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
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.