Parliament Matters – Gaffes and grace at PMQs (Episode 19)

8 Feb 2024
Prime Minister's Questions - 31 January 2024. © UK Parliament/Maria Unger
Prime Minister's Questions - 31 January 2024. © UK Parliament/Maria Unger

It was supposed to be another culture wars attack line, but Rishi Sunak’s transgender jibe at Prime Minister’s Questions this week landed him in hot water. Is this misstep a sign of things to come in the general election campaign?

Could Britain fight a war? We look at the political implications of a new Defence Select Committee report exploring the state of readiness of the country’s armed forces. And we explore why the cross-party Committee is so annoyed with the Government.

Every year thousands of mothers across the country experience birth trauma but it’s rarely discussed. Theo Clarke MP is trying to change that by being open about her own personal experience and co-chairing a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry about the issue. We talk to Theo about the campaign, what she hopes to achieve and the wider value of APPGs at Westminster.

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 19

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 - 00:00:36:00 You are listening to Parliament Matters. A Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn More at 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, more mud wrestling at Prime Minister's Questions, but Rishi Sunak emerged rather splattered and are Britain's armed forces ready to fight a full on shooting war should one actually occur? 00:00:36:02 - 00:01:02:23 The Commons Defence Select Committee thinks not. And we've been to talk to Theo Clarke MP about a new cross-party parliamentary initiative to address birth trauma experienced by thousands of women each year. But first, Ruth, let's talk about the latest Prime Minister's Question Time. We were talking about it last time around and we mentioned how rowdy it had been getting and how the Speaker really is going to have to demonstrate the smack of firm government from the Chair sooner or later. 00:01:03:00 - 00:01:31:04 He intervened three times during the course of the latest set of exchanges, but it was still pretty rowdy stuff. Yeah, and he intervened on both frontbenches and tried to warn them he was going to send them out for his much vaunted "cup of tea", but he didn't. And we said last week that he's maybe going to have to start making good on his threats and start slinging them out of the chamber. But it just continued this way - be they ever so high, you know - he may end up ordering out some frontbenchers from either the Government or the Opposition quite soon just to make the point. 00:01:31:04 - 00:01:55:14 And if that doesn't happen, well, the shop window of Parliament, if you like, the most watched parliamentary event in any normal week, is going to be to use your words, pretty much splattered. Yeah, and that really was the position Rishi Sunak had, I'm afraid, at the end of PMQs. It was a difficult session for him and, you know, the ramifications, the repercussions have followed him the rest of Wednesday and now into a Thursday. 00:01:55:14 - 00:02:21:10 And basically he made a party political culture war jibe at Keir Starmer for not being able to identify and describe a woman and it was clearly a pre-scripted remark. And the problem he had, was the mother of the murdered transgender teenager, Brianna Ghey was in the gallery of the House of Commons chamber watching PMQs and Rishi Sunak made this jibe. 00:02:21:10 - 00:02:47:06 But Sir Keir Starmer, he was clearly furious and it was a kind of collective wince. Yeah, but they were laughing on the front benches initially until Starmer stood up and said, "Really, on this day of all days, should this be the kind of remark you're making?" Rishi Sunak I think if he had have apologised and moved on, it would have been, you know, in the sort of parlance of point scoring, who's won, who's up, who's down. 00:02:47:08 - 00:03:18:23 He'd have been marked down. But he probably would not have had so much fallout for the rest of the day. But the problem he's got is he was given several opportunities during PMQs to apologise and he didn't. If anything, he and his senior ministers now seem to be doubling down on this one. The line that's coming out of the government now is that Keir Starmer was using his mention of trans issues when Brianna's mother was in the gallery as a way of distracting from a conservative attack on what they call his constant flip flopping and his constant u-turns. 00:03:19:00 - 00:03:44:17 And it's a very, very messy situation. Two two thoughts come out of this for me. One is that this is the kind of thing that will happen an awful lot on the campaign trail in the forthcoming general election. Both candidates for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Keir Starmer are going to be on the road, having questions flung at them, finding themselves in situations, possibly facing the odd demonstration. 00:03:44:19 - 00:04:07:24 And they've got to be able to be sufficiently sure footed that they don't topple over into some running saga like this and get themselves into terrible trouble. And Rishi Sunak has demonstrated that he isn't entirely sure footed on these things. Keir Starmer I'm not completely confident about either. They're both untested on the campaign trail, to be honest. I mean, the best thing you can say about what the Prime Minister did is it was crass. 00:04:08:01 - 00:04:31:24 It wasn't very fleet footed. And as you say on the campaign trail, he's going to face that kind of pressure day in, day out. Everybody knows in Prime Minister's Questions it's incredibly stressful. It's high temperature, it's very loud, very noisy. It's a very small chamber and the pressure is on. Tony Blair used to refer to it as the worst experience that you have to go through every week. 00:04:32:01 - 00:04:55:03 There's a reason world leaders around the globe don't want to face this kind of scrutiny. And it's not unique to Westminster, but it is one of the things that marks it out. It's not great scrutiny, but it's a test about whether they have got that agility, whether they have got that sort of ability to switch from issue to issue, whether they can communicate, whether they've got emotional range, emotional intelligence, but, you know, show empathy. 00:04:55:05 - 00:05:18:04 Well, that's the point. I think the empathy point is very important. Here's one of the things voters clearly look for now. Does this incident demonstrate that Rishi Sunak lacks empathy and therefore gets marked down by the voters rather than the kind of normal political scorekeepers at Prime Minister's Question Time? Might this incident do him actual damage or is it just another one of these little Westminster storms in a teacup? 00:05:18:06 - 00:05:36:12 Well, I think a lot probably depends upon the reaction of Brianna Ghey's family. Her father has already criticised the insensitivity of it. As we're recording at this moment, we don't know anything further as to whether they will make any kind of statement, whether the prime minister is going to try and perhaps reach out and try and meet them. 00:05:36:14 - 00:05:59:17 I think a lot depends on their reaction. If they let it go, then it will probably not continue in terms of the news cycle. But if they are pretty outraged by it, then then he might have a bigger problem. And the other side part of this, if you like, is one of the Prime Minister's most vocal defenders, has been the business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, and she's very much regarded as one of his most likely successors. 00:05:59:17 - 00:06:21:01 If the Conservatives lose the next general election and Rishi Sunak stands down as leader, she is, first of all, well-liked. According to the Conservative Home polls of popularity amongst the troops of particular ministers, she's always high up the league. She's very, very combative. And the Conservative troops, like someone who is still coming out fighting even in difficult times for their party. 00:06:21:03 - 00:06:41:19 And secondly, her seat in Saffron Walden is one of those ones that the Conservatives would hold under pretty much any circumstances short of an extinction level event. So she she's likely to be a figure in any forthcoming leadership contest. And she's prepared to go out there and fight even in difficult times. And those both give considerable points with the troops. 