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David Porter » Entries tagged with "House of Commons"

Ancient Parliamentary Privilege Still Vital in Modern Democracy

Periodically ‘Parliamentary privilege’ is a term thrown into the spotlight by events. Now it’s on the agenda again with a big consultation exercise. This article was first published on Suite 101, 27 April 2012. It is republished now, as the question is still outstanding. In May 2011, Lib Dem MP John Hemming named aloud in Parliament Ryan Giggs as the footballing celebrity who had been granted a High Court ‘super injunction’ to gag anybody from speaking about or reporting his alleged affair with a former reality TV star. The order was so powerful that it could not even be acknowledged as existing. Coming as part of a stream of big public names employing the same tactics to keep their lives private, the question of what the media should and could report was … Read entire article »

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Ministerial Resignations Are Often Political Theatre At Its Best

This article was first published on Suite 101, 21 October 2011. Now, a year on, in the wake of the resignation of the Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, over an issue that raises all sorts of questions about integrity, the arrogance of office, police records, hidden police agendas and the judgement of senior politicians… it is timely to republish it. Shakespeare wrote: ‘Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it’. (Macbeth). If only the same could be said of many who leave ministerial life. The Ministerial Code is issued at the start of each administration by the new Prime Minister. It’s not formalised in the constitution, but has evolved through precedence and guidance. By convention, Ministers inform and explain, apologise, take remedial action and resign in ministerial responsibility. Each … Read entire article »

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Whips Mean Business in Parliamentary Proceedings

This article was first published on Suite 101, 20 October 2011. Now, a year on, in the wake of the resignation of the Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, over an issue that raises all sorts of questions about integrity, the arrogance of office, police records, hidden police agendas and the judgement of senior politicians… it is timely to republish it. Periodically, Government whips hit the news and people ask, who are they? What do they do? Why do they have such power? The Parliamentary website gives a succinct definition: ‘whips are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to help organise their party’s contribution to parliamentary business’. They ensure that most party members vote, and vote according to party wishes. It’s thought ‘whip’ stems from 18th century hunting, where a ‘whipper-in’ … Read entire article »

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Westminster and Public Services Suffer Crime Waves

 Everything ‘owned’ by government is really owned by the taxpayers. However, some take it quite literally and think they can walk away with public assets. People have long stolen from work places. They take stationery, use computers and phones free, and steal time too. Many regard it as harmless, ‘victimless’ crime. Have we crossed a line into a belief that public theft is somehow acceptable? The 2011 English riots saw organised gangs of criminals stealing and damaging. Schools, hospitals, council offices and depots regularly suffer pilfering from a minority of staff and visitors. When the 2008 recession began there were reports of school students recharging their mobiles in classroom sockets, at taxpayers’ expense. It’s not a new phenomenon. By the end of the last world war, thousands of troops took souvenirs from places … Read entire article »

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Recall of Parliament Is Action Being Seen to be Done

Reflecting public fear about rampaging criminality, a one day recall of Parliament can only be a start in debating what action is needed next in Britain. Governments do not bring back holidaying Members from frequently far-flung corners of the world, lightly. Account has to be taken of maintenance work scheduled for the recesses across the Palace of Westminster. The recess working programmes of staff are disrupted at a cost, as are pre-booked tours. However, there are times when to do otherwise is to risk political scorn, and allow crises to deepen. People need to feel that their Parliamentary institution is taking matters seriously, and since 1948 it has been recalled 24 times. August 2011 is clearly another such occasion. By the way, ‘recall’ should not be confused with voters having the … Read entire article »

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Downing Street Is More Than Merely the Prime Minister’s Residence

  Number 10 and neighbouring buildings make up an iconic part of the both the “Westminster Village” and the world’s view of the seat of British government. To date, fifty-two men and one woman have entered the famous black door of No 10 as Prime Minister. It has been their family home; nerve-centre of governments and nation during war; and in times of political difficulties, ‘the bunker’ of beleaguered premiers. It’s the soap opera of the nation. The front masks a rabbit warren of rooms and passages, a mix of styles and periods, including the very latest security technology. TV crews are almost constantly camped outside, across the cul-de-sac, facing the door. Who comes in and out could be newsworthy. Ministers, visitors, officials, celebrities: the arrival and departure of everybody tells … Read entire article »

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The UK’s Parliamentary Lobby is an Arcane Ritual but it Works

Selected ‘Lobby’ journalists are allowed access to Westminster’s inner sanctum, close to the Chamber and MPs. It’s changing, like much in political life. A lobby has various meanings: a large room or entranceway into a building like a hotel or public office. In the US it can apply to a domestic house, in the UK’s Staffordshire it’s a thick edible stew, while in Parliament and politics, it has other meanings. To lobby Parliament is to seek to influence or persuade either one or both Houses or MPs themselves to take or avoid particular action. It’s a campaigning word, and applies to both well-organised, professional businesses, or one or two citizens asserting their rights/objections/pleas. The Right to Lobby Every citizen has right of access to Parliament to speak with his/her elected Member. That is, of … Read entire article »

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When Members of Parliament Fall Foul of the Laws They Make

The January 2011 jailing for 18 months of former MP David Chaytor for fiddling expenses, raised interest in how many others have served time over the years. MPs have high levels of theoretical probity. In the Chamber, all are called ‘Honourable’ or ‘Right Honourable’. However, temptation to steal/lie/cheat/betray are as high in politics as the rest of humanity. It appears, at least in the past 30 years, the numbers of jailed MPs is less than the average in the population as a whole. The House of Commons’ Library published a paper in 2008 in response to a Freedom of Information request, explaining the rules: ‘In cases in which Members of either House are arrested on criminal charges, the House must be informed of the cause for which they are detained from their … Read entire article »

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The Real Power of Some UK Parliamentary Procedures

Early Day Motions to be signed, Adjournment Debates to be attended, Private Members’ Bills to pass: life in the Commons is not all effective. The MPs’ expenses scandals in 2008-2010 and refreshing of the Commons at the 2010 General Election did not elevate public approval of elected representatives. Most people understand how laws emanating from the European Union render Parliamentarians impotent. Nevertheless, a disapproving public expects MPs to do their duty. And that means doing voters’ bidding. Edmund Burke’s warning from 1774: ‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion’, means little to voters who want their MP to deal with localised unemployment, doctor/dentist/schooling matters, tax/unemployment issues, planning consents and a new pedestrian crossing. Many of … Read entire article »

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A Life in the Day of a British Member of Parliament

As maligned as tax collectors, traffic wardens, estate agents and the media, British MPs’ work and lifestyles are often misunderstood and underestimated. Fuelled by media reports and frequent lapses of common sense, MPs are perceived by many as self-serving, egotistical riders of the gravy train/scrapers of the pork barrel, anxious only to secure re-election and submit expense claims. As many lost their seats in the 2010 general election and seek to build new livesoutside Westminster, there is little public sympathy for their plight. Even some who were re-elected may have had their hopes and ambitions of office dashed by the resulting hung parliament and a coalition government. Again, most people faced with economic and other difficulties of their own are less bothered about MPs’ situations. Local Issues and Work An MP’s life is divided … Read entire article »

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