House of Commons (general)

25 Feb 2012 13:13:54

In the wake of Eric Joyce's arrest, is it time for a new understanding of MPs?

By Matthew Barrett
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COMMONS-sittingThere is a letter in today's Guardian from Adrian Yalland, a former approved Conservative candidate and now a lobbyist, which defends MPs in light of Eric Joyce's arrest for assault earlier this week. 

The crucial part of the letter is:

"As a result of the stress, many have an ambivalent attitude towards the job (both loving and hating it), drink too much, exercise too little, eat unhealthily, work too many hours, and end up in unfortunate situations. Many are lonely, unhappy and living in debt. But they cannot say so, because they would be misunderstood by the media and the electorate, and shown no sympathy because "many others want to do your job". The vast majority of MPs I know, across all parties, are motivated by a commitment to making this country better. Very few go into politics for an easy life or to get rich. But do we have to make it so manifestly difficult for them to do their job? In the end, it is we, the electorate, who suffer."

Yalland ends his letter by saying "it's surely time to support our MPs". But the question is whether MPs will receive support from people outside former Parliamentary candidates and the Westminster village.

If there were to be a re-examination of attitudes towards MPs from the public at large, it would be a sign that the 2010 intake has learnt the lessons of the last Parliament and is managing to change perceptions of this one. There is no sign of this happening at present, however.

22 Jan 2012 12:58:33

Should the Commons be sold off as it risks sinking into the Thames?

By Joseph Willits 
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WestminsterBoth the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday have reported today on the deterioration of the Palace of Westminster prompting Big Ben to lean by 0.26 degrees, 18 inches at the top. Tomorrow, MPs will hold a House of Commons commission meeting chaired by Speaker John Bercow to air various possibilities on how to tackle the increasing problem in the building's fabric.

One of the more controversial and divisive proposals (and perhaps least likely) would be to sell off the Houses of Parliament, and relocate MPs to a new site elsewhere. Selling the current site could raise £1billion, and the construction of a new Parliament is estimated to cost around £500 million. The Mail on Sunday suggested that the very fact that this idea has been raised is indicative of the seriousness of the problem.

If the building was to be repaired, beginning at the end of the decade, it would be expected to take at least five years to complete. During this time, the Commons may have to relocate to a secure location (already ready if a terrorist attack was to occur), or use the Lords Chamber. This would not be the first time that the Lords Chamber has been used temporarily by MPs. The Commons chamber was destroyed in the Second World War, forcing MPs into the Lords.

The House of Commons commission will be shown the results of a surveyor's report which warns of a risk of the Commons falling into the Thames due to subsidence. The report also details electrical problems, health and safety hazards, fire risks, and outdated boilers. Surveyors have advised closing off different sections of the building over a period of years to support the building's foundations. Two of the key factors in the present state of the Palace of Westminster are believed to be the Jubilee Line extension in the 1990s, and construction work on the House of Commons' underground car park. 

6 Dec 2011 15:29:57

A motion seeking to prevent ministers leaking policy before addressing Parliament is defeated

By Joseph Willits 
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HolloboneProposals 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?" 

Continue reading "A motion seeking to prevent ministers leaking policy before addressing Parliament is defeated" »

24 Nov 2011 09:29:30

Parliamentary authorities clamping down on "political" material in the Palace of Westminster?

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.

BurrowesInCommonsA question asked yesterday by Conservative MP David Burrowes suggests that Parliamentary authorities are restricting the rights of constituents to bring material of a political nature into Parliament. The incident in question occured when a constituent from Mr Burrowes' Enfield Southgate division tried to attend a Palestine-focused lobby meeting. The full question - and Mr Deputy Speaker's unfortunately unhelpful answer - was:

"Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Something happened to one of my constituents today that is of fundamental importance, I believe, to all hon. Members regarding constituents’ access to Parliament. My constituent attended a Palestine lobby, similar to one she has attended on many previous occasions, but on this occasion things were different. As she arrived at security, a police officer confiscated her lobby briefing material and told her that she was not allowed to have anything of a political nature. In fact, she was told that this was a direction from the House authorities. The officer then spoke to a senior officer, who gave the same response. Eventually, the material was returned to her, but she was told, “Yes, we will return this material, but do not do this again.” I ask your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker. Was this a direction from the House authorities? Will you confirm that constituents are not allowed to have anything of a political nature with them when they attend Parliament?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): This is a matter for the staff and the police. The hon. Gentleman will know that we do not discuss security issues or what has gone on as a matter of security, but he has put his views on the record. I am sure that the authorities and security will look into the matter, and I am sure that someone will come back to the hon. Gentleman now that he has raised it on the Floor of the House."

