Sir George Young MP

13 Jan 2011 12:28:27

Sir George Young condemns Telegraph sting against Lib Dem ministers as the Press Complaints Commission starts an investigation

By Jonathan Isaby

Sir George Young Commons The week before Christmas the Daily Telegraph ran a series of pieces quoting remarks made by Lib Dem ministers to two of its journalists posing as constituents at their surgeries.

I made my views clear at the time.

Today at the first Business Questions since the appearance of the articles, Commons Leader Sir George Young gave his opinion (hat tip to the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow for the quote) on the matter:

"I think members from both sides of the House should be concerned about the tactics that were used. I think journalists posing as constituents when they are not, raising fictitioius with MPs, taping them without their knowledge - I think this all risks prejudicing the relationship between a member of parliament and his constituent at his advice bureau. And it doesn't seem to me to be responsible journalism."

Meanwhile, I have just learned that the Press Complaints Commission is to investigate the matter, according to this statement:

The PCC has today confirmed that it has initiated an investigation into the use of subterfuge by the Daily Telegraph, which led to reports of comments made by Liberal Democrat MPs published in December 2010.

The PCC was contacted by around 200 members of the public on this subject, and proactively sought the comments of party representatives.   The President of the Liberal Democrats has today written to the PCC and asked it to investigate the issue.

A PCC spokesman said: “We have now received a letter from the Liberal Democrats asking us formally to investigate. We will do so under clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

12.45pm update:

Here what Lib Dem President Tim Farron said in his letter to the PPC:

“The articles fail to provide any plausible public interest justification for breaching the [PCC] Editor’s Code, indeed all the indications are that the Daily Telegraph embarked on a ‘fishing expedition’ designed solely to entrap Members of Parliament.

“Robust media scrutiny of politicians is obviously critical for a vibrant democracy. However, if journalists are licensed to embark on clandestine fishing expeditions at constituency surgeries in this way, MPs of all parties will be constrained from engaging in frank discussions with their constituents. Media scrutiny on this basis, far from contributing to democracy, threatens it by undermining the privileged nature of the relationship between constituents and their MPs.

“There are real matters of principle and public interest at stake in this case which are far more significant than the Telegraph articles themselves and I would therefore be grateful if the PCC could investigate this matter and offer guidance for future conduct.”

2 Dec 2010 16:39:27

Sir George Young indicates that if you can get 99,999 friends to sign an e-petition, you'll soon be able to get it debated in Parliament

By Jonathan Isaby

Sir George Young Commons Thursday lunchtime sees the weekly session of Business Questions and as ever, today saw Sir George Young being asked about a wide variety of topics.

East Yorkshire MP and Procedure Committee chairman Greg Knight was keen to know what progress there was to report on the electronic petitioning of Parliament:

"Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?"

Sir George Young indicated that the Government was keen on making this happen:

"He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda."

So before too long, all you'll need is 99,999 friends to agree on an issue and you'll be able to get it debated in Parliament.

Other issues raised at Business Questions by Tory MPs today included:

Lib Dem Collective Responsibility

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”

Protesters camping out in central London

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?

Sir George Young: The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.

Labour MP supporting student occupations

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said: “Support Support The Occupations!....To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.” Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?

Sir George Young: I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.

22 Oct 2010 06:49:05

Peter Bone suggests confirmation hearings for newly appointed Cabinet ministers

By Jonathan Isaby

Peter Bone Peter Bone has this week already put a few noses out of joint by suggesting that Whips be abolished.

At yesterday's Business Questions he came up with another bright idea:

"This new Government have shown themselves willing to put themselves up for scrutiny, especially from Members on their own side of the House — the Opposition seem to have given up. May we have a statement from him on whether we could go slightly further and look into having confirmation hearings for new Cabinet Ministers?"

The Leader of the House, Sir George Young, was not exactly effusive with support for the proposal:

"My hon. Friend introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on Tuesday proposing the abolition of the Whips Office. I am not sure that it was an intelligent career move. The notion of confirmatory hearings for Cabinet Ministers is a novel constitutional innovation, because responsibility currently rests with the Prime Minister. Whether he would want to share it with my hon. Friend and others is a matter for him, so on this particular issue my hon. Friend will just have to hold his breath."

I'm not sure quite what Mr Bone has in mind - appearances before a departmental select committee or a confirmation vote by MPs - but I don't doubt that if he's taken by it that we will hear more in due course.

