Ministers urge Brown to adopt radical reform

Electoral reform and elected upper chamber under renewed debate in cabinet

Gordon Brown is being urged by cabinet ministers to introduce a new programme of constitutional reform as Parliament seeks to recover from the expenses scandal.

Ministers including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, Harriet Harman, the Leader of the Commons and James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, believe the Prime Minister should use the crisis as a chance to complete the modernisation begun by Tony Blair in 1997.

Proposals made by ministers include a constitutional convention, aimed at reconnecting with disillusioned voters and reviving interest in politics. The Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has suggested that this could be modelled on the Scottish constitutional convention which developed plans for devolution.

Long-discussed reforms such as an elected upper chamber, spending caps on political donations and electoral reform are under renewed debate as ministers seek to raise the democratic legitimacy of Parliament.

But other cabinet ministers doubt that this is the best way to address public outrage over expenses and believe such reforms should be reserved for Labour’s general election manifesto. There also concerns that the amount of time and resources required to achieve constitutional reform would overshadow the government’s attempts to deal with the recession.

However, it is likely that a smaller package of reforms including plans to give MPs more control over the motions debated and voted on and to allow select committee members to be appointed independently of party whips will be introduced shortly after the 4 June elections.

Gordon Brown has already suggested that now is the time to rebalance the relationship between the legislature and the executive.

Speaking today, he said: “We must consider not only how parliament can be more accountable to the people, but how the executive … can be more accountable.”