SOME of the most positive reforms to the way in which the House of Commons goes about its business were approved by MPs on Thursday. Although the Ashcroft affair and Gordon Brown's appearance at the Iraq inquiry attracted most media attention these reforms are long-lasting and likely to increase considerably the influence of backbench MPs. The leader of the House, Harriet Harman, working with her Conservative shadow, Sir George Young, adopted on behalf of the government several of the recommendations made by a committee of MPs set up by Gordon Brown last year. The main effect of these changes will be to reduce the power of the Whips in arranging Commons business. The role of Select Committees will be strengthened and made more independent by secret balloting for their “chairs” (the term now officially adopted) and internal party elections will be held for committee members.

On one issue the two front benches were defeated by MPs who already seemed to have found a new lease of life. All these reforms and others still to be discussed came from the cross-party committee established by the prime minister and chaired by the Labour MP Tony Wright who, however, will not benefit from them since he is not seeking re-election to the Commons. He said, “It was time for the House to reclaim responsibility for itself and its own business.” That it has done.