Strengthening Parliaments

Committee The International Development Committee in the Commons is undertaking a brief inquiry into public funding of programmes to support legislatures in developing nations.  I was invited to submit evidence and my submission has now been published.  It can be read here.  The material draws on my work on legislatures, but also my discussions with parliamentarians, not least at the biennial Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians.

Legislatures are often the poor relation of aid programmes and, where there is support from donors, it suffers from lack of co-ordination – some impose conditions which clash with those of other donors – and often a tick-box approach.  There is also a tendency to view legislatures without reference to the political systems in which they exist.  Focusing on structures is not sufficient to achieve the long-term goal of reducing or eliminating corruption and establishing a vibrant political culture.   Creating a Public Accounts Committee, for example, is important – and is something than be ticked off as an achievement – but by itself will not generate a culture within and beyond the Parliament that sustains an effective legislature.

Legislatures are crucial to a democratic system, but there is the danger of neglecting them or, when recognising their significance, treating them as discrete and detached entities.  They should be at the heart of any support programme.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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3 Responses to Strengthening Parliaments

  1. Tony Sands says:

    Thank you for posting. Very interesting. Have you had any experiences over the years of working to assist in the development of legislatures in developing countries? I know a local family court judge, recently retired from full-time work, who has visited Rwanda twice to assist in the writing of a new constitution. He has found this to be a very positive experience. The public know very little of such activities which is a great pity.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Tony Sands: I have advised various legislatures, but the most obvious example of advising one in a developing nation was when I was asked to advise Iraq in the formation of a second chamber. That entailed going not to Iraq but to Bern, Switzerland, to speak to the Iraq Constitutional Review Committee, the meeting sponsored by the World Bank, the US Institute for Peace, and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

  2. Lord Norton,

    I like your piece. I hear resonances and echoes of the tradition that flows through Aristotle, Montesquieu and others. I thin that some acceptance of diversity of legislatures is essential. But that does not mean there can be no influence or pressure for reform. The sense of rooting a legislature in the context of its country is I think near the heart of my most recent blog post.

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