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Parliament Matters – A potty-mouthed Parliament? (Episode 18)

26 Jan 2024
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, chairing a session of Prime Minister's Questions. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, chairing a session of Prime Minister's Questions. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)

Does Parliament have a potty-mouth problem? The Speaker of the House of Commons took MPs to task this week for their behaviour, amid accusations of a dramatic increase in the use of bad language in the Chamber. But is it really that fruity? And if he’s so concerned, isn’t it time the Speaker started to eject some MPs from the Chamber?

The Government has struck a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland, so we look ahead at what needs to happen to get the Assembly back up and running after nearly two years in suspended animation.

We also discuss the decision by Mike Freer MP to stand down at the next election following threats to his life, what the Second Reading votes on the Rwanda Bill tell us about its future prospects in the House of Lords, and possible difficulties ahead for the proposal to exclude MPs from the parliamentary estate if accused of serious offences.

Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Parliament Matters Episode 18

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:38:13

You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at hansardsociety.org.uk/pm. Welcome to Parliament Matters the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox. And I'm Mark D’Arcy. Coming up. Does Parliament have a potty mouth problem? The Speaker took MPs to task this week for falling short of the standards of good time promoter action that should characterise parliamentary debate amid accusations about a dramatic increase in use of bad language in the chamber.

00:00:38:19 - 00:01:00:18

But is it really that fruity? A deal is done in northern Ireland. It could reopen the Northern Ireland Assembly, which could emerge from the suspended animation it's been in for the best part of two years but has the same deal rub salt into the open wounds of Brexit on the conservative backbenches? But first, through one table, we called it right last week when we said the Lords would not oppose the legislation at second reading.

00:01:00:24 - 00:01:28:14

But what did we learn from the debate and what happens now? So, Ruth, let's start with a quick return to Rwanda and that vote in the House of Lords, as we were predicting last time. Peers didn't in the end oppose the bill and just strike it down at second reading. They almost never do that anyway, and it didn't seem like a very likely possibility, as we were saying last week.

00:01:28:16 - 00:01:48:23

But all the same, there were a few interesting little nuggets that emerged from that debate, not least the voting figures around that second reading vote. There was just a handful of crossbench peers joined the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and I think one plight could repair Lord Wigley in opposing the bill at second reading. The rest of the House was quite happy to see it go through.

00:01:49:00 - 00:02:13:14

On the general principle, it's what always happens in the Lords. You don't oppose government bills and just strike them down. You got them when you get your teeth into the detail later on. Yes. Or as Lord Anderson of Ipswich, he we had on the spot after the Supreme Court case just just before Christmas. So the seriousness of these issues means that we owe the Commons the courtesy of our careful consideration of them, which basically means, yes, let's amend it as we see fit.

00:02:13:16 - 00:02:33:16

So pears will be sinking their remaining teeth into the detail of the bill. I think it comes back on something like the 13th of February for the start of committee stage, but that's not when the real action takes place. Committee Stage is kind of shadow boxing phase, where coalitions are built up around particular potential changes to the bill and ministers respond about questions on detail.

00:02:33:16 - 00:02:51:23

So it's an early preliminary shadow boxing phase and the real action will take place at report stage, which I mentioned now will be in March. Yes, looking like that. In terms of the timetable, I'm just to go back to the vote, you're saying there's some interesting patterns. I mean, 84 peers voted to decline to give it a second reading.

00:02:51:24 - 00:03:11:23

And as you say, it's predominantly the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the polite Comrie. But there were eight Labour peers who voted with the Liberal Democrats, including Shami CHAKRABARTI, Michael Cashman. But the majority of Labour peers basically voted with their feet and stayed away. So they were present in the debate, took part but didn't participate in the vote, a sort of form of abstention.

00:03:12:00 - 00:03:33:16

And interestingly the crossbenchers only five critical. Yeah, and only five of them voted to decline to give it a second reading. But interestingly, one of them, Baroness Hale, formerly the head of the Supreme Court. I daresay she will pop up in the debates that are yet to come around. The detail of the bill. But the crossbenchers are a critical part of all this.

00:03:33:18 - 00:03:52:02

If you're going to defeat the government and vote something down, you need not only the main opposition, the Labour Party, you need most of the crossbenchers always remembering that there's no such thing as a crossbench whip. They don't vote as a bloc, although they do have a substantial herd instinct and will follow the lead of prominent figures sometimes as well as of course as the Liberal Democrats.

00:03:52:02 - 00:04:14:23

So it's only if you get that whole sort of rainbow coalition that the government can lose and that Rainbow Coalition assembles itself quite often in the laws, which is, you know, habitually defeating the government tens, even hundreds of times in every parliamentary session these days. Yeah, but there were some really high quality speeches in the debate. I know one of our favourite pairs is Lord Hennessy, the former journalist and constitutional historical stand.

00:04:15:03 - 00:04:37:01

And he gave a, you know, frankly, wonderful, very short the speeches were quite short and pithy, a wonderful speech about the rule of law, he said, has a fair claim to be the most lustrous of all values, almost talismanic in its properties. So anything that threatens, weakens or tarnishes our crucial defining value. The inspirational principle for governing and living well together is a first order matter.

