David Cameron: Modernisation with a purpose
Speech launching the Democracy Task Force
Monday February 6th, 2006
Text of the speech follows:
“The changes we’re making to the Conservative Party are modernisation with a purpose.
That purpose is to make sure we can meet the big challenges of our age:
Creating a competitive, dynamic economy…
Building a stronger, more cohesive society…
And fulfilling people’s desire for a better quality of life.
That’s why I’ve set up Policy Groups in six key areas to think through these complex challenges so we get the long-term answers right…
…on economic competitiveness, on social justice, on the environment and quality of life, on public service improvement, on national and international security, and on globalisation and global poverty.
ANOTHER MAJOR CHALLENGE
But there can be no doubt that there is another major challenge that relates to all of these.
How do we restore trust in politics itself?
You don’t need to be a political science boffin to know something is wrong.
Look at electoral turnout…around just 60% at the last two elections.
Look at trust.
According to MORI, the proportion of people trusting politicians to put the needs of the country before the needs of party halved between 1974 and 1999…
Trust in Parliament fell from 54% in 1983 to 14% in 2000…
…and trust in the Civil Service has fallen from 46% to 17%.
We’ll never meet the big policy challenges…
…unless we meet the challenge of convincing people that politics can change things for the better.
NATURE OF THE CHALLENGE TO POLITICS
In order to start to put this right, we have to understand the nature of what is wrong.
There’s no doubt that some of the ways in which politicians behave…
…the Punch and Judy politics…the pompous language…play a part.
But we should beware superficial modernisation which says that it would all be OK if only MPs called each other Jack and Jill instead of “honourable members”…
….stopped referring to visitors as “Strangers”…
…and spent more money on a visitors’ centre.
The real issues are deeper and more serious.
Parliament has lost authority.
The balance of power between Parliament and government has tipped too far in the executive’s favour.
I believe this is the only conclusion you can reach if you look at what works and doesn’t work in our system.
Look at the role of the MP in his or her constituency.
It’s a powerful link. It is in that role that MPs are most trusted.
But Parliament itself is falling down.
As the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler…
…who I’m delighted to welcome today as a non-political member of Ken’s Task Force…
…said in December,
“The executive is much too free to bring in a huge number of extremely bad Bills, a huge amount of regulation, and to do whatever it likes that will get the best headlines tomorrow.”
ROLE OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
I believe that the Conservative Party can play a real role here.
We Conservatives have faith in our institutions.
We recognise the vital part they play in our national identity and cohesion.
So we’re not interested in constitutional tinkering or change for change’s sake.
But we are passionately committed to preserving and enhancing the integrity of the institutions that make this country great…
…and which guarantee our most precious British birthright: freedom under the rule of law.
We have never, and should never, allow our faith in Britain’s institutions to turn into dignified silence.
As Disraeli put it: “I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution; a radical to remove all that is bad.”
It is the right time for a serious, thoughtful programme of Conservative institutional and constitutional reform.
At the beginning of a Parliament there is time to think things through …
…to harness expertise inside and outside the Party, and inside and outside Westminster…
…to get the detail right …
…and to understand the consequences of change.
In short, to act in the best traditions of genuine and lasting Conservative reform.
That’s why I’m so delighted that Ken Clarke is leading our Democracy Task Force.
He has a wide-ranging brief, looking at…
…strengthening Parliament - the role of MPs and Select Committees, the volume of legislation and regulation, and scrutiny of the national finances…
…ensuring the integrity and independence of the Civil Service…
…improving the workings of government…
…and addressing apathy and alienation with the political process.
THE ROYAL PREROGATIVE
But I’d like to focus today on one specific issue I have asked Ken’s Task Force to consider.
I believe the time has come to look at those powers exercised by Ministers under the Royal Prerogative.
Giving Parliament a greater role in the exercise of these powers would be an important and tangible way of making government more accountable.
Just last week, we first heard about the Government’s decision to send 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in the pages of the Sun newspaper.
In the Netherlands, there had been months of debate, culminating in a formal vote in Parliament.
Restoring trust in politics means restoring trust in Parliament - and one way to do that is to enhance the role of Parliament in scrutinising the Government’s decisions.
In a number of important areas - going to war, agreeing international treaties…
…there’s no formal mechanism for consulting the nation’s elected representatives.
In other areas - like making senior appointments and re-organising government departments…
…the Prime Minister is able to do what he wants without consulting Parliament at all.
While there was a vote on the decision to go to war in Iraq - albeit very late in the process - there was no vote on the action in Kosovo.
Shouldn’t there be a formal process for Parliamentary approval?
When major public appointments are made - such as the Chief Executive of the NHS or the Chairman of the BBC…
…why not have some form of Parliamentary confirmation hearing?
Addressing these matters means addressing the issue of the powers of the Royal Prerogative.
I’m a staunch supporter of our constitutional monarchy and would not want to undermine it in any way.
That’s why I have explicitly ruled out any changes to the personal prerogative powers, such as the power to dissolve parliament and appoint the Prime Minister.
This is a complicated and difficult area - and the issues need to be examined carefully.
That’s why I’m delighted that Ken and his Task Force, which will include a wide range of experts, including some outside the Conservative Party, such as Lord Butler, will take on the task.
The case for change is growing stronger - the House of Commons Public Administration Committee examined this area two years ago…
…and William Hague gave evidence to the Committee calling for change.
The Constitution Committee in the House of Lords is examining the prerogative in relation to war powers.
If elected, I am determined to lead this country as a democratically accountable Prime Minister, and to abandon the personal, Presidential style that has taken hold under New Labour.
Strengthening accountability for the long term and restoring trust in politics will be a central part of our programme to make the Conservative Party a voice for change, optimism and hope in our country.”