15 Oct 2010 16:55:29

The Government is considering new legislation to clear Parliament Square of remaining protesters

Picture 27
By Jonathan Isaby

Back in July, most of Parliament Square was cleared of protesters who were effectively camping there permanently. However, as the picture above shows, there remain  a few tents on the pavement around the (temporarily sealed off) square, facing the main vehicular entrance to the Houses of Parliament.

David Tredinnick At Business Questions yesterday, Conservative MP David Tredinnick raised the issue of them remaining there:

"When does my right hon. Friend expect Parliament square to be cleared of demonstrators? Is he aware that the situation is worse than it was in the summer, with 20 illegally placed tents on the pavement meaning that nobody can use the square at all? When is he going to deal with this situation?"

Replying, the Leader of the House, Sir George Young, indicated that further legislation may be brought forward to bring an end to the protest once and for all:

"I am grateful to my hon. Friend for once again raising this issue. I support the action that the Mayor of London took a few months ago to clear the green in the middle of the square, and I hope that that area will be restored to the condition in which it used to be. In the meantime, the camps have simply moved to the pavement. That is wholly unacceptable, and it is not what one should see in the centre of an historic capital city. We are going to consider legislation in the forthcoming Home Office Bill to put the situation right."

7 Apr 2010 06:37:07

Sir George Young condemns the Government for failing to introduce a new backbench Business Committee to determine the parliamentary agenda

Sir George Young Commons Just last month MPs backed plans for a Backbench Business Committee to determine the parliamentary agenda, but Harriet Harman failed to include a motion to provide for it in the remaining parliamentary business before dissolution.

Shadow Leader of the House, Sir George Young, has attacked her failure to do so:

“This is a deeply disappointing moment that undoes a lot of the progress that we have made to reform Parliament over the last few months. The creation of a Business Committee for backbenchers was the centrepiece of the Wright Report, which we supported from the start, and was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Commons.

“The Government said they would respect the decision of the House but instead they’ve ignored it. Harriet Harman should have apologised for not finding the time, but all we got was a complacent statement that progress had already been made on other issues. Labour talk about parliamentary reform but then duck the big decisions. Gordon Brown simply has no credibility on this issue”.

Jonathan Isaby

22 Mar 2010 17:11:38

The detailed questions which the Government has to answer about the lobbying scandal as put by Sir George Young this afternoon

Sir George Young Commons I touched on what Sir George Young said in the Commons in response to Harriet Harman in the LeftWatch post covering today's developments in the lobbying scandal.

But here are more detailed excerpts of the questions put to Harman by the shadow Leader of the Commons this afternoon:

"Does she not recognise that the Prime Minister’s decision to rule out an inquiry before the television programme has even been broadcast was simply the wrong response – particularly when the Secretary of State for Transport has confirmed in the other place that he spoke to the Rt. Hon. Member for Tyneside about the East Coast franchise.

"Does she not agree with me that the allegation that public policy was in some way altered by ex-Ministers lobbying for corporate clients – at the possible disadvantage of the taxpayer and the consumer – needs to be fully and impartially investigated and that the Cabinet Secretary should carry out an appropriate review, as requested by Rt. Hon Friend for Horsham?"

"In ruling out an inquiry, has the Prime Minister followed due process? Who exactly has he consulted in the course of the last 24 hours to satisfy himself so quickly as to the veracity or otherwise of these claims?"

"Does she recall that I asked her for a debate on the Public Administration Select Committee’s report into lobbying back in October at my first Business Questions? With the benefit of hindsight, does she regret never finding time for that debate? Why did the Government drag its feet on this report for months? The Committee published its original report in December 2008 – but the Government did not respond for almost a year, instead of the recommended six weeks.

"The original PASC report clearly stated that: “with the rules as loosely and as variously interpreted as they currently are, former Ministers in particular appear to be able to use with impunity contacts they built up as public servants to further a private interest”. But in reply, the Government did not agree with “the general assertion that former Ministers in particular are able to use improperly and with impunity contacts they have built up while in office”. Does she now regret that response – and in paragraph 31, rejecting statutory regulation which she has now accepted?"

"Does she agree also that we need to review the two year time limit for ex-ministerial appointments, giving a longer horizon than is currently the case?

