Parliament must be ‘less arrogant’ says speaker

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Governments will have to give up their “astonishingly arrogant” control of what is debated in Parliament if it is to stay relevant in the modern world, Commons Speaker John Bercow has said on a taxpayer-funded trip to New Zealand.

Mr Bercow also joked that Ministers would find it enticing if he was permanently 12,000 miles away as he described the UK’s current system of different government departments having fixed allotted questions sessions as antiquated.

The Speaker also said that the notion of geographical constituencies will be hard to continue as MPs are seen increasingly in the context of their support of certain causes, as he laid out his support for an “e-democracy”, using Estonia as an example.

Last month, it was revealed that Mr Bercow had run up a bill of nearly £100,000 on official travel over the past three years.

A Commons spokesman said the speech at Waikato University in Hamilton was an official visit and so publicly funded.

Since the last election Mr Bercow has travelled to Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, India, the United States, South Africa, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, Austria and Romania.

During the speech, Mr Bercow said the UK’s 2015 General Election will be “a long way behind the times” compared to Estonia’s election in the same year, where at least half the votes are expected to be cast online.

Mr Bercow, in a speech entitled Parliaments Of The Future, said he had revived the parliamentary device of the urgent question, which allows an MP to petition the Speaker to compel a Minister to come to the chamber and answer questions on an issue that has suddenly emerged.

He went on: “In the year before I became Speaker only two UQs were accepted and the instrument was dying. In my time in the Chair I have allowed numerous urgent questions and Parliament is much the more topical, and hence more relevant, for it.

“In the parliaments of the future, time allocated for the UQ or similar will, in my view, be automatic. The issue will be not whether but what new should be discussed.

“The historic concept of departmental questions held at fixed, often lengthy intervals will be antiquated. The notion is already meaningless in Estonia today. We will have to be far, far more flexible about what is debated and when across our whole timetable. And the dictum that the government of the day should have control over virtually the whole of that business will seem astonishingly arrogant.”

Mr Bercow also spoke about the changing nature of constituencies in a digital age.

He said: “The traditional notion of there being but one concept of a constituency, based on geography, will become increasingly hard to sustain. It will remain the principal notion of a constituency for some aspects of personal representation but I cannot believe that it will be the only acceptable form of constituency.”