00:06:41:22 - 00:07:02:15 Yeah, it does. I think the other aspects of of what happened at Prime Minister's Questions is also that a couple of other important issues have not perhaps got the coverage that they would otherwise have done, one of which was an intervention by Eliot Colburn, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington Conservative MP elected for the first time in 2019. 00:07:02:15 - 00:07:28:14 He's very young. He's only 31 and he made, frankly, an extraordinary intervention. He noted that this month is emotional health and boost your self esteem and children's mental health month. And he basically told the House of Commons that in 2021 he tried to commit suicide. Now, he didn't go into details about why and the background to it, but it was a pretty extraordinary moment where he he he talked about feeling alone and frightened. 00:07:28:14 - 00:07:51:13 There was no way out. The world would be better off without him. Now. His family found him. He got treatment. But it was a pretty extraordinary moment. One of the things that has changed in the House of Commons in probably the last five or six years, I think, is that people now seem much more ready to talk about really distressing personal circumstances. 00:07:51:15 - 00:08:27:16 The debates where various MPs, people like Charles Walker, Kevan Jones, have talked about their mental health. Charles Walker described his obsessive compulsive disorder. There have been people talking about their personal problems. There was one memorable occasion where a Labor MP described how his father had taken his own life. A very personal disclosure like that wouldn't have been made in a slightly more emotionally buttoned up age and maybe Parliament's the better for it, because maybe it does demonstrate that he's human too, and that issues can be talked about, that perhaps once upon a time just went unmentioned. 00:08:27:16 - 00:08:55:03 Not exactly taboo, but just never spoken of. Yes. We talked about emotional intelligence, Mark, and it's notable that the end of Prime Minister's Questions Keir Starmer made a beeline across the chamber to greet Eliot Colburn, and put his hand on his shoulder as he said some private words. It was a demonstration from the Leader of the Opposition that, you know, he got the magnitude of the moment, even if a lot of it got lost in terms of the media coverage. 00:08:55:05 - 00:09:17:02 And that is something that's good to see because so much of Parliament is people shaking their fists at one another or at least metaphorically, particularly at PMQs. And it's nice to be able to see that we can put that down. Yeah, actually that is the norm in terms of the way that MPs generally behave towards each other and what you see PMQs, these attack lines are the exception. 00:09:17:02 - 00:09:50:24 And that's what the problem is with PMQs. In some respects it shows the worst side of Parliament and yet it's the most widely known element. But it's very niche. As you say, MPs are not spending their entire time behaving like that and would be completely exhausted if they did. Yeah. So the second aspect of PMQs that I think got missed amidst all this debate about Rishi Sunak's comments was something else he said, which again was part of his pre-scripted attack lines against Keir Starmer, where he said, "I'll take no lectures from a man who thought it was right to defend terrorists." 00:09:51:04 - 00:10:17:21 Now he's used this line before and it's clearly something that's going to run and run through to the election campaign. He's focusing on Keir Starmer's professional background. Prior to coming into Parliament he was a barrister where he was defending a range of clients, as every barrister has to. Defending some of those, you know, people that you would not want to necessarily defend, but that is a core principle of our constitutional arrangements. 00:10:17:23 - 00:10:45:23 A country governed by the rule of law in which we are all innocent until proven guilty. And in order for that to function, we have to have lawyers who are prepared to defend those people accused of some of the most terrible crimes. And that's what he did as a barrister. And the flipside of that was when he was head of the Crown Prosecution Service, he was charging and prosecuting some of those people, particularly in Northern Ireland where he was under police guard for a while. 00:10:46:00 - 00:11:04:17 I have a lot of sympathy for Starmer on this because this is not something that a barrister should be criticised for, in my humble opinion. Anyway, I do wonder how the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, who's supposed to defend the rule of law and speak up on these things, his feeling about his leader taking this line of attack. 00:11:04:17 - 00:11:25:09 I do remember when Liz Truss was Lord Chancellor and judges were being attacked in the press as enemies of the people, and she was suspiciously silent for a long time. That really hurt her in the legal profession. And I wonder if Alex Chalk may be starting to take some damage in the legal profession for failing to speak up on this issue or failing to make that point. 00:11:25:11 - 00:11:47:13 Another thing that struck me, I'm currently reading a fantastic new book about Marcia Williams, The Life and Times of Baroness Falkender, and she was, if you'll remember, Harold Wilson's right hand woman, his sort of auxiliary political brain. This is a book by Linda McDougall, who was married to the late Labor MP Austin Mitchell. Marcia Falkender was a fantastic figure in politics in the sixties and seventies. 00:11:47:13 - 00:12:13:09 And there were all sorts of rumors put about about her relationship with Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister she worked for. And there was an occasion where "The Move", a popular band in the late sixties who had a top ten single, called Flowers in the Rain, they published an advert for an event they were going to which featured a cartoon of Harold Wilson and Marcia Falkender in bed together. 00:12:13:11 - 00:12:36:00 And Harold Wilson as a sitting Prime Minister, sued. Who was his lawyer on that occasion? No less than Quentin Hogg, the future Conservative Lord Chancellor. Even then he was on the Conservative front bench at the time, representing a Labor Prime Minister in a libel action. And it's a principle that the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box is there. 00:12:36:00 - 00:12:59:05 He's a player in our constitution and he shouldn't be undermining the core constitutional principles of our democracy. It's about setting an example. He's not just a party political player and when he does that kind of thing at the Dispatch Box, first of all, it creates an open season for for others to do it. We can see that in plenty of some of the media coverage and some of his backbenchers. 00:12:59:07 - 00:13:23:02 There's quite a number of barristers in Parliament on both sides of the House. And if you went through their records, who they have defended and who they haven't..... some pretty unpleasant names would pop up. Yeah, that's the nature of the job and we need more barristers. We know that there's already problems in the justice system because not enough barristers continuing in the profession, because of the financial problems with it and so on. 00:13:23:04 - 00:13:41:20 So this sort of thing really just doesn't help. But leaving aside that it's a cheap shot. I mean, the reason he keeps doing it is presumably that it works, that the Conservatives are holding focus groups that are telling them that this actually does some damage to Keir Starmer amongst at least some voters. So I suspect that it's not something that's going to stop. 00:13:41:22 - 00:14:02:04 And it'll be an interesting test for Alex Chalk, as he's been getting quite good reviews as Lord Chancellor, as to whether he's actually prepared to stick his head over the parapet and say something about this, even if it's a bit coded. And some of the other lawyers on the Conservative benches. Which brings us back I think, to, this is going to run and run to the election campaign. 00:14:02:04 - 00:14:33:21 One of the things that strikes me from this session of PMQs, but also, you know, their performance over recent weeks is how are these two principals, heads of their party, going to perform during an election campaign? Because we're clearly seeing that, Rishi Sunak's not very fleet of foot in the Commons chamber. He had an interview with Piers Morgan and got embroiled in a rather large thousand pound bet that he would get asylum seekers on the flight to Rwanda. 