Better Data – Better Parliament

By John Hanson

Data could be gathered on the operation and impact in practice of policies, laws, government organisations and processes. This could be gathered along the lines of citizen science projects. It could be by invitation to take part but it would be better if everyone affected by an issue was invited to take part. For example everyone receiving a particular benefit could be asked what the application process was like and how the benefit is working for them in practice. I envisage this as a series of specific research projects targeting newly implemented policies or approaches or areas perceived as a problem or of particular significance. This would be primarily by smart phone or internet link but there would need to be additional interventions by conventional means to include people without the technology to be involved. Potentially large data of real life impacts and consequences could be obtained and analysed to improve government.

There are some obvious reforms of how the UK Parliament works which would greatly improve the efficiency of Parliament and work-life balance of everyone working there, but more importantly would remove barriers to women especially choosing to be MPs or otherwise work in Parliament. I would suggest:

• Three separate sessions could be carried on simultaneously to allow more business to be covered. We know very well that there are debates attended by only a few MPs and most MPs vote according to the party whip most of the time. For significant issues such as debating the Queen’s Speech, votes of no confidence, Question Time, bills of great significance, a single plenary session would be held. Planning arrangements would be needed to ensure MPs were able to attend all the debates they wanted to wherever possible.

• Voting on most bills could be done at any time up to say 11 am the following morning. This removes the need for MPs to stay up late in the vicinity of Parliament waiting to be recalled in the early hours to cast a vote. It would also simplify the process of pairing absent MPs from the different parties. The main work of Parliament could run from say 10 am to 5 pm on most days. Perhaps voting should be only between 9 am and 11 am in order to prevent frantic overnight activity based on who had voted so far.

• Voting could be electronic even if it had to be done physically in the voting lobby. Voting by walking through the lobby seems like a waste of time.
These reforms would improve the efficiency of Parliament, allow more business to be transacted and crucially encourage a wider of people to be involved, especially of course women. Working late, having undefined working hours and spending time late at night waiting in bars, are incompatible with a sensible and healthy work-life balance or being wide awake when needed. I suspect it leads to unhealthy relationships between MPs and the people who work for them.

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