David Cameron and Ken Clarke held a joint press conference this morning to present the latest recommendations of the Democracy Taskforce. Throughout the summer there will be a number of these reports and it will then be for the shadow cabinet to decide which recommendations are embraced.
Perhaps the headline-grabbing idea was the suggestion that voters will be able to petition Parliament to hold debates on topics of popular concern. At the press conference David Cameron said that such petitions could connect Simon de Montfort’s Parliament with the MySpace generation:
"I would like to see a system whereby, if enough people sign an online petition in favour of a particular motion, then a debate is held in Parliament, followed by a vote – so that the public know what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them."
Ken Clarke, responding to a question from Gary Gibbon that these petitions could all be orchestrated by tabloid newspapers, said that there would be filters from a ‘Legislative Business Committee’. Parliament, he said, should not be debating whether West Ham should have points deducted. That’ll be a relief to Iain Dale.
Editor’s comment: "This appears to be an excellent report. The emphasis on more powers for select committees – with MPs choosing their chairman freely by secret ballot – will tilt the power away from the executive to parliament. The thrust of Ken Clarke’s report would see MPs rather than the Government of the day having more power to choose which issues are debated. The former Chancellor said that the Government’s stranglehold on the timetabling of debates meant that issues were often presented as a fait accompli. He highlighted the Iraq war debate and the timetabling of the vote for the eve of the invasion.
David Cameron hoped that select committees – with extra powers – would become a new career path for MPs. The brightest and best, he said, would no longer see frontbench duties as superior to becoming powerful scrutineers of the executive. The petition idea was a very interesting one and there is, of course, nothing to stop David Cameron introducing something similar on conservatives.com while in Opposition. If the Conservative Party is to be in the vanguard of the internet revolution it should be building online communities now. If I was head of internet strategy at CCHQ I’d be inviting people to petition for policy issues to be addressed and holding indicative (and sometimes binding) votes on policy group recommendations."
This post summarises other recommendations of Ken Clarke’s Democracy Taskforce.