The Futility Monster

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

Posts Tagged ‘topical debates’

Bercow Pushes For Reform

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 10, 2010 @ 10:02

And sometimes it's even quieter than this...

It seems like Speaker John Bercow has caught the reformist zeal and is getting into the spirit of things

Bercow said it was his ambition to persuade as many as 100 MPs to be in the chamber on most occasions by reordering debate, increasing topicality and trying to throw out time-consuming subjects.

Now, I know Mr Bercow is his own man, and he did promise to push a reform agenda, but I refuse to believe that he could be allowed to go so public with a contribution such as this if he didn’t have some sort of tacit agreement with the government. Speakers never get into a public spat about their opinions of how the House is managed, and so it would be amazing if he went to pick a fight on this issue.

The plans themselves are moderately interesting. While it’s impossible to make MPs attend they chamber, he is right to suggest they are more likely to attend if the issue is topical, for the simple reason that every MP knows if they can get their contribution into Hansard, they can immediately press release it to their local rag showing them “fighting hard for you”.

He is also right that there are “too many general debates which are indeed extremely general and rather lengthy”. House of Commons time is frequently wasted with an entire day’s “debate” on either hugely broad issues like defence, Europe, Wales, or extremely specialised ones like International Women’s Day. The subject matter is too broad to have a real debate, since every contributor comes armed with a speech they’d like to give on the subject, regardless of what everyone else says.

Opposition Days, where the Opposition picks the subject, are sometimes more topical, but it is at the mercy of the Opposition to pick a sensible issue. An Opposition Day motion was what defeated the Labour government on the Gurkhas issue; and government defeats on these are real keepers, since until that one the last one was in 1978. Opposition Days create more of a partisan rancour than usual, and as such rebellions are rare.

The alternative, proposed by the Speaker, is to have the public suggesting subjects for debate based on public petitions. It would be trivial to add such a function to the Parliament website. Whether this would make them more topical is open to question, but I’d be inclined to think even if it didn’t, it would generate topics that are less about embarassing the government, and more designed to elicit a genuine response.

What makes me think that? Well, questions from the public on Question Time, etc. are never as openly hostile and filled with elephant traps like the ones posed by journalists. In a sense, this makes them easier, but if the question is from a less partisan atmosphere, MPs may be more willing to be more honest with their opinions.


Either way, it’s good that change is being discussed openly. Over to the Secretary of State for Political Reform…


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