Tuesday, November 10

How the UK improved its Parliament

While the MP’s have proven themselves to be a bunch of slimy gits on the matter of expenses, quietly on another side of the equation, they have improved the quality of Parliament through a small but crucial step of introducing topical debate mechanism. Here, read the government response to the report in question which actually brought this about, specially the Recommendation 16 & 17. I quote in full including the government response:

Rec 16 The topicality of debates in the Chamber should be improved. We believe that the House will attract greater attention from Members, the public and the media if it finds a means of debating topical issues

Rec 17 We recommend that provision should be made in Standing Orders for topical debates on issues of regional, national or international importance to be held on one day each week. Topical debates would last for an hour and a half and be taken immediately after questions and statements but before the main business of the day. (Paragraph 59)

11. The Government agrees with the case made for improving the topicality of debates in the Chamber and in particular for a system of regular 90 minute topical debates on issues of regional, national or international importance. In accordance with later recommendation (Rec 23) of the report, this would be a debate on a motion ‘That this House has considered [the matter of xxx]’. Since such motions are intended to replace main ‘adjournment’ debates, they should not be amendable. The Government agrees also that specific provisions and understandings are needed to govern speaking time in such debates, in accordance with the
principles set out under Rec 32 of the report (see paragraph 28 below).

12. The Government agrees that such a debate should take place on a weekly basis. Although a pattern of such debates taking place on a particular day each week might emerge, in practice the scheduling of debates would have to remain with the Leader of the House to reflect the demands of other business (including, as the report observes, the desirability of avoiding Opposition Days where possible). The selection of debate – not least to ensure that the subject is genuinely “regional, national or international” which could not be guaranteed under a ballot system – would be announced by the Leader of the House following discussions in the usual channels and following representations from opposition parties and backbenchers. If the slot identified for the topical
debate in a given week is on a Monday or Tuesday then the subject would generally be announced at the preceding Thursday business statement. But in order to preserve maximum opportunity for topicality, then where the slot for the debate is on a Wednesday or Thursday, it is envisaged that the subject would be notified to the House by the tabling of the relevant motion on the preceding Monday.

This paper reviewed the performance of this small step and found that it was indeed quite good in its way to improve the quality of debate in the House of Commons. Given that usually parliament time is taken up by government pushed large topics of the day, the fact that time has been set aside to actually debate topics which back bench members raise means that the topics are now much broader, the topics relate to more esoteric and in many ways, more local constituency issues.

Something good that the Labour Party has done. Good work there. Small steps, small steps would assist in making the UK a better democratic society more responsive to its citizens.

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