00:04:37:03 - 00:05:01:00

And he ended with a devastating one liner. Is this really the country? We want to be huge, so look out for many more high quality contributions later. I was struck by one, though, Lord Kinzel, the convenor of the cross-benches, rather, disagreed with something we said last week. We said that we didn't think this bill came under the Salisbury Convention, under which the Lords don't strike down a bill that's been in the governing party's election manifesto.

00:05:01:00 - 00:05:29:11

We didn't think that the reminder scheme was in their manifesto. Look enough seems to think that it was and apparently is preparing a memo on this very subject. So we wait with interest. Yeah, he talked about preparing papers on this all around us and convention. It wasn't clear who for be afraid. Very afraid. But some. He talked about the convention having a number of aspects to it, one of which being that a government bill, as he described it with manifesto characteristics, will be given a second reading an interesting of manifesto adjacency.

00:05:29:11 - 00:05:50:03

Yeah. And interestingly, Lord list fame former clerk of the House of Commons. Again, we had on the pot a few episodes ago for a discussion about some of his thoughts on the Constitution, the state of things. He talked also about the fact that we kind of get a bit obsessed with this manifesto issue. You talked about the manifesto of the government in 1945 run to only eight pages.

00:05:50:03 - 00:06:16:11

Now it's sort of, you know, 100 pages of much more sort of philosophical tract rather than specific detailed legislative plan. And he talked back about the joint Committee on Conventions in 2006. He sort of got back to that and said he thought it was better to treat the endorsement of the elected House. So the fact that the Commons has passed the bill as being sufficient democratic authority under the convention, there's going to be a lot of debate around this.

00:06:16:14 - 00:06:48:03

I think one of the long term side effects of the Salisbury Patterson Convention all those years ago is that manifestos become, in a sense, constitutional documents. If a proposal is listed in the manifesto, the Lords won't throw it out at second reading, at least, even if things are, as I've talked about earlier, the detail of it later on in later stages of consideration, I can imagine we start to invent new categories here that it is manifesto commitments, this manifesto adjacent, maybe even manifesto curious, and who knows where this will take us, Right.

00:06:48:03 - 00:07:10:23

So if we move on from the amendment, should we talk about the Speaker's comments this week just before Prime Minister's questions where he basically made a statement to the House and said that recent exchanges had been lively, but he felt that they were falling below the standards expected during the in the House. And he talked about the fact that there would be no use of props in the chamber, which isn't permitted.

00:07:10:23 - 00:07:31:10

And of course, that was an allusion to the Prime Minister wielding a document to Keir Starmer at one session of PMQs. He talked about some of the language used in questions has fallen short of the standards of good temper and moderation. As an expert in parliamentary debate, words that we probably don't want to repeat on a family podcast when we know children might be listening.

00:07:31:12 - 00:07:48:04

Yes, but you can imagine the S-word and the F-word have been at the heart of this discussion. So there's a story in Politico this week, and I think it's prompted some of this that they highlight what they say is an increase in the use of bad language in the chamber. They talk about it as being record levels of cursing in debate.

00:07:48:06 - 00:08:08:09

Well, I mean, we got to set it in context. They've got this sort of wonderful chart, but it's presented in such a way that it looks like a huge spike, but it's actually gone up from 0 to 2 in one case and, you know, 200% increase. Yeah. Yes, exactly. So, you know, the statistics on you know, you know, the story, too, is not a 200% increase on zero.

00:08:08:09 - 00:08:33:15

But I have to say, if any mathematicians coming to get me, of course, is this a recent James Cleverly incident where he was reported to have used a disappointing word about Middlesborough? Of course, if I keep her quotes of James, allegedly what James cleverly had said about the row and the policy itself of being back, not to mention Sir Keir Starmer about the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister waiting himself, using a word that the Speaker I don't think would have liked either.

00:08:33:16 - 00:09:05:07

No, although apparently in terms of the rules around unparliamentary language, if you say the word directly to the the fellow member, that's unparliamentary. But if you quote somebody else saying it. So I think in this case he was quoting The Times headline that's permitted. I think there's a very delicate hair being very split there. But there is a general feeling that the temporary parliamentary debate is getting a bit nasty and maybe that's just a natural development when there's an election on the horizon.

00:09:05:07 - 00:09:28:11

Pre-electoral tension is taking hold here and you call it what you will, but they are just the pot is really simmering quite nicely and has a tendency to boil over at the slightest provocation at the moment. But beyond that, Prime Minister's question time is becoming awful. I mean, it's always been ignored for a while. It's always been amateur theatrics.

00:09:28:13 - 00:09:51:05

Sometimes it's absolutely toe curling, but so often I feel a small portion of my soul die every time I watch it. But I think it's somehow got worse. Perhaps it's actually the failure of art history that neither of the two main protagonists in Prime Minister's Question Time would ever be called a great capital G, great parliamentarian. There just isn't that level of sort of delicate oratorical artistry.

00:09:51:06 - 00:10:22:03

Yeah, the William Hague's, the Tony Blair's did have. And so it's both a bit clunking, but also incredibly crude and really rather dull and boring and I think the general public probably hate it actually. And this is always a John Bercow line. The public hate this sort of thing. He used to say when he was in. I mean when we've done research and society on this subject in previous years, I mean we did once look at PMQs and got some focus groups together to watch it, and we've had other focus groups that are sort of more generic talking about people's attitudes to politics and parliament generally.

