Fri, Jun 12, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Brown to end self-regulation, target Lords

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday vowed to revive his constitutional reform agenda by publishing a short, quick bill ending parliamentary self-regulation and to press ahead with another bill this autumn to make the House of Lords either wholly or 80 percent elected.

The short bill will cover an independent parliamentary standards authority responsible for regulating members of parliament’s (MPs) salaries and expenses, as well as the register of MPs’ interests.

Controversially, it will be able to sanction lawmakers guilty of financial irregularity, and as a statutory body may be subject to appeal to the courts.

The bill will include a new code of conduct for MPs and peers, or members of the House of Lords, detailing what standards the electorate can expect from MPs, thereby increasing the likelihood that lawmakers will be suspended or expelled.

Brown said that constituents might have the right to recall MPs guilty of “gross financial misconduct.”

British Justice Secretary Jack Straw held talks on Wednesday to agree on pushing the bill on the Lords through the House of Commons by the summer. However, the chances of getting the reform through the upper house before an election are slim. In 2007 the upper house voted 361 to 121 in favor of a wholly appointed house, with 102 Labour and 143 Conservative peers voting for the status quo.

Currently most members of the House of Lords are appointed by the prime minister, while some are still hereditary, as is the head of state, Elizabeth II.

Straw will put a paper on options for reform, probably recommending an 80 percent elected chamber, to the Cabinet next week, and publish a bill before the summer. Labour hopes to embarrass Tory backwoods peers over their opposition.

In a statement to the lower house, Brown promised that the government would shortly publish a constitutional renewal bill, a bill that has been blocked for nearly a year, partly due to the failure of Brown to broker an agreement between the attorney general, Lady Scotland, and the Ministry of Justice, on whether the role of attorney general should be entirely independent of government.

He also said he wanted a debate on electoral reform, but said he had no plans for a referendum on the issue before the general election.

Speaking on electoral reform, Brown said on Wednesday: “We should be prepared to propose change if there is a broad consensus in the country that it would strengthen our democracy and our politics by improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of both government and parliament.”

Without giving details, Brown also proposed that the public had to be engaged in the process of reform, but did not say if he wished to put his ideas to a citizens’ convention or panel.

Proposals for a citizens’ panel on a bill of rights have been blocked by a Treasury refusal to provide £1 million to fund it.

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