No time, no time, in part time Parliament

In support of my argument that Parliament meets too little and is forced to pass things without proper debate I have been sent the following figures for the Commons:

1947-97 136 timetable motions curtailing debate on a Bill ( under 3 a year)
1997-2007 438 timetable motions ( 44 a year)

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22 Comments

  1. Richard
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    A material component in this must surely be that, contrary to the tradition of recent centuries, we now have a speaker who (does not stand up for the rights of Parliament sufficiently -ed) The speaker of the House of Commons should be an independent figure. When Labour MPs rejected constitutional tradition and elected another Labour MP in succession to Mrs Boothroyd, they gave an early signal of the contempt with which they and this government would treat our laws and constitution.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Such figures neatly highlight, what one might, to put it mildly call, disinterest in debate or contrary opinion of any kind. Ever the collective, ever Labour

  3. Deborah
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Debate is not necessary nowadays – the government knows best.
    That’s why the Country is doing so well …………….

    • APL
      Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Deborah: “Debate is not necessary nowadays ..”

      Debate is not required because the government has agreed to implement the instructions of the European Union, Westminster is an illusion. Just as the Welsh assembly or the Scotch Parliament are only there to give the illusion of democracy all the while the real decisions are made in Brussels.

      And all the while our MPs demand more money for doing …. nothing.

      I watched the C4 Dispatches program last night. It confirmed all my worst expectations. However I did leave the programme thinking, at least there are still one or two people in Parliament who may warrant the title ‘Honourable’.

  4. Shaun Pilkington
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow.

    Now MPs do less work for money with better perks…. Nice. Very egalitarian of Labour, that. They should be very proud.

    Actually wasn’t that pioneered on GPs in their infamous pay settlement?

  5. Susan
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    This government is nothing but a bunch of thugs and bully-boys.

  6. Andy
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I knew it was bad, John, but never realised it was THAT bad.

    Any chance of getting a committment from David Cameron and Alan Duncan (as Shadow Leader of the House) to reform Parliamentary business, especially in this area?

    • APL
      Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      Andy: “Any chance of getting a committment from David Cameron ..”

      Do you want a promise from the man who only made two promises and has failed to keep either?

      Exactly how much do you think a Cameron promise is worth?

  7. Acorn
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see that I am not the only one checking the numbers.

    What comes next after time-table motions; could it be no motions at all? Come to think of it, do we actually need the Commons at all? Elections are a bit of a pain as well, why don’t we do away with those. What’s wrong with a totalitarian government anyway. Impossible; I’m not so sure anymore.

    BTW. If you are a budget watcher on Wednesday and are bothered by this government’s debt, have a read of the following and see how wrong Darling got it in the PBR.

    http://www.dmo.gov.uk/documentview.aspx?docname=remit/provdrmr0910.pdf&page=Remit/full_details

  8. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    How about a proper debate ! Get the Treasury Select Committee to call in the people running the think-tank Reform & then cross question them about the feasibility of their claims to be able reform the public sector to save £30 billion right away & thus bring down the budget deficit right away ? The Institute for Fiscal Studies could give their figures the once over before hand thus improving their credibility.

    A proper budget containing a £30 billion cut in public spending in 2009-10 & a £25 billion tax hike in 2010-11 in the form of VAT rising from 17.5% to 22.5% as of April 2010 could get the national finances back in order.

    This would stop inflation getting out of hand as money supply growth & the national debt is surging meaning that price rises could become a problem. By taking money out of the economy to that extent future inflation increases could be avoided. If on the other hand deflation is a real problem then the Bank of England could print the money and give taxpayers rebate cheques costing the same in total as fiscal tightening was taking out of the economy for national debt reduction. That would mean that the budget deficit could be reduced and either limit future inflation or not make deflation worse depending on what the inflation position was deemed to be.

    In short Parliament ought to be debating how to reduce the national debt & maintain price stability. We want neither runaway inflation nor depression style deflation. During an economic crisis our MP’s should be more active in terms of devising proper solutions – we need more thinkers like John Redwood , Vince Cable & Frank Field and no more thuggish McBride types. I do not always agree with Dr Cable & Mr Field but at least they try and have ideas of a constructive nature. Also a future Conservative government could benefit with Mr Redwood in the Cabinet as he has the policy ideas to undo the chaos unleashed by Labour mismanagement.

  9. Jon Rosenberg
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I certainly agree that the current executive has undermined parliamentary authority to an astonishing extent, but will the next (hopefully conservative) administration have the political will to undertake the mammoth task of bringing both houses back to what they should be? As it seems, from the outside, that motions curtailing debates are only one of a range of ills.

    The committee system, (the best of parliamentary reforms of my lifetime) which used to do an excellent job in investigating the details of the executive’s actions, appears now to be too much the hostage of it’s own various chairmen/women. It appears that the powers invested in the chair are too great and they are able not only to chose the evidence which is brought before the committee but to write the final reports as well. Given that the government will, in most circumstances, be formed from the party with a parliamentary majority the chairmen and women will mostly come from that party. And we have seen where that has led in a sad number of cases (this is not to suggest that all the committees are chaired in such a fashion, I remember Gwyneth Dunwoody doing an excellent job during her stint chairing the transport committee).

    There have been calls for many years now for government measures to announced in parliament before the press, but how can the two houses enforce their will? Today we have heard from the treasury various elements which will be announced in the budget, while we have been asking Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling what happened to prudence, we clearly need to ask what happened to purdah as well.

    And speaking of the other place, the partial reform of the upper house has left that chamber in a most uncomfortable position of being neither democratic, nor seen as an independent group drawn from the best of our nation’s achievers.