00:10:22:03 - 00:10:42:18

And it always comes up, why are they behaving like that? That's their workplace. If I behaved like that in my workplace, cheering and jeering my colleagues across the table, I get sacked. Why are they behaving like toddlers in the playground? And it's not just the no mark backbenchers doing this. Yeah, I think the last PMQs, the Chief Whip, Simon Hall, was being rebuked for his behaviour.

00:10:42:24 - 00:11:03:09

Yeah. I mean he was told by the speaker, Look, you're getting very carried away and this is like 10 minutes after the Speaker's given his statement asking MP to raise their game. So there's a lack of leadership on both frontbenchers, frankly, because both, you know, both the Government and the Opposition frontbencher are equally at fault. But I think we've also got to then start to question does the Speaker now have to start?

00:11:03:14 - 00:11:17:19

It's no good making the statements and then having to intervene, as he did this week on at least two occasions to reprimand MPs and threaten to throw some of them out. As he puts it, you'll be going for a cup of tea if he doesn't actually do it. And he keeps saying each week, I'm going to do this.

00:11:17:19 - 00:11:34:19

This is the threat. You know, if you don't behave. And until he does, I don't think anything is going to change. I think that's what's got to happen now. He's got to make good his threats and start singing people out of the chamber if they don't behave, because otherwise it's just going to escalate because he can quote that line that he's so fond of.

00:11:34:19 - 00:11:54:06

Of good temper and moderation are the hallmarks of parliamentary debate at the beginning of every PMQs from now till the next parliament. And it won't make a blind bit of difference unless there's actual enforcement action, I'm afraid. Yeah, that's just the temper of the time. I think at the moment, just going back to this question of what language you can use, I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding.

00:11:54:06 - 00:12:12:06

Sometimes people think that particular journalists I think, think that there's sort of a list of words you cannot say. And they used to be in Usk in May, but they no longer have that. They sort of done away with maintaining this list of precedents where words have been ruled out by the speaker of the day and they now have this sort of line about the context matters.

00:12:12:10 - 00:12:38:08

I rather miss the list, actually, because it was full of all these wonderful Victorian expressions. You can't call someone a guttersnipe or a jack o lantern or whatever. Pigeon. Yeah, you can imagine Charles Dickens sitting in the parliamentary press gallery in the 1820s or 1830s whenever it was hearing some of these expressions being used, but I doubt if many of them have been used in the last half century or so, but they're all solemnly listed quite frequently as the things you're not allowed to say.

00:12:38:11 - 00:13:07:03

You're not allowed to say someone's a hypocrite, you're not allowed to say someone's a liar. You're not allowed to imply someone is drunk. A famous incident. If I think it was Clare Short in the early eighties, accused John Clarke of not being sober at the dispatch box, when indeed he wasn't such late night sittings. But just going back to the point about the lying issue, yes, you come as an MP, accuse one of your colleagues in the debate, just a sort of part, the natural flow of the discussion.

00:13:07:05 - 00:13:24:24

He's a liar. She's a liar. But if you think they have lied, you can do something. You can seek to table a motion specifically making that claim. They've got advance notice of it, which is part of the procedure of fairness, to give them notice that that's an accusation that's being levelled at them. And then there can be a debate on it in the House.

00:13:24:24 - 00:13:45:09

CONVOKED So there is a mechanism to tackle the question of lying. And when I see MP in recent years we've had we've had Ian Blackford, we've had Stone Butler accusing other MPs of lying, particularly, or Johnson of course before he left the House. They make those accusations as part of the general debate. They know what they're doing. They know they're going to get called up by the speaker.

00:13:45:09 - 00:14:20:11

They know they're probably going to get asked to leave. But it's a good YouTube clip to stick on the website. It's an excellent YouTube group. And if they were serious about pursuing it, they seek to table a motion so that they could put the claim to the House. And I suppose they could end up being labelled as kind of vexatious litigants if Mr. Johnson's case, if they did say so, onto untruth, that the week's big political event, far far, which has been the announcement of a new deal over Northern Ireland, the back story here is that the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland have been boycotting the Northern Ireland Assembly, make it impossible for it to

00:14:20:11 - 00:14:56:16

operate because of all the rules. It has to have cross-party consent for a couple of years now because they are very vexed by the internal border that's been created between the Great Britain mainland, if you like, and Northern Ireland as a result of the special status of Northern Ireland, of having to maintain an open border with the Republic, which is of course inside the European Single Market and the squaring the circle of the UK being outside the single market and not having a closed border with border points to the republic has been one of the huge difficulties that's bedevilled Brexit ever since the 2016 vote.

00:14:56:16 - 00:15:18:16

There've been all sorts of attempts to try and get answers to it. The Windsor Protocol and the latest modifications that have been agreed in a sort of tripartite negotiation between the DUP, the UK Government and the European Commission to come up with some sort of workable solution and to hosannas, at least from the two main party frontbenchers this week.

