By Paul Goodman
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The combination of Eastleigh and Italy have between them unleashed a tidal wave of commentary about the drawbacks of being governed by the professional politics. Consider Charles Moore's column in today's Daily Telegraph:
"Eastleigh brings out something which more and more voters feel. A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us."
Even the briefest inspection of David Cameron and Ed Miliband supports this view. Miliband has been a full-time political apparatchick since University. Cameron briefly had a job in television, but not a career: the post was acknowledged to be a waiting room for the Commons, even by his employers.
By Matthew Barrett
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8.30pm Update: I have been through the ayes and noes, and have found the following Tory abstainers:
It's worth noting that there may have been circumstances which prevented the MPs from voting with the Government that were out of their control. In William Hague and Alan Duncan's cases, for example, they will probably be overseas on Government business. In Louise Mensch's case, the Queen was visiting her Corby constituency today as part of her Jubilee tour.
The following DUP MPs also voted with the Government:
Labour's Commons motion on whether Jeremy Hunt should be investigated for breaching the Ministerial Code in his handling of the BSkyB bid has been rejected - the Government won the vote of confidence in Hunt by 290 to 252.
By Matthew Barrett
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Sir George Young, the Leader of the House of Commons, did something rather admirable yesterday: he rejected the knee-jerk tendency, seen during the New Labour years in particular, to pass legislation at every possible opportunity.
During Business Questions, Sir George announced that the Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill would take place on the 10th January. His Shadow, Angela Eagle, referenced this in her long and unfocused response, which also criticised, among other things, the Coalition's supposed "isolation" in Europe, and youth unemployment. She said:
"Many of us are incredibly relieved that we have finally spotted a Government Bill arriving in the House, even if we have to wait until next year to see it."
By Joseph Willits
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Proposals to give Parliament the power to take action on ministers who leak announcements to the media, before informing the Commons, have failed. The motion tabled by Phillip Hollobone MP (Kettering), aimed to be as "non-partisan as possible", was defeated by 228 votes to 119. Hollobone accused all three major parties of mistreating the House of Commons:
"All Governments, whether this Government, the previous Government or the one before that, have leaked information, and that is not how our great House of Commons ought to be treated".
On Sunday, Tim outlined the Speaker's exasperation, after last week's Autumn Statement was the latest example of policy being leaked to the press beforehand. Naturally, Hollobone expressed the same sentiment as the Speaker, saying that Parliament "should be the first place to hear of major new Government policy initiatives". He continued:
"Should it be “The Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, the “Today” programme on Radio 4 in the morning or ITV’s “Daybreak”; or should it be the Chamber of the House of Commons?"
By Paul Goodman
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Here is the list of those who went into the No lobby to oppose the Dorries/Field amendment. It included such senior Conservatives as George Osborne, Ken Clarke, Cheryl Gillan, William Hague, Eric Pickles, David Willetts, Sir George Young.
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Danny
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
Sir George Young, who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, had tabled an amendment to defeat the Government's motions, as he felt they pre-empted Sir Christopher Kelly's independent review for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Then Leader of the House Harriet Harman announced that the Government would support Sir George's amendment, but have votes on other reforms.
The motion relating to MPs being paid to turn up to work was withdrawn before going to a vote. And the reform of the second homes allowance will be left to Sir Christopher (although London MPs will lose their allowance for a second home).
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan comes into his own during debates like these:
"We are living in very feverish economic and political times. At a moment like this, the House can either look absolutely absurd or lift its level of debate and discussion to something that properly understands what this place should be. The boot that is on one foot at the moment can, in due course, change, and the balance of advantage in this place changes with it. We must therefore appreciate that this Parliament needs to work through those changes and set standards to which everyone will adhere.
It was questions to Communities and Local Government ministers yesterday.
Shadow London Minister Bob Neill asked a good question about centralised housebuilding targets:
"It is five years this month since the Government’s own Barker review identified the problems that arise from reliance on the section 106 system and its attendant complexities as a means of driving development. Since then, the Government have added to those complications with measures such as the community infrastructure levy. Against that background and the decline in receipts, to which reference has been made, is it not better to move away from that complicated regime and a system of top-down development targets to one of incentivising local communities and local authorities to accept development by allowing them to keep some of the proceeds that arise to their own tax base from encouraging development?
Margaret Beckett: I think that the hon. Gentleman left out an important development: in the meantime the Government have made available some £8 billion of resources for investment in housing. That is twice as much as the amount that was available in the previous period, which was itself substantial. I think that he was probably referring to the proposals, in so far as one can call them that, in the Conservative party’s latest publication of its policies —[Interruption.] I accept that it is a very short read. It is perhaps not entirely well-founded in the statistics that it cites, but I am sure that we will be examining it in future in the House."
Sir George Young is chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. Yesterday he addressed the House of Commons.
His committee has published a report suggesting the end of "dual reporting" - whereby MPs have to report donations to both the Register of Members' Interests and Electoral Commission. The committee says that MPs should just record the donations on the Register and the Electoral Commission should then extract the information.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and Health Secretary Alan Johnson are both thought to have been caught out by the current requirement to report to both bodies.
Herewith some highlights from Sir George's statement, which was supported by the Government:
"The reporting regime, which is one of the most demanding in the world, needs to be overhauled from time to time to ensure that it is both effective and proportionate. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that such an overhaul should be carried out once in each Parliament, and today’s package of proposals represents the overhaul in the present Parliament.
In addition to making changes that relate to the end of dual reporting, the revised guide clarifies existing rules, implements earlier decisions of the House—for example, on the employment of family members—and responds to developments outside this place, such as the development of new forms of investment vehicles. The final section of the revised guide sets out in greater detail than before the procedure for considering and investigating complaints that a Member has breached the rules. Many of the changes, however, and most of the red print in the revised guide are there to end dual reporting.
Members may well ask, “Well, what is the catch?” I do not believe there is a catch, but there is certainly some give as well as some take. Members will need to provide more information to the registrar than they did previously. However, this will be offset by the removal of any need to report the same information to the commission, and a single form will be provided for this purpose.
Although hon. Members will no longer have to provide information on permissible donations and loans directly to the Electoral Commission, the commission will remain under a statutory obligation to publish all the relevant information as soon as is reasonably practicable. That means that the commission will publish information on its register within one month of receipt. In order to avoid a four-month gap opening up in the commission’s register, it will be necessary to return to the previous practice of requiring Members to register their interests within one month of their election or re-election to the House, rather than within three months, as at present. Separate deadlines for information required under statute and for information required under resolutions of the House would create confusion and lead to error, and the Committee therefore considers it preferable to have a single deadline."
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan also commented. He found the matter more complicated than he had anticipated:
Brian Binley MP opposes the use of handheld devices in the Commons chamber: "I remember when I was a young lad—I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have similar memories—going to the cinema and watching western films. Some of the better films, including ones starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers—I hope that I am bringing nostalgia back for you—showed saloons that stopped people at the swinging doors and asked that they left their guns at the doors. I wish that the Government had taken notice of that particular habit and asked all Members to leave their electrical devices at the door of this Chamber, on the basis that they could cause almost as much trouble as guns in the hands of cowboys in the old west...
I have rarely seen a hand-held device that did not cause disturbance. People forget to turn them off and the things go off inadvertently—we heard of a case of that earlier. Indeed, I have been guilty of the same crime and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were kind enough to recognise that I was a new Member and treated me with great gentleness...
I think that [Sir Peter Soulsby, Labour MP] is absolutely wrong in his assertion that the devices do not disturb. Not only do they disturb, but on occasions they stop participation. That is the point. What is this Chamber for? Is it for Members to participate, or is it for them to come here in a rather ad hoc fashion to do their homework, or to answer correspondence?
...As I understand it, we have always received messages, normally in note form. It is important that that should continue. But should we really have the ability to have conversations with others outside when the prime objective of the Chamber is to be the debating centre of the nation? Do we really want television viewers seeing rows of people acting like secretaries in early 1950s films; great rows of MPs all bashing away on laptops? Is that what the Chamber is about? My argument will be that it is not. This is the debating Chamber of the nation and people should come to take part in that process, not be involved in so-called multi-tasking."
Greg Knight MP's response to Brian Binley: "My hon. Friend alluded to the film industry to demonstrate his point; if he were a film mogul, he would probably be the chairman of Nineteenth Century Fox."
Then Sir George Young MP: " I agree with what he said at the beginning of his speech, when he gently disassociated himself from our hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) on what is called multi-tasking. I think that that is a somewhat misleading title. All that is recommended is that
“the use of handheld devices to keep up to date with e-mails should be permitted in the Chamber provided that it causes no disturbance.”
It seems to me that that simply validates what has been the practice for some time, and I do not find it enormously controversial...
Mr. Binley intervenes: "No; my concern is not that the issue is controversial. My concern is whether my right hon. Friend recognises that hand-held devices go way beyond the simple act of e-mailing, and how he would control their uses so they are not used in a manner that he might not wish to see happen?"
Sir George Young: I understand that, but it is not the proposition that is before the House. The proposition is that we should keep up to date with e-mails, and just e-mails. There is no proposition that we should take photos of each other during a debate or participate in any other mischief that might be done with the devices with which the Whips have very kindly provided us."
Mr Binley's amendment was defeated and Sky's Jon Craig thinks that a very good thing.
ePolitix.com's summary of the wider debate on modernisation of Commons rules: "The Commons on Thursday debated proposals raised in recent reports from the modernisation and procedure select committees. Reforms included allowing open questions during departmental question times and permitting the use of Blackberry and other hand-held electronic devices in the chamber. The modernisation committee also suggested shorter time limits for frontbenchers in debates and Westminster Hall debates on subjects selected by a ballot of MPs."