parliamentary timetable outside Rwanda, or a potential five years and three months; and we are increasing the size of the Executive by 10% relative to the Legislature, by cutting the number of MPs by 50 but not the number of Ministers. Are you not scared that, as soon as you begin to codify the powers of the Prime Minister in statute, you will increase their powers rather than diminish them?

Sue Pryce: I understand what you are saying. In other words, you are almost telling them, "These are actually your powers" whereas at the moment it is a bit of feeling your way all the time. I think that is a danger. In fact, in the case of Israel the reason they abandoned the elected Prime Minister was because they thought the elected Prime Minister lacked enough power when they changed the office, so they have gone back to the old system. I do think, yes, there is a danger but, instead of that just being a danger, you would have a greater separation, so power would check power. At the moment you have those powers, they exist, even if we don’t necessarily spell it all out, and most people don’t sit and ponder, what are the exact powers of the Prime Minister? When you look at Peter Hennessy’s list, it is quite a long list-not that all of them are obviously equal in power. But, yes, there is always a danger that if you codify something you are telling somebody, "Yes, you have this power," whereas they might have thought, "I wonder if I could get away with this or not." I do accept that, yes.

Q37 Chair: If the Executive dominates the Legislature, isn’t any writing down always going to be Executive dominated until you have a system where there is a genuine separation and a genuine partnership? Clearly the people who are in charge are going to write down the strengthening of their powers, as Tristram has outlined.

Sue Pryce: I think there are two clear things here really. First of all, to change anything you have to get the Executive on board because who is going to say, "I am going to give up all my powers"? It is like saying "electoral reform". Nobody, except people who would benefit from electoral reform, is going to vote for electoral reform in this country and therefore you have to be in power to change anything. This recent vote on AV has demonstrated that very clearly. So your difficulty in changing anything would be you have to get a Prime Minister on board, so it is a catch-22 situation. Whether it is possible is questionable. I don’t think there will ever-and you probably won’t like this answer particularly-be genuine partnership. Congress will always be the junior partner to a President. It is a belligerent partner; it is a cantankerous partner, but it is a partner. At the end of the day, the President will always have more power than Congress. He is more visible than Congress. It is not a complete partnership.

When the Founding Fathers constructed the American constitution they created a dialogue at the centre of the state, a dialogue that forced the Legislature to talk to the Executive, and that is what has happened. But I think most people would accept that over the years, while there has been oscillation and you get periods of congressional assertiveness, there has always been a slight tilt in the way of the Executive. That is the modern world. I don’t think you can change that. After all, if we look at Europe, one of the things that people are resisting is the creation of an elected Executive in Europe but we are being forced into creating an Executive in Europe, in the sense that already there are two spokespeople for Europe as such. I think that inevitably Europe itself will move in that direction as well as having a more identifiable Executive.

Q38 Chair: Are Executives dominant throughout the world and Legislatures are subordinates?

Sue Pryce: Yes.

Q39 Chair: Possibly the most extreme example might be the UK where the Executive has very strong control over the Legislature.

Sue Pryce: Yes. By its nature, a parliamentary system is a system in which the Executive has control over the Legislature, because the Executive is born of the Legislature, therefore by virtue of being the Executive they have the majority; that is who is the Prime Minister, isn’t it?

Q40 Mrs Laing: Can we look a little more at checks and balances and the way in which the Prime Minister currently derives power? If the Prime Minister does something that is perceived to be beyond his or her powers, what would happen in practice?

Sue Pryce: I wondered that myself, actually. When I was reading some of the evidence that has been given I thought, "Under what circumstances does a Prime Minister become ultra vires?" It is very difficult to identify that. If you have a Minister and he has given an enabling Act in his Department you could say to a court, "This is beyond the power of the Act", but you can’t do that with the Prime Minister. What you rely on is his Cabinet colleagues to curb his power if possible, but that will again depend on their relationship, their feeling of security of the Government lasting and their position as a member of a Cabinet being sustainable. So it is very difficult to say when a Prime Minister is acting beyond their power because their power isn’t really specified, is it?