00:15:18:20 - 00:15:53:11

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has signed up to an agreement here and that means that the Assembly may come out of its suspended animation and resume business and bring back devolved government to Northern Ireland, perhaps as soon as next week. Yeah, I mean, it's time we're recording now. We haven't heard what the timetable is going to be, but the suggestions are that if things are on track, I mean, as we are recording now, the House of Commons will be debating a couple of statutory instruments that flow from this new deal and assuming that they go through as they will, because Labour main party opposition in the House is backing the Government on this, I'm assuming that all

00:15:53:12 - 00:16:18:07

goes well then. I think the timetable is likely to be that they get the Assembly back on Saturday, probably. So the Speaker of the of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey, is written to all the members of the Assembly and basically given them warning that the Assembly might be recalled at 24 hours notice. And he's in a no position himself, isn't he, because he's not actually re standing as a member of the Assembly.

00:16:18:12 - 00:16:42:22

He's kind of there in a almost emeritus capacity now. Yeah. So he stood down at the assembly election in 2022 and when the Assembly reconvened after the election in May 2022, they couldn't agree on the election of a new speaker because the DUP didn't want somebody to get back up and running. So he had to preside for the last two years of the Speaker of the Assembly to bring it back.

00:16:43:03 - 00:17:05:19

If there was an opportunity, as there is now, but without really any business to do so. He's been very curious position. He'll preside over the election of his successor if the Assembly does indeed get up and running and then be able to leave the building. His job done. Yeah. And so we think that probably would take place on Saturday when somebody reconvenes the first item of business will have to be the election of of a new speaker.

00:17:05:20 - 00:17:28:05

Assuming that is all sorted, they'll then be the nomination of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. So First Minister will be the Sinn Fein representative Michelle O'Neill. And then this questions about who will be put up as the second party in the Treasury. Yeah, and I've seen that some of the Belfast based journalist speculating that it might be I'm a little Bengali who I think was an MP.

00:17:28:05 - 00:17:59:12

Yes, she was, yes, she was briefly an MP and is now taking her seat in the Assembly. So watch this space. So then once they are in place, the rest of the government ministers will be nominated. They're divided between the parties and then you probably have a government meeting on the Monday and then they think that the parliamentary committees, the Assembly committees on the Tuesday would then be selected and then gradually the normal stuff of politics dealing with the state of the health service, sorting out the public sector strikes and all the other things that have been bedevilling public services, Northern Ireland will suddenly be on the agenda in a way they just haven't been

00:17:59:12 - 00:18:22:15

able to do for a very long time. Yeah. Meanwhile, in Westminster there was some very interesting politics on the sidelines of this announcement. I mean, it was all lovey dovey between the two front benches with Hilary Benn, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, praising Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland Secretary for the work he had done and saying what a great deal this was and how hard it worked, but slightly off stage on the backbenches.

00:18:22:17 - 00:18:55:00

I don't know if the DUP exactly has backbenches because I know many of them, but one of their MP, Sammy Wilson, was distinctly dyspeptic about this deal and used a phrase about the government that really struck me is he said this was a cowardly Brexit betraying government which interested me because the DUP has historically had very strong links with the hard core Eurosceptics on the Conservative benches, and I wonder if those are views that are shared by some of the most Brexiteer Conservative backbenchers.

00:18:55:02 - 00:19:21:06

Certainly Theresa Villiers is in that group. Didn't sound particularly happy about the deal either, and I do wonder if sort is being rubbed in his heel. Former Northern Ireland Secretary Yes, it do indeed. Yeah. Yeah. I mean there is a sense some of the I mean I'm no expert on the detail of this trade issues is so complicated, but quite a number of people who are the sort of the academic experts on this are saying quite a bit of this is more presentational rather than substantive.

00:19:21:12 - 00:19:45:21

I think of it in quite simplistic terms. As you know, there's going to be more and more trade going through the Green channel rather than the red channel in future. I think what you've got is an underlying fear from Brexiteers on particularly the conservative backbenches, that implicit in this agreement is the thought that the UK is going to stay pretty aligned to a lot of the regulation inside the EU single Market, because that kind of smooths the deal with Northern Ireland.

00:19:45:23 - 00:20:21:03

And so they don't get the kind of deregulation of breaking away from what they regard as EU overregulation. That for some of them was the whole point of having Brexit in the first place. Yeah, well we talked last week about progress with the retained EU law reform program and then Bill Cash, Chair of European Scrutiny Committee. He was making the point to me by not the Business Secretary, that they are, as he described it, running out of time to put in place the sort of the deregulation and the sort of moving away from EU regulations that he wants now, he was an explicit about his thinking on that, but one can imply that he was

00:20:21:03 - 00:20:44:01

probably thinking general election is coming. We're not looking good in the polls if we don't get this done fairly quickly. We're not only not going to look for the good of Starmer doing it now, but going back to Jeffrey Donaldson. I mean, he's not going to be first minister or deputy first minister in Northern Ireland because he's not a member of the Assembly, but he's negotiating this deal as as leader of the DPP based in Westminster.

00:20:44:07 - 00:21:04:05

But I was very struck there were a lot of positive things said about him in the debate and obviously trying to support his position and sort of underpin him. Given the differences within the DUP, he's had to play a really difficult hand on. Quite a lot of the politicians at Westminster were quite complimentary. Yes, and when there were critics, he was fairly dismissive of them too.