00:14:33:23 - 00:15:01:07 And that again seemed a bit crass. And you can imagine other party leaders would have pushed back, dismissed it. And his extraordinary response was that he took me by surprise, said the Prime Minister. Well, you know, I don't think that's much of an answer. So, it's an occupational hazard for Prime Ministers, I fear. And quite clearly Rishi Sunak has wandered into a couple of elephant traps this week, but Keir Starmer isn't exactly "Giselle" on this front either. He can be a bit ponderous as well. 00:15:01:09 - 00:15:23:20 So you're looking at an election campaign which may perhaps come down to who makes the least mistakes from people who are perhaps not the most adept political performers, at least on that kind of public stage. They will be wandering around under almost constant exposure. Maybe they'll get sort of 10 minutes in the back of a limousine being driven from one event to the next to gather their thoughts. 00:15:23:22 - 00:15:48:04 But it's going to be a real test of stamina when this election campaign comes up and a real test too of their handlers, because there must be people there whose job is to keep them out of trouble, to steer them away from these things: "Sorry, he's got to go off to the next event now." Yeah, well, that would also be the question about yesterday in terms of PMQs. How had they not realized and taken it out of the pre-scripted remarks, as soon as they realized that the Ghey family were in the Commons gallery. 00:15:48:06 - 00:16:04:14 I can't see either of them willingly wanting to go up with a kind of Andrew Neil type one on one interview. And I think it also raises the questions about whether or not party leaders debates are going to happen, because from Keir Starmer's perspective, there's no real incentive if you're so far ahead in the polls to do it. 00:16:04:16 - 00:16:38:24 And given that he's not that fleet of foot, there must be questions for Rishi Sunak and his party strategists about whether it's in his interest either even if they are behind in the polls. This does raise an interesting question about these debates. We had them in 2010. There were some in 2015. Boris Johnson absolutely didn't want famously, absolutely didn't want to get involved in debates in 2019 and also equally famously, the proffered interview with Andrew Neil on the BBC. All the other party leaders had been through the Andrew Neil mincing machine and been thoroughly battered and he just decided he wasn't going to go into it. 00:16:39:01 - 00:16:56:00 So yeah, this is all folded into the kind of calculations that the party machines make about what have they got to win and what have they got to lose from participating in these events. And like you I would be mildly surprised if we had a debate. Now let me put the cynical scenario that, well, I suspect you'll get. 00:16:56:00 - 00:17:26:13 That is negotiations go on and everybody's in talks about it. But since no one actually really wants them, the negotiations are a bit of a grind and nothing comes out the other end in time to be held during an election. So everybody's got kind of deniability. "It was the other side? They chickened out." Oh, you cynic! You know, the other aspect that comes out of this, that again, I think is going to run through to the election, is that the government has begun to request that that Departments and the Treasury start costing opposition policies. 00:17:26:15 - 00:17:50:22 The argument for that is that the Opposition can ask the Government about the costings of their policies through parliamentary questions, so the Government should be able to get costings similarly of Opposition policies. But obviously they've got the benefit of the civil servants to do that and it's sort of seen as a bit unfair. This is very perilously close to luring the civil service in into direct political debate. 00:17:51:01 - 00:18:07:17 We've got to be clear, it's been going on - Catherine Haddon at the Institute for Government is the expert on this - it's not new. It's been going on since the 1950s. Alistair Darling, I think produced a set of costings of Conservative policies in the run up to the 2010 election. So he, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was was engaged in that then for Labour. 00:18:07:21 - 00:18:29:03 Yeah. So as you say, no one's without sin on, on this particular subject. But you would have thought a stronger civil service and stronger permanent secretaries might be prepared to say, no, this really isn't appropriate, Minister. Well, I suspect the precedent has been set and the nearer we get to the election and obviously once dissolution is called, then they won't be able to do that. 00:18:29:05 - 00:19:04:07 But the interesting thing is around the world, for example in Australia, the Parliamentary Budget Office costs both. But I do get worried about the overemphasis on this kind of stuff. We know, my favorite phrase, "the dogs on the streets in Westminster know" the assumptions under which the budget is made and there may be head room for tax cuts, and what look frankly like completely unrealistic expectations of spending cuts that underpin them aren't made. 00:19:04:07 - 00:19:22:13 And "bad a bim" we've got inflation or higher than expected government debt a few years down the line. But at the time the books appeared to have been made to balance. The books are being not just cooked here, they're being thoroughly microwaved into submission. You know, the dogs in the streets in Westminster know, in fact every hound in a kennel in Battersea knows, that this is a preposterous situation. 00:19:22:15 - 00:19:48:07 And I do wonder whether far too much emphasis is being put on it when any incoming government after the next election is going to have to open the books and brace itself. And this, of course, brings us on to the current round, about the £28 billion that Labour were at one point proposing to spend on a green transformation of the economy. That 28 billion was promised at a time when interest rates were about a quarter of what they currently are. 00:19:48:09 - 00:20:10:23 So the maths is changing under it, but Labour seem to have made a complete hash of delicately withdrawing from the figure and they've got themselves into a quite embarrassing tangle about what they mean now and it just seems to have been badly managed. But it is very, very difficult to promise to spend megabucks when the financial situation may be impossibly tight when you arrive in office. 00:20:11:03 - 00:20:44:19 With that Mark, shall we take a short break? We'll be back in a moment. Back again, Ruth. And let's talk about a select committee report that's thudded onto the government's in-tray that I think could send ripples going all the way up to the general election and indeed well beyond. Is the Defence Committee's report entitled "Ready for War?" with a very large question mark at the end of that. It's a report that suggests that the armed forces have been already overstretched in responding to a whole variety of situations around the world. 00:20:44:19 - 00:21:07:08 And they face declining stockpiles of material. They face overextended capabilities. The recruitment isn't keeping pace with the erosion of personnel that's been going on. And the ultimate conclusion is that if there was a really, really serious situation demanding the presence of the UK military, it might not be able to be put there for very long into harm's way. 00:21:07:08 - 00:21:32:06 And that is something that should worry the living daylights out of every single member of Parliament. Because as anyone who reads the newspapers will know, the world is not a happy place at the moment. And that this committee, you remember, is chaired by a Conservative MP, Sir Jeremy Quin, who until very recently sat in Cabinet. So this is not an opposition cooked up line about the government's defence policy. 00:21:32:08 - 00:21:58:03 This is a cross-party select committee in which it is a Conservative MP, a senior Conservative, very recently in Whitehall at the heart of government, and indeed not all that long ago, Minister for Defence Procurement in charge of the Ministry of Defence's own weapons programmes. So, as well as saying the Ministry of Defence needs more funding and if it doesn't get the funding, then, you know, we're going to have to think about reducing the operational burden on the armed forces. 