Q41 Mrs Laing: Exactly. Therefore, am I right in thinking that you are saying-and if you are then I agree with you-that the check on a Prime Minister’s power at present is not the legal definition of ultra vires in respect of the position of the Prime Minister, and it is not enforceable through the courts but it is enforceable through the political system?

Sue Pryce: Yes. When I talk to students about presidential powers I say, "These are constitutional powers but these are political powers. These are constitutional limits. These are political limits". They are very difficult to define and your political limits as a President-obviously they have a written constitution so you can be unconstitutional-the bottom line is your popularity. That is what Presidents have learnt and that is what parties have learnt,-that Prime Ministers’ popularity is the key to their power.

Q42 Mrs Laing: Is that not the same thing as saying that in a democracy the opinion of the people matters, because that is what popularity is?

Sue Pryce: It does matter, but then you have to go one stage back and say, "Where do the people get their opinion from?" That is the problem and that is why Prime Ministers’ key advisers are the Alastair Campbells of this world, because it is the people who deliver them a good press, the people who deliver them popularity, and that is exactly like an American President. That is what American Presidents learned: your key adviser is the man who can get you the right kind of media-supported attention from the public.

Q43 Mrs Laing: Is that wrong?

Sue Pryce: I guess it depends on the media in a way. That is quite difficult. For instance, you could say, "Which media are the Prime Minister going to listen to?" In this country perhaps the key media, which is kind of depressing, is the Daily Mail. Why? Because it delivers the key swing-vote people. They are not firmly people who are necessarily intellectual; they are not necessarily socialist; they are not necessarily Conservative. The Daily Mail is the people who could vote either way, and that is why it has become so significant.

Q44 Mrs Laing: Surely, it is not significant? I was going to say, therefore, is there a suggestion that the political editor of The Sun is in fact the most powerful person in the country? It sometimes seems like that.

Chair: He would like to think so.

Mrs Laing: Quite.

Sue Pryce: I suppose I always think of the Daily Mail, because I am interested in drug policy and the Daily Mail is always out there trying to change drug policy or sustain it so I watch it more but, probably, The Sun as well.

Q45 Mrs Laing: In fact you are saying-we are all coming to the conclusion, are we not-that popularity, or a lack of popularity, is a check on the actions of the Prime Minister. That popularity is derived from the people and the people make up their mind according to the information available to them, which comes through the media. But is it not the case that it is not one particular instance; it is not one article in one newspaper written by one person; it is never because of the popularity or unpopularity of one specific act by the Prime Minister or one particular policy of his Government, but it is an overall impression that the people, as an overall people-all 50 million of them in the UK-build up over weeks and months that determines the popularity or otherwise of a Prime Minister and, therefore, in fact that is democracy working in a modern way?

Sue Pryce: In some ways, I accept that. Yes, I do. That depends on how you accept that as parliamentarians. Because I find myself listening to the Today programme or Newsnight and thinking, "This is the only check we have on Government power in this country". That does not say a lot for the role of Parliament. Now, I am an academic; I am not passionate about the Prime Minister’s power or Parliament’s power. I am just trying to give you a view of what I see as the reality, and that is, the Legislature is basically there just to stamp Bills for the Prime Minister. Now, Congress does not do that.

Q46 Chair: I was going to take Eleanor’s point a bit further about popularity being measured and judged by the media, which is undoubtedly true; between elections that is absolutely true. But with the Prime Minister-unlike all of us around the table, we then at the end of a Parliament have the judgment of the electorate-I think what you are saying, and forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth, is that, while you have that popularity judgment of the media, you are not having an electoral check at the end. There is no direct election for the Prime Minister, so in a sense the only way you can endorse a Prime Minister, or reject a Prime Minister, is by getting rid of the lot of us around this table and making your view known that way rather than directly?

Sue Pryce: Which often you can’t do because people are in safe seats, most of us are electing MPs in safe seats, so you don’t have a check as an individual voter. But you would if you were voting for a Prime Minister, wouldn’t you?

Q47 Chair: What I am saying is that you can only vote for or against a Prime Minister by voting for or against the Members of the House of Commons. Actually, you have the presidential debates now, but you do not have what should come next, which is the direct vote to say, "Yes, I like Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg or Mr Brown". You can only do it by proxy.