"The country will expect the Government to deal with these issues thoroughly and promptly. If they are not finalised before Dissolution, does she agree that it will be the first responsibility of an incoming government to instruct the Prime Minister’s adviser on the Ministerial Code to undertake a full review of this episode so that government can learn the lessons of what has gone wrong – and then change the rules to prevent a recurrence of this scandal in the future?”

Jonathan Isaby

4 Mar 2010 18:24:30

Sir George Young welcomes the passing of the "Wright reforms" to give more power to backbenchers over Commons business and committee chairmanships

Sir George Young Commons This afternoon, MPs have voted for a series of reforms, as proposed by the Wright Committee (chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright).

The key changes are the introduction of a new backbench business committee to set much of the Commons' agenda and for those chairing select committees to be elected.

Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, has given the changes a big welcome:

"We're delighted that the House has voted emphatically for reform. The changes that have been made today will help to make the Commons more effective, more accountable and more relevant to the people outside it. The Government has been dragging its feet for too long and it was only after Conservatives intervened that we got today's biggest change - the House Business Committee - through.

"The Government initially wanted to delay setting up the Backbench Committee - and it was the Conservatives who have made sure it will be up and running at the beginning of the next Parliament. We would have preferred to see a more incremental approach but the differences are marginal and we welcome the decision of the House. It's now vital that we maintain the momentum over the next few months and continue to make the broader changes that are needed to restore people's faith in politics."

Jonathan Isaby

5 Feb 2010 18:02:16

Sir George Young invites Harriet Harman to dispute his predicted timetable for the general election

Picture 10 At Business Questions yesterday, shadow Leader of the House Sir George Young set out his prediction of the timetable by which Gordon Brown will call the general election:

"On dates, this is the last time we shall have business questions until 25 February, and there is still no news of the Easter recess... Let me put to the right hon. and learned Lady a scenario on which I believe it might be sensible to proceed. I suggest that the Prime Minister will visit the palace on 29 March and announce the election, that the House will adjourn for the Easter recess on Maundy Thursday and not return, that Her Majesty will dissolve Parliament on 12 April, with a general election on 6 May, and that some of us will return for swearing in on 12 May. Would the right hon. and learned Lady like to confirm or deny that?"

Harman's unsurprisingly, had no intention of doing so:

"As for an election date, I shall not be announcing that as part of the business of the House."

Jonathan Isaby

28 Jan 2010 17:29:18

Sir George Young suggests that Harriet Harman is trying to block Commons reforms by using procedures giving a veto to any individual MP

MPs are due to debate proposals to modernise Commons procedure on February 23rd which have been drawn up by a cross-party committee chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright. The proposals include the election of select committee members and chairmen and giving power to the Commons over its agenda (rather than the Government), partly through the creation of Business Committees.

The Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young was alarmed to read in the Times this morning that the Government is going to use a procedure for making the proposals which could see any recommendation voted down after an objection from just one MP.

At Business Questions today, Sir George asked Harriet Harman:

Sir George Young "There is now widespread suspicion that the Government have adopted an approach that is simply designed to fail. Today’s edition of The Times reports that we will be voting only on an unamendable order, which could be blocked by a single Member. Is that consistent with the spirit of consensus to which the right hon. and learned Lady has constantly referred? The last time a similar package of reforms was debated in the House, in 2002, we had a debate and then we voted on a series of resolutions on the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee. Why is that not an appropriate precedent for the Wright Committee?

"Will the House be able to vote on the resolutions of which the Government approve as well as on those that they do not? Does the Leader of the House agree with my suggestion that we should postpone the February recess by one day and debate the Wright report earlier than she proposes, given that we are seriously beginning to run out of time? Yesterday she admitted that she was not much good at reversing. Today she risks stalling."

Harriet Harman's reply does not instill confidence:

Continue reading "Sir George Young suggests that Harriet Harman is trying to block Commons reforms by using procedures giving a veto to any individual MP" »

28 Jan 2010 07:05:43

Have we really got "the laziest MPs for 30 years"?

Picture 3 This morning's Sun believes the answer to the question is yes, illustrating its piece with the image reproduced here on the right:

"MPs have spent their least time in the House of Commons for three decades - despite the worst recession in living memory. They even enjoyed a PAY RISE - taking their salaries to nearly £65,000.

"Analysis of the working day at Westminster showed the House sat for just 139 days in 2008-09. Members' average working day lasted seven hours and 35 minutes - meaning they sat for 1,053 hours and 51 minutes overall. That was the lowest total in a non-election year since 1979."

