Gainsborough

Sir Edward Leigh: The fight for our parliamentary democracy continues

One of the reasons I backed Brexit was to bring power back to those who could be held accountable. For too long have we seen powers ebb away to Brussels. To a place where laws that affect millions of people here and across the rest of the European Union are passed with a minimal level of scrutiny or accountability.

However, it was the government’s recent actions over an opposition motion on Universal Credit that attacked the very core of why I believe in Brexit. Alas, having secured victory in one arena, it turns out that the fight for our parliamentary democracy is not over.

The debate was not about Universal Credit. It is a sensible idea, and once its kinks are worked out it will provide a great boost to this country, encouraging people off state-handouts and into employment.

By every measure, employment is the single best weapon against poverty and the Universal Credit seeks to strengthen what is already a very strong record on employment since the Conservatives returned to government in 2010.

To abstain from and refuse to respond to an opposition motion denigrates the very institution of Parliament itself.

If the government is to ignore a motion passed by Parliament just because it has been instigated by the opposition, will it ignore motions of its own inspiration? If not, why not?

I happen to be a Member of Parliament from the party of government, but what about when the tables have turned? What if Mr. Corbyn is the one wielding power in Number 10 Downing Street? Will we naively think we create exceptions that only we are allowed to make use of?

The essence of our system of government is that power is exercised by those who are scrutinised and held accountable by a parliament of democratically elected representatives.

This has been our greatest gift to the world: this is why our country is the Mother of Parliaments. Some of our parliamentary traditions (and I don’t mean the revelations of individual members’ indiscretions of recent days) may seem anachronistic, but that is entirely the point. They are there to take us out of our time and place and thereby to act for the common good by the standards of eternal truth.

Looking beyond the moment, to the future and the legacy our actions will have for the generations to come.

Worse, this threatens Brexit on a technicality. I have been arguing about the need for goodwill in our negotiations with our friends in Europe. Even more so is it necessary for the government to maintain goodwill with our own Parliament.

The House of Commons cannot be reduced to a mere debating society, passing irrelevant motions while the government is not held accountable. This is precisely what opposition days and backbench debates are for!

The government is in an awful twist, but let right be done. Let us forget this as a minor episode, a mere blip on the radar screen of our parliamentary democracy.

Let us uphold the traditions for which we are famous and which have made us the envy of many.

The alternative would be to stumble blindly down the road to tyranny, where those who wield power are left unchecked; and if that be the case then perhaps we should have let Guy Fawkes blow Parliament up and be rid of it?