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by Kirsteen Paterson
15 December 2023
Michael Forsyth: 'The House of Commons is broken'

Lord Forsyth | Alamy

Michael Forsyth: 'The House of Commons is broken'

Former Scotland Secretary and Margaret Thatcher ally Michael Forsyth has said Westminster's "presidential" style of government is weakening democracy.

The Conservative peer, who served in both the Thatcher and Major governments, said special advisors are dictating to Cabinet ministers and raised concerns about the churn of appointments which has seen six chancellors and six home secretaries since 2016.

He said: "We've moved from a system where the prime minister is first among equals in the Cabinet to a sort of presidential system where the prime minister is surrounded by special advisors who then boss around cabinet ministers.

"It is no way to run a country and we've seen the consequences of that. So we need, I believe, a root and branch reform of the House of Commons and the process of government."

In an interview with Lord Speaker, Labour veteran John McFall, Forsyth called for "root and branch" reform to stop the government curtailing debate and using secondary legislation to push measures through without a vote.

He said: "The House of Commons now, I think, is broken.

"The House of Commons is failing in its function. It's just abandoned its function of considering legislation properly."

The comments came during the recording of the Lord Speaker's Corner podcast.

Forsyth said the government had "ignored" reports from the Lords on key issues including health and social care, saying: "Boris [Johnson] said 'I will fix social care'. Well, he didn't, because one of the things that report pointed out is the problem is not people having to sell their houses. The problem is that we are not paying enough for the people who do this wonderful work."

Raised in an Arbroath council house, Forsyth led the campaign against devolution for Scotland in the 1990s. He told McFall: "I think the fact that the nationalists have been so obsessed with independence and that the kind of bread-and-butter issues have not really been at the forefront of the political debate is a problem. But if you're asking me 'would you reverse devolution?' No, of course not."

Forsyth was Scotland Secretary at the time of the Dunblane shooting in 1996, which took place in his Stirling constituency.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the personal impact on him of the tragedy, he told Lord McFall: "It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. It was a huge shock. I still get flashbacks of that scene in the gym."

He recalled how he worked with Labour opposite number George Robertson – now Lord Robertson of Port Ellen – to bring the parties together behind a united response to the tragedy and ensure it did not become a "political squabbling match".

And he paid tribute to the late Queen for her visits to the bereaved families, saying: "I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world who could have given as much comfort as she did."

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