GORDON Brown's first Prime Minister's Questions encounter with David Cameron yesterday naturally attracted a lot of interest but in the event it was a fairly low-key and inconsequential affair.

Of greater importance was Mr Brown's speech in the Commons on Tuesday on constitutional reforms and related matters. The first point to note is that Members of Parliament, not the Today programme, were the first to hear the proposals. Throughout the Blair years government initiatives were deliberately leaked in advance to the media in order to maximise publicity, leaving Parliament to catch up later. It may not seem all that important but if No 10 Downing Street shows that Parliament is not its first priority the media and electorate will take the hint and act accordingly.

Mr. Brown's proposed reforms range from a Bill of Rights and Duties operating alongside the Human Rights Act to a stricter code of conduct for ministers administered by an adviser reporting directly to Parliament; there will be a new Civil Service Act to protect the neutrality of officials and the recent laws banning demonstrations in Parliament Square will be reviewed; elections will be held at weekends instead of on Thursdays to encourage particpation; and ministers will transfer powers to MPs in twelve areas, among them declaring war, ratifying international treaties and making key public appointments.

Although reforms of this importance and on this scale will take time to implement, Mr Brown's intentions are clear and commendable.


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