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PMQs: The way we do politics must be transformed, says Clegg

May 20, 2009 6:16 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg highlights the unique opportunity facing MPs to completely change Parliament.

At Prime Minister's Questions Nick Clegg warned that incremental changes to Parliamentary rules are not sufficient as he urged the Government to fully embrace the need to transform politics in Britain.

Nick argued that abuses of the Parliamentary expenses system are only part of what is damaging British democracy. He suggested that, given this unique opportunity for change, issues from party funding through to Whitehall secrecy must be addressed and the practice of politics must be transformed.

Nick said people do not want an election that replaces one set of people with another without changing the rotten rules that control the system. He referred specifically to the current situation whereby the Government is in power despite receiving votes from less than a quarter of the population. He argued any system that gives so much power in response to so few votes will always breed arrogance and secrecy.

See the full exchange below

Nick Clegg: I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Marine Jason Mackie, who, tragically, died in Helmand province last week serving us, our country and the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Speaker, despite our differences in recent days, I would like to thank you for the immensely dignified way in which you made your statement yesterday -[Interruption.] We can now move forward to reform this place from top to toe. I am also pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that there will be a statement tomorrow on the Gurkhas, and I hope that they will receive the unqualified and full justice that they deserve- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard; he must be heard.

Nick Clegg: We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to change politics for good, but we will betray people's hopes and fail to offer a really different way of doing politics if all we do is remove a medieval expenses system, without fixing everything else. The expenses are just the tip of the iceberg. Does the Prime Minister see that, from party funding through to Whitehall secrecy, the whole way in which we do politics must now be transformed?

The Prime Minister: As for Whitehall secrecy, it was this Government who brought in the Freedom of Information Bill-and as for party funding, the Justice Secretary has brought forward measures to deal with that. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, however, that, as part of the wider debate about the relationship between Parliament and the people and the accountability of Parliament to the people, we must listen to the views of people throughout the country. We must consult and hear what they have to say, and, as I said yesterday, we will put forward proposals on that in the next few weeks.

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Sharma.

Nick Clegg rose- [Interruption .]

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Clegg.

Nick Clegg: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I thought that there were two questions in the first one-but there we are.

Nick Clegg: Touché, Mr. Speaker.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his reply, but is it not now time to get to the heart of the matter, which is that his Government are in power even though less than a quarter of the people voted for them? [Hon. Members: "Have an election!"] Of course we should have an election, but people do not want an election where all they will get is a few new faces but the same old rotten rules. Is it not true that any system in which so few votes give a Government so much power will always breed arrogance and secrecy?

The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, I was right to say that your generosity was unfailing to all Members of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman's point about the wider reforms and democracy is absolutely right: we must consider not only how Parliament can be more accountable to the people, but how the Executive themselves can be more accountable. We want to do that in the context of enhancing the individual and collective rights of citizens in their own communities to manage more of their own affairs. I am happy to enter that debate, and we will publish proposals in the next few weeks. We have also previously published proposals on the electoral system, which is also a matter for debate-but I must say to the Liberal Democrats that the debate about the reform of the constitution is about more than simply that one thing.