The ruling Liberal Democratic Party plans to propose to other parties that a Diet rule be changed to reduce the amount of time that the prime minister and Cabinet members are required to attend Diet committee sessions. The LDP says that making them less bound to deliberation schedules will allow them more time to concentrate on their duties outside the Diet. But this proposal has the danger of diluting the quality of discussion in Diet deliberations. The LDP and other parties must consider ways to use their time efficiently while ensuring that high-quality question and answer sessions continue.
The LDP reportedly hopes to end the custom of the prime minister appearing in both chambers of the Diet to deliver a policy speech. Instead it would have the prime minister deliver a policy speech just once, and have senior vice ministers reply to questions from Diet members if the prime minister or Cabinet members cannot attend Diet deliberations.
The LDP’s idea is apparently based on a September 2012 proposal by Japan Akademeia, a policy proposal body composed of four business executives, a labor leader and an academician.
According to this body, the Japanese prime minister attended Diet deliberations on 127 days in 2011, many more than the 12 days by the French prime minister (from July 2007 to July 2008) and the 36 days by the British prime minister (from December 2008 to November 2009).
The body proposed limiting the total number of hours that the prime minister must participate in Diet deliberations to, say, five hours a week, capping the total number of attendance hours for Cabinet members as well, increasing cooperation among each ministry’s minister, senior vice minister and parliamentary secretary and changing the nature of Diet deliberations so that lawmakers’ discussions among themselves lead to an agreement or compromise, thus departing from the current custom of questioning the prime minister and Cabinet members.
In view of the situation in other countries, the argument that the prime minister’s appearance in Diet deliberations should be reduced appears to be reasonable at first glance. But the Diet’s function of checking the moves of the government should not be forgotten. This function is all the more important because the LDP and its partner Komeito have overwhelming strength in the Diet.
The ruling and opposition parties should devise ways in which the prime minister, Cabinet members and lawmakers use their time more efficiently so that they can have deeper discussions.
One way would be to increase the frequency of direct discussions between the prime minister and party leaders, and then prolonging the duration of each session. Minor party leaders should also be given the chance to take part.
There is a voice within the LDP to place some limit on written questions submitted by lawmakers to the government. Because written questions are an important means for minor party lawmakers to question the government, their right should not be reduced, although efforts to reduce the burden on bureaucrats who write the answers may be necessary.
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