Jo calls Tories’ bluff on engaging the public online

Jo has called for less talk and more action from the Conservative Party on proposals for public involvement in making laws.

Speaking at the Conservative Conference this week, Shadow Foreign Minister William Hague announced his plans for a ‘Public Reading Stage’ for proposed legislation. This would enable the public to become involved in the process of making laws by using an online system to make comments and spot potential problems.

However, this proposal is not new, and earlier initiatives attempting to introduce a similar system have received little support from Conservative MPs. In December last year, Jo tabled a Parliamentary Motion supporting the ‘Free Our Bills Campaign’ which seeks to reform the way Bills are published electronically to make it easier for the public to scrutinise them. The campaign calls for the public to be able to reject or rewrite clauses of a Bill, just as in the US ‘Mixedink’ website on which William Hague’s proposal is based. The motion has been signed by 83 MPs, only 10 of whom are Conservative.

Commenting, Jo said:

“Whilst it is positive that the Tories are now considering Parliament’s need to engage with the public online, there is little evidence yet that this is more than empty rhetoric.

“The ‘Free Our Bills’ campaign, which is run by the excellent team of volunteers at My Society, has long been campaigning for measures which would do exactly what William Hague is suggesting, and yet only 10 Conservative MPs have signed my motion supporting it. If Conservative MPs really mean what they say about moving politics into the 21st Century then I would urge them to sign the motion in support of the Free Our Bills campaign.”

In his speech at the Conservative Party conference, William Hague said:

“A public reading stage for new legislation will throw open the doors of Parliament and enable the public to play a role in the legislative process.”

A recent report from the Hansard Society entitled ‘MPs Online: Connecting With Constituents’ found that of the three main political parties, Conservative MPs are the least likely to have a positive attitude toward digital media, and 60% of Conservative MPs surveyed believed they were already making enough use of digital media.

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