THERE have been so many responses to calls for reform of the way the House of Commons goes about its business in the past few months that it is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. However, one unquestionably important response was published yesterday in the form of Rebuilding the House, a report from a cross-party select committee set up by Gordon Brown to look at ways in which the influence of back bench MP could be increased. The report makes several recommendations, of which two deserve particular attention. The first calls for strengthening the independence of select committees by electing their chairmen by a vote of the whole House, rather than by the Whips, and their members by voting within the parties. The second suggests a new back bench business committee to manage the non-government business of the House in a way that would better reflect the interests of MPs and their constituents.
These two reforms could not be adopted without the support of the government of the day and the Whips' offices of the main parties. Unfortunately, the reaction yesterday of Harriet Harman, the leader of the House, was lukewarm and both Labour and Conservative Whips, while being sympathetic in principle, thought the reforms went too far. Tony Wright, the Labour chairman of the committee which published Rebuilding the House wants an early debate about its proposals and, if approved, their introduction before the election.