00:21:04:06 - 00:21:24:16

He quoted this line, which I think is from Teddy Roosevelt via Richard Nixon. The person in the arena is the one who gets things done rather than the people in the audience shouting commentary at them. Yeah, well, talking about the man in the arena, somebody else who's put his foot forward to head into the arena, away from the galleries is Paul Wall.

00:21:24:16 - 00:21:58:21

We talked about this last week, Mark, the journalist for the I political commentator for the I he thought the selection in Rochdale for the Labour Party for the by election following Tony Lloyd's death. The meeting was held over the weekend and he didn't get it came second. He didn't get it. Apparently a local councillor was chosen instead and Paul wrote a very interesting piece about his experiences on the selection trail, if you like, and remember that in some constituencies it's the selection battle that's the crucial hurdle to becoming the MP because the party has such a big majority in it.

00:21:58:21 - 00:22:18:00

And so it's it's a bit of a rite of passage for pretty much everybody who's in the House of Commons is to getting through that selection committee. Of course this is a fast track selection because it's for a by election that's going to be held in the not too distant future. And he said it was far more gruelling and people had warned him it was going to be one of the most gruelling political experiences that you could possibly face.

00:22:18:00 - 00:22:35:22

You have to demonstrate local credentials, you have to give your pitch of what sort of politician you're going to be. You have to answer policy questions on things that concern the voters there. Paul, what was asked about Gaza and apparently was taking a somewhat more radical approach than Sir Keir Starmer in terms of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

00:22:36:03 - 00:22:54:10

So a whole slew of issues like that that he's suddenly had to field. Apparently he based himself back in his childhood bedroom, in his mum's house in order to mastermind his campaign. And he may not have been selected. He may now go for other selections. Having learnt a bit from this campaign, let me ask you the interesting question.

00:22:54:10 - 00:23:11:04

Did he decide he wanted to be in the arena because his home town, Rochdale, Does he want to be an MP enough that he's prepared to consider another seat? Because if he if he does, I mean he'd be a bit of a prize for Labour. They're looking for strong performers who understand Westminster potentially ministerial material in the future.

00:23:11:10 - 00:23:28:02

So it's a possibility that Labour might, as we get nearer the election, there's going to be, you know, this sort of idea that older MPs are sort of the bad blockers for those seats and put people like Paul Walker in close to the election. So we'll have to see. Does he want that or actually it was all he wanted to be the MP for Rochdale.

00:23:28:06 - 00:23:50:01

Only Paul could tell us that, I suppose. Certainly it's been the case in previous elections that there have been a few selection proceedings in safe seats that are held right in the shadow of the elections already being called. The existing MP was decided at the last moment. They don't want to fight another election. Let's get a selection process sort of streamlined through that gives the central bureaucracy an awful lot of power over who's then chosen.

00:23:50:07 - 00:24:15:06

So I think, Mark, an interesting insight in Paul's article in the Eye was that there are about 350 local party members in Rochdale who he had to reach out to to appeal to them for the vote at the selection meeting. And when you think about that Rochdale, it's a seat that's changed hands in the past, but whoever gets that seat is probably going to hold it for the next couple of parliaments, at least relatively safe Labour aren't going to lose Rochdale, you would have thought.

00:24:15:06 - 00:24:34:11

Yeah, I mean, it has it has changed hands in previous years, but I think remember. Cyril Smith Yes. Given the state of things, you think if Labour wins it next time it's probably safe for the next couple of parliaments. So when you think about it, once you've got past the selection process with that 350 people, you've pretty much got that job for quite a considerable period of time.

00:24:34:11 - 00:24:56:23

And it sort of reinforces Michael Crick's point that he was making on the previous episode about the importance of these local elections. That is the key electorate in these safer seats. There's always the question of how representative that electorate, if you like, is of the wider voters out there in their constituency. It's quite a niche thing to be in politics to the extent of being even a party member these days.

00:24:56:23 - 00:25:26:10

So that preference that Michael Crick again was talking about for the local champion, someone who's been a local councillor and knows the local issues, can speak about the local A&E or the bypass or whatever it is over people with Westminster expertise because it pull more as a consumer. Westminster insider knows everybody been around for ages and there are a couple of other political journalists, Westminster insiders, Paul Mason, Spain, who've been going for selections in various parties and haven't got anyone.

00:25:26:10 - 00:25:59:04

You'll always wonder whether the electorate's are very wary of the sort of rather gilded Westminster insiders as they might see them over local champions. Yeah, and I think in the end the party in Rochdale chose the local councillor from Lancashire County Council and from talking about people vying to be an MP to an MP who's decided not to continue This week, also saw the publication of a slightly harrowing letter from the MP for Finchley, Mike Frere, who's decided he's not going to stand at the next general election.

00:25:59:06 - 00:26:23:20

And the reason he gave was because of the endless threats against him and his family. He's faced things like an arson attack on his constituency office, for example, and he's just decided he's had enough. And an awful lot of people from across the political spectrum have taken to social media to say how very sad they are that it's ended like that for him after 30 years in public service as a local councillor and then as a member of Parliament.

00:26:23:20 - 00:26:44:20

Yeah, of course we've had in recent memory two MPs murdered. So you can understand the concerns when you're facing these threats and it's a great concern for cases of Jo Cox and David Davis. Yeah, and you can understand the concerns of the families being worried. And in his case he was apparently one of the MVP's on the list alongside Michael Gove of people.