00:21:58:05 - 00:22:24:21 What was also quite notable about this report was how heavy they went in, criticising the government for the way that they'd responded to the inquiry itself. Now, we talked on the very first episode of this podcast I think it was, about the appearance of the the military chiefs before the committee and as they were beginning their investigations. And the report says that they've been hampered in their attempts to assess the readiness by a lack of government transparency. 00:22:24:21 - 00:22:42:14 They talk about the fact that information that their committee would have had a decade ago is no longer available to them. And nobody seems to be able to explain why. And they said the government's taken an excessive amount of time to respond to requests for information. And basically we can't adequately scrutinise what the government is doing if they don't provide the information. 00:22:42:14 - 00:23:06:21 And be more open and transparent. There's a very ugly suspicion floating around behind all this that the reason this information isn't forthcoming is because it's so embarrassing. Tey talk about, you know, we want the government to work with us. We want to be co-operative. They've had access to some sensitive briefings. Obviously they can't relate in the report, but it sort of smacks of the sort of wider approach of the Government to scrutiny. 00:23:06:23 - 00:23:30:01 We've seen with the Intelligence and Security Committee similar complaints about the lack of government responsiveness, the time it takes for them to provide information, the sort of unwillingness to be more open and accountable. And it feels like a theme that now is running along the Select Committee corridor. One thing to note about this particular inquiry is that it will have taken place under three different chairs of the Defence Select Committee. 00:23:30:03 - 00:23:46:17 This all started under Tobias Ellwood, and that's when they had the three chiefs, successively former chief of the defense staff, and talking about how dangerous they thought the situation was. And then there was the brief reign of Robert Courts, who was out of government and then back into government quite quickly, but was in the middle of that for a few weeks 00:23:46:17 - 00:24:14:09 as chair of the committee and now we've got Jeremy Quin having taken over. And Jeremy Quin in all this, I think he's someone who should worry the government because as I say, he was minister for Defence procurement, he was inside the Ministry of Defence for really quite a long time, got really into the weeds of things like the handling of the Ajax scandal, this armored vehicle that couldn't go very fast and was so loud that the people inside it needed to wear earmuffs and risked long term damage to their hearing if they were inside it. 00:24:14:14 - 00:24:39:03 These problems are supposedly now being addressed and solved, but this is a project that's years late and many millions overbudget. So there are all sorts of serious problems that he knows all the gory details of. And what I'm wondering is what his next step is. Having put out a report this emphatic about a matter of such very grave concern, he's surely not going to let it just sort of gather dust in the government's in-tray somewhere. 00:24:39:09 - 00:24:56:17 The government has to produce a formal response to this. But in the meantime, maybe he might decide that he wants to go and talk to the Backbench Business Committee and get a debate on this subject. And that I think could get very interesting indeed if he catches some Government minister with a series of questions they're not prepared to answer. 00:24:56:19 - 00:25:16:00 Shades of Winston Churchill in the 1930s, you know, talking about the the lack of preparedness for war then. And of course this is going to be a massive problem in the in-tray of any government after the next general election. They're going to have to find a lot of money, not just a little bit of money, but a vast amount of money for the defence budget. 00:25:16:02 - 00:25:47:12 It's mainlining back to what we were talking about, about the Labour Party's proposed green initiative. It's going to be vying for funds with the needs of the Ministry of Defence amongst many other budget heads. Yeah, exactly. Another inquiry that's going on that we've talked about on the podcast before is the Standards Committee, looking at the standards landscape, the sort of the ethical and standards issues that governs MPs. That's the committee chaired by Harriet Harman. They have begun their evidence sessions now and the some interesting bits of information are coming out through that. 00:25:47:12 - 00:26:27:17 So they had the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, up in front of them in the last week and it became clear from from her evidence that she's getting expressions of concern from MPs. I think across the House. I don't think this was a governing party issue. It's a cross-party concern about the operation of the recall arrangements. MPs are suggesting that it's too easy to remove them from office through this recall petition process whereby if you are found by the House after an inquiry by the Standards Commissioner and then an endorsement by the Standards Committee, you're found by the House to have done something wrong and you're sanctioned to being removed from 00:26:27:17 - 00:26:55:09 the House for ten sitting days or more, then you can be subject to a recall petition by your constituents. And there's a 10% threshold. If 10% of your constituents go out and sign the recall petition, then there's a by election. Only one MP has ever survived this thus far, which is Ian Paisley Jr in Antrim. It's clear that MPs have concerns about the thresholds, that they're too low, they have concerns about the range of sanctions that are being deployed against companies and whether or not, you know, there's consistency and fairness. 00:26:55:11 - 00:27:17:21 So it'll be interesting to see where this this debate goes. Indeed. And it's not so much the ten day suspension threshold. I suspect sometimes punishments are set by the Standards Committee precisely in order to engage whatever the threshold is for triggering a recall petition in a constituency. So if they said it was going to be 20 days, you might find that the Standards Committee started doling out more 20 day suspensions for example. 00:27:17:21 - 00:27:43:03 But the 10% threshold of voters in their constituencies. Say you've got 70,000 odd voters in a constituency, you only need 7,000 signatures. And most opposition parties would feel they could drum that up most of the time. So that may be the point of attack here. Maybe it should be 20% of people on the electoral rolls signing a recall petition before an MP can have their collar felt by the electorate. 00:27:43:05 - 00:28:12:11 Another aspects of the committee's inquiry that's beginning to emerge is that we've been here before in previous parliaments over the last 20-30 years. When we're talking about standards, the ethics of MPs, we're talking about bad behavior, we're talking about paid lobbying and so on. We set up this alphabet soup of ethics bodies to manage the process, to investigate, to propose sanctions, and it still goes on. 00:28:12:13 - 00:28:42:02 And actually, rather than institutional change, what we need to focus on a bit more is cultural change. Is there an opportunity at the start of this next Parliament after the general election, with what's likely to be a significant new intake of MPs, to do some things differently, to better prepare MPs for this role and the challenges that they're going to face, to make clearer the rules to drive home the ethical expectations and demand more leadership, frankly, from the party leaders in this debate. 00:28:42:04 - 00:29:01:10 An interesting thing that's emerging and in which I've got got some interest is the concept of changing the oath that MPs swear when they join the House of Commons for the first time at the start of a new parliament after the election. They have to swear allegiance to the monarch. But, you know, that's really as far as it goes. 00:29:01:10 - 00:29:27:13 And there's some suggestion that you could incorporate something where they have to commit, for example, to the seven principles of public life, the Nolan principles, which of course, date back to to John Major's government when they had all their ethical problems in the early 1990s. The seven principles of public life - so accountability, honesty, integrity, leadership, objectivity, openness, selflessness. And no listener, 00:29:27:13 - 00:29:49:15 I didn't just remember those off the top of my head. I've written them down. But yes, incorporating those into an oath or into a statement at the start that each member has to say, has to recite in front of the Speaker at the time that they sign the roll on first entering the House of Commons. 