MPs seek greater independence from Government timetables

April 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

by Gavin Pearson

MPs clashed over the independence of the House of Commons yesterday as Deputy Leader of the House Chris Bryant took questions on how Parliament was run.

Conservative Peter Bone said that only one in four amendments were selected for debate when Bills go to report stage, and labelled this a failure of government and scrutiny.

Chris Bryant argued that the system worked, but he was rebuffed by Lib Dem David Heath who said that Government set the timetable for debates, and that this offered backbench MPs no say on what report stages they wanted heard.

Mr Bryant defended the status quo again, stressing that these matters were discussed with MPs. But Sir Nicholas Winterton proposed a radical overhaul of how the Commons set its business.

The longstanding Conservative MP argued that instead of leaving timetables in the hands of governments who serve their own interests, a proportional committee of backbench MPs should be formed to timetable all business.

This is a proposal put forward by Parliament First, which is made up of a number of experienced MPs from all parties. It is hoped such a measure would make the Commons more independent of the Executive.

However, Mr Bryant warned that “all that glitters is not gold” and stressed that it would be an inflexible system that did not match the present combination of discussion and opposition days.

Shailesh Vara suggested a simpler measure to extend debate time by shortening the summer recess. Mr Bryant said that the Leader of the House remained open to such suggestions.

Discussions then moved on to MPs’ staff and how to provide pensions for researchers. However, Hugh Bayley’s proposal that they be permitted to join the Commons pension scheme was put down somewhat by Nick Harvey, who explained that the scheme was not open to staff who were not employed by the Commons itself.

Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack agreed with this position and stressed that MPs should continue to employ their staff independent of the Commons. A vote is due on this matter later in the Parliamentary session.

David Taylor expressed concern about the unwillingness of the Commons to recognise the trade union Unite as a representative of MPs’ staff. But again it was pointed out that they were not employed by the Commons.

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