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Political and Constitutional Reform

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Government continue to work on political and constitutional reform, particularly in support of the wider priority of rescuing, repairing and reforming the British economy. The process of devolution and decentralisation, including the second wave of city deals, is central to this. Work also continues on individual registration, party funding, recall and lobbying reform.

That sounded okay, but we all know that all the big reforms that the Deputy Prime Minister had planned have broadly failed. Across our country numerous public servants with far busier in-trays than the Deputy Prime Minister have been laid off. In the interests of savings to the economy, is it not about time to mothball his Department until it has something significant to bring to us in terms of constitutional reform and that has some prospect of being delivered before 2015?

I do not accept that there is no link between constitutional reform and rebuilding the shattered British economy left in such a parlous state by the hon. Gentleman’s party. The key to that is in the answers to some of the earlier questions. If we are to rejuvenate the British economy, we must breathe life back into our local communities by letting go some of the powers in Whitehall and embarking on an ambitious programme of economic and political decentralisation, the likes of which the Labour party never did in 13 years of government.

On the subject of constitutional reform, the Deputy Prime Minister appears to be breaching the Government’s own recruitment freeze, with 19 new policy advisers and 30 support staff recently advertised at a cost of more than £1 million, for roles including constitutional reform. Can he confirm that constitutional reform is an urgent front-line need, as defined by the Cabinet Office, or is he simply in urgent need of new ideas?

As I said earlier, we will continue to deliver the commitments that we made in the coalition agreement. My hon. Friend should not lightly turn his nose up at the idea of city deals that are giving unprecedented new economic and political powers to create jobs and economic opportunities across the country. Those are a good thing and we are dedicated to delivering them.

Labour Members are extremely proud of the Human Rights Act, which has been used to protect the rights of the vulnerable in residential care homes and those of an Asperger’s sufferer who was to have been extradited to America, and it has given rights to victims of crime and much more.

To be fair to the Deputy Prime Minister and his party, they have been consistent in their support for the Human Rights Act. Now that the work of the Bill of Rights commission has come to an end, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that no work will be done by his Department, or any other Government Department, towards amending or repealing the Human Rights Act during this term of Parliament?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Commission on a Bill of Rights reported to me and the Secretary of State for Justice. Actually, quite a lot of good work was done on the reform of the European Court of Human rights—the so-called Brighton agenda, which we are pursuing across the coalition.

However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion between those of us who believe that the basic rights and responsibilities offered to every British citizen in the European convention, as reflected in British law in the Human Rights Act, should be a baseline of protection for everybody, and others who wish to see that changed. That disagreement was openly, and in a perfectly grown-up way, reflected in the conclusions of the commission.

Will my right hon. Friend make it a priority to introduce transparency into collective ministerial responsibility, which seems to be being set aside without any proper accountability to the public or the House?

As the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed before, collective responsibility prevails where there is a collective agreement and a collective decision on which collective responsibility is based. It is not easy, and certainly not possible to enforce collective responsibility in the absence of a collective decision taken first.