Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Messing around in the Commons

High Jinks around the Domestic Violence Bill and lots of messing around which seems impenetrable to the average outsider.
Let me try and explain.
We were mad. The Tories were mad. (Angry not crazy)
The reason?
A Home Office Press Release had announced a review on Murder - with a particular promise to look at so called "honour killings". A good thing but this release had been issued in the morning by the Home Secretary. Oh, and he also happened to mention that this initiative "had been announced during the Domestic Violence etc etc Bill"
But wait.
Discussion on the Bill didn't start until the early afternoon and there was no slot or amendment that seemed appropriate so the guess was that the Home Secretary was planning to come along for the Third Reading of the Bill and make his big announcement.

The mutterings started "Abuse of privelege" etc etc.
Then some clever soul (I think it was David Heath but may have been one of the Tories - Dominic Grieve or Cheryl Gillan) spotted that the timetabling of the discussion meant that we could scupper the Home Secretary's plans.

This is where it gets a bit nerdy. The Government love timetabling but this often means that discussion on certain areas of the Bill are limited. On controversial Bills there are suspicions that this is done by design rather than by accident.
The timetabling for this evenings business was odd as there was a cut off at 6:30 which only left half an hour for third reading (no time was given but there was a direction that the business should finish by 7).
A plan was hatched and suddenly a small amendment on "fitness to plead" attracted a lot more people wanting to speak and register their concern than otherwise might be expected. The ensuing vote took rather longer than might be expected and an extra vote was also called.

At this point the Home Secretary realised that he was not going to be able to make his big announcement and his face was a picture.

There followed numerous points of order, an impromptu vote on whether the house should sit in private (pure games by this time) and more points of order.

But the opposition benches were united in their indignation that Parliament was treated so lightly. In days of old (before my time in this place) Ministerial Announcements were made first and foremost to Parliament. Those days are rapidly going and we usually learn what is going on by listening to the Today programme.
Dangerous days for democracy when the Govenment hold Parliament in such disdain. If Parliament is to be taken seriously then perhaps we need to ensure that this is where "it happens" - not varying quirky press opportunities scattered around the capital.