Eleven of the 16 proposed reforms to House of Commons processes were approved last night but election of select committee members and the removal of chairs remain contested issues.
“Given where we were a little while ago, we’ve made huge progress and are now within sight of getting there. Unless the forces of darkness, which sunk Robin Cook’s proposals in 2002, come out next we should be alright. But it is a struggle against the culture of the Commons.”
Harriet Harman had been criticised for the process of allowing each reform to be blocked by a single voice of dissent, but the feared sabotage did not materialise. Wright said:
“Despite our resistance, the Governments’s approach has cleared the ground for a decent vote on the remaining issues.”
The approved reforms included reductions in the size of Select Committees, the possibility of September sittings of Parliament, MPs to trial debates on issues put forward by public petition, and improvements to the process of Private Members’ Motions.
MPs will come back on March 4th to debate and vote on five remaining areas: the election of select committee chairs, resignation or removal of select committee chairs; election of Members of Select Committees; scheduling of some parliamentary business by a backbench Business Committee; and the proposed replacement of the term “chairman” with the less gender-specific “chair”.
Opposing the change in terminology, Sir Patrick Cormack MP (Con, South Staffordshire) said last night:
“I make no apology for being a traditionalist, which is why I have tabled amendments to get rid of the silly notion of calling everyone who is in charge of a Committee a piece of furniture.”
In The Times, Labour MP Natascha Engel dismisses the reforms as amounting “to no more than a slight shift of power from one elite (the Executive) to another (a small group of senior backbenchers).”
Martin Salter MP, who criticised Harman’s process, tells me:
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“After weeks of constant pressure, lobbying, chiding, and organised embarrassment we have dragged both front benches towards a full endorsement of the very modest but very necessary reforms proposed by the Wright Committee. However, I am expecting a rearguard action against reform and we will need to organise heavily in order to prevail next Thursday.”