By Graham Reid
9th June 2013
A democratic nation needs a Government that has been elected by a positive vote of its people and NOT the distorted result of either a large protest vote or many not voting at all. The UK is currently at great risk of such distortion in 2015 unless MPs of all major parties reconnect with voters. This is not to say that minority parties (some gaining much new support from the disillusioned) are not valid. There is a place for them and they give a voice to those who feel forgotten.
Articles are now appearing tinkering with the details of MPs pay and conditions, the place of lobbyists in the overall scheme and the perils of minorities in power. However, I have yet to see anyone suggesting a larger reform to a system that would be both welcomed by the voters and attract suitable individuals to stand for election.
Very basic questions need to be asked not least because the current system is an anachronism that is falling apart at the seams. For a start, the parliamentary system should resemble voters normal way of life, pay structure, behaviour, holiday entitlement and responsibility. Here are a few questions:-
Why do MPs only sit in the Commons for 135 days a year and then complain that there is not enough time to debate important legislation?
The USA has a population of 316m; the UK – 63m. The USA has 435 in their lower house and 100 in the Senate so why do we need 650 in the Commons and 763 in the Lords?
Why are “expenses” so easy to define and administer in UK corporate life but seemingly impossible in parliament?
Why is the behaviour of MPs in parliamentary debates and during Questions to the PM at a level that would not be tolerated in any school in the land let alone a serious company?
What is a reasonable salary for an MP who actually undertakes the duties and what higher reward should be given for extra responsibilities?
I would suggest that all parties agree to a full review during the course of the next parliament (2015 to 2020) with the new system being in place for 2020 onwards.
My suggestions, for inclusion in the debate are:
400 MPs plus 100 elected to an Upper House – boundary commission to define the constituencies.
MPs to work 52 weeks of the year with a week off at Christmas plus 5 other weeks holiday during the year to be taken as agreed with Party Whips (plus public holidays). Sound familiar to the rest of us?
House of Commons to sit 51 weeks of the year from 0930 to 1830 Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday, 1030 to 1930 on Mondays to allow distant MPs to arrive and 0830 to 1630 on Fridays to get home.
Constituency work will be undertaken on days and times agreed with Party Whips in advance when “pairing” will be in place for votes but at least 65% of MPs will be in the debating chamber at all times.
Expenses will be allowed as for employees for companies – i.e. wholly necessarily and exclusively in the course of duties undertaken upon production of receipts. This would include travel between constituency and Parliament as well as cost of overnight expenses on a pre-agreed scale (also on production of receipts).
Basic salary for an MP to commence at £100,000 pa increasing in bands for Junior Ministers, Chairs of Select Committees, Senior Ministers, Whips, Members of Cabinet, Secretaries of State up to £300,000 for the Prime Minister.
As the Speaker and party leaders appear totally unable to control the disgraceful behaviour of MPs, including Ministers, it would appear sensible to leave the current debating chamber as a museum, rather than lavish huge expenditure on the proposed modernisation, and use that sum instead to create a new chamber in say Westminster Hall with MPs sitting in a half circle facing the Speaker and his team rather than the confrontational face-off as at present. Of course, if adult behaviour was insisted upon and enforced, then the current chamber could continue!
These changes might give voters a sense of MPs “living in a part of the real world” and hopefully lead to some respect being accorded to them rather than the current total contempt
In the absence of agreement to a responsible change, I fear that current minority parties do not even need policies to ensure that their support in 2015 will at the very least “skew” the resulting composition of Parliament to the detriment of democracy and the good of the British people, They deserve better than that.