Although I have no way of measuring, I'm pretty sure that MPs are now far more active than they have ever been in their constituencies - certainly their postbags have got bigger by the year - so it's a tad unfair to judge them alone on how many days they spend in the House of Commons.

Plus there is the argument that the fewer days they spend sitting in the Commons, the fewer opportunities they have to make new laws and regulations to complicate and interfere in our lives.

However, a very important concern about the reduction in the number of sitting days is that it has reduced the opportunity for MPs to call the executive to account for its actions.

Indeed, this Labour Government has happily bypassed the Commons whenever it can, making announcements outside it and "timetabling" all legislation so that much of it never gets properly scrutinised - until it reaches the House of Lords, at least.

12.30pm update:

Sir George Young Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, has made the following observation:

"In 1997, we were promised a more effective House of Commons. But the Government has taken too much power away from Parliament and it's now clear that MPs aren't able to hold the Government properly to account.

"The Wright Committee has come forward with serious reforms that will help to rebuild the Commons. But the Government has dithered for so long that there are serious doubts whether they have left enough time to get key reforms up and running before the next election.

"We need to make much better use of Parliament's time. A Conservative government will implement reforms to give backbenchers more powers to hold the executive to account and give the House more control over the timetable."

Jonathan Isaby

19 Jan 2010 05:57:10

John Bercow calls for "national leadership" to Save General Election Night

SaveElectionNight graphic In his interview with Carolyn Quinn for The Westminster Hour earlier in the month, John Bercow ignalled his support for Thursday night election counts.

But after a Point of Order raised yesterday by Julian Lewis - highlighting the agreement of Harriet Harman and her Tory shadow, Sir George Young, at last week's business questions - the Speaker went further in his support for the Save General Election Night campaign.

Here's what Mr Bercow told the Commons:

Speaker Bercow 3 "For my own part, I am a passionate believer in instant, not slow motion, democracy. It seems to me that it is in the interests of the House and the country that the count should take place on the night, and there are two overwhelmingly compelling reasons why: first, I believe that there could be a threat to the security of the ballot if the count is delayed; and, secondly, it seems to me that on the day the election takes place, it should be possible for the count also to take place so that we get the result speedily.

"Frankly, it should not be beyond the wit and sagacity of humankind—or indeed of local authorities—to ensure that that happens. I politely suggest to the House that what is required is not a passive acceptance of the particular views of individual local authority chief executives, but rather an assertion of leadership nationally and politically, at a local level, to achieve what I sense the House is uniting in wishing to see."

Hear, hear to that. He is right that since the decision on timing of the count is currently written in statute as being entirely at the discretion of the Returning Officer (often the chief executive of the relevant local authority), it needs pressure to be exerted on a cross-party basis both at a local and national level to focus their minds..

Jonathan Isaby

18 Jan 2010 06:38:57

Sir George Young successfully presses Harriet Harman to support the campaign to Save General Election Night

Sir George Young Save Election Night When Sir George Young first raised the campaign to Save General Election Night at Business Questions, the response from Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, was a brush-off, saying it was a matter for the Electoral Commission.

At last Thursday's Business Questions, on the back of recent support for Thursday night counts from John Bercow and Nick Brown, Sir George asked Ms Harman again and now she is indicating support for the campaign's principle aim of counting the votes as soon as polling stations close:

Sir George Young: May we have a statement on the election night count? A number of senior figures, including yourself, Mr. Speaker, have said that it would be, in your words, "a travesty" for the count to be delayed by local authorities until the next day. Yesterday, no less a figure than the Government Chief Whip told his local paper that delaying the count would increase the risk of electoral fraud. Is there any doubt that having a Thursday night count is the right thing to do?

Harriet Harman: I have two concerns about election night. The first is that the count should be announced as soon as the people have voted, and the second is that it should be the right result.

Jonathan Isaby

27 Oct 2009 18:44:14

For MPs, Christmas - quite literally - will come earlier than ever this year

Picture 16 As this Labour Government continues to limp on for what I anticipate will be its final few months, the government benches seem to be getting emptier for debates and even question times in the Commons, as Labour MPs either give up the ghost or retreat to their constituencies in the hope of saving their seats.

Debates are featuring increasingly few contributions from Labour backbenchers and it's becoming quite a regular occurence for the Commons to rise early of an evening due to a lack of MPs wanting to contribute.