00:26:44:20 - 00:27:05:08

That's the person who ended up murdering David Amos was considering. I mean, this this guy had a list of MPs that he was sort of scouting out prior to the attack. And when you hear that, that really must send a chill down the spine. Yeah. And as you say, there was an arson attack on his constituency office. And again, it's not just the MP in the family, it's also the parliamentary staff.

00:27:05:14 - 00:27:23:12

absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, when there was a knife attack on the then Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham, there was a member of his staff who was killed and he was wounded. So there were a lot of people in the firing line and it must be one of the things that people now weigh in the balance when they consider going into Parliament.

00:27:23:14 - 00:27:43:21

It's not all about adulation and people cheering you, it's also about people threatening you, people trolling you endlessly on social media. And some of the stuff is absolutely horrific that they said about members of Parliament, particularly women, members of Parliament. Speaker Enough on the social media. So there is a lot to take on if you decide that that's the life you're going for.

00:27:44:02 - 00:28:06:07

Yeah, I mean, a number of employees have talked to me about this sort of thing. One former Scottish Labour MP described to me how someone in his constituency would wait till he knew that MP was in Parliament about his Westminster duties and turn up on the doorstep and shout at his wife and family. We should also say in respects of Mike Fraser's case, that there's also a context in the situation in the Middle East.

00:28:06:07 - 00:28:24:09

So he is not Jewish himself. Mike Prior But, but he has a heavily Jewish community in his constituency and he's been quite a forceful voice against antisemitism and he's quite pretty explicit in his letter announcing that he's not going to be standing again about the kind of pressures he's faced from some of the Muslim groups in and around his constituency.

00:28:24:11 - 00:28:44:05

And that's something that I think particularly Labour MPs as well are facing in some of their constituencies, that this conflict in the Middle East is starting to demonstrate itself in terms of splits and animosities and more in local communities. I'm putting pressure on the MP and their staff and it only gets worse as you send the political letter as well.

00:28:44:05 - 00:29:01:07

I can remember a conversation with a former minister who is describing to me how they got a security briefing when they entered the government and you must make sure that your children's faces don't appear on social media. You must do a different route every now and then on your school run. when would it be convenient to come and put a panic button into your home?

00:29:01:11 - 00:29:22:00

Yeah, I'd run. Yeah. I mean, it is a real problem because if we don't find a way to resolve this, we are going to end up with a even narrower group of parliamentarians in the future. People prepared to stand for Parliament and your representative democracy. The quality and the range and the representativeness of it is going to reduce.

00:29:22:05 - 00:29:48:11

And it's not just who stands, it's also how much they can do if they have to be surrounded by a security cordon in order to function at all as a member. I mean, it's not just parliamentary elections. Interestingly, this week there's a piece of legislation that's been laid before parliament to change the election expenses, to write them for the JLA and other local elections, and it includes provision outwith the election expenses for reasonable costs incurred in respect of security of candidates.

00:29:48:13 - 00:30:09:13

So that's a sign of the times. And on that sombre note time, I think for a break with if you're enjoying the pot and think like Mark and I do, that Parliament matters, why not join the Hansard Society? This year we celebrate our 80th anniversary and throughout the year we'll have a number of special events to mark this important milestone for as little as a cup of coffee Each month.

00:30:09:15 - 00:30:25:16

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00:30:25:22 - 00:30:45:14

You can join by going to hansardsociety.org.uk/membership. And we are back. Ruth, with a chance to take a look ahead at what's coming up in Parliament in the coming weeks. Yeah, so by recent standards this is going to be a relatively quiet week I think because it's the final week before a short recess.

00:30:45:16 - 00:31:10:09

I always think of those scenes in westerns when you say it's quiet, too quiet and all rise in someone's chest. But it does look like it's quiet business. It's the week before a short recess and the business tends to be contrived in such a way that if people want to sleep off early, they can sleep off early. And whether it's to their constituency to engage with the electorate or to the ski slopes is a matter for the conscience of the individual member of parliament.

00:31:10:11 - 00:31:29:01

Before we get though, to what we do know is happening next week, something I noticed that's gone down on the business papers of the House of Commons. We don't have a date for when it will be considered, but certainly something to keep an eye on. It's a sort of coming up section called Remaining orders and notices things without a date attached to them or put just to give early warning.

00:31:29:01 - 00:31:55:22

Yeah. So I mean, conceivably, I suppose they could stick it in next week with the Burn notice, but I suspect it might come after recess. But this is the motion regarding what's described as risk based exclusion. And so this is the the provisions that the House of Commons commissioned, the sort of governing body of the House of Commons has been considering to exclude MPs where they have been accused and are being investigated by the police, for example, of serious offences.

00:31:55:22 - 00:32:23:16

So we've got a couple of MPs currently under investigation for alleged sexual assault, for example, whether they should be excluded from the parliamentary estate as a matter of protecting the safety of everybody else on the estate. And that raises an awful lot of constitutional and procedural questions. We really mustn't underestimate how high powered an issue this is, because you're talking about saying that the elected representative of a constituency can't come to Westminster to complete their parliamentary duties has to stay away.

