Kinnock makes case for reforms

Published August 25th 2005 in The Herald
LORD Kinnock yesterday set out the case for a tranche of constitutional reforms, including proportional votes to elect MPs to Westminster, a bill of rights, English devolution and compulsory voting.
Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader who later became deputy president of the European Commission, said more should be done to protect liberties against governments with overbearing majorities.
He believes a bill of rights is necessary to take such safeguards beyond current legislation.
He added that the effect of voting reform had become more important with falling turnout at elections, and governments being elected on reduced shares of the vote. Lord Kinnock was speaking at Holyrood in the opening event of the three-day Festival of Politics.
He was interviewed by George Reid, the presiding officer, who recalled their exchanges about devolution in the Commons when they were both MPs in the 1970s.
Questioned on devolution, Lord Kinnock said decentralisation was to be encouraged, but not fragmentation, as that could lead to enmity.
He said: "The choice is whether tensions are healthy evidence of divergence or the onset of matrimonial breakdown."
He warned that the possibility of a populist Conservative government was dependent on English votes, and such an administration could use its Treasury power to benefit its own voters at the expense of Scotland and Wales.
His backing for a bill of rights returns to a policy on which he fought the general election in 1992, saying safeguards of rights need clear expression.
In addition to having the European Convention on Human Rights written into English and Scots law, he said: "It would be useful for citizens in a complex society to have a reasonable, readily recognised, operable definition of their rights.
"That would be further complemented by the introduction of proportional representation, not as a safeguard against large majority governments, but the exercise of particular powers by some large majority governments, particularly when the basis of the power of a government in the Commons is substantially less than a majority of the electorate."
In his role as chair of the British Council, he said it could play a role in helping to restore the communications between different parts of the UK, as well as promoting British culture overseas and bringing foreign culture to Britain.
Asked about the future of the Labour Party, he encouraged his successors to relax the policy forums he introduced to replace the troubled conference policy-making machinery.
He added that party members were more self-disciplined than they had been in the 1980s.