The appropriate section of Hansard can be found here.

6pm Update: Political Scrapbook has more details on the objectionable material in question:

"Scrapbook has spoken with the woman concerned, who says the officers told her this was “a directive of the Serjeant-at-Arms”. You can view the materials which the officers found so objectionable here."

5 Sep 2011 10:00:55

Parliament returns for a busy fortnight before conference season

By Matthew Barrett
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COMMONS-sitting Just in case you hadn't heard about the Nadine Dorries-Frank Field amendment in the news, Parliament is back this week - and the next couple of weeks will be proof that the long summer recesses of the past really are a thing of the past. Before conference season begins, Parliament will be considering:

  • Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill
  • Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
  • Health and Social Care Bill 
  • Public Bodies Bill 
  • London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill 
  • Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill
  • National Health Service Redress (Amendment) Bill 
  • House of Commons Disqualification (Amendment) Bill
  • Consumer Protection (Postal Marketing) Bill 
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation Bill
  • Alcohol Marketing Bill
  • National Park Authorities Bill
  • Road Safety Bill
  • Secured Lending Reform Bill 
  • Safety of Medicines Bill 
  • Carers and Employment Bill 
  • Dairy Farming Bill
  • Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) (Amendment) Bill
  • Low Hazard Workplaces (Risk Assessment Exemption) Bill
  • Self-Employment (Risk Assessment Exemption) Bill
  • Health and Safety Consultants (Qualifications) Bill 
  • Succession to the Crown Bill
  • NHS Acute Medical and Surgical Services (Working Time Directive) Bill 
  • Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (Amendment) Bill 
  • Tribunals (Maximum Compensation Awards) Bill 
  • Public Bodies (Disposal of Assets) Bill 
  • Shared Parenting Orders Bill -
  • Volunteering Bill 
  • Medical Insurance (Pensioner Tax Relief) Bill
  • Draft Financial Services Bill
  • Draft Construction Contracts (England) Exclusion Order 2011 
  • Construction Contracts (England and Wales) Regulations 1998 (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2011
  • Draft Landfill (Maximum Landfill Amount) Regulations 2011.

24 Aug 2011 14:59:02

More Labour MPs have defied the whip than Conservatives and Lib Dems put together

By Matthew Barrett
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This Parliament has seen more rebellions than during the Major years. The 2010 intake has, in fact, been the most rebellious since 1945, as this graph below demonstrates:


We have regularly covered Conservative rebellions, on issues like European bailouts, recognising marriage in the tax system, or on law and order issues.

However, Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Nottingham have a new post up on the NottsPolitics blog, which shows more Labour MPs have defied the whip than have Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs. 

Cowley and Stuart write:

"...119 Labour MPs have defied their party’s whip, more than the Conservatives and Lib Dems put together. On that measure, then, Labour are the most rebellious."

Continue reading "More Labour MPs have defied the whip than Conservatives and Lib Dems put together" »

12 Aug 2011 14:10:35

A selection of comments and questions asked by Conservative MPs in the Commons debate on the riots

By Joseph Willits 
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Social networking, flashbacks to the G20 riots, the role of CCTV, restorative justice, and the power of the police in their approach, seemed to be some of the themes covered.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford) highlighted the role social networking had played in the disruption, but also how it countered and assisted, she said “social networks such as Twitter have also provided the police … with an opportunity to dispel rumours and myths about where future disturbances happen.”  She asked the Home Secretary to “congratulate forces that have used social networking to their advantage and concentrate on the closed networking opportunities” such as Blackberry.

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) whose constituency was devastated in parts by the rioting welcomed, alongside other factors, David Cameron’s talk of “fresh powers” in regard to social networking.  He also welcomed aforesaid “fresh powers” on “curfews ... and on powers for the police in relation to people who cover their faces”.  He heaped praise on the people of his constituency who played their part in their attempts to undo the damage caused. “People want criminals brought to justice” he said, and talked of “the crucial role” that CCTV played “in identifying who was responsible” he added, “I hope that members on the Treasury Bench will take note of that”.  Barwell also reiterated the sentiments of many people.  “People want those responsible to be properly punished and to make reparation to those they have damaged.  They want those who have committed these crimes to have access to taxpayers’ money in the form of benefits. They want those who are council tenants evicted, so that decent people on the waiting list get a home instead. They want those who are not British citizens removed from this country.”