00:29:49:15 - 00:30:04:07 I think it would be potentially powerful moment that they can be reminded of: "you promised this; you committed to this." Yes, it's when you get up in a court and you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there is a psychological impact in that. And maybe that will wear off after a while 00:30:04:07 - 00:30:30:21 if you have MPs taking this oath. But it does highlight something and you can then point to that. When you took office, you said the following and then you didn't do it. So that's quite tough. There were a couple of things about this. I think, first of all, the people in the real front line of getting better MPs are those who select the candidates for the major parties, particularly those who know perfectly well once that person is selected, they're probably going to be an MP, and that's in quite a lot of constituencies. 00:30:30:23 - 00:30:47:05 They've really got to pay a bit of attention here to what kind of person they're selecting. Yes, they've got to make sure this person isn't going to be an embarrassment later on for a start in purely pragmatic terms. Ad there should be a sort of high minded thought here that you want the best possible MPs you can get. 00:30:47:07 - 00:31:05:13 You want people who are going to make a contribution to public life, not someone who's just going to sit there and stick their hand up and vote according to the party line, come hell or high water. So I'd like the parties to take that view, I'd like the voters to make a bit of a character assessment, which is obviously more difficult, because they won't necessarily have vast contact with the people vying for it. 00:31:05:13 - 00:31:28:05 But a little bit of attention from the voters would do no harm as well. Yes. So a few years back, prior to the 2015 election, Lord Puttnam, the filmmaker and Labour Peer, he is now retired from the House of Lords. He had this concept at the time of the the phone hacking scandal that was was going on. He had this concept of extending a duty of care for our shared but fragile democratic values. 00:31:28:07 - 00:31:55:21 And prior to the 2015 election, I wrote a chapter in a book that was edited by the then Archbishop of York, John Sentamu who is now in the House of Lords as well, about having this sense of a duty of care for our democracy. And that duty of care extends from the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and the Leader of the Opposition, but also, as you say, right down through the political system to the political parties in this election, candidates to the MPs when they get into the House in terms of how they behave and how they conduct themselves. 00:31:55:23 - 00:32:22:04 I think the key thing here is it is a shared responsibility for our democracy, that it is incumbent upon all the players. That includes people in the media, it includes the party leaders, it includes the local constituency party members who are selecting candidates. It involves everybody in civil society. And if we don't all play our part, we are going to have problems and you undermine the system at your peril. 00:32:22:06 - 00:32:48:06 I'd just like to take on also this idea that this is the worst ever parliament in history. I mean, the statistics actually bear that out in the sense that more MPs have been sanctioned, punished, thrown out, disgraced in this parliament and recent parliaments much more than there's ever been seen before. But at the same time, you've got to say that the systems in place for catching them and the willingness of people to raise allegations and bring them to public attention are now far greater. 00:32:48:11 - 00:33:10:05 So there's much more ability to catch people. And I wonder if a lot of the things that M.P.s are getting stung for now have been going on quietly for decades, even centuries. It's just now they're brought to light. Yeah, we talked in an earlier episode about the fact that actually a lot of these cases that are coming to light are dealing with legacy issues that that didn't occur in this parliament, but they occurred in previous parliaments. 00:33:10:11 - 00:33:49:02 Yeah, all very true. But at the same, I suppose the overall impression left with people is that Westminster is a total sink of corruption and I'm not sure that's completely fair. There are plenty of people in there doing their damnedest to do the right thing. Yeah, and I think one of those MPs trying to do the right thing is the MP we went to talk to this week in Westminster, Theo Clark MP who is leading a new cross-party campaign in relation to birth trauma. She's doing it through an All Party Parliamentary Group, and she had some interesting insights about how she's campaigning on this issue and the very personal nature of it for her and how 00:33:49:02 - 00:34:12:09 she's using the power of the platform of an MP to take forward her campaign. So let's take a quick break and we'll be back in a moment to hear from her. We're back now in Westminster in the office of Theo Clarke MP to talk about her inquiry for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on birth trauma. Now, Theo, you've initiated this inquiry. 00:34:12:09 - 00:34:37:01 It's a cross-party initiative co-chaired by Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury and it's grown out of your personal experience. Can you tell us a bit about the inquiry and why you're running it? So I launched a new inquiry this week in Parliament. It's the first in British history on birth trauma, and really this campaign came about because last year I shared for the first time my own very difficult birth experience. 00:34:37:05 - 00:34:56:08 When I gave birth to my daughter, I had a very difficult and traumatic long labour. And then after 40 hours, I ended up in emergency surgery and having to recover from what's called a third degree tear, which is a pretty significant birth injury. I'll be honest, before that happened to me, I had absolutely no idea that that could even happen during labour. 00:34:56:13 - 00:35:13:16 And it was really that experience and meeting some of the mums afterwards who came to see me about that would really difficult experiences from right across the country. That sort of opened my eyes to the lack of aftercare, if you like, for mums in this country. And that's what led me to set up the APPG with Rosie and to try and do something to tackle it in Parliament. 00:35:13:17 - 00:35:31:14 And what are you hoping to achieve? Trying to tackle it, what is your objective? So I think the first thing is raising awareness. I was really taken aback at how many people wrote to me since I shared my own story. I mean, to give you an identity, 400,000 people read my original interview and I talked about my own experiences. 00:35:31:16 - 00:35:54:17 And I've really been sort of deluged by the public writing to me with their own experiences. And it became very clear that first I wanted to set up a more formal mechanism for members of the public to be able to write to Members of Parliament and share their stories. So I raised and I launched this new inquiry and we're basically running an inquiry for the next seven weeks looking specifically at birth trauma and running it a bit like a select committee. 00:35:54:17 - 00:36:16:02 So we have oral evidence sessions in Parliament with witnesses coming in from everything from, you know, medical professionals to actually mums affected directly and obviously their partners and families as well. This is something that happens to thousands of women every year and presumably pretty much always has. Why is it only now getting attention? Well, I think that's actually a good question. 00:36:16:02 - 00:36:33:13 I mean, the amount of people who've written to me saying, actually this happened to me ten years ago, 20 years ago, I didn't feel like I could talk about it with friends, with family or with colleagues. And that seems to be a real taboo around talking about difficulties in childbirth. So I hope by me very publicly sharing my story, 00:36:33:13 - 00:36:51:03

