The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘Parliamentary procedure’

September Sittings

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 2, 2010 @ 10:18

Dry, dusty, deathly dull. Academia: The new fragrance from Calvin Klein.

Being such a bore, I have just finished skimming through a few copies of Hansard relating to all the parliamentary fun of the past week or so. The most interesting part comes here, spoken by the Leader of the House, Sir George Young…

Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the end of business on Thursday 29 July and, subject to the will of the House, return on Monday 6 September for two weeks.

That means Parliament’s failed attempt to introduce September sittings many years ago is going to be reattempted this year.

There are many arguments for and against September sittings. The most obvious one against it is that there seems little point coming together for two weeks, only to then bugger off again for the party conference season, before returning once more in October. In normal years, MPs would be returning for the fag-end of a session before the Queen’s Speech. This year, because it’s a long-session, there won’t be.

All a bit silly, but so much of politics is in this country, because we’ve never designed our system from the ground up. Everything is tacked on, modified, adapted, and scrapped in a piecemeal fashion.

In principle I’m not all that in favour of our parliament sitting more, not if it’s merely to pass more legislation. Our parliaments have done quite enough of that in the past 13 years. But if the extra sitting time is used for some more debates, some more private member’s business, genuinely topical stuff, and perhaps a debate initiated by a public petition, it might actually be worth it.


Unfortunately, the last time September sittings were tried most MPs just didn’t bother. Most resented losing their usual constituency time, and the whips only half-heartedly scheduled business. There was nothing interesting going on, and so no one bothered. The idea was quickly scrapped.

I have a feeling we’ll be going this way again. It looks like a new government trying to show how much they want change, and going out of their way to make a token gesture that will affect no one, and might even be made up for by adding bonus recesses elsewhere.

My only hope is this: Leader of the House Sir George Young and his deputy David Heath are both strong parliamentarians. They both want to strengthen scrutiny, both want to make the House more relevant, and make the government more accountable.

It remains to be seen whether they can convince their colleagues that it’s going to need more than just a tinkering with September sittings…


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Bercow “Gets It”, But Do Other MPs?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 25, 2009 @ 06:33

See? I told you he's been waiting. He's been standing there all summer, parading with the Mace. He told me he wants to get the Speaker's Procession "just right".

See? I told you he's been waiting. He's been standing there all summer, parading with the Mace. He told me he wants to get the Speaker's Procession "just right".

At last! Having enjoyed a nice summer, thank-yew-very-much, Speaker Bercow has decided that it probably should be the last.

I can just imagine him in Speaker’s House, sitting there all summer, “smart but unfussy” black gown hanging neatly in the wardrobe, twiddling his thumbs waiting to get back into action, laying the smackdown on errant MPs and ministers. Seeing all this political activity buzzing around him in conferences up and down the country, and yet powerless to do anything about it.

But it’s not just the summer recess that he wants to truncate. No, he’s got big plans.

The good news for those of us who like manifestos and mandates is that Bercow was elected on a pledge to try to bring these into action. In other words, he’s going to attempt to keep his promises.

“Attempt” is the strongest word we can use, though, as it’s all going to be down to whether his fellow MPs take his lead and bring about some of these changes.

They’re nothing too revolutionary… but they are a very welcome start to try to make the House of Commons more relevant in the modern age. Tacked at the end of the above linked article is probably the most important one: the chance to give backbenchers the opportunity to call a vote. This was a power they used to have, but one they desperately need if we’re to avoid a debacle like the one we saw which eventually led to the demise of Speaker Michael Martin.

Following that too would be the institution of a business committee, like the Scottish Parliament, that would mean the government no longer controls the agenda of the Commons. That is important to strengthen checks and balances.

But the other reforms are just as sensible, and will do an excellent job of at least bringing the Commons into the 20th century, e.g. bringing peers before the Commons is just “common sense” – forget the arcane rules that currently don’t allow MPs to hold Lords Mandelson and Adonis to account. He also listed other reforms, but the level of detail is dull. Suffice it to say that each one on their own is useless, but as a package they will improve the ability of MPs to do the job they should be doing: i.e. holding the government to account.

It is good to see the Speaker using his mandate in this way. He promised he would get out in public and make speeches, even appear on television. That is absolutely right in this modern age. The people aren’t going to come back to the politicians willingly. Alas, they are going to have to go out and re-earn the respect they once had.

The big question is as I said earlier: will the government and opposition frontbenchers (because they’re going to be the next government!) be willing to subject themselves to more scrutiny? Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

And will those Tories who think Speaker Bercow was just one big Labour conspiracy support this agenda?

Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is a remarkably popular behaviour in Parliament. I wouldn’t bet against it.

(Bercow’s speech to the Hansard Society is not yet available, but most of the key points have been twittered)

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Bercow: So Far, So Good

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 29, 2009 @ 17:12

The Man in full flow.

The Man in full flow.

Having just watched the Prime Minister’s statement entitled Building Britain’s Future (which should, of course, read “Building England’s Future”), I’ve got to say it was a total bore. There was nothing genuinely new, either because a) it’s existing policy (e.g. 18 week maximum for NHS treatment); b) it had been pre-announced (job/training offers for youth unemployment); or c) it was just another chapter in a long running saga (e.g. Lords reforms, social housing).

So instead, I decided to pay close attention to the tedium of House of Commons procedure. And, I’ve got to say, I’m beginning to feel Speaker Bercow is steadily getting on with the job and delivering what’s needed.

First off – he told the backbenchers that he had 36 people waiting to speak – and so asked for brief questions and equally brief responses from the frontbench.

Overall, that is exactly what happened. The questions were much shorter than previous statements, and though Brown did his best to give a verbose answer, they were of a reasonable length. Only once or twice did Bercow stop the questioner for taking a little too long or trying to ask too many questions.

In the end, I counted they got through a total of 41 questions. Indeed, they got through so many that the Labour benchest actually ran of questions to ask, causing a brief cheer from the Opposition benches when two members from that side of the chamber were chosen in succession. In truth, it’s a disgrace that Labour MPs, who outnumber everyone by a long way, could run out of things to talk about. Clearly the whips hadn’t handed out sufficient questions; but they will soon fix that as they realise they need to prepare more for the new Speaker.

But it was even better than that. The final question was actually the very last one members wanted to ask, as there were no more MPs trying to get the Speaker’s attention. Bercow even noted at the end that he was very pleased that everyone was called; that’s either a sign of efficiency on the part of all MPs (and even Gordon Brown for replying quickly enough), or it’s yet another terrible reflection that, really, MPs just aren’t bothered even asking questions of the country’s Prime Minister.

There are still very many things that need changing. I think the Privy Councillors still get precedence. And I wish that MPs could talk to each other, rather than this nonsense of addressing them via the Chair. Minor changes like that would help make the proceedings more understandable. Maybe we’ll get there in time, along with the more radical reforms like seeing the Commons back in control of its own business.

But for now – the man’s got off to a decent start, and he even made a rather tantalising promise to look at the issue of Parliamentary questions.

Why does any of this matter to the average person? Well – maybe if we could hold the government to account a bit better, we wouldn’t be the kind of economic and political mess we’re in in the first place.

UPDATE 30/06/09: Bercow did just as well during today’s statement from Ed Balls – he managed to get all MPs in, and he even laid the smackdown on Ed Balls for constantly bringing all points raised back to the Tory policy on inheritance tax. It’s all good…

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