Sue Pryce: Yes. I can sit and watch the television debate and think, "I like Mr Brown," but I know that I live in a constituency that is a Conservative safe seat so it does not matter whether I like Mr Brown or not. I actually have no vote at all in which of those leaders is going to come out on top.

Chair: Sorry, Eleanor, was that helpful to you?

Q48 Mrs Laing: Very helpful. That is because we are a representative democracy.

Sue Pryce: I accept that, yes, but "representative democracy" means you send your representative, just as you send a lawyer to court to make your defence and to accept on your behalf, or reject on your behalf, the legislation that is going through Parliament. That is the only system that is going to work-representation of some sort of wider constituency in a modern, industrialised, huge state.

Q49 Mrs Laing: Going back to the initial point about the checks and balances on the Prime Minister and my first question to you, which I come back round to again, if the Prime Minister does something that is perceived to be wrong, or beyond his or her powers or simply widely held as unacceptable, then what happens? What is the check and balance? I would suggest that what happens is that the senior members of that Prime Minister’s own party, not just the people who sit in Cabinet and might, I think you were suggesting, be concerned more for their own careers than they would for what is right, and I think that is quite understandably cynical but not entirely fair because most people actually-

Sue Pryce: I am putting the worst-case scenario, obviously. I accept that there are going to be people within Cabinet who are good, bad or indifferent, just as there are throughout life. But I think that, yes, a Cabinet will soon tell a Prime Minister if they think the Prime Minister has become an electoral liability, as they did with Margaret Thatcher.

Q50 Mrs Laing: Not only the Cabinet, there is a bit of cynicism about the lack of power and influence of Members of Parliament, but the fact is that if large numbers of Members of Parliament in a particular party decide that the person who is their leader should no longer be their leader, then that leadership will change, will it not, and it is not just the Cabinet?

Sue Pryce: I think that is true, yes. Certainly, I think the ongoing day-to-day power of Parliament is limited, but I do think when it comes to a crisis it perhaps is important. I think Margaret Thatcher demonstrated that.

Mrs Laing: Very much so. Is it-

Sue Pryce: I have to say I equally have a colleague I work with, Phil Cowley, who studies Parliament all the time, and every time I say, "Yah boo, Parliament doesn’t do anything or does not have any power", he is the opposite. So you get two academics and they will not agree.

Q51 Mrs Laing: I wonder what evidence is taken on this. You have just made me think of something interesting-that when academics and those who, therefore, influence public opinion study Parliament and work out what goes on, might I respectfully suggest that it is impossible for anyone on the outside to know what goes on within a political party in Parliament among the members of that party? Because no meetings take place, no minutes are kept, discussions go on. The word "Parliament" is about talking; people talk to one another all the time. If a Prime Minister is exceeding his or her powers or bringing in a series of actions that are going to be unpopular and unacceptable, then the members of that political party will come together, not formally, not written down, not in a way that can be examined by academics or journalists on the outside or looked at historically, but it happens.

Chair: Sue, any response to that?

Sue Pryce: I think that does happen, but I am not sure that it happens totally in secret any more. I think that what the media rely on and what the public hear about, is people continually leaking from these groups, saying there is discontent in the tea rooms and so on and so forth. But I do agree, yes, of course, that the core of Parliament’s power is the unwritten power.

Q52 Mrs Laing: Yes. It is not that I was suggesting that it was secret meetings, merely that they are not meetings, that they are just a coming together of people in a Parliament and that much of the talking and discussion does not take place in the formality of the Chamber or, indeed, of a Committee such as this, which is recorded and minuted, but in a much more informal way. I would suggest-am I allowed to suggest? No, I had better ask a question. Is it not the case that that is the power of Parliament-that it is not just what happens in the Chamber or in formal committees, but the fact that there are people who are sent here to represent the interests of their constituents, that they do so and sometimes it is done informally and that that is the check on the power of the Prime Minister?