and I gave a speech in the chamber back in October and launched the first debate in British history on birth trauma, that it's kind of encouraged other people to feel that they can share their stories and they shouldn't feel shame about something that's happened to them in childbirth. And you mentioned that it happens to thousands of women across the UK. 00:36:51:05 - 00:37:11:17 I mean, we're talking about nearly 30,000 women who we think are affected by birth trauma in this country. And quite frankly, they're not getting enough support from the government. You asked me what it is we're campaigning on. I think firstly in the inquiry, obviously a lot of topics will come up in the next few weeks. And I don't want to preempt what witnesses and members of the public will say. 00:37:11:19 - 00:37:31:20 But obviously a couple of themes are already emerging. And I think one of those is making sure that there's better aftercare for mums. And I was really delighted that one of the new changes the Health Secretary just announced was that following our campaign they're bringing in a post eight week checkup appointments for mums. So after birth. 00:37:31:20 - 00:37:48:07 Normally you'd have a check up predominantly about the baby and I think we forget there's actually two, there's the mother and the child. And so I'm delighted that the Secretary of State Vicky Atkins, announced that big change. So now the mother and the baby will have a separate check up looking at both importantly their physical and mental health. 00:37:48:09 - 00:38:08:14 And in terms of what you leave in the inquiry as a sort of a legacy, obviously its the last session of parliament, time's running out for legislation. If the government wants to bring anything forward off the back of the inquiry, what are you hoping to do in terms of influencing the parties for the next Parliament? Well, you're right, we are in the last session of Parliament, but I do think there's always opportunities to influence government. 00:38:08:16 - 00:38:27:09 Firstly, we've seen a big change in the last few weeks alone that the government has admitted birth trauma for the first time into the women's health strategy. That doesn't require a change in the law. That's purely down to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary deciding on their priorities. So there are lots of things like that where we can be putting pressure on the government to make and effect change. 00:38:27:12 - 00:38:51:04 And it may well be that some of the witnesses do suggest changes in the law, and I'll have to wait to see what those proposals are. But I think it's really timely to have this inquiry now and start this national conversation. And I hope that whichever party is in government at the next election will be taking very seriously the recommendations of our written report at the end of the inquiry and hopefully it will be also picked up in the next Parliament too. 00:38:51:06 - 00:39:12:17 Is there a sense here that one of the reasons this problem hasn't been in the limelight before is that bluntly the boys have been in charge and perhaps haven't noticed so much that it's a problem. It's striking to me that this is also the parliament where there's been a lot of talk about menopause and issues around that, that really hasn't been much discussed in parliament before. 00:39:12:18 - 00:39:35:21 What's going on here? I think you're absolutely right. I mean, I'm one of very few MPs who's actually elected and given birth while in office. I did contact the House of Commons Library and they told me I'm only the 56th female MP in history to give birth while elected as an MP. So I think that goes partly to the heart of the problem, that we don't have enough Members of Parliament who are in that situation who can then raise these issues. 00:39:35:23 - 00:39:57:12 And I do think we need to do a huge amount to support mums across the UK but also here in Parliament. I mean, I'll be honest, it is very difficult to be a new young mum in Parliament. I was very grateful to the Speaker that he allowed me to have the six month proxy vote when I was on maternity leave and I pay huge tribute to the MPs before me, like Tulip Siddiq, who did a huge amount of campaigning on this. 00:39:57:14 - 00:40:19:15 And you know, as you would have all heard from my own personal story, I was in hospital for nearly a week after giving birth. You know, I even had constituents making complaints. "I'd not hold a surgery" within quotes. "She's been had her baby a whole week. Why can't I have a face to face meeting?" And as you hear, I was, you know, recovering from major surgery and in no fit state to be seeing anybody in my team, let alone a member of the public. 00:40:19:17 - 00:40:44:02 So things like that proxy vote makes such a difference to ensure that I could represent my constituents, but also be spending time with my daughter and bonding in that important period, but also recovering physically from a pretty major operation. You're doing this through an All Party Parliamentary Group. It's got the word parliamentary in the name. You've talked about holding the inquiry and the meetings in Parliament, but it's not actually a formal parliamentary process, is it? 00:40:44:04 - 00:41:03:00 We are not a select committee, so obviously we don't come with all the resources that things like the International Development Select Committee that I sit on would have. So I don't get given funding, I don't get given clerks. So I think an APPG is a very much down to the Members of Parliament and their particular interests and the time and resources that they want to dedicate to it. 00:41:03:02 - 00:41:32:07 I was very grateful to Rosie for joining me as my cross-party co-chair, and she had a particular interest again from her own personal experience, but also because of constituency cases that she'd heard from local mums. And I think firstly, APPGs can be a really important vehicle in Parliament to raise awareness of particular issues. Something like birth trauma had not traditionally had a dedicated committee looking at this work, but actually it's been able to work across the House. 00:41:32:09 - 00:41:53:13 And I've been really struck in the last year how incredibly cross-party this campaign has been. I mean, I've had members from all different parties coming up to me generally offering support, turning up, speaking in debates, saying how can we help? So I think an APPG, if it's run well and effectively, can be a really important tool for raising awareness on a particular issue like this one. 00:41:53:18 - 00:42:16:09 All party groups sometimes, though, are almost wholly owned subsidiaries of outside campaign groups who provide the secretariat, throw in a bit of funding for whatever purposes. This one, as I understand, is completely freestanding, you haven't got any campaign groups standing behind you saying this is what you ought to be looking at. We don't receive any financial resources at all as the APPG. 00:42:16:11 - 00:42:35:19 I'm very grateful to The Birth Trauma Association for providing voluntary secretariat support. Obviously they have access to the mums and the networks across the UK who've had similar experiences. I do think the Speaker was right to recently change the rules on APPGs and crack down on exactly what you were describing. So there's certainly been instances of that. 00:42:35:19 - 00:42:57:00 I think with other groups, particularly when there's international governments I think have been funding them. But with our particular case, yes, absolutely. It's just basically run by me and Rosie out of our offices and we are doing the best that we can with limited resources because we both just really passionately care about addressing this particular issue. Now, you've already started holding hearings, select committee style hearings with witnesses. 00:42:57:00 - 00:43:20:11 Presumably at the end of this all, you're hoping to get a Health Minister in front of you. What have you learned so far? We held our first evidence session just this week in parliament. We had in a number of professional witnesses from places like the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Royal College of Midwifes sort of setting the scene for parliamentarians about what are the overall issues, but also we've heard testimony firsthand from some of the mothers who've been affected. 00:43:20:13 - 00:43:47:15 And it was really difficult and harrowing to hear some of these stories. But I think it was so important to have them into parliament and for MPs to hear firsthand the really difficult challenges that they faced. So I very much hope that once we finish the inquiry will then have a good set of concrete recommendations for governments, and then I'll be writing to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary with our reports and inviting them to come and see us to discuss what our findings are. 00:43:47:17 - 00:44:08:01 Because the other part of the work of one of these inquiries is the follow up, it's getting pressure to bear. I can remember some years ago now there was an All Party Group on stalking and its chair was Elfin Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP. He got up at Prime Minister's Question time, asked a question and got a stone cold commitment from David Cameron that he was going to legislate on this. 00:44:08:03 - 00:44:26:14 Is that what you are in your heart of hearts hoping for? Well, credit to the Prime Minister that I did raise birth trauma and adding it into the women's health strategy before Christmas. And I believe it's the first time on the record that Prime Minister has ever even acknowledged birth trauma. And it's now on the record at Hansard, which is fantastic. 00:44:26:16 - 00:44:49:03 I was really pleased that the government did respond to our call to add birth trauma into the women's health strategy that was only announced in January this year. That is a huge change and I think it reflects that women's health traditionally in the past has maybe not had the time and attention that it really deserves. And I think the fact that our campaign has already had these early wins is a huge sign of success. 