Saturday, May 22, 2010

Giving back our Parliament: A parallel chamber, perhaps?

Michael Ignatieff received some advice recently from Andrew Coyne to add a strong electoral and political reform package to the Liberal Party policies for the coming election, which Harper (giving his dismissive attitude towards parliament in general) would find difficult to steal and run on.

One element which Ignatieff's Liberals might consider is giving backbenchers a much greater chance to play more meaningful roles by instituting a parallel chamber similar to the Westminster Hall one which Britain has had since 1999.

Sittings in Westminster Hall – which is actually in the room up the staircase in the north-west corner of Westminster Hall - constitute sittings of the House (effectively a parallel Chamber). Any MP can take part in the debates which are held on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The debates cover constituency matters and other matters that the House would normally be able to debate such as reports of select committees. Debates are expected to be non-partisan and constructive, rather than confrontational, and the physical arrangement of the seating reflects this desire: an elongated horseshoe rather than opposing benches. MPs began sitting there in 1999. The Deputy Speaker presides over the debates and there are no votes.

The UK second chamber used the Australian second chamber as a model. Westminster Hall, according to the Wright Committee on Reform, "was seen primarily as a forum for private Members, to enable them to hold the Government to account on a wider range of issues... This House has a tradition of evolutionary reform and this proposal is part of that approach."

One analysis of the second chamber concluded that it haad given private Members opportunities to raise issues with Ministers. On average in 2002 each session was attended by between 10 and 12 MPs.

More recently, the modernization committee concluded that " the chamber had provided valuable opportunities for members to hold government to account."

Any chance we will see the LPC propose the 'House of Michael'?


  1. If I could change the design of the House of Commons and Senate, I would rearrange the seats in a semi-circle.

  2. That would work for me. And have MPs sit down when addressing the House.


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