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Tobias Ellwood MP: Friday's daylight savings Bill demonstrated the urgent need for reform of Friday debates

ELLWOOD-TOBIASTobias Ellwood is the Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East.

Since the eighties it has become a parliamentary ritual to debate the proposal of moving the clocks forward, only to see each attempt scuppered by archaic rules which allow individual members, intent on speaking until the proverbial cows come home, to talk the Bill out. But in this Parliament things seem different. Thanks to the dogged determination of Rebecca Harris MP, support from a new intake of comrades and belated buy in from the Government and Opposition, her Bill is pioneering unchartered territory.

Yet even with over 100 ministers and back benchers (the minimum needed to pass contested private business) bringing alive the normally Hopperesque atmosphere of Friday Commons proceedings, this was to be no easy final reading. Whilst the Bill is just six pages long it attracted over 100 amendments, of which the majority were designed to hijack the intent. Many were so barmy (like renaming it the Berlin Time Act) they did not pass the Clerk's scrutiny. But 28 did. To be taken in three groups, collectively they were enough to suggest, once again, this Bill might get talked out.

So the debate commenced with the standard call to "sit in private" (a bizarre Friday ritual) the result of which (118 against and 12 for) confirmed the battle lines for the day. Genuine arguments proposed by the dozen, to back their amendments were hard to find. Many though entertaining, were simply irrelevant. After one hour the first speaker, Chris Chope was still on his feet, prestigiously promoting, in turn, the virtues of each of his amendments. The pro-Bills were beginning to twitch. Four more hours of this with no prospect of closure and the Bill looked doomed. But then a breakthrough - calling on a rarely used Standing Order (the 'Golding Rule') - Mr Chope was forced to sit down, thus allowing a series of other speakers to contribute. A vote called half an hour later kicked this block of amendments into the Hansard archives.

Time however was running out. The second block of amendments soon fell, but sadly the third did not and the Bill failed to complete third reading. Rebecca Harris should not be dismayed. Time may be running out on this parliamentary session but the 'usual channels' will note the frustrated mood of the House so possibly more time might be granted in order to conclude Third Reading.

But the scale of parliamentary interest in this Bill has exposed why Friday business urgently needs modernising. How can a handful of determined Members blatantly defy the will of the House as they did?This is not to cast any aspersions on those Members whose abhorrence of change or simply for the sport chose to talk Private Members Bills out. It is the process which must change in order to permit a balanced airing of view points with the mechanism to honour a sizeable majority view of the House. As Sir Peter Bottomley eloquently illustrated, had the will of the whole House been followed, changes such as the abolition of the slave trade, and the introduction of the plimsoll line, would have occurred a lot earlier. Here's to debating lighter later, later.


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