Has light been shone?
- 20 January 2012
- From the section UK Politics
The forces of darkness appear to be vanquished by paladins for the Daylight Saving Bill.
A solid majority of MPs has mobilised - and has already taken the rare step (under Standing Order 29, last used in 1987) of voting through a motion to force the filibusterer-general, Christopher Chope, to stop speaking and let others continue the debate.
Mr Chope, rather handsomely said he wouldn't hold support for that motion against any colleagues.
The same majority has now been used twice to force each group of amendments to a vote - and the bill now looks likely to clear the Commons today, probably leaving enough time to get the Live Music Bill through its remaining stages as well. Interestingly, the Speaker has played a role here - grouping amendments into a few large groups, rather than allowing each to be taken individually, which would have made passing the bill impossible.
One of the comments on the earlier post suggested this kind of procedural fandango is rather absurd; indeed it is, but there are a couple of points worth making. Parliamentary minorities always find ways to use the rules to their advantage, hoping that cunning tactics will compensate for lack of numbers. The classic example was the mid-1990s Maastricht rebellion, when the late lamented Speaker Weatherill was heard to utter a most unparliamentary expression after the umpteenth point of order from Bill Cash.
Second, then: rules around private members' bills are deliberately designed so that a small but determined group of adversaries can block them. The thought is that individual MPs' pet schemes for the betterment of humanity ought not to be waved through into law by a couple of members on a dozy Friday morning. But there's probably a better way of doing it….
UPDATE @1.52pm: Things are now looking dangerously tight for the Live Music Bill. The Commons is now voting on a closure motion to finish off the last section of the report stage of the Daylight Saving Bill - if that is agreed, they move to a vote on the last group of amendments and then to a third reading - potentially three divisions, each taking a little under a quarter of an hour.
It is technically possible to rush through the report and third reading of the Live Music Bill, if absolutely no-one objects, but it will be tight. Lib Dem Alan Reid has just attempted to drop an amendment he's been pursuing, presumably in order to save a little time, but he's been told it's too late, because MPs are voting on whether or not to vote on it; and if they agree to vote on it, the vote must go ahead.
UPDATE @2.30pm: This is extraordinary! MPs have just spent five hours debating the Daylight Saving Bill and it has run out of time without even getting out of report stage; but the Live Music Bill - which has never been debated on the floor of the Commons at all - has been waved through into law.
To trace what happened a little more slowly …. I miscounted and there was another group of amendments after the last closure motion…which meant that at about 2.20pm, the Commons moved to another tranche of amendments, with no time to complete them. Remember, the job of the chair (by then Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans) is to ensure that amendments are debated for a satisfactory amount of time, so the chair won't just whiz through the agenda at an absurd pace.
Which meant the bill was scuppered, after all. Tory Philip Davies solemnly droned on for the 10 minutes remaining, until the chair called time - and the Daylight Saving Bill and all its supporters were comprehensively outmanoeuvred.
The ritual is that at the Clerks then read out the titles of the other bills down for debate, the ones which have not been reached. They are rescheduled into some distant future day, with low priority for debate, if any MP shouts "Object".
But no-one objected to the Live Music Bill, so it is deemed to have the approval of the Commons and goes off to be signed by the Queen - having already passed the Lords. The irony is that the Live Music Bill (which removes a lot of licensing bureaucracy from small music events) was given an entirely formal second reading on 25 November last year and sent off to a Public Bill Committee for detailed scrutiny - all in 23 seconds flat. So it was never debated by the whole House of Commons either at second reading, report or third reading. It's law-making, Jim, but not as we know it.
I get the impression the backers of the Daylight Saving Bill are smarting at the tactics which defeated them. They thought they had pulled a master-stroke by (temporarily) silencing Chris Chope. But the accumulated streetsmarts of the regular humane killers of private members' bills told in the end. There's some chuntering about divisions (votes, to you and me) taking too long, and I suspect some judicious time wasting probably accounted for a good half hour of Commons time, but I doubt that alone would have made a difference to the outcome; they never even got out of report.
Mr Davies is unlikely to be deterred by the wrath of his colleagues who have given up a Friday to push this bill through, but they will have an opportunity to take revenge fairly soon. The Backbench Business Committee, of which he is a member, is up for re-election in June - and he has just made rather a lot of enemies.