Change is well overdue: the current system of the "Usual Channels" makes the courts of medieval monarchs look openby John Bercow / September 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Times of great upheaval often yield unexpectedly positive outcomes and, in the case of the expenses scandal, this outcome was the establishment of the Reform Committee of the House of Commons, known as the Wright Committee, named after the former Labour MP Tony Wright. Although there was no direct correlation between the political authority of the House of Commons and its members ordering bath plugs and duck houses on the company card, there was a pervasive sense that the marginalisation of parliament and parliamentarians had contributed to a climate in which the abuse of expenses had sometimes occurred. Rather than looking at how to ensure the Biros were not being taken home at the end of the working day, the Wright Committee was charged with providing an answer to a more searching question: what was the office for in the first place? The role of the backbench MP, perhaps especially, had become a particularly dispiriting one: relegated to criticising from the sidelines but with little opportunity to contribute.
Two of Wright’s recommendations were especially acute. First, departmental select committee chairs were to be elected by the House by secret ballot, not appointed by whips. As a result, the select committee chair has been transformed from a government placeman into an independent scrutineer.
The second innovation was the establishment of a new BBC: the Backbench Business Committee to oversee the tabling of business in what the parliamentary timetable referred to as “backbench time.” The Committee has enabled subjects which neither the government of the day nor the opposition front bench would have wanted discussed in public, t…