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Page last updated at 21:36 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 22:36 UK

Cameron pledges shake-up of power

David Cameron
Mr Cameron says a Tory government would hand power back to the people

David Cameron has promised his party would deliver a dramatic redistribution of power in response to voter disgust over MPs' expenses.

The Conservative leader, writing in the Guardian, says he would reduce prime ministerial power and boost the role of Parliament to win back public support.

His proposals include fixed-term Parliaments, limiting use of the royal prerogative and free votes for MPs.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has also called for "radical" electoral reform.

In his article, Mr Cameron writes: "I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power.

If we want Parliament to be a real engine of accountability, we need to show it's not just the creature of the executive
David Cameron
Conservative leader

"From the state to citizens; from the government to Parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy.

"Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street."

The Conservative leader, who will speak further about political reform in Milton Keynes on Tuesday, says his party will "look seriously" at the idea of fixed-term Parliaments and at the "immense power" prime ministers wield through the ability to decide when to call an election.

"If we want Parliament to be a real engine of accountability, we need to show it's not just the creature of the executive," he argues.

'Less whipping'

It will also investigate possible curbs on the whipping of votes - when MPs come under pressure to toe the party line - in considering bills line-by-line at the committee stage.

"There should be much less whipping during the committee stages of a bill," he writes. "That's when you really need proper, impartial, effective scrutiny - not partisan point-scoring and posturing."

Among his proposals are:

  • Limiting the power of the prime minister by considering fixed-term Parliaments, ending the right of Downing Street to control the timing of general elections
  • Boosting the role of Parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage. MPs would also be handed the power of deciding the timetabling of bills
  • Increasing the power of backbench MPs by allowing them to choose the chairmen and members of Commons select committees
  • Curbing the power of the executive by limiting the use of the royal prerogative which allows the prime minister, in the name of the monarch, to make major decisions
  • Strengthening local government by allowing councils to reverse Whitehall decisions to close popular services, such as a local post office. They would be given the power to raise money to keep them open.
  • Publishing the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000.

On Monday, Alan Johnson urged Gordon Brown to hold a national referendum on electoral reform and offer the public a "genuinely radical alternative" to the present system.

I am all for electoral reform and applaud Cameron and Johnson. But why didn't they come up with this before the expenses scandal?
JB, Leamington Spa

In an article for the Times, he urged the prime minister to involve the public in "a root and branch examination" of the political system in order to regain trust following the expenses scandal.

"We need to overhaul the engine, not just clean the upholstery," he wrote.

But Mr Cameron rejects any change from the current first-past-the-post system.

"Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites," he says.

"Instead of voters choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos put before them in an election, party managers would choose a government on the basis of secret backroom deals. How is that going to deliver the transparency and trust we need?"

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