And as if more evidence were needed of Labour losing the will to do anything in Parliament, it turns out that the Commons will rise for its Christmas break earlier than it has done in living memory when it rises on Wednesday 16th December.

Sir George Young pointed out at Business Questions last week:

"The Leader has just told the House that we are to go into recess over a week before Christmas — that is the earliest the House has risen, as far as I can recall. Back in 1997, we rose on 22 December. That was when the Government had some leadership and some ideas. Our constituents will be working long after the date that she has just announced, and Conservative Members have an unquenched thirst for doing the job we were sent by our constituents to do beyond that date. Is this not further evidence that the Government are running out of steam?"

For reference, here are the dates on which the House rose for Christmas over the last twenty years:

2008 – 18th December
2007 – 18th December
2006 – 19th December
2005 – 20th December
2004 – 21st December
2003 – 18th December
2002 – 19th December
2001 – 19th December
2000 – 21st December
1999 – 21st December
1998 – 17th December
1997 – 22nd December
1996 – 18th December
1995 – 20th December
1994 – 20th December
1993 – 17th December
1992 – 17th December
1991 – 20th December
1990 – 20th December
1989 – 21st December
1988 – 22nd December

Jonathan Isaby

15 Oct 2009 17:35:02

Sir George Young raises the Save General Election Night campaign at Business Questions

Picture 2 36 hours after Labour MP and blogger Tom Harris tabled the Save General Election Night early day motion, and the Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, has raised the matter at his first Business Questions in his new role.

He asked Harriet Harman:

"May we have a debate on early-day motion 2033? The early-day motion refers to general election night — an event that I hope will take place as soon as possible. It has attracted 126 signatures in three days and is a burning issue in the blogosphere. The gruelling marathon of election night specials, along with the imperative of not delaying the count, is as intrinsic to our democratic process as voting itself and an even older tradition than a Dimbleby presenting the coverage. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate so that the House can ensure that that tradition is not lost and that as many counts as possible take place when the polls close?"

Alas the Leader of the Commons was far from supportive, and instead she passed the buck to the Electoral Commission:

"The right hon. Gentleman talked about the campaign to save general election night. There is an early-day motion on that, which hon. Members have signed, but the count is, first and foremost, a matter for the Electoral Commission."

But I'm afraid the Electoral Commission has already itself passed the buck as well, as this letter sent out by its Chief Executive, Peter Wardle, to Returning Officers last month demonstrates. Despite saying that he was writing to "make clear the Commission’s position on this issue", he failed to take a robust position either way, leaving it entirely to Returning Officers by saying: "It is entirely appropriate for you to decide to count on Friday if you think this is necessary to ensure an accurate result."

But the campaign continues and we must keep up the pressure on ministers, the Electoral Commission and - possibly most importantly - individual Returning Officers around the country. So: MPs, please sign the Early Day Motion; councillors, please table a motion on the issue at your next full council meeting; and everyone who hasn't done so already, please join the Facebook group!

Jonathan Isaby

5 Oct 2009 12:49:22

Conservatives propose giving more power to Parliament over its business and establishing public consultation on legislation

This morning has seen two speeches from frontbenchers covering reforming Parliament and th way legislation is scrutinised.

Firstly, the newly-appointed shadow Commons Leader, Sir George Young, explained how he wants power to be taken away from the Government and handed to Parliament as a whole over how its business is transacted. Among his proposals were:

  • Giving backbenchers more power over what and when they debate, instead of the Executive having sole control over the whole Commons agenda;
  • Abolishing routine programme motions and ending automatic ‘guillotining’ of all Government bills;
  • Enhancing Select Committees by providing unwhipped elections of the chairmen and by giving them time to launch key reports on the floor of the House;
  • Giving Parliament more power over its procedures by abolishing the Modernisation Select Committee, chaired by a member of the Cabinet, and folding its work into an invigorated Procedure Committee, chaired by a backbencher;
  • Allowing the Opposition to trade a number of its Opposition Days for statements on topical issues;
  • Winding up the regional select committees.   

Later, in a wide-ranging speech, William Hague announced a consultation on introducing a "Public Reading Stage" for legislation as part of the party's agenda for giving citizens more power in the post-bureaucratic age.

The proposal is that after a Bill's Second Reading, it would be put open to public consultation before going into committee stage, enabling MP an peers to take into consideration the views of the public.

Jonathan Isaby