MPs are due to debate proposals to modernise Commons procedure on February 23rd which have been drawn up by a cross-party committee chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright. The proposals include the election of select committee members and chairmen and giving power to the Commons over its agenda (rather than the Government), partly through the creation of Business Committees.
The Shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young was alarmed to read in the Times this morning that the Government is going to use a procedure for making the proposals which could see any recommendation voted down after an objection from just one MP.
At Business Questions today, Sir George asked Harriet Harman:
"There is now widespread suspicion that the Government have adopted an approach that is simply designed to fail. Today’s edition of The Times reports that we will be voting only on an unamendable order, which could be blocked by a single Member. Is that consistent with the spirit of consensus to which the right hon. and learned Lady has constantly referred? The last time a similar package of reforms was debated in the House, in 2002, we had a debate and then we voted on a series of resolutions on the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee. Why is that not an appropriate precedent for the Wright Committee?
"Will the House be able to vote on the resolutions of which the Government approve as well as on those that they do not? Does the Leader of the House agree with my suggestion that we should postpone the February recess by one day and debate the Wright report earlier than she proposes, given that we are seriously beginning to run out of time? Yesterday she admitted that she was not much good at reversing. Today she risks stalling."
Harriet Harman's reply does not instill confidence:
"It is fair enough for people to be suspicious if there is something to be suspicious of, but he should not be suspicious because we are trying to be very straightforward about this. The Government have been very positive about reforming and improving how the House of Commons works, and we have a clear record of bringing to the House of Commons reforms that have then been accepted by it. We are keen to continue that reform by taking forward the recommendations in the Wright Committee report. The Government’s preference for reaching decisions on these reforms is that we proceed on the basis of consensus, and proceed as quickly as possible.
"We would like to recommend to the House no fewer than 21 of the Wright Committee’s recommendations. We thought it would help the House to have a full day’s debate—as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have given a provisional date of 23 February for that—at the end of which we will place all 21 before the House under the Remaining Orders of the Day. I hope that some of them will go through without objection, as I know that there will be consensus in the House. That will probably not be the case for all of them, but let us hope that it will be for as many as possible. If there are objections, we are committed to bringing back to the House those motions that have been objected to. Resolutions will then be tabled that can be amended. At the point at which they are amendable, any recommendation from the Wright Committee’s report can thereby be attached."
Ben Farrugia from the TaxPayers's Alliance has written an irate blog about the matter:
"The debate scheduled for February 23rd will therefore be nothing more than parliamentary theatre. All of the measures will be objected to – the Government will make sure of that – and the Committee's proposals (along with the hopes of anyone who wants better government) will be sunk.
"Rare are the times when such a small bunch of MPs have so brazenly stuck their middle fingers up at the people of the UK. This move by the leader of the House of Commons (and in the background, Labour's Chief Whip Nick Brown) should bring the people out onto the streets. It is the most blatant abuse of the Parliamentary schedule and procedures I can remember, and there have been some crackers in recent years."
Read his full post here.