I’ve blogged before about the ridiculousness of parliamentary procedure for Friday sittings when we discuss Private Members’ Bills. Today we’re here for John McDonnell’s Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill, which wants to stop industrial action being deemed unlawful in the courts, because of minor technical problems in conducting the ballot, e.g. if a small percentage of ballot papers, not enough to affect the outcome, don’t go out.
Five hours are timetabled for Friday debates, from 9.30am to 2,30pm. There are six Bills listed today; normally there are lots more. We won’t get through them all. The first hurdle to be overcome by someone trying to get a PMB through is to ensure the House is quorate – i.e. 40 MPs present which equals 35 members present, plus 4 tellers and the Speaker/ Deputy Speaker in the Chair. This is done by moving that ‘the House do sit in private’, which leads to a vote. Today, however, the Noes shouted No a lot louder than the Ayes shouted Aye, so the Speaker didn’t put it to a vote. (The Noes don’t want the House to sit in private, they’re the ones supporting the Bill…) Putting the question at the very start of the proceedings means it can’t be put again during the debate, which means we don’t have to worry about people drifting away and the House becoming inquorate.
That hurdle over, John McD spoke fairly briefly in support of his Bill, for twenty minutes or so. There are quite a few Labour members in the Chamber and more of us kicking around the parliamentary estate, waiting to vote when we’re needed. And then there are the Tories – usual Friday suspects Philip Davies and Peter Bone (and Christopher Chope may well be lurking somewhere), and new boy David Nuttall who is currently wneding his tortuous way through a painfully slow, content-free filibuster. The Mogg is also in the Chamber, which may at least liven things up later.
Some people might wonder why Labour MPs aren’t speaking in favour of the Bill, or intervening on the Government speakers – if only to tell them to sit down and shut up – but that’s because it would simply take up more parliamentary time, and give the person doing the filibustering an excuse to speak for even longer. The Speaker* is clearly getting quite impatient with David Nuttall, and has reminded him a couple of times to address the content of the Bill (which is all of two clauses long), but there’s not much he can do to stop him talking. There’s no time limit.
Afterseveral hours of this John McD will call a closure motion, and we will vote on whether the Bill should be put to the vote – i.e. we will vote on whether we should have a vote. But this needs 100 MPs voting in favour, so John’s office will at the moment be busy trying to work out how many Opposition MPs are here.
The Speaker won’t allow a closure motion for a few hours yet; we can expect it at about 1pm-1.30pm. And then if the closure motion is passed, we will vote on the actual Bill itself – not to make it law, but to send it to the next stage, Bill Committee. (This is one of the things that makes Fridays so ridiculous; if the Government don’t like this Bill they could simply vote it down in Committee and at Third Reading/ Report Stage. But instead the tactic is to talk it out and stop it getting there).
So that’s why I’m in my office getting some work done and not down in the Chamber. There’s no point me trying to speak in the Debate, and no-one else speaking in the Debate from the Tory benches will be saying anything useful or constructive or interesting. (With the honourable exception – or should that be Right Honourable exception? – of the Mogg, of course).
*I say Speaker, it’s now the Deputy Speaker, Dawn Primarolo, in the Chair. I can imagine what’s going through her head as she has to listen to this charade!
What’s really annoying – for me, anyway – is that in a couple of week’s time we’ll have Rob Flello’s Sustainable Livestock Bill being debated first, on Friday 12th November. I really want to speak on this, but it would probably be self-indulgent to do so. The debate will end up being Rob making the case for the Bill, and then the rest of us sitting in surly silence listening to the Tories trying to talk it out. And whereas today is just the usual Tory anti-union guff, I suspect the contributions on the 12th are going to be guaranteed to wind me up! (Philip Davies on vegetarianism – I can imagine it now).
We really need to sort out this process. Why can’t we have maximum 90 minute or two hour slots for each Bill, with each speaker limited to ten minutes? There’s also been the suggestion that Fridays should be moved to Mondays, i.e. that they should take place before ‘proper’ business starts at 2.30pm, which would mean more MPs might make the effort to be there; as it is, Fridays are usually more productively spent in our constituencies. I’m here today because I want to demonstrate support for the principle behind the Bill, but it will probably turn out to be a futile exercise.
At the time of posting Nuttall has been speaking for 55 minutes. A few minutes ago he started talking about Clause 1 of the Bill.