To object or not to object – that is the question?

Last week saw an interesting display of the use of archaic parliamentary procedures. On Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions the SNP cohort of MPs walked out of the House of Commons having been refused an immediate vote on whether the House should sit in private. The Speaker decided not to interrupt Prime Minister’s Questions to hold such a vote and so rather than sit tight and wait half an hour, Ian Blackford refused to comply with Bercow’s demands and was therefore kicked out. He was accused of staging the whole thing, knowing that it was highly unlikely the weekly grilling of the PM would be put on hold for a vote and therefore gaining publicity for the SNP cause (but losing the ability to question Theresa May and hold the vote after PMQs had ended).

Then on Friday Christopher Chope decided to utilise another Parliamentary practice and object to the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill – a Private Members Bill which would outlaw the abhorrent practice of ‘upskirting’. In fact, he was not objecting to the Bill itself, but the idea that legislation can be passed ‘on the nod’ without proper scrutiny and debate. One might say that this Bill should not need that and what objections can anyone possibly have to it, but Chope and his colleague Philip Davies had a wider point to make about procedure in Parliament – sadly they are being vilified by press and public and not being given an adequate chance to defend themselves.

In the UK, MPs are elected to carry out numerous functions – represent their constituency, aid constituents with queries, problems etc, contribute to debate and to question the Government. The Brexit debate and those dubbed ‘rebels’ by the media have highlighted once again that MPs are being criticised for actually doing their jobs. The idea that an elected representative can be condemned for standing up for a subject on which they hold strong views – even if they are counter to their party’s opinion – is ludicrous. The British electorate should be celebrating the fact that there are MPs who are willing to do this, rather than keep quiet so as not to damage their career prospects.

There is no lasting damage to the prospects for Wera Hobhouse’s excellent Bill. The Ministry of Justice indicated their support a while ago, and they will now allow it to be debated in Government time – probably what they should have done ages ago to ensure it was given sufficient time to become law. Perhaps this debacle might kick start a more detailed examination of how Private Members’ Bills are debated – unless an MP is lucky enough to get the first or second slot, the likelihood of their Bill progressing to law is nil. There are some excellent Bills which given adequate time would greatly enhance society.

Parliament has plenty of time for all these debates. If the rules and procedures are used sensibly it could enhance public perception of our law makers and ensure we have good legislation the books. However, with a Government bogged down in Brexit and attempting to stave off yet another difficult afternoon of votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill, it is doubtful they will turn their minds to this yet.