Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Emergency Debates

Yesterday the Speaker granted a request for an emergency debate, which will take place in the House of Commons today, on the issue of using Standing Orders, rather than legislation, to introduce a new system to give "English votes on English laws" [EVEL]

The procedure for calling such emergency debates is set out in Standing Order 24 -

(1) On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday a Member rising in his place at the commencement of public business may propose, in an application lasting not more than three minutes, that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration. If the Speaker is satisfied that the matter is proper to be so debated, the Member shall either obtain the leave of the House, or, if such leave be refused, the assent of not fewer than forty Members who shall thereupon rise in their places to support the motion, or, if fewer than forty Members and not fewer than ten shall thereupon rise in their places, the House shall, on a division, upon question put forthwith, determine whether such motion shall be made.
(2) If leave is given or the motion is so supported or the House so determines that it shall be made
(a) the debate shall be held on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter; and
(b) the Speaker shall announce either
(i) the length of the debate and the time at which it is to be held; or
(ii) that he will make such a statement at a later named hour during that sitting.
(3) Proceedings in respect of a debate under this order may last not more than three hours and, at the conclusion of the time allocated to them, pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of this order, the motion, unless otherwise disposed of, shall lapse.
(4) A Member intending to make an application under this order shall give notice to the Speaker by twelve o’clock on a Monday, halfpast ten o’clock on a Tuesday or Wednesday or nine o’clock on a Thursday, if the urgency of the matter is known at that hour. If the urgency is not so known he shall give notice as soon thereafter as is practicable. If the Speaker so desires he may defer giving his decision upon whether the matter is proper to be discussed until a named hour, when he may interrupt the proceedings of the House for the purpose.
(5) In determining whether a matter is proper to be discussed the Speaker shall have regard to the extent to which it concerns the administrative responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown or could come within the scope of ministerial action. In determining whether a matter is urgent the Speaker shall have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means.
(6) The Speaker shall state whether or not he is satisfied that the matter is proper to be discussed without giving the reasons for his decision to the House.
(7) If the Speaker announces that the debate will take place on the same day as the application is made, proceedings on any business postponed as the result of that announcement, may continue, following the conclusion of proceedings on that debate, for the same time beyond the moment of interruption as that taken by the debate, and shall not be interrupted, except as provided in paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business).
The House of Commons Library has produced a list of emergency debates granted since 1979 - which is available here.
Yesterday's Hansard report records the application and its grant -
5.19 pm
I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws.
Last Thursday the Leader of the House outlined a scheme that goes well beyond anything the Government have previously proposed or on which they have consulted, including an exclusion of Scottish Members from voting on parts of the Budget. Their wish is effectively to set up an English Parliament within this United Kingdom House of Commons and to do so by inviting the House to amend its Standing Orders. The substantive issue will be debated in due course, but that is not what I seek to bring to the House now. Rather, it is the process that I submit is specific and important and that should be given urgent consideration.
I am not one of those who has ever sought to avoid answering the West Lothian question. On the contrary, I long for the day when the English members of my family may benefit from devolution in the way that we have done in Scotland since 1999. This, however, is not the way to do it.
In this Session alone, we have already spent four days debating a Bill giving extra powers to the Scottish Parliament. We still have more to come, after which consideration will move to the other place. Addressing the democratic position of the people of England, however, is apparently to be done from scratch, in one day, in this Chamber alone. Obviously, I am concerned about the message this proposal sends to the people of Scotland, but, quite apart from that, I happen to think that the people of England deserve better treatment than this.
Let there be no doubt: we are dealing with a major constitutional change. It is one that undermines a fundamental principle of the workings of this House, namely that no matter where we come from, once we get here we are all equal. To seek to do this in one day by amendment to our Standing Orders may be technically competent, but it is, I would suggest, an abuse of process. It is constitutionally outrageous and I fear that it puts a further unnecessary strain on the Union. That is what the House must consider and what the country must hear debated before we go any further.
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws. I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Gentleman and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?
Application agreed to.
Leave has very clearly been given. The right hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House. What remains is for me to communicate to the House the necessary details. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 7 July, and in conformity with normal practice on these occasions—albeit these occasions are relatively infrequent—it will be held as the first item of public business. It will last for three hours and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application.
The Parliamentary website published this statement -
The House of Commons has agreed to an application for an emergency debate on the means by which the Government seeks to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his Statement on English Votes on English Laws.

The Speaker has decided that this debate will take place on Tuesday 7 July, after Questions, any Statements and the Presentation and Ten Minute Rule Bills, for up to three hours. The scheduled opposition debate will be held afterwards.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Threat to Order?

I apologise for the lack of posts in recent days - I've been very busy. Central to this burst of activity has been Hansard (which I've been reading online in order to gather evidence for a paper I am preparing on scrutiny at Westminster on Education matters.) Pretty heavy going at times - but I came across this little gem -

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What sort of spell has the Secretary of State cast on her Front-Bench team? I have never seen a bunch of numpties with such a lack of vision and passion. I went to five schools in my constituency on Friday. They are crying out for new teachers. They cannot recruit. What will she do about that?


Mr Speaker: Order. For the record, the use of the word “numpties” is arguably tasteless and a matter of subjective opinion, but I do not think it constitutes a threat to order.

Thursday, 2 July 2015


A slight trip, and the British railway network falls flat on its face.

On Tuesday evening, as I was returning to Milton Keynes for my French conversation class, after a day at Westminster, Euston descended into chaos. At least three separate incidents were causing problems on the line between London Euston and Rugby.

I wrote the draft for this post (in longhand) yesterday while awaiting the arrival of a friend from Lutterworth who was travelling via Coventry. The train had been have problems for most of its journey from Scotland. It finally gave up the ghost in Rugby. In the meantime a freight train breakdown shut down the route via Northampton.

Even the best networks suffer occasional problems (and to be fair, reading the news from France this morning, alerted me to the problems their network had suffered due to the heatwave). 100% punctuality is an impossibility - so much can happen that is outside the control of the track operators and the train operators.

But for regular users of the trains, service disruptions occur all too frequently. The annual average for London Midland is 87.9% of trains arrive within 5 minutes of schedule. Virgin trains had 89.4% of trains arriving within 10 minutes of schedule in May 2015. (Btw it would be nice if at a station COMPARABLE statistics were available!)

Train travel is very expensive in the UK - and this isn't good enough. ANSWERS (rather than apologies & the occasional refund) is what passengers want - in other words ACCOUNTABILITY.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

When Technology Raises Constitutional Issues

I have been attending the first two sessions of the Public Bill Committee on the Education and Adoption Bill. The afternoon hearing shuddered to a sudden halt, when it was realised that the witnesses' microphones weren't working. We had to wait until the correct button was hit before the 20 person committee and the 3 witnesses could start.

It was explained that without the microphones, there was nothing for Hansard to use in preparing a transcript. Without that record, legally the evidence did not exist - hence the delay. A number of suggestions were made about getting the witnesses to be heard, but that was not the issue.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Coming Up

I'm sitting in Portcullis House working my way through Future Business for both House - some brief highlights

- Statements today on the events of the last few days - might not be out yet, but in any case the screen in Portcullis House for HoC is playing up
- 4th Question in Lords on performance of the Advertising Standards Authority
- Question tomorrow in HoL on whistleblowing in the NHS
- Short debate tomorrow in HoL (Dinner Break Business) on Children & Young People's Mental Health Task Force Report
- HoL question on Wednesday about publication (when???) of the Chilcot Report
- The Education & Adoption Bill will start its committee stage tomorrow and will have up to 4 meetings this week (Tuesday & Thursday)