A few of them are specific to Britain, but most would have application to Australia and are things our democratic system would benefit from. The proposals to reduce the powers held by Ministers and handed over to Parliament are among the most potentially important.
They include requiring parliamentary approval to go to war, something the Democrats in Australia have been pushing for over 25 years. This has added poignancy now we have a government which has shown it is willing to send our troops to initiate a war, without the support of both houses of Parliament.
Giving Parliament greater powers over ratifying treaties and making key public appointments (including judges) would also be beneficial.
Lowering the voting age to sixteen is something I’ve blogged on a couple of times in the past. It would have a different impact in a country like Britain which has voluntary voting (and a terribly low participation rate these days), than it would in Australia with compulsory voting.
The big hole in the package of measures is the lack of action to reform Britain’s terribly undemocratic voting system. Their regional Parliaments in Scotland and Wales are elected through proportional representation, but this still seems to big a hurdle for the House of Commons. Moving to a fully elected House of Lords/Upper House has also been left for a future date, although I think further reform in this area is fairly likely down the track.
A strong code of conduct for Ministers and MPs is also something that Democrats have been pushing for for a long time. It is fair to say that a key reason why public trust in politics has declined has been because of broken promises and dishonesty, something which may be made harder with some of these changes, but really requires a genuine commitment to honesty from governments.
Here is a list of the key measures put forward by Gordon Brown:
* Voting in general and local elections at weekends instead of Thursdays; voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16.
* A Bill of Rights and Duties to operate alongside the Human Rights Act; possible written constitution in the long term.
* Laws banning demonstrations near Parliament to be reviewed by Government, Metropolitan Police, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and MPs.
* National security strategy to be published regularly, setting out threats and objectives; the new National Security Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to send “a clear message that at all times we will be vigilant and we will never yield”.
* New Civil Service Act to protect neutrality of officials.
* Extension of local democracy including citizens’ juries on major decisions; ballots on spending decisions; new community right to call for action.
* Advance notice of official statistics given to government departments cut from five days to one.
* Union Flag reclaimed from extremists by allowing it to be flown on government buildings on more than the current 18 days a year.
* Tighter code of conduct for ministers, policed by a more powerful independent adviser reporting annually to Parliament.
* Powers held by ministers to be surrendered to MPs or limited in 12 areas including those to: declare war; request the dissolution of Parliament; recall Parliament during its recess; ratify international treaties; make key public appointments; restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services; choose bishops; appoint judges; direct prosecutors in criminal cases; control the Civil Service; fix the rules on entitlement to passports, and on granting pardons.