    These are only a handful of examples of the problems now besetting the relationship between Parliament and the executive, as I said above the task of magnifying parliament so that it once more takes it’s place as the centre of British democracy is going to be a gargantuan one. I fear that given the shear number of other vital tasks which will be before the next administration this one will be not a primary importance. Yet for the good of democracy in Britain it surely must be done.

    Reply: I have asked the Shadow Leader of the House to tell us which powers and rights he will want to restore to Parliament if there is a Conservative majority. I have set out my list in an earlier blog.

    • Jon Rosenberg
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Dear Mr Redwood,
      Thank you for the reply I will look with interest at your proposals.

  10. Lola
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    It seems that although New Labour may have vaguely heard of the concept of democracy, they want no truck with it.

    I really did not think that I could get any angrier with this goverment, but every day brings a new horror. Another small erosion of accountability. Another nail in the coffin of freedom.

    I tell you something Mr Redwood, you really had better do something about this when – if – your lot gets in. Go on, make me a promise. And promise me that you will push your colleagues to honour it.

  11. mikestallard
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Nearly all of our “laws” are now nodded through the European and English parliament from the EU Commission.
    These figures – along with the lack of any decent bills to discuss and the amount of time spent on holiday – are indicative of the fact that parliament is past its prime. It is now an historic relic.
    Personally, I want to see it reformed radically so that it turns into a place where bills can be discussed before they are enacted.
    I reckon that determination from the top to listen to the Labour point of view as well as the Lib Dem point of view when the Conservatives get elected will strengthen parliament a lot.
    I also reckon that it is high time the EU was told that its proposals will not be nodded through, but discussed by parliament before they become law.

  12. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t I just seen that you are having an extra week’s holiday this summer bringing it up to a 3 month break? That is setting a good example in these days of recession. I don’t think this government believes in parliamentary democracy and would genuinely not be surprised if they tried to find a way of suspending Parliament altogether.

  13. Duyfken
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    According to Daniel Hannan, 85% of our laws now come from Brussels. With just 15% to be made in Westminster, surely we now have a surfeit of MPs, with time on their hands, particularly whilst debate is curtailed as you have indicated. No wonder the holidays must be extended – to cover the embarrassment of an increasingly irrelevant Chamber.

  14. Denis Cooper
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    The fact that MPs approve these motions shows, once again, that we have been voting too many of the wrong kind of people into the Commons.

    And I don’t just mean that we’ve voted in a majority of Labour MPs, because during the period 1947 – 97 there were Labour majorities for nearly a third of the time, and clearly they didn’t allow the previous Labour governments to treat Parliament with such utter contempt.

    One factor may have been a large intake of poor quality new members in 1997, so now I wonder what will ensue if the Tories win the next general election on the same scale as Labour won the 1997 election.

  15. Major Plonquer
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand. Surely NOW would be an opportune time to call for a Vote of Condence in the House. George Osborne surely has a big enough beef with the way government is operated to forward a motion.

    How many Labour MPs would actually line up in public to go through the lobby to back Gordon Brown. If they did then they would be seen to be cowards and if they didn’t they would be heores. OK they would be unemployed and unemployable heroes.

    But even if the Vote was lost the Conservatives would be winners because Labour MPs would be seen to be a bunch of (sorry to use a Star Trek metaphore) Klingons!

    Reply: Labour would vote solidly for the government if we tabled a Motion of No Confidence. It would temporarily unite them against their common enemy. If we thought there was the slightest chance of winning such a vote to bring on an election we would table one.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      In any case, even if thirty-odd Labour MPs rebelled and voted with the Tories, or alternatively sixty-odd abstained, that wouldn’t mean that the motion would be carried.

      Remember the self-styled “Liberal Democrats”, seventy-odd of them, led by the euromaniac Clegg.

      As most of them willingly broke their manifesto promise to their constituents over the Lisbon Treaty, it’s absurd to suppose that they’d allow the Labour government to fall, probably letting in the Tories and thereby opening the door to a UK referendum, before the Irish have voted again in October.

      After which either the treaty will be dead, or Cameron’s referendum pledge will automatically expire because the treaty has come into force.

      I’m afraid that we’re stuck with this government until spring 2010, and depending on how the Irish vote we may also be stuck with the Lisbon Treaty.

      Unless Cameron pledged that if necessary he would hold a retrospective referendum, in which case our general election would immediately be decoupled from the second referendum in Ireland.

  16. Philip Walker
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    And yet, bizarrely, there are reports (alluded to above) that MPs now have too little to do! Perhaps they could spend their well-remunerated time unpicking some of the legislative mess they helped to create?

  17. Matt Wardman
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    We need to note that this is cross-party – I think there was an increase in Guillotines in the 1979-1997 period, though I agree it has gone to extremes since the hours etc were reorganise in ~1998.

    I am not holding my breath waiting for any Government to reduce their own power, but I’m hoping for it.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted April 21, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      But it shouldn’t be the government’s power, should it?

      And it wouldn’t be, if MPs were determined that they would serve as the elected representatives of their constituents in our sovereign Parliament, rather than behave as slaves to their parties – which necessarily means whenever any one party has a majority, that majority will behave as slaves to the Prime Minister, giving him the power to control the House of Commons in all matters, rather than the other way round as it should be.

      However, when an overwhelming majority of MPs obey the instructions from their parties that they should vote against an amendment to affirm and protect the legal supremacy of their own Parliament, and another considerable section abstain from voting because that’s what their party asked them to do, and less than ten per cent of the MPs are willing to defy their parties and vote for it, then obviously there’s something very wrong with the kind of people we’ve been putting in the Commons.

One Trackback

  • By Democracy, pull your socks up… « Bobballs! on April 20, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    […] that things are not quite so productive right now. Coincidentally John Redwood comes up with some interesting comparative statistics on Westminster administrations. Erm, things are not quite so democratic […]

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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