Lee Scott (Ilford North) whose constituency was also affected by the riots, urged more powers to be given to the police that it is important we take off their “handcuffs” and that they “should be allowed to do what they think they need to.  The use of water cannons, and rubber bullets should be at their discretions, he said.

Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) stressed that it was important for “political leaders to articulate their support” and that “we must not fall into the trap that her Government did when Ministers in the Ministry of Defence failed to give backing to troops doing very difficult jobs in very difficult circumstances.”

Angie Bray (Ealing Central & Action), member of another affected constituency, encouraged the debate on “what policing wants.”  She welcomed such a debate between the public, their elected representatives and the police.  She stressed the need for “consent” particularly in they need to “provide a slightly more robust response” during events we have just witnessed.

Margot James (Stourbridge) asked about the stand-and-observe order given to police under certain circumstances.  She asked the Home Secretary, “given that they have been criticised for how they dealt with the G20 riots, on which there is a case pending in the European Court of Human Rights  … whatever police powers we end up agreeing with … we must provide consistent support when things go wrong.”

Robert Buckland (South Swindon) highlighted that many involved in the rioting and looting have been young children.  He encouraged the need for “restorative justice … making them face up to the victims of their crimes and making them play their part in restoring the damage that they have done”.  He suggested this as a a “good way to divert those young children from further involvement in the gang culture and crimes that we have seen.”

11 Aug 2011 13:26:39

Labour MP Rob Flello speaks in the Commons without a jacket

By Matthew Barrett
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RobFlelloShirt3 I don't seek to trivialise the debate, or the subject of debate that Parliament was recalled for today. 

However, as well as the content of today's debate, there was an important procedural/sartorial development. 

Rob Flello, the Labour Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, was allowed to speak in the Chamber without a jacket. 

Continue reading "Labour MP Rob Flello speaks in the Commons without a jacket" »

5 Aug 2011 06:40:29

Lord Heseltine and Baron Moore are two Tory peers never to have given a speech in the Upper House

This BBC report notes that nine peers have never given speeches.

> Conor Burns castigates "disgraceful" Lord Heseltine for a decade of silence in the House of Lords

19 Jun 2011 16:18:35

Majority of the 50 most "cost-efficient" MPs are Conservatives

By Matthew Barrett
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HoCThe company Key Business Insight's "Commons Performance Cockpit" ranks MPs by their total cost - that is, staffing costs, travel expenses, office costs, salary, and so on. The majority of the 50 "most efficient" MPs, in terms of total cost, are Conservatives. 

The top 50 "most efficient" MPs between 1st April, 2010 and 31st March, 2011 are listed below:

  1. Dan Jarvis (Labour, Barnsley Central) £5,457*
  2. Deborah Abrahams (Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth) £12,472**
  3. Eric Illsley (Labour, Barnsley Central) £57,485***
  4. Zac Goldsmith (Conservative, Richmond Park) £59,242
  5. Rushanara Ali (Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow) £59,242
  6. Ben Gummer (Conservative, Ipswich) £60,422
  7. Gavin Shuker (Labour, Luton South) £60,687
  8. George Eustice (Conservative, Camborne and Redruth) £60,692
  9. Sam Gyimah (Conservative, East Surrey) £60,899
  10. Matthew Offord (Conservative, Hendon) £61,077
  11. Anne-Marie Morris (Conservative, Newton Abbot) £61,292
  12. Teresa Pearce (Labour, Erith and Thamesmead) £61,776
  13. Mark Reckless (Conservative, Rochester and Strood) £61,780
  14. Guy Opperman (Conservative, Hexham) £61,857
  15. Gemma Doyle (Labour, West Dunbartonshire) £62,324
  16. Christopher Pincher (Conservative, Tamworth) £62,583
  17. Stella Creasy (Labour, Walthamstow)  £63,510
  18. Ian Paisley, Jnr (Democratic Unionist, North Antrim) £64,755
  19. Richard Drax (Conservative, South Dorset)  £65,102
  20. Owen Smith (Labour, Pontypridd) £65,157
  21. Damian Hinds (Conservative, East Hampshire) £65,365
  22. Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat, Cambridge) £65,396
  23. Kwasi Kwarteng (Conservative, Spelthorne) £65,571
  24. Gavin Barwell (Conservative, Croydon Central)  £65,651
  25. Jonathan Lord (Conservative, Woking) £66,162
  26. Rebecca Harris (Conservative, Castle Point) £66,576
  27. Anas Sarwar (Labour, Glasgow Central) £67,630
  28. Andrea Leadsom (Conservative, South Northamptonshire)  £67,940
  29. Claire Perry (Conservative, Devizes) £68,047
  30. Sajid Javid (Conservative, Bromsgrove)  £68,171
  31. Sarah Newton (Conservative, Truro and Falmouth) £68,172
  32. Conor Burns (Conservative, Bournemouth West) £68,443
  33. Eric Ollerenshaw (Conservative, Lancaster and Fleetwood)  £68,624
  34. Margaret Ritchie (SDLP, South Down) £68,705
  35. Rehman Chisti (Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham) £68,917
  36. Jim Shannon (Democratic Unionist, Strangford)  £69,063
  37. Liz Kendall (Labour, Leicester West) £69,147
  38. George Hollingberry (Conservative, Meon Valley) £69,251
  39. Alok Sharma (Conservative, Reading West)  £69,273
  40. Chris Kelly (Conservative, Dudley South) £70,316
  41. Angie Bray (Conservative, Ealing Central and Acton) £70,334
  42. Naomi Long (Alliance, Belfast East) £70,581
  43. Kate Green (Labour, Stretford and Urmston)  £70,619
  44. Margot James (Conservative, Stourbridge)  £70,755
  45. Pamela Nash (Labour, Airdrie and Shotts) £70,842
  46. Jack Dromey (Labour, Birmingham Erdington)  £70,912
  47. Kris Hopkins (Conservative, Keighley)  £70,944
  48. Stephen Metcalfe (Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock) £70,966
  49. Shabana Mahmood (Labour, Birmingham Ladywood) £71,072
  50. Tristram Hunt (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central) £71,269

*Took his seat on 3rd March, 2011
**Took her seat on 13th January, 2011
***Resigned his seat on 8th February, 2011 

28 Dec 2010 13:58:36

What would you and 99,999 friends like MPs to debate?

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-12-28 at 13.57.33 Jonathan Isaby reported the fact on 2nd December but this morning's Guardian, in a Christmas stocking filler, revisited the Coalition's intention to press ahead with plans to give voters the right to demand debates on certain hot topics. It is expected that MPs will be required to debate issues if approximately 100,000 voters sign an online petition.

Dan Hannan wants MPs to vote on whether Britain should stay a member of the EU.

Guido Fawkes wants MPs to be put on record for supporting or opposing "capital punishment for child and cop killers".

No doubt the NUS will want to force MPs to vote on their preferred alternative to tuition fees.

Archbishop Cranmer lists other Bills he expects popular petitions to force MPs to debate:

  • "An Immediate Cessation of Immigration Bill
  • An Introduction of Sharia Law Bill
  • A Scotland Indepedence Bill (with a very easy million signatures)
  • A United Ireland Bill (again, with a very easy million signatures)
  • A Disestablish the Church of England Bill
  • A Removal of the Vote from Guests of Her Majesty Bill
  • A Ban on Mosque-building Bill."

Cranmer predicts that disaffection with MPs will become greater as they repeatedly reject motions that they are forced to debate.

Douglas Carswell MP welcomes the initiative (one he and Dan Hannan proposed in their 'Plan' manifesto). He rejects the idea that voters can't be trusted with direct democracy:

"What direct democracy would not do is lead to mob rule.  If you give adults responsibility, they tend to behave not only responsibly, but in a fair-minded, liberal way.  It is worth reflecting that the death penalty has more often been abolished by plebiscite, than it has been introduced."

> On a poor phone line I had a ninety second slot on this morning's Today programme to welcome the petitions idea. Labour MP Paul Flynn responded by predicting that the mechanism would be "dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.” Such respect for voters!

15 Oct 2010 11:31:57

The dog that didn't bark yesterday over the Government's student finance proposals

By Paul Goodman

Vince Cable Commons What doesn't happen in the Commons is sometimes as interesting as what does.  Take yesterday's session of Business Questions and its single question on tuition fees, on which I make three snapshot observations.

  • Vince Cable spent much of his time placating fellow Liberal Democrats - in exchanges that look suspiciously pre-planned.

