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Sir, In this general election year, the legitimacy of our political system depends on citizens believing that voting matters and that their MPs do an important and worthwhile job. It is, therefore, essential that the Commons' reputation is restored.
One positive outcome of the MPs' expenses crisis was the establishment last July of a committee on the reform of the House of Commons, chaired by the distinguished backbencher Dr Tony Wright. The committee produced a thoughtful and balanced report in November, making a series of important recommendations for strengthening the work of the House. These include changes to the way select committee chairs and members are chosen, and giving backbenchers more control over the business agenda.
Despite the Government's initial enthusiasm in setting up this committee, we are concerned about the slow progress in debating its recommendations. The committee asked for a debate and vote by January 24. But while the Prime Minister indicated last week that these would be forthcoming, no date has yet been set.
It is ironic that while the report's central theme was government's excessive control over Commons business, MPs' opportunity to discuss its recommendations now depends on a decision by ministers. We urge leaders of all parties to ensure that this timely report is debated and voted upon as soon as possible.
Professor Dawn Oliver, Professor of Constitutional Law, University College London, and President, Study of Parliament Group, plus 28 members of the Study of Parliament Group, who are academics and retired parliamentary officials:
Professor David Miers, Cardiff University, Vice-Chair
Dr Sarah Childs, University of Bristol, Academic Secretary
Professor John McEldowney, Executive Committee member
Dr Meg Russell, Constitution Unit, UCL, Executive Committee member
Dr Faith Armitage, Birkbeck College, University of London
Priscilla Baines, Former Librarian, House of Commons
Anthony Barker, University of Essex
Dr David Butler, Nuffield College, Oxford
Dr Emma Crewe, UCL
Mr Byron Criddle, University of Aberdeen
Valerie Cromwell, Director of the History of Parliament, 1991-2001
Professor Gavin Drewry, Royal Holloway University of London
Professor David Feldman, University of Cambridge
Dr Philip Giddings, University of Reading
Professor Robert Hazell, Constitution Unit, UCL
Helen Irwin, Former Clerk of Committees, House of Commons
Professor Patricia Leopold, University of Reading
Professor Andrew le Sueur, Queen Mary University of London
Professor Joni Lovenduski, Birkbeck College, University of London
Professor Laura McAllister, University of Liverpool
Professor James Mitchell, University of Strathclyde
Professor Lord Norton of Louth, University of Hull
Professor Alan Page, University of Dundee
Gillian Peele, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Mr Greg Power, LSE
Professor Robert Pyper, Glasgow Caledonian University
Professor Michael Rush, University of Exeter
Professor Colin Seymour-Ure, University of Kent
Note: The name of Professor Michael Lee (University of Bristol, retired) should also have appeared in support of the letter.
The debate which the letter called for was held on 22 February 2010: the Hansard of it (c 37-127) is here.