The challenges facing regulatory reform of parliament

In regulation on May 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

Gordon Brown has said that the system of self-regulation of MPs conduct, pay and expenses has to end. He told his monthly press conference:

“The keystone for any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation. Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman’s club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

“If MPs continue to set their own codes and rules, however objectively they try to do so, the public will always question the transparency and the standards that they rightly demand. And MPs themselves are currently put in the invidious position of having to be judge and jury of their own pay and rations.

“We will set out our proposals for an independent . . .  external to the House of Commons (which) would oversee the system . . . maintain the register of members interest and take appropriate sanctions . . .

“(in order to) respect parliamentary sovereignty it would be for parliament itself to devolve this power in these specific matters and put this on statutory footing.

There are four key questions facing parliament as it determines the nature of this regulatory body:

  • If it is to be independent, who will appoint its members?
  • If the rules are to be set by an external body, how will that body maintain the confidence of MPs and the public?
  • If the body makes a decision that the public or an MP do not like, what means of appeal will it have?
  • What powers of sanction will the body hold which still respect the democratic system eg. will it be able to force a by-election?

Gordon Brown believes that if MPs set the rules, the public will always question the transparency and standards by which the rules were set. But would an independent body maintain public confidence just because it is independent?

Any regulatory system has flaws. Just because self-regulation has failed, it does not necessarily mean that “independent external” regulation will be better, unless these key questions can be resolved and constantly reviewed.


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