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John Major and Douglas Hurd recommend radical changes to compensate for declining quality of MPs

In a joint article for The Times, former Prime Minister John Major and his first Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, make some recommendations for improving British democracy and government.  They support, for example, David Cameron's policy of reducing the number of MPs but the thrust of their argument concerns the quality of government ministers.  They are alarmed by constant reshuffling:

"The Armed Services of the Crown are under formidable strain. For years, they have endured secretaries of state who were left in office hardly long enough to learn the ropes. Prisons are another example; we have had eight prison ministers in nine years."

They worry that there are about 50% more ministers than are needed (The Telegraph reports today that Gordon Brown can't fit his inflated top team into the Downing Street Cabinet room) and that there are too many disconnections between Whitehall departments.  They complain, for example, about the lack of connection between development spending and foreign office priorities [I should imagine Lord Hurd wrote that bit!] and the removal of key functions of criminal justice from the "substantially weakened" Home Office.

At the heart of their article, however, is a concern at the quality of MPs.  Noting that "most MPs of all parties have moved straight from further education into some form of professional politics" [not quite sure it is "most"] they support the practice of bringing professionals from outside politics into government via the House of Lords.  What they go on to add is something Jonathan Isaby raised at a recent David Cameron press conference.  Jonathan urged that rules be changed so that Lord Mandelson could appear in the Commons and answer questions from Ken Clarke and other MPs.  Hurd and Major agree that peers should be enabled to appear at the Commons dispatch box but they go further still:

"We would make a more adventurous experiment in the same direction: a prime minister could appoint a small number of unelected ministers of state, who would be answerable to Parliament without being members of either House. This is, of course, a device borrowed from the United States, France and other democracies that practise the separation of powers. It could deepen the quality of ministerial government without undermining the principle of accountability to Parliament."

At the heart of the issue is indeed the professionalisation of the political class.  A trend that was at the heart of Paul Goodman's sad decision to leave the Commons at the next General Election.

Tim Montgomerie

> What needs to be done to increase the quality of MPs?


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