Friday, 19 January 2007

What a crazy way to make laws!

It's an unusual Friday. Normally, like most MPs, I'm in the constituency, holding surgeries, catching up on correspondence and attending to the local end of what I do. But today, I've returned to Westminster (set the alarm for 0530 to make sure First Great Western couldn't stop me) to support the 'Sustainable Communities Bill' - a worthwhile piece of legislation that will gove more power to local communities over the decisions that affect them.

What is different about this Bill is that it is a 'Private Member's Bill' - not promoted by a Government minister but by an individual MP (in this case, Conservative MP Nick Hurd) who came out of the ballot before Christmas. The bizarre way these bills are handled means that opponents of private member's bills have the upper hand. One thing they can do is simply talk and talk. Unless there are enough MPs present, they can block the Bill.

That is what happened today. In over 4 hours of debate, just 10 MPs spoke, and one of those took over an hour. Having started at 0930, at 1345 a vote was called on a 'closure motion' - basically a vote to stop the stalling. That was comfortably won, and so the Bill now proceeds to its next stage. There was not actually a vote on the substance of the Bill itself.

In short, over 200 MPs were at Westminster not because they would have any chance to speak in the debate, or even to vote for or against the Bill, but simply to provide the body count that is needed to stop people waffling. Who says Parliamentary reform is not needed??


Paul Hulbert said...

Definitely a crazy way to do business - we really need some "business" reforms in Parliament.

But this item demonstrates that technology marches on - I read this here on Steve's blog before it appeared on Radio 4. Well done Steve.


heather witham said...

Thank you so much, Steve, for being there for this. We really appreciate it. (And, yes, it's crazy!)

And this is also the first I've read about it and it's over a week later!