The question was Charles Kennedy's.  It could have been a straightforward assault on the Government's plan from a former Liberal Democrat leader who's adamantly and publicly opposed to it.  But although Kennedy made his opposition to the proposal clear - "I cannot support the thrust and direction of Government policy on this one" - he went on to make an emollient enquiry about Scotland, which Cable then called "constructive".  The exchanges read to me as though the two men had agreed what to say before the session, which often happens in the Commons when an MP of one Party has a question to a colleague. 

  • Cable was quick on his feet in dealing with John Denham.

- Denham quoted figures claiming that better-off student would be disadvantaged by the plan.

- Cable said the analysis "does not properly consider the true present value of the payments that people will have to make".

- Denham replied: "When my building society starts asking me to pay my mortgage in net present value, I will do so. Until then, I will talk pounds and pence like everybody else."

- And Cable came back with: "The right hon. Gentleman has used the analogy of mortgage payments, which is interesting. No building society or bank that I am aware of would exempt people from any payments until they were earning £21,000 a year, which is the progressive element that we are trying to introduce.

  • Not a single Conservative MP intervened from the backbenches.

The Government's student finance proposals have been a big topic this week.  The Whips would have regarded it as "helpful" for Tory MPs to give their Coalition colleague support.  There are several reasons why they may not have done so.  Few may have been in the Chamber.  Those that were there may regard Cable with less warmth than they view, say, David Laws.  But I suspect that the main reason for the silence is that while most Conservative MPs will eventually vote for the proposals in the lobbies - I'm assuming legisaltion is required - they're uneasy at present about voicing support in the Chamber.  This may be because they see the "progressive graduate contribution" as a graduate tax by another name.  Or, more likely, because their constituents aren't exactly going to welcome to move.  Cable and, in particular, David Willetts, need to get them onside. This was the dog that didn't bark.

27 May 2010 11:00:40

Sir George Young announces reduced summer recess and first legislation to go before the Commons

Picture 31At his first Business Questions as Leader of the House, Sir George Young has just announced the dates for this year's summer recess.

The Commons will sit all the way through until Thursday July 29nd and then return for a two-week sitting beginning on Monday September 6th, before breaking again for the party conference season.

He also announced that the first piece of legislation from the new Government's Queen's Speech to be given a Second Reading will be the Bill to abolish ID cards, which will go before the Commons on Wednesday June 9th.

Jonathan Isaby

17 May 2010 16:32:04

Will Conservative and Lib Dem MPs refer to each other as "honourable friends"?

I have been speaking to a number of Conservative MPs - both ministers and backbenchers - over the last few days, trying to ascertain what they will call their coalition partners in the chamber of the House of Commons.

In the political lifetime of the entire membership of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrats and their predecessors in the Liberal Party have always been merely "honourable members", with the term "honourable friend" reserved for fellow Conservative MPs.

However, nobody I have spoken to has a definitive answer as to what the correct terminology will be now that we have a formal coalition government involving both parties.

I would imagine that those in both parties who are sceptical of the deal would baulk at the idea of using the word "friend", whereas I find it had to imagine David Cameron, for example, referring to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (who will sit next to him on the Government front bench) as anything but "my Right Honourable Friend" under the circumstances.

Might the attitude prevail that those Lib Dems with ministerial status are friends whereas Lib Dem backbenchers are not? Or does this whole question unveil a subtle shibboleth which will enable onlookers to identify the attitudes of MPs to the coaltion deal?

Some are wondering whether there could be a third way and that the term "honourable colleague" could be introduced to fit the bill.

Perhaps a historian reading this could enlighten us as to what the pratice was in previous coalitons in the first half of the 20th Century?

Jonathan Isaby

9 May 2010 11:42:09

The parliamentary arithmetic that shows the Conservatives to be 16 votes short of a working majority

Here is a summary of the arithmetic in the House of Commons (based on the assumptions that Anne McIntosh is returned as Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton later in the month, and that when it comes to the appointment/election of deputy speakers, there will be one Conservative and two Labour MPs taking those posts).

The 641 MPs voting in divisions

Conservatives - 305 MPs

All others - 336 MPs
Labour - 256
Lib Dem - 57
DUP - 8
SNP - 6
Plaid Cymru - 3
SDLP - 3
Green - 1
Alliance  - 1
Sylvia Hermon - 1

The 9 MPs not taking part in divisions

Speaker and three deputies - 4
Sinn Fein - 5 (will not take their seats)

So with 641 MPs taking part, 321 votes are required to attain a majority of one, meaning that 16 non-Conservatives are required to vote alongside Conservative MPs (assuming they all vote as one) for any Conservative proposal to be passed.

Jonathan Isaby