Charon QC has some interesting thoughts on David Cameron’s plan to force the House of Commons to debate any matter which attracts 100,000 signatures in a petition, and to vote on any matter for which 1,000,000 petition signatories can be found. “Another good idea from the Laurel & Hardy Policy Institute?”
Charon QC also links Matthew Taylor’s excellent (and completely convincing) analysis of why there is no need to change the law to prevent MPs accused of criminal offences over expenses claims from claiming parliamentary privilege. “There’s really no uncertainty here”, he concludes. Despite this, David Cameron has pledged to introduce a “Parliamentary Privileges Bill” to “clarify” the position.
Add in Cameron’s intention to reduce the number of MPs by 10% and a worrying pattern emerges of a systematic move to reduce the powers and privileges of parliament. If Cameron’s plans come to fruition then the House of Commons that is elected in 2014 or 2015 will have far fewer potentially-troublesome backbench MPs, whose privileges will have been “clarified” by statute, and whose days will be occupied debating petitions drummed up by special interest groups rather than on scrutinising the executive.
Cameron no doubt now regrets calling himself “the heir to Blair”, but he seems to have one thing in common with Tony Blair: a certain disdain for parliament. The difference is that, thanks largely to the expenses scandal, Cameron is able to dress up this power-grab by the executive as a populist response to widespread disgust with the political class.
Against this is the likelihood that none of these measures will in fact be implemented as promised. Will MPs really vote their own jobs out of existence? Will a Conservative government really want to spend time on a “Parliamentary Privileges Bill” once the current furore over expenses prosecutions has died down? I’m sure that ways will be found to “filter” petitions or to reduce the impact of any petition-driven debates (ten-minute rule, Westminster Hall, that sort of thing). But all this – while limiting the effects of Cameron’s constitutional vandalism – will only reduce public trust and confidence in politics even further.