Friday, November 19, 2010

Today in Parliament the Children Will Be Set Loose



Friday is a funny day in Parliamentary terms. For many Members of Parliament it's a chance for them to get on the train/bus/balloon and head for their constituencies, for some though it's a chance to raise (and debate) in Parliament an issue of great concern.

Private Members Bills should be a way for MPs to change the law.  Sometimes this does happen, abortion, vulture funds, abolition of the death penalty and more were all were pushed from the backbenches and onto the statue book. However, many more simply fail. 

Failure isn't because the bill isn't good. Failure occurs for one of two reasons - either not enough MPs turn out in support or because members opposed to the bill 'talk it out'.  That's right,within the strict bounds of the subject of the Bill those opposed talk and talk and talk until parliamentary time elapses.  This causes fustration all round and has been a recent hobbyhorse of Kerry McCarthy (Labour MP, ) who explained

Business starts at 9.30am, and continues until 2.30pm. If you don't like a bill you could take the conventional route of rallying opposition and voting it down, but that doesn't happen. Instead we have the usual suspects, loathed and feared by the Tory whips in equal measure but also damned useful to them on occasions like this, who basically come along to talk. And talk. And talk. The opposite rules to Just a Minute apply; the more hesitation, deviation and repetition they can work into their speeches without being pulled up by the Speaker, the better.
(For full details on this see her article here)



This is an incredibly undemocratic tactic.  It wastes parliamentary time and, more importantly, it also means that other Private Members Bills to be discussed that day are not heard.

These last two weeks in particular have seen a return to the principle of talking it out. Previous readers of the blog won't be surprised to hear Christopher Chope gives his two penneth worth and most recently Jacob Rees-Mogg decided that a bill about sustainable farming was just the place to reminiss about poems from his youth that adorned his crockery.    Also it was a place for fine theological debate as he asked the following:

Jacob Rees-Mogg: My hon. Friend is enormously generous in giving way. Is it not true to say that the glories of England are created by God and the farmer, and not the bureaucrat?

Thankfully though it begins to appear that the Speaker's patience is getting short.  Last week, after one of the more stretching interventions he said the following:

The hon. Gentleman, though a new Member, will be very well familiar with Standing Order No. 42 on the subject of tedious repetition and irrelevance, and I know that he will not wish to fall foul of that. In passing, although I know he is a man with an exceptional memory, I should perhaps just remind him and the House and others interested in our proceedings that on another private Member's Bill on 22 October this year, he developed his argument for one hour and 39 minutes in respect of a two-clause Bill. This Bill has five clauses, it is true, but he behaved in a slightly unsatisfactory way on that occasion, and I feel sure that he will not want to repeat the experience.

Therefore today the Mother of All Parliament ends up as a moody teenager and thousands of people around the country will see an issue of their concern wasted.   Friday's in Parliament are a disgrace - not because of the Private Members Bills, instead because some people will be prepared to 'talk out' a bill. Having lobbied MPs who are Whips what makes it worse is the acceptance of this manor of defeating them.

I would hope that today could provide a chance to make progress on Child Safety, Credit Regulation or Parliamentary Standards. Instead we are more than likely to give another MP the chance to ... well ... recite some poetry. It is painful to watch, yet somehow there is something quiet enchanting about watching an elected representative abuse the system to ensure another elected representative can't bring about their change.

(For those interested, beneath is the poem - reproduced from Hansard - in its original format which has (amusingly) been laid out like a poem!)

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