00:32:23:16 - 00:32:40:21

Yeah, and there's a natural justice question as well for the MP said a lot of these cases drag on and drag on and drag on. There's a concern for the constituents who are not getting the full nature of representation. Their own piece can't fully represent them if they can't go into the House of Commons. The Chamber and committees and so on.

00:32:40:23 - 00:33:07:03

And then there's a wider question. So the risk based exclusion policy, the idea is that an independent group consisting of the Clerk of the House, the director of security and so on, would consider the case. They wouldn't know the identity of the MP, but I don't quite know how that will work, but that they would consider the case and make recommendation about what they think should happen in terms of what the nature of the exclusion should be and as questions they are about, how then do they represent their constituents.

00:33:07:03 - 00:33:26:10

So the solution is, well, they should have a proxy vote. It should be kept under review. That then brings in wider questions about, well, who's entitled to a proxy voting? If you are an MP who's I don't know whose husband is or wife is ill in hospital and you are with them, you're not in Westminster, you don't get a proxy vote that's not covered.

00:33:26:16 - 00:33:46:07

But if you're accused of a pretty serious offence, you will. And that is actually quite a serious irritant. A very senior MP was rather sourly saying to me last week, You can be accused of groping someone and get a proxy vote, but if your kid's in a critical care unit, tough luck. Yeah. So it'll be interesting to see how this plays out because there's been a lot of criticism of it.

00:33:46:08 - 00:34:07:00

House of Commons Commission has some initial proposals. They then sort of responded to AMP's concerns. They've taken it way and had a sort of another look at it. But then putting this motion down, we'll have to see when it is debated what dates chosen for it. But I think it's one to look out for that. There could be some, as you say, some irritation, and it's not a foregone conclusion that it will it will necessarily go through.

00:34:07:02 - 00:34:29:23

And part of the point of putting these things down on the order paper without a date attached to them sometimes is it's a way of testing the water. Get people talking a little bit about something, allowing the whips to take the temperature gauge, whether there's going to be a lot of resistance to the ideas that they're putting forward because the Commons Commission and the parliamentary authorities in general sometimes come up with ideas that seem perfectly sensible to them.

00:34:29:23 - 00:35:01:02

Having discussed it, that Nmps really don't like the look of that. It's almost a recurring theme. It's so some read across to the restoration and renewal issue, which we talk about a lot as well. But the committees think, this is a perfectly sensible solution. Yeah, and the wider body of MPs say not only Anelli so and if that happens, they can just leave the motion sitting there on the future business paper and effectively kicked into the longer, you know, if it does look difficult, it would be entirely surprising if it was basically left for the next government after the next election to get to grips with it then.

00:35:01:02 - 00:35:20:14

So you can always kick these things into touch. But it does, as you say, leave this very uncomfortable situation where there are a number of MPs who are basically staying away because of the kind of gentlemen's agreement with the speaker and the parliamentary authorities that they won't come in. It's fair enough at the moment in terms of it doesn't affect the cosmic balance of Parliament.

00:35:20:14 - 00:35:39:16

It's not as if the Government's majority would be destroyed by this. But if you think back to the Theresa may years when the government didn't have a functional majority, just imagine if one of those big Brexit votes on having a second referendum or something had been decided one way rather than the other, because two or three people were excluded who would have tipped the balance.

00:35:39:18 - 00:35:58:06

Imagine what would then be said about the legitimacy of that vote at a time when things were already pretty fraught. Yeah, well, of course she was heavily criticised on several of those votes because she gave the whip back to MPs who lost it for misbehaviour and quite rightly incurred a lot of criticism. But by giving the Conservative Party whip back to them, she was hoping to secure more votes.

00:35:58:06 - 00:36:16:00

It didn't work well, as you say, in a situation where you've got a minority government or some kind of coalition, whatever these things could count, there's the matter. A finger on the scales of history, as I say. So looking ahead to what we do know is happening in the coming week, we've got the remaining stages of the finance bill in the House of Commons.

00:36:16:00 - 00:36:42:15

So this is the still my beating heart. Yeah. So this is the sort of outcome of the the Autumn Statement back in November. And of course we were only weeks away from the next round with the budget, so no sooner will they have despatched one finance bill than there will be another coming down the conveyor belt. So meanwhile, as the Chancellor performing a kind of dance of the seven veils, hinting that there will be large tax cuts, then the Treasury nixing the idea of large tax cuts and this horrible phrase fiscal headroom keeps being bandied around.

00:36:42:15 - 00:37:01:05

Is there really room for 14 billion quids worth of tax cuts before the next election as some kind of sweetener and vote gainer for the government or isn't there? It's like one of these soap opera will they won't buy plots. And then we've got opposition debate on Tuesday. But as we're recording, we don't know what the subject matter is going to be.

00:37:01:05 - 00:37:19:24

So the opposition usually choose over the weekend. Yeah. So I think they'll be. Take a look at the Sunday papers. Yeah. Picking a dividing line, no doubt. Education committees looking at the impact of industrial action on students, justice committees, looking at the prison population in state capacity. So, you know, some serious grinding through some of these big policy issues.

00:37:20:01 - 00:37:45:07

A select committee report that's out today actually is from the levelling committee talking about local government funding and the financial crisis besetting an awful lot of councils. And this is suddenly rushed. I mean, local government finance is normally pretty niche interest in Westminster. Every year they publish a local government funding settlement and that's debated and it's usually consists of MP saying, my pet should get more money.

