A rough guide to today in Parliament

20th January, 2012 9:40 am

I wasn’t intending to be in London this Friday for Private Members’ Bills, but I’ve rearranged my diary so I can – and apologies to Chuka Umunna and Shabana Mahmood who are in Bristol for the day, but I’m sure they’ll be just fine…

Today there are 64 Private Members’ Bills listed. Bear that in mind. 64 Bills. We sit from 9.30am to 2.30pm. Five hours. We will not get to debate 64 Bills. Usually we’d get to about number 3 on the list, but this depends on whether various people – the whips, the Tory filibusterers – want us to get there. There are no time limits allocated for each Bill. Bill number 1 could take up the whole five hours if enough people wanted to speak (or if one person wanted to speak for five hours, which is not unheard of). This can be stopped if more than 100 MPs are present and vote for a closure motion – something about ‘the House has considered this matter (and thinks it’s about time you sat down and shut up)’. The Deputy Speaker will not even put the closure motion to the vote until after a fairly lengthy debate, say, a couple of hours. He/ she will chide those who stray too far from the subject matter of the Bill but in general the rules of filibustering are the complete opposite of Radio 4′s ‘Just a Minute’. The more hesitation, deviation and repetition the better. You can read more on the fine art of filibustering here

So – before you get bored and stop reading…. We will not get to Zac Goldsmith’s Recall of Elected Representatives Bill, which a dozen or so constituents have emailed me about today, urging me to support. It’s number 11 on the list. No chance. It might proceed to committee stage just on the nod if no-one shouts ‘object’ when its name is read out at 2.30pm, but someone will. Ditto my excellent Kinship Carers (Parental Responsibility Agreements) Bill, which is number 26 on the list. And the same applies to Nadine Dorries’ Sex Education (Required Content) Bill, which is number 8 on the list. There’s a protest planned outside parliament about this, which calls for girls – just girls – to be taught about abstinence in school. And it almost certainly applies to number 6 on the list, the Face Coverings (Regulations) Bill by Philip Hollobone, who wants to ban burkhas.

This Friday’s running order starts with the report stage of three Bills. Normally it’s general Second Reading debates on a Friday, but these are Bills which made it through that first hurdle and went through committee, and are now back for approval. In theory this means it shouldn’t take so long. In practice…

The first one is the Daylight Saving Bill, the ‘member in charge’ is Tory MP Rebecca Harris. Here’s a very good blogpost on it from Conservative Home, which outlines the debate on Second Reading. The Bill “would require the Government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year.” If this analysis found that a clock change would benefit the UK, the Bill requires that the Government initiate a trial clock change to determine the full implications. Some MPs don’t like the idea of this, including my neighbour Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has tabled a splendid amendment suggesting that Somerset should be allowed to revert to the ancient practice of living in a different time zone to everyone else. Cue lots of ‘doesn’t he already’ jokes.

The second is the Live Music Bill, about which I’ve blogged recently. It has cross-party support, including both front benches. Even the usual suspects on the Tory backbenches are probably OK with it, because it reduces regulation and they don’t like regulation. Christopher Chope however hates all Private Members’ Bills on a point of principle, unless they’re his own…

Which brings us to the third Bill, introduced by one Christopher Chope, which is is the Local Government (Amendment) Bill (changed to Local Government (Review of Decisions Bill)). I suspect those brackets are in the wrong place but I’m copying from the Order Paper. It basically says that if a local authority bans an event on health and safety grounds then… well, you can read it here.

So… it’s the personalities as much as the politics that matter today. Chope is normally one of the main culprits in talking PM Bills out, but he will definitely want to get to Bill number 3, so he may not indulge in his usual antics. The rest of the political correctness gone mad’ brigade – David Nuttall, Philip Davies – will also want to get to Bill number 3, because it’s a Bill that wages war against the dreaded ‘Elf and Safety rules that stop people chasing cheese down hills and such other ancient British customs.

The Live Music Bill is, therefore, the filling in the sandwich. It all hinges on whether people want to talk out the first Bill more than they want to get the third Bill through, and whether they think there’s a chance of getting the third Bill through if they do get to it.

There’s a calculation to be made… I suspect that the Government whips won’t want the third Bill to go through, so even if we get to it, the Government Minister or perhaps a trusty Tory backbencher who wants to climb the greasy pole, will suddenly develop the urge to talk at great length. Or someone from the Opposition benches actually, as it’s a bit of a bonkers Bill, and some might take the view Chope deserves a taste of his own medicine.

Fridays are always unpredictable so I can’t guarantee that there won’t be a maverick backbencher there who will try to talk the Live Music Bill out, but I don’t think so. The Government is in favour, the whips will be trying to make sure it gets through – though maybe just late enough in the day to stop the third Bill getting much of a hearing. The best scenario would be for more than 100 MPs to turn up on Friday to vote for closure, so that we can be sure of debating it, but most MPs take constituency Fridays very seriously and it’s understable why many of them will think their time is better spent back in their constituencies.

And final, final point – yes, this is all ridiculous, and the Commons is debating whether we should reform things, but the wheels of change move slowly. Especially in Somerset.

Update: I thought it was extremely unlikely we’d get the 100+ MPs here today that was needed to force closure motions, but it looks like the troops have been rallied… Under an arcane procedure that’s not really worth explaining (not least because no-one really understands it) a motion was moved before the debate started that ‘this house do sit in private’. It’s done to see whether the house is quorate (which means 35 MPs present) and the point of taking it before business starts is so that it can’t be done later. If it was done later, during the debate, and the House wasn’t quorate, then we’d have to down tools and go home. If it’s done before business starts, it doesn’t matter.

But there were 104 MPs voting on that, and I’m sure that others will be trickling in later. So there are more than 100 MPs in Parliament today. They may not all vote for closure, but it does make it more likely that we’ll get onto the Live Music Bill, which is good news.

The other news is that Nadine Dorries seems to have pulled her Bill from today’s Order Paper. I might pop outside at 10.30 to see if the planned protests against the Dorries Bill are still going ahead, but there’s not really anything to protest about. The Bill’s going nowhere.

At present Christopher Chope is moving the first amendment. The Mogg has intervened to tell him that China “as Noel Coward says, is very big” and Tom Harris seems to be the only Scottish MP that supports changing the clocks.

Kerry McCarthy is the MP for Bristol East

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