We’ve had some unusually positive discussions this week, in some of which I have pleasantly surprised to find an unexpected degree of consensus.
On Tuesday, it sounded as if Members on all sides were keen to make progress on the ‘working practices’ recommendations that we had from a specially appointed group. I had anticipated that there would be the usual procrastinators, arguing that ‘we can’t do anything about this until we have sorted out the big issue of our composition’. Fortunately, both Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House) and his Labour opposite number (Lady Royall of Blaisdon) seemed to think that we could get on with this urgent job, not least because we are about to elect a new Lord Speaker, whose role is one of the issues at stake. You can read our exchanges here, and a note I prepared at the time for Epolitix here.
That same afternoon we got a remarkable degree of agreement on the need to find every possible way of improving the integrity of the electoral register. This not just a question of making sure that those who are entitled to vote are all on the list, but also making sure that there’s no double-counting or fraud. The Guardian that morning reported that there had been a slight upturn in registration in 2010, with notable improvements among younger age groups. I suggested that this might have been due increased interest running up to the 2010 election rather than any improved efficiency in the system. All the other participants in the debate seemed to be heading in the same direction, and we agreed to some useful pilot exercises in data-sharing to try and improve the accuracy of the register. You may like to have a quick look at this debate too.
But today (Friday) I have a wonderful opportunity to ride another hobby horse. If you have been anywhere near the Houses of Parliament recently, let alone taken part in any demonstration in our area, you will be aware that we suffer from a double nonsense. On the one hand, Parliament Square is a mess, but on the other we have some ludicrously heavy-handed regulations about the rights of our fellow citizens to express their views to parliamentarians. It is particularly absurd that the previous government included these in the overblown “Serious Organised Crime and Police Act”, as though reading the names of Iraq invasion victims at the Cenotaph could fairly be described as a “serious, organised crime”.
I have some positive suggestions to make about how we can use Parliament Square better. It looks as if others may agree it’s time to act. I hope you may be interested to take a look at Hansard later and see if you agree.