Parliament is stymied again

Yesterday was another black day for those of us who believe in Parliamentary democracy.

The government decided to cram the whole of the report stage and 3rd Reading for the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill into just one day of debate. The Opposition warned that this would not allow enough time for a number of very contentious issues. We asked for a second day. We opposed the timetable motion which limited debate, and duly lost. On report the whole House is invited to debate and vote on a rage of different amendments to the Bill, highlighting a number of important and contentious issues that the Committee did not resolve.

As a result by the time the guillotine fell ending debate on the bill the following groups of amendments had not been considered:

Other sentencing provisions
Pornography and sex offences
Personal data
Compensation for miscarriages of justice
Violent offender orders
Nuisance on NHS premises.

The government put all its own amendments to the vote to secure them, and the Bill received its third reading with so much unconsidered.

Worse still, we only reached the twin issues of repeal of the blasphemy laws and the incitement to hatred proposals at the end of the time available. Many of us who wished to speak, and to hear the views of others, were unable to do so. These two questions were decided without the proper debate the House wished to have on them.
These were the issues where there was both public interest and concern, with constituents emailing and writing to us about them.

The Conservative party had granted its members free votes on the blasphemy repeal and on the incitement to hatred proposals. Free votes increase the publics interest in Parliament, making it more worthwhile to lobby an individual MP, and increase MP interest in the speeches of other backbenchers in the chamber, making it more likely an MP will attend and be swayed by the views of fellow MPs during the debate. Any government which claims to want to strengthen Parliament would welcome more free votes, and would allow enough time for justice to be done to free vote matters. Yesterday the clunking fist of the government tightened around the throat of Parliamentary debate just when it was becoming interesting, and stifled the life out of it yet again.

Some Labour people implied there was no extra time available to give these matters proper consideration. That simply is not true. We could have gone on later last night, as we used to when we had a stronger Parliament. Alternatively, time could have been made available today, thursday.

Instead today we have another of Labours so called topical debates. This could have been a good innovation, and the time of the topical debate today could have been used to discuss the incitement crimes or blasphemy properly. Instead, as is the pattern, the so called topical debate is a topic chosen by the government based on the Prime Ministers spin theme for the week.

No wonder people are cynical about Parliament, and no wonder Parliament does not get as much serious reporting as it would like. Mr Brown said all the right things at the beginning of his term as PM, claiming he wanted to rebuild trust in Parliament and politicians, and wanted parliament to have a more central role. This week, yet, again, by his actions in stopping debate on what we want to talk about and inviting debate on what he wants to talk about he has shown he does not want a stronger Parliament, but a poodle Parliament.


  1. mikestallard
    January 10, 2008

    I am so sorry to hear this.
    I woke up to the glorious news that all the Secondary Schools in Peterborough (large immigrant population of all different people) are going to be thrown into one huge one and that they are closing – despite excellent results – this year.
    My hometown will be a no go area in about five years time, I suggest.

    The local parliament is now being brought into line with the European parliament, I see.

  2. Ian Evans
    January 10, 2008

    The contempt with which 'our' government treats Parliament is breathtaking. Where has our much vaunted Democracy gone?

    This sort of treatment of the democratic process explains, at least partly, why so few people bother to vote nowadays. Please, please, please, when the Conservatives win the next election, will the new government show some real Respect for democracy and for the people of this country?!

  3. Simon_C
    January 10, 2008

    I'm always interested to hear your continuing thoughts on the way Parliament is being hadled by the executive. It seems we have some kind of constitutional problem building up.

    As someone with no formal education in politics it seems to me that the core of the problem here is that we have the position of a PM who is supposed to lead the cabnet in team decision making.

    But, the position has been changed by successive leaders over the last 25 years into a more presedential one. But, one where the executive still has the power to dictate the way the Parliament discusses the executive's proposals. Perhaps there are always similar problems where the executive and legislative are ran by the same party. The problem is that in our system the two are always inextricably linked rather than loosly linked.

  4. rob
    January 10, 2008

    The once great British Parliament is already a poodle. The EU rules supreme and the national government's position is to simply rubber stamp its dikats.

  5. rob
    January 10, 2008

    Erm, that should read diktats sorry for the fat fingers on the keyboard.

  6. NotaSheep
    January 10, 2008

    Well said, the lack of respect for democracy shown by Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown is absolutely breathtaking. I am sure that the BBC will be producing an in-depth investigation very soon… maybe not.

  7. haddock
    January 10, 2008

    I watched part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on television; I think there were about six on the government benches.
    They were 'debating' my right to protect myself and my property ( which incidentally is a right I have as an Englishman and is not in the gift of parliament ). It is the sort of thing that shows us, as voters, just how little our representatives care of our concerns.
    Why bother debating ?, we have a Dictatorship in everything but name; the scraps of legislation left to our parliament is decided by a dictatorship of the whip system; the rest by the manic and corrupt voting system of our real dictators in Brussels.

  8. Steven Baker
    January 10, 2008

    I am beyond incensed on this subject. People should be able to get on with making a living without governments destroying democracy and threatening liberty, not to mention grotesquely wasting our money while doing it.

    Nearly eight hundred years ago, it was clear that protection from the state was required and Magna Carta was signed, yet today, we cannot be assured that our representatives will be allowed properly to debate criminal justice. Further, we find the Prime Minister attempting to mislead the public as the Government furthers it's plans to trample our privacy, a privacy it demonstrably cannot protect:

    My response is to get involved and to seek election as an MP. There seems little point pursuing my business aims in a country being ruined, even destroyed, through systematic, bare-faced deception, democratic abuse and disrespect of the rights of the individual.

    Conservative, of course. And John, I am sorry I did not pay attention sooner.

  9. John Wrexham
    January 13, 2008

    The best thing the Conservatives could do when they get into government is to abolish the 'guillotine' in the House of Commons (along with a stack of other reforms). As I am sure John Redwood would agree, there is far too much legislation and much of it does not achieve what it was set out to achieve (viz the never ending stream of Criminal Justice Acts). Instead the fact that a Government would actually have to persuade Parliament and its MPs to turn up and vote for or vote against amendments might help concentrate a few minds in Downing Street and Whitehall beforehand rather than after as is too often the case. (The guillotine was only brought in to deal with the Irish Nationalists in the 19th century, but somehow like all bad laws seems to have hung around for rather a long time.)

Comments are closed.