The week ahead in Parliament

The previous post made for such a beautiful homepage I’m tempted never to blog again… But it’s my end of year resolution (start early, that’s my motto) to blog every day in December. I also joined the gym and went four times last week. Feeling very virtuous.

So… the week ahead in Parliament.

On Monday, we have our usual weekly Treasury team meeting, and then it’s Home Office questions. I tabled a question about the use of ‘kettling’ by police in Whitehall, but it didn’t make it onto the order paper. Might still try to get called. Then we have an Opposition Day debate, topic chosen by Labour, which is about cuts to local government funding and will run till 10pm.

On Tuesday, it’s Health questions, and then the Second Reading of the European Union Bill. The Government has once again decided that this should be heard by a Committee of the Whole House, rather than being sent off to a standing Bill committee, so there will be at least three more days of debate in the main Chamber. This tactic was very rarely used by Labour when we were in Government. It’s standard practice for the key clauses of the Finance Bill (e.g. raising or cutting income tax or VAT) to be debated by a committee of the whole House, with the techy bits going off to Bill committee, and I think we did it for one or two big constitutional measures, but that’s it.

The coalition Government, however, has used it for a whole array of Bills since May, including the Constituency Boundaries/ AV Referendum Bill, the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill and the Academies Bill too, I think, before the summer recess. I’m not quite sure what the rationale is. It could be argued it’s far more democratic, in that it gives all backbenchers a chance to take part in committee stage, rather than just the handful chosen by the Whips to serve on the Bill Committee. It could just be that it’s quicker… which was important for the Academies Bill, which had to get through before the start of the September school year.

Or it could be, in the case of the European Union Bill, a way of dealing with Tory eurosceptic anger… Let’s say the Tory whips had sent the Bill off to committee. They then would have had a choice. Pack with committee with loyalists who will vote the Government line, or put a few Eurosceptics on there too, to placate backbench opinion; in which case there’s a chance the Bill could be substantially amended in Committee if the Eurosceptics and Labour manage to find something to vote together on (albeit for probably very different reasons). And then the the Government would have had to seek to reverse those amendments at Report stage (which is like a truncated committee stage, on the floor of the House), or in the Lords, and have the row all over again. Whereas if they just do the whole thing on the floor of the House, then they only get the row once and they have enough voting power to handle a Eurosceptic rebellion without being seen to gag them. Although there is a pretty sizeable Eurosceptic contingent in the Commons… we’ve already had 40 Tories rebel on a recent EU vote.

On Wednesday, it’s Prime Minister’s questions (I’m at question 4) and then some miscellaneous business. And on Thursday, it’s Defra Qs and then the big tuition fees vote. There’s been some speculation that this has been deliberately tabled for a Thursday when people start drifting away to their constituencies, especially the Nats and Irish MPs – and even more suspicious that Wednesday is a bit of a slow day, when there is unlikely to be votes, which is even more of an incentive for them to head off early. Would be far more sensible to have the key vote on a Wednesday, and the ‘tidying up’ business on Thursday. Well, ‘sensible’ unless you’re a Government whip trying to make sure they win the vote! There will also, I gather, be another demo against the fee rises in London on Wednesday and a lobby of Parliament on the Thursday.




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  • Civil  On December 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Labour used Committee of the Whole House for all major constitutional Bills, and for the the Lisbon Treaty debates. The Government aren’t doing anything odd at all, other than in the case of the Academies which was presumably because they wanted to get it out of the Commons faster than it would take ‘upstairs’

    Academies was an odd use, the rest are normal. There are plenty of things that the current government are doing wrong, especially in Parliament, but normally good quality Labour members are showing themselves up and making themselves look foolish by either not understanding Parliament or forgetting that they were in Government a year ago and doing much the same.

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