00:37:45:09 - 00:38:07:24

But the funding of local councils is now a very alarming subject for MP because so many local councils have either gone bust or are about to go bust and are issuing these notices implying that they can no longer balance their budgets. They're desperate for an injection of funds and this manifests itself at the MP surgery with people who can't get the social care they need for relatives, who can't get the educational special needs of their children met.

00:38:08:05 - 00:38:30:24

All sorts of things like that come home to roost. Car parking prices rise. The council tax increases the maximum permissible, etc. etc. etc. So it's suddenly become an incredibly toxic issue. And I think that that will be something that is raised rather a lot as we're recording. There's a select committee statement being made by Clive Betts, the Labour MP and former councillor who's chair of the levelling up committee on this issue.

00:38:31:01 - 00:38:59:24

And I think this is one that's going to reverberate quite a lot. Each time the council goes bust, the recriminations will follow. Well, talking of organisations going bust next Tuesday, there's also an interesting statutory instrument to bring the water company regulations in line with current insolvency law. Yeah, so I mean, you know, we've all heard the speculation about the water companies being in a dire financial situation, can't afford the kind of investment and the sewage and the water treatment and all the rest that's needed.

00:39:00:01 - 00:39:23:14

State of state of water supply, state of rivers, reservoirs and so on. The state of sewage in our seas is a big hot topic. And, you know, we've all heard the sort of rumours that some of the big water companies may be in difficulties and they may indeed end up in back in public ownership because the one thing the Government can't possibly allow is for a water company to go bust and for the taps to run dry.

00:39:23:14 - 00:39:54:15

Yeah, so interesting to see what what is said in that debate. And then we'll all be looking out for ten minute rule, bill. So a form of private member's bill on Tuesday as well from Kenny MacAskill, who I think is a natural. But yeah, so Alex Salmond sort of breakaway group from the SNP and he's proposing to expand the list of free to air sporting events to include Scotland's men's and women's football team for the World Cup and the European Championships of course, Scotland, having qualified for the next international tournament, hasn't done so for years.

00:39:54:15 - 00:40:13:20

So of course the bill itself got no chance of really becoming law. But I think you can make an important point here about, you know, I think the football team is covered. Why isn't Scotland? Well, that's a good one. I bet some of the SNP pimps are kicking themselves for not having got there first. But as you say, ten minute rule bills are quite a low form of legislative life.

00:40:13:20 - 00:40:32:22

They don't really yeah, very often, although it has happened from time to time, they don't tend to make it to the statute book. But it is a point that is increasingly hitting home with papers the number of big sporting events you need to pay, some whacking great subscription to some provider in order to see. Yeah, but the advantage, of course, the ten minute rule bills as it's 10 minutes in prime time just after ministerial questions.

00:40:32:22 - 00:40:54:12

So you know, it's a good opportunity even if legislation is not going to get through a good opportunity to get it on the agenda, get some media coverage and get a minister responding to the issue at the dispatch box. So we'll see what happens. And then Wednesday, Thursday, I think one of the sort of themes of both days is going to be the culture of the post office again, coming back to for further discussion.

00:40:54:12 - 00:41:25:15

So there's a question in the Lords about ministerial responsibility for the appointment of a board and the chief executive of the Post Office. And then on Thursday in the Commons there's a debate on the management culture of the Post Office and be interesting to see who speaks in that. Well indeed. I mean, given that there are what 16 former post office ministers who've been in office, it 17 former post office ministers who had been in office during the period of the post office horizon scandal, I'm not quite sure how many of them are still in the Commons, but it would be quite nice to hear from a few, not least from the Lib Dem leader

00:41:25:15 - 00:41:45:04

Sir Ed Davey, especially after the attempt to make him personally and solely responsible for the whole thing went here. There's a saying he was one of 16 or 17 ministers who had some level of responsibility during this time. Maybe he didn't cover himself with glory, but what about the rest? Because there are Labour ministers and Conservative ministers as well as Lib Dem ministers involved in all this.

00:41:45:06 - 00:42:02:11

I would like to hear from Ed Davey. Actually, it might be a wait up for him to launch the boil of him being sort of saddled with sole culpability for this, which doesn't seem to me to be a particularly fair way to look at it now. And key players, like James, are both not who we had on the earlier episode of The Pot a few weeks ago.

00:42:02:15 - 00:42:25:10

He's been at the sort of heart of investigating this for years and raising it in Parliament. And he said he didn't think Davey was any more to blame than any other minister, as have some of the post office campaigners. But it is again, one of those things that we've been going on about in this podcast. The ministerial merry go round means that you have so many people, it's very, very difficult to point the finger of blame at one individual and say it was him.

00:42:25:10 - 00:42:40:09

What did it? Yeah, okay. Mark So that's it for the week ahead. We'll be back next week to report on all of that and no doubt much more. So I'll see you next week. See you then.

00:42:40:11 - 00:43:00:09

Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters. Please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback. Our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost and tell us more about the algorithm.

00:43:00:11 - 00:43:23:21

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00:43:24:00 - 00:43:43:18

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00:43:43:20 - 00:44:01:04

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