Queen's Speech may be a farce

The Queen's speech tomorrow may be the most pointless in parliamentary history.

Graham Dines

The perfect time for a clean-up

The Queen's speech tomorrow may be the most pointless in parliamentary history. Political Editor GRAHAM DINES argues that Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is be on the right track with his call for a programme only consisting of political reform.

THIS last session of the current parliament has a maximum of 70 days in which to consider and pass new government legislation.

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That's the amount of time left when you remove the Christmas, Easter and May Day breaks and the three-and-a-half weeks needed between parliament being dissolved and the date of the election.

Nobody is any wiser when that election will be. Favourite is May 6, but - and it's a big but - this clashes with the London borough elections, making it almost administratively impossible for Gordon Brown to carry out his hopes of holding a referendum on a change to the voting system on the same day as the general election.

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An election cannot be held before March 9 if there is to be a Budget before the election because under legislation brought in by Gordon Brown when Chancellor, three months must elapse between the date of the Pre-Budget Report, which will be on December 9, and the Budget proper.

The last three general elections have been held on the same day as the county councils go to the polls in their fixed-term cycles. Having two elections in England's shires on the same time did not cause too much disruption, but holding dual elections in London, and a referendum, could lead to massive queues at polling stations in the capital and chaos at the counts.

Gordon Brown could plump for April 9, following the example of John Major in 1992, or hold out until the last possible day of June 3.

So the Queen's Speech will be written with that election firmly in mind. She and the Duke of Edinburgh will ride in splendour in a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied by mounted guards, to Westminster and deliver a statement written by the Prime Minister which will be totally meaningless.

The Prime Minister will want to bring in plans which show the clear distinction between Labour and the Conservatives on major public spending of schools, hospitals, and the economy. But because the parliamentary timetable is so short, many if not most, of the measures to be announced by the Queen tomorrow will never reach the statute book.

So why bother? Do we really need six wearying months of yah-booing, taking up endless hours of television news before an election campaign proper?

Of course we don't, which is why Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's suggestion makes perfect sense.

Clegg says it needs 240 days to push a proper programme through the Commons and Lords, which means the Queen's Speech “will be a waste of everyone's time.” He wants Gordon Brown should scrap the legislative programme he is planning to unveil in the Queen's Speech, and devote the final months of this Parliament instead to cleaning up Westminster.

This would allow the public to see that MPs really are determined to put in place an “emergency programme of political reform” to restore public confidence in Britain's democratic system in time for the new Parliament.

“When you move out of a house, you clean it for the people moving in,” says Clegg. “This must be the final task of the rump Parliament.”

His action plan “to save Britain's democracy” includes measures to reduce the power of the whips, introduce fixed-term parliaments, reform party funding, permit the sacking of misbehaving MPs, impose a code of conduct and register of interests for election candidates, and establish a fully-elected House of Lords.

And he calls for a committee on electoral reform composed of 100 randomly-chosen citizens, which would be given a year to choose a fairer voting system for Westminster elections to put to voters in a referendum.

“These changes would be a tall order, but with political will they could finally transform our threadbare democratic institutions for good,” Clegg said yesterday.

“Instead of being just a sorry footnote to a shameful year at Westminster, these months would become a moment of great change in British political history.

“This rump Parliament, brought to its knees by scandal, has one final chance left to redeem itself. It must now provide a golden legacy to the next Parliament so that we can all be proud of our democracy once again.”

Of course, such a radical idea will never be accepted by Messrs Brown and Cameron. And the unsaid reason for all this is to reform our democracy by introducing proportional representation, with the only party benefiting being the Liberal Democrats.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that MPs and politics have let down the voters, with all the tawdry tales of moat cleaning, duck house, mole destroying, and clematis pruning shaking our democracy to the core.

Parliament would come into its own if a genuine debate on standards in public office was initiated. Perhaps Clegg should gone further - it's high time the United Kingdom had a written constitution, especially as now we all have to knuckle down to a European set of democratic values masquerading as the Treaty of Lisbon.

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