The Budget: is the democratic deficit as bad as the financial deficit? How Parliament handles money (Parliament Matters: Episode 25)

7 Mar 2024
The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP delivering the Budget statement, Wednesday 6 March 2024. ©UK Parliament/Maria Unger
The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP delivering the Budget statement, Wednesday 6 March 2024. ©UK Parliament/Maria Unger

The Chancellor has announced his plans for taxation and provided a fresh economic forecast. But how does Parliament get to grips – indeed does it get to grips - with the nation’s finances? We talk to Baroness Morgan of Cotes, a Conservative Peer who has been both a Treasury Minister and a scrutineer on the Treasury Committee. Henry Midgley of Durham University – who has worked at both the House of Commons and the National Audit Office – also joins us to discuss how MPs could improve scrutiny of taxation and public spending.

There have been more dreadful polls for the Conservatives, some of them projecting a catastrophic result for the party. So, what would the House of Commons look like if the Conservatives got just 20% of the vote at the next general election? Mark and Ruth have some fun speculating on the implications of a lopsided House of Commons in which the opposition parties muster barely 100 seats between them.

Paul Scully MP has joined the band of senior Conservative MPs planning to leave at the election. He directed some choice words about the future of his party towards his colleagues and reflected on the brutality of politics and the toll it takes on politicians and their families.

The Government lost 10 votes on amendments to the Rwanda Bill at Report Stage in the House of Lords this week. What does the scale of the votes tell us about the future of this Bill? And why are Labