Monday, 7 May 2007

Parliament Under Blair

It would seem almost certain that Tony Blair will announce his resignation before the end of this week.

The "accepted" view seems to be that Parliament has declined further during the Blair years. He stands accused of employing "the huge and overweening powers of the British executive to make central government even more powerful". The sycophancy of backbenchers has been matched by a ruthlessness in ramming through legislation. Is Graham Allen MP right when he claims that today "we are for all intents and purposes ruled by a hidden Presidency"?

I hope that as the Blair era comes to a close we can discuss how that man and his government have impacted Parliament. To kick things off I suggest some evidence of Parliament being strengthened. Somethings that could not have happened without the tacit acceptance of the Prime Minister.

Select Committees - These have flowered in the last 10 years. If you visited one in session in the mid 1990s, go again. They are clearly better resourced - with more advisors evident. They are also more confident and play a greater role in political debate.

Liaison Committee - Blair was the first Prime Minister to appear before a select committee. Thatcher and Major had refused. Now it has become an accepted practice that the Prime Minister will submit himself to extensive questions in regular sessions with the Chairs of Select Committees meeting as the Liaison Committee.

PMQs - Many argued that the replacement of 2 quarter-hour sessions of Prime Ministers Question Time with a single half-hour session every Wednesday diminished scrutiny. However 30 minutes allows for greater debate - and more opportunity for the Opposition leaders to press the PM

Modernisation Committee - There are those who have been sceptical of the motives and achievements of this Committee, which is chaired by a Cabinet Minister, the Leader of the House of Commons. But has it addressed some of the concerns of backbenchers? Has its reforms made their contribution greater?

House of Lords Reform - still incomplete, but has the partial legitimisation effected by the removal of the hereditaries delivered a House better able (and willing) to scrutinise?

Freedom of Information - not only used by lazy journalists, as some might claim, but by MPs themselves.

So what is your assessment of the Blair years?