00:44:49:09 - 00:45:06:10 But of course, there's so much more to do. And really the findings of the inquiry will then decide the outcomes of what we want to lobby government on next. So, Theo, if any of our listeners have had a similar experience or a member of their family has had that kind of experience, how might they submit evidence to your inquiry? 00:45:06:12 - 00:45:28:12 So I have a public call for evidence at the moment on my website, which is and on there there'll be all the submission guidelines whether you're a member of the public, like a mum who wants to give their personal story or you're a health care professional. We also want to hear from partners and dads because they're part of the process too. 00:45:28:14 - 00:45:43:23 And we've just extended the call for evidence by an additional two weeks, partly because the volume of submissions is so great. But also I do appreciate it's a very difficult topic for people to write about. So hopefully giving them a bit more time will give you time to get your stories in as well. So please do write to us. 00:45:43:23 - 00:46:01:04 We want to hear from you from across the UK and other developed nations as well, and understand the sort of national picture about where we can help and what the challenges are. Well, thanks for that. We'll put that information, the contact information in our show notes so that if any listeners do want to submit anything, can get the details there as well. 00:46:01:06 - 00:46:32:02 And thanks very much for joining us. Thank you very much. So welcome back. Last week, the House of Commons discussed the new strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission. And this week it was debated in the House of Lords. It's a source of some controversy. What's going on? Well, this is the result of the Elections Act. relatively recent legislation about the conduct of elections, which gives the government the power to publish the statement, providing a bit of guidance for the working of the Electoral Commission. 00:46:32:04 - 00:46:58:16 And the Electoral Commission remember is the sort of neutral umpire for the conduct of elections. It sets the rules, it polices them. It's the Electoral Commission that looks at how much the parties are spending in their campaigns and oversees that kind of stuff around the spending limits for campaigning. So it's an extremely important body come election time. And there's a lot of discomfort expressed both in the Commons and then later in the Lords at 00:46:58:18 - 00:47:22:03 the idea that the government was taking it upon itself to, as it were, give instructions to the umpire. A lot of MPs said that they felt that either the statement was so vague and non directive that it was worthless, or alternatively it was an attempt to influence the Electoral Commission too much, in which case it was dangerous. But it was one of those two things and there wasn't much point to it otherwise. 00:47:22:08 - 00:47:42:15 And when it came to the House of Lords, the House of Lords actually passed a regret motion about these instructions. It has no practical effect. It's a kind of pout of disapproval expressed through a parliamentary vote. But all the same Peers did show that they weren't happy with this process. Yeah, I mean, the statement covers quite a lot of what the Commission already does. 00:47:42:17 - 00:48:12:02 So you know, addressing fraud, education and awareness raising, particularly around things like voter ID, which we will now need when we go to the polls on election day. Yes, don't forget to take your driving licence. Yes, and compliance with, you know, the political finance framework, the regulations governing the funding of elections and what parties can spend. It's looking at some of the new issues around how you deal with the threats posed by artificial intelligence and fake news and so on. 00:48:12:04 - 00:48:35:08 And yet the Electoral Commission chair, John Pullinger, was unusually outspoken. And this has obviously emboldened the critics in both Commons and Lords about, the government trying to tell the umpire, the Commission, how to enforce the rules of the game. And the government said, no, no, this is an entirely benign statement. So it's not a statutory requirement that the Electoral Commission has to abide by this. 00:48:35:10 - 00:48:52:01 They have to, as you say, have regard for its contents. But then what happens if they don't? What happens if they have different priorities or want to prioritise different things in a different order? What then happens? And it's not clear. It's not at all clear, as you say, What's the point if you just have to have regard? 00:48:52:01 - 00:49:12:13 What does just have regard even mean? So this is, as I say, either so bland as to be meaningless or alternatively downright sinister. Now, I suppose you'll have to watch how this works during the course of the next election, But I think there may be a case for the next Parliament taking quite a close view of how the Clectoral Commission has worked. 00:49:12:16 - 00:49:36:13 And bear in mind that the Electoral Commission is not a particularly popular quango, with politicians. You know, it's the cop on the beat, if you like. They don't necessarily like its decisions or indeed its presence sometimes, and sometimes they find the rules irksome, burdensome, downright illogical. And there are a very complex set of rules around things like election expenses based on slightly unrefined concepts like the long campaign and the short campaign. 00:49:36:13 - 00:49:53:12 How much you can spend after an election is actually in play as opposed to how much you can spend in the potentially very long build up to a general election. All sorts of complexities. And so it's the body that will sometimes catch them out. Yeah, it is interesting in the Lords debate there was a backwash to the Brexit referendum. 00:49:53:12 - 00:50:18:11 Quite a few people feeling that in the words of Baroness Noakes, the Commission had been high handed in how it had handled some of the inquiries into the way that the various parties in the referendum had behaved. And Lord Hayward, Conservative Peer, elections expert, he said that in the debate on this in the original act in 2022, he described the Commission as institutionally arrogant. 00:50:18:13 - 00:50:49:15 But interestingly, he then said actually now under the new chair, John Pullinger and the new chief executive, he felt they had turned it around, that the Commission was more efficient, more effective, more responsive to concerns being expressed by parliamentarians and others. And this statement, this approach was was not necessary. But the Commission is accountable to Parliament. So there's a Speaker's Committee... Yes, that's been the mechanism, the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. And this is cross-party and they are opposed to the statement as well. 00:50:49:15 - 00:51:11:14 It's been looked at by parliamentary select committee in the Commons and Lords. They don't like it. And yet the Government is pressing ahead with this benign statement, the purpose of which and the results of which nobody is very clear about. Yes, I suppose there's a tension here because you don't want necessarily parliamentarians weighing in too heavily on the work of the election umpire either. 00:51:11:19 - 00:51:29:23 Umpires have to be accountable to someone, I suppose, but in this case they are accountable to the players in the game, even if it's capped at one remove. So this all gets very complicated and I can't imagine what a better system would be. Yeah, who else are they going to be responsible to? This is the problem in terms of the complexity of governance. 00:51:29:23 - 00:52:08:03 When the further you get to the top, it becomes more difficult. Alright, Mark, in terms of other issues coming up, we will be looking out for the results of the by elections. Yes, yes, two by elections coming up next Thursday. Bristol Kingswood, where Chris Skidmore, the Government's former green tsar, departed in fury I suspect at the licensing of more fossil fuel extraction in the North Sea and Wellingborough where as we were just discussing Peter Bone, the Conservative MP there, has been sanctioned by the Standards Committee and there's been a recall petition and now there's a by election. And that's for my money, 00:52:08:03 - 00:52:47:04 the interesting one. Both of these seats are seats that certainly the Labour Party would now be disappointed if it didn't win. But I think the small print of the Wellingborough result will be interesting as well, because people will want to look very closely at how the Reform Party does their. This is very Brexity territory. Wellingborough, the former MP Peter Bone was himself very Brexity and I think a lot of Conservative MPs will think that if Reform takes a large chunk of the Conservative vote, that will be a very bad sign for the next general election and it could fuel the latest in this continuing cycle of sort of semi-coup attempts that the Conservative Party's 00:52:47:04 - 00:53:06:04 been going through for quite a while now. Yes, well, I think we probably leave it there now for for this week. The House of Commons is in recess next week. So we will not have our normal run through the parliamentary events, but we will have a special edition of Urgent Questions responding to all our listeners, questions that have come in. 00:53:06:06 - 00:53:35:04 Thanks for all the feedback. It's been really good to hear what you're interested in, what you think about the podcast. We really appreciate the support and we hope you enjoy the answers to your questions next week. Turn on, tune in, drop out. 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 00:53:35:04 - 00:53:52:12 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. Oh go on Mark, tell us more about the algorithm. What do I know about algorithms. You know I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. 00:53:52:14 - 00:54:28:22 Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. And you can find us across social media at @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 00:54:28:24 - 00:54:45:03 Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media at @HansardSociety.

