Now is the time to modernise and reform our parliament

The Green Party leader outlines a few simple steps to make parliament a more effective – and less ar

Adopting electronic voting or introducing an explanatory paragraph to explain the purpose of specific amendments to a bill probably don't sound like revolutionary stuff. They're not exactly up there with the Great Reform Acts. But even such modest changes could take us a step closer to a more efficient and accessible parliament that, if not yet fit for purpose, is at least less unfit.

Arriving at Westminster for the first time is a strange experience. The first thing I was shown was not my office – that took at least a month to be allocated – but the pink ribbon where I was to hang up my sword. The antiquated language that parliamentarians are still expected to use in the Chamber, the late-night voting and the unpredictability of the daily agenda feel pretty anachronistic and, at times, obstructive.

Westminster traditionalists cling on to these old-fashioned procedures, making valiant claims about defending our heritage. But the fact is, most people believe parliament to be remote, unaccountable and incomprehensible. I'm hardly the first parliamentarian to recognise that something needs to change.

As peers dust themselves down after several weeks of bitter conflict and sleepless nights over changes to constituency boundaries and the AV referendum, and as MPs continue to pay the price of the expenses scandal, it is unsurprising that many are again asking how we can change our political system for the better.

In my well-attended Backbench Business debate today, MPs had the opportunity to put forward their views on the hugely inefficient processes that shape our parliament – and offer their own ideas about how we can drag Westminster into the 21st century. In my report, The Case for Parliamentary Reform, published in November, I outlined a number of proposals for first steps towards change.

First, an electronic voting system would make far better use of MPs' time. The voting system we currently use is bizarre and time-consuming. Just queuing up to vote accounts for around £30,000 of the total amount spent on all MPs' salaries in one week. In the last parliament there were over 1,200 votes. As it takes about 15 minutes per vote, that means an MP with an 85 per cent voting record would have spent over 250 hours queuing to vote – hardly the most effective use of time and money.

Hand-held electronic devices would help speed up the process. Security options could be used to make sure they were operated only by the member; you could also ensure the device was operable only within the Chamber or voting lobbies – as opposed to a pub nearby – and therefore maintain the opportunity for people to meet ministers.

Furthermore, if all votes were held at one time of the day, this would remove the need to rush backwards and forwards between offices in far-flung corners of the estate. On most sitting days, there is at least one vote and there can be four, five or more votes in a day. Time spent running to and fro and slowly filing through the "Aye" and "No" lobbies could be spent doing more useful things – like responding to constituents or scrutinising legislation.

I'd also like to see measures to prevent the "talking out" of private member's bills. Thanks to the absence of limits on speaking time, individuals are free to ramble on for hours and obstruct the progress of legislation.

An end to late-night sittings would also make working hours more family friendly for both MPs and their staff.

And a systematic overhaul of parliamentary language would help demystify the parliamentary processes. I'd like to see a far greater use of plain English – no more of the "Honourable Gentleman" this and the "Noble Baroness" that. Similarly, I'd make it compulsory to add an explanatory paragraph to explain the purpose of specific amendments to a bill, so that MPs and the public know what they're voting on.

While such reforms may seem modest, they are not unopposed. I have been regaled on many occasions about precisely why MPs should be allowed to drone on for hours, talking out legislation, and why Westminster should remain just as it is.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Parliament Act of 1911. Fast-forward exactly 100 years, and while it's clear that progress has been made, there's still a long way to go. As the political process struggles to achieve legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of voters, the task of ushering in a more effective and user-friendly parliament feels more urgent than ever.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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