Revisiting Rebuilding the House: the impact of the Wright reforms - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents


Summary


We welcome the progress that has been made by the House since the Wright Report of 2009.

There have been clear advances in the effectiveness of Commons select committees, though some issues remain, and they must be addressed if the momentum for reform is to be maintained. There is a case for more representation for minority parties on select committees. It is also unacceptable that appointments to public bill committees and ad hoc committees on draft bills are not even approved by the House, and often ignore the claims of Members with specialised knowledge. As a minimum the House should be asked to endorse, and where it so wishes amend, the proposed membership of public bill committees.

Pre-legislative scrutiny must in future be an integral and mandatory part of the process of consideration for every public bill. The only exceptions should be cases in which there is an accepted and pressing need for immediate legislation.

The Backbench Business Committee has been a success and we welcome the good working relationships which it has established with the business managers, the Liaison Committee and other bodies.

The number of days allotted for backbench, Opposition and Private Members' business should be regularised, and made proportional to the length of a session. The Backbench Business Committee should have more say over the scheduling of backbench business.

Despite all the recent advances, it was clear from our evidence that the Commons is as far away as ever from implementing the basic Wright principle that all time should be regarded as "the House's time". The present procedure for setting the agenda for most of the House's business —that which is not decided by the Backbench Business Committee —is inadequate, remaining in clear violation of the principles set out in the Wright report. The need for reform is obvious and urgent.

We conclude that a consultative House Business Committee is an immediate practical option for the House. This would enable the Government to redeem its Coalition Agreement pledge to move forward on this aspect of the Wright Reforms, while still ensuring that its programme is considered in a proper and timely way.

The operation of the House's petitions procedure, especially the e-petitions system, is failing to meet public expectations. There is too much confusion between the roles of Government and Parliament. This may already be leading to a growth in public cynicism, which in the long term can only damage Parliament.

We believe that there must be a clear separation between petitions intended to prompt action by Government and petitions aimed at Parliament. The Parliamentary petitions system must in future belong unequivocally to Parliament. This means that all e-petitions for consideration by Parliament must be hosted on the Parliamentary website. We also believe that numbers thresholds should not be used to determine whether a petition should be debated.

There is still a case for the establishment of a petitions committee, as considered by the Wright Committee. We recommend that the House should be invited to agree to a Resolution on public petitions which would outline the principal features of a new system, and which would invite the Clerk of the House to work up a detailed and costed proposition which could then be put to the House for its endorsement.

We see this inquiry as simply the beginning of a process which should bring much-needed further advances towards the reformed House envisaged by Wright. We have already set out our recommendations for early progress towards the establishment of a House Business Committee. But if, as seems likely, there is still unfinished business from the Wright Committee by the date of the next General Election, we hope that all parties will agree that a new committee should be elected to see through the implementation of all remaining Wright reforms. Alternatively, we hope that our successor committee in the next Parliament will take this forward.




 
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Prepared 18 July 2013