Sue Pryce: I can’t reject that, clearly. We all know that that informal power exists, yes, but it is informal. Again, I suppose if Parliament is satisfied that that is how it is happy to work, and it does not have any clear way of line of control, that does work in that sense of representation, yes. But I guess that does rely on the Prime Minister-well, I suppose, yes, if they have made themselves unpopular. Yes, I accept that.

Q53 Sheila Gilmore: The two systems, America and Britain, are so different that obviously it is quite difficult to make comparisons, but one observation-and I would be interested in your view on this-that I have of the American system is that the distinction between Executive and Legislature is so great that, for example, a President’s Cabinet seem to me to be quite invisible people in lots of ways. Okay that is because we look at it from Britain and maybe they are more important in America, but they don’t seem to have a great deal of presence. Our system can throw up some powerful leaders in waiting, you could argue. They are not all known; I am sure if you go out and ask people who the various Secretaries of State are they may not know, but a lot of the important ones do become figures in their own right because they have a political presence. Although we have apparently that sort of prime ministerial power, the President totally dominates the Cabinet, which seems to have very little real existence in the way that ours does.

Sue Pryce: Definitely the American Cabinet is very different because they are appointees. They are appointed for a variety of things but loyalty to the party is not necessarily one of them, the party of the President. Clearly, they will be broadly loyal or broadly in favour of his policies, but they are not necessarily public people in their own right and we hardly ever remember their names, except people obviously like Hilary Clinton, who is a political player in her own right, or Henry Kissinger and so on. There have been one or two, but mostly we don’t remember them.

Then it depends how a Prime Minister is operating in this country because the same could be said for No. 10; is it the Cabinet or is it the people in No. 10 who the Prime Minister listens to predominantly? It is very difficult to tell when you just have a new Government and a new Prime Minister and it is a coalition, which is a bit different and so on, but there seems to be a trend that gradually, the longer Prime Ministers are in office the less they listen to anybody except people inside No. 10. Those people are not questioned by Parliament. They are not accountable to anybody except the Prime Minister. Obviously, I am not counting the civil servants in No. 10; I mean the political unit, the policy unit and the political advisers in No. 10.

Q54 Sheila Gilmore: Within the American system a President has a very similar-

Sue Pryce: Oh, he does, but that is what I am saying. I am saying that our system, in fact, is very similar to an American President system. I am not arguing against that. I am saying that is the difference. That is very similar, but the difference between our system and theirs is you elect the President and sack him on his record, basically.

Q55 Sheila Gilmore: I think you were suggesting that because of the power of patronage there is little constraint perhaps on the Prime Minister-and I think obviously there is a lot of truth in that-but within a parliamentary system arguably, maybe it is because it is within a party system, there are some constraints on choices that a Prime Minister can make. I think we see it in the development of all Governments where you can see that Prime Ministers appoint certain people who one suspects they would rather not, but because they have a powerful place in-

Sue Pryce: They have a constituency, yes.

Sheila Gilmore: They have a constituency there; they have to choose them. The other thing that has been interesting in recent years, and I think was particularly interesting in perhaps the years of the Thatcher Government, but maybe perhaps in the Labour Government as well, is that if people fall out and are sacked or resign, they can become quite powerful figures in another sense. The constraint there for a Prime Minister is that he or she does not necessarily want too many of these people, so that acts as a certain amount of check and balance.

Sue Pryce: I think that does act as a check and balance. I am not saying our system is entirely without checks and balances, but it is very difficult to define what the powers of the Prime Minister are and how strong the Prime Minister is going to be able to be. You can’t say a Prime Minister is acting beyond his powers and at the end of the day he still has that power to sack people from the Cabinet. I accept that it is a political power, which means you have to balance how difficult they are likely to be on the Back Benches. Do they still bring in a big enough constituency on the Back Benches, if you sack them and they can be there being basically troublesome? How many people in the party still support them? That partly depends on length of time in power.

Q56 Chair: Sue, do you think the powers of the Prime Minister should be codified?

Sue Pryce: Yes, I think that would probably enable people to know exactly where power lies, yes.

Q57 Chair: How might that best be done?

Sue Pryce: I guess you would need an Act of Parliament setting out the powers of the Prime Minister. For instance, if we think for a minute about the prerogative powers, I think probably they would all stay with the Prime Minister, basically, but you might want to change something like the war power. You might want to say the Prime Minister needs the vote of the majority of Parliament before you can commit troops to war. You might want to put a clearer limit on that. You might also want to limit the numbers of people the Prime Minister can appoint. In other words, if you want to keep the election system as it is but actually introduce some other kind of check, then codifying the Prime Minister’s power in a statute and putting limits perhaps on some of those powers through a statutory measure, I think would work.

Q58 Andrew Griffiths: We hear, and it is a phrase in common parlance, "a lame duck President", where you have a President that is in power but is not able to do anything with the remaining time they have left and were just sitting waiting for the clock to tick down when change can come. You don’t hear of a lame duck Prime Minister for the very reason that, as we have seen, it is possible within a Parliament-and particularly as we have now moved to a fixed-term Parliament-that when a Prime Minister loses the confidence of their party, the confidence of their colleagues and the confidence of the country, one Prime Minister will exit stage left and a new one will come in. We saw it with Margaret Thatcher and John Major. We saw it with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Isn’t the reality, though, now we have moved to this fixed-term Parliament that, if we went for that presidential system, we would not have the flexibility to re-energise the political process by changing the Prime Minister because we would be often stuck with a lame duck President?

Sue Pryce: It depends because you don’t have to have a fixed-term Parliament. You can codify the Prime Minister’s powers and say it is the Prime Minister who calls the election. In the Israeli system, the Prime Minister can call the election or the Parliament can vote on a vote of confidence. You could still have that. You don’t have to take that power away from the Prime Minister. Also, you do have lame duck Prime Ministers. When people are pretty damn certain they are not going to get back in, power drifts away from them. I think it was Tony Benn, observing Harold Wilson, saying that once Harold Wilson had resigned and was no longer going to be Prime Minister that people just gravitated away from him. All his power was gone immediately. I think perhaps that was visible with John Major to the end and certainly Gordon Brown towards the end. People just knew he was yesterday’s man.

Q59 Andrew Griffiths: Finally, do you think there is an appetite among the general public for a President of Great Britain?

Sue Pryce: I can’t judge that. If you are asking me intuitively whether I think that, then no. I think the general public might like to feel they had a vote for a person who is standing for election, like we watch those debates, but I don’t think among the general public constitutional change is high on their agenda.

Q60 Chair: I want to explore the question of the legitimacy of political power. In a democracy, we tend to give legitimacy through the ballot box. We give legitimacy to Members of Parliament because they are the only part of our political arrangements where the people are allowed a direct vote at the moment. Is there a problem, in the sense that to be legitimate the Executive has to have the support of those who are directly elected? In a sense, isn’t this the creation of an electoral college? Aren’t we members of an electoral college to support a Prime Minister who has no direct electoral legitimacy of their own?

Sue Pryce: Yes, I think the Commons is an ongoing electoral college of the Prime Minister because, after all, by definition the Prime Minister is the person who has the confidence of the House of Commons. That is how you get to be Prime Minister. Therefore, I guess the House of Commons is chosen on all sorts of bases, but primarily people are voting for the party leader. I am sure in every constituency there are lots of people who are voting for their particular man or woman. I am not doubting that, but the majority of people in a constituency are thinking, "I vote for nice Mr Cameron or nasty Mr Brown" or whatever. That is how people see it. I think people perceive it that way, anyway. I don’t think the general public go into the detail or the niceties of quite how that all works out in practice.

Q61 Chair: I don’t know about my colleagues, but I would like to be elected or defeated on the basis of how people perceive me in my constituency, but unfortunately that is not the way it happens at the moment. If my colleagues will allow me one little anecdote, I remember filling up my car at a petrol station in the 2005 general election and being berated by a female motorist who was filling her car up because I had taken the country to war in Iraq. I was actually, if I may say so, one of the leading opponents of it. She said, "I’m never going to-beep-vote for you again". Then she filled up, paid, and there was no possibility of explaining my position. In a sense, do you feel Members of Parliament lose from a situation where they are the only means of expression that the public have at a general election to express a view about the Government? They are expressing a view about the Government and not the Legislature, which may well on occasions be seeking to hold the Government to account.

Sue Pryce: Then I guess we feel that, if that is the Legislature’s job, why aren’t they doing it? The answer is, because of the number of placemen that a Prime Minister has in the Legislature that they are able to control the Legislature.

Chair: Andrew is grimacing only slightly more than you, Eleanor, so you can come in later.

Q62 Mr Turner: I just dislike this word "placemen". The idea that Members who are on the career ladder are desperate for a job, however minor, represents very few of us, actually; well, in the Conservative Party anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else.

Sue Pryce: Obviously, I would have to bow to your views on that because I am not a Member of Parliament. Of course, I am sure that Members of Parliament go into Parliament for lots of reasons and I am sure are trying to help people, improve things in the country and improve things in the constituency. I don’t think you could do that kind of job if you did not have some commitment as well, of course. I don’t doubt it for one minute.

Q63 Mrs Laing: Can I put it to you that it is wrong to undermine Parliament as an instrument of holding the Government to account when, in fact, whatever the Government does requires votes? Members of Parliament decide to vote "yes" or "no" for many reasons, and one of the reasons that you might decide to vote "yes" or "no" on a particular Bill is loyalty to the leader of your party and trust in the Secretary of State who is bringing forward that Bill. For example, we had the Pensions Bill on Monday. I will use myself as an example because there is one small part of the Pensions Bill with which I disagree. It concerns women’s pensions. There is that one very small part with which I personally disagree. I was under pressure from many people on the outside, therefore, to vote against the Bill. I thought about it very carefully but, on balance, at that point you can only vote "yes" or "no" and it is your duty and responsibility to decide whether you are voting "yes" or "no". On balance, on that Bill, 98% of the Bill I agree with. The Secretary of State who was taking the Bill through I trust. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who have explained why they are bringing in that Bill for particular financial reasons, I also trust. I also think it is in the best interests of my constituents. Therefore, I voted for that Bill. Therefore, should I then be criticised for having voted for the Bill when I disagreed with a small part of it as a representative?

Sue Pryce: No, you are representing somebody and that means you have to exercise judgment. You are not a delegate and even if you were a delegate you are not a delegate for one tiny group.

Mrs Laing: Exactly.

Sue Pryce: You are representing a broad spectrum of opinion. Clearly, you did the right thing, and it is interesting that you took us through that process of how you had a dilemma-you had a sort of conflict of interest. I can see where you are coming from on that.

Q64 Mrs Laing: Is it the case that sometimes those actions, which I have just described, are categorised by those who wish to categorise them in this way as someone being a placeman of their party and doing what the Whips tell you to do and that, therefore, Parliament is not the powerful body that it ought to be?

Sue Pryce: I guess what we have to look at, I am not saying individually Members are not exercising all sorts of judgments but surely your default position is, "I support my party unless there is a very good reason why I shouldn’t and it would have to be a very good reason". Would that not be your default position?

Mrs Laing: Am I allowed to answer the question? Is that all right?

Chair: Of course, please do.

Mrs Laing: Yes, it would, which is why I am a publicly declared Conservative. When people voted for me to be their representative, they knew that I would support my party unless there was a very good reason not to.

Q65 Chair: On that role reversal, of the witness asking the Members questions, which is very refreshing, Sue, can I thank you for coming today? It has been very informative.

Sue Pryce: I feel exhausted now.

Q66 Chair: I hope you don’t think you were given a hard time, but you certainly engendered a very lively dialogue and I think it has been very thought provoking.

Sue Pryce: I think it is important to discuss these things and I hope I have not left everybody feeling that I am totally cynical about Parliament.

Chair: Not at all.

Sue Pryce: I am not, really. I am very interested in what you do.

Chair: We are the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, so by definition even sitting on the Committee implies that we would like to see some change of some description-

Sue Pryce: You are interested in it, yes.

Chair: Although we don’t always agree on the sort of change. Sue, thank you so much for your time today.

Sue Pryce: That is why we never change.

Chair: Well, maybe. Thank you so much.

Prepared 8th July 2011