Subscribe to Parliament Matters

Use the links below to subscribe to the Hansard Society's Parliament Matters podcast on your preferred app, or search for 'Parliament Matters' on whichever podcasting service you use. If you are unable to find our podcast, please email us here.

News / What has Keir Starmer got in common with Robert Redford? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 42

The legislative process is underway following the King’s Speech, so what bills are planned? This week, Professor Philip Cowley, an expert on parliamentary rebellions, joins the podcast to discuss managing a mega-majority. Intriguingly, he reveals why Keir Starmer reminds him of Robert Redford.

19 Jul 2024
Read more

Briefings / Back to Business 2024: A guide to the start of the new Parliament

The new Parliament will assemble on Tuesday 9 July 2024, five days after the General Election. This guide explains the ceremonial, legislative, organisational and procedural processes that are engaged at the start of the Parliament.

03 Jul 2024
Read more

Guides / How does Parliament approve Government spending? A procedural guide to the Estimates process

In order to incur expenditure the Government needs to obtain approval from Parliament for its departmental spending plans. The annual Estimates cycle is the means by which the House of Commons controls the Government’s plans for the spending of money raised through taxation.

16 Jan 2023
Read more

Blog / Mock Elections 2024: The results are in!

Results are in for the Hansard Society's nationwide Mock Elections. Thousands of pupils have cast their ballots and the results show that Labour has won the election among pupils across the country, with 27.3% of the vote.

04 Jul 2024
Read more

News / Who will be the stars of the new Parliament? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 40

With a 50% new intake and 40% female representation, the latest parliamentary group promises exciting new talent. Renowned journalist and 'Tomorrow’s MPs' watcher Michael Crick shares his insights on the standout figures to watch in the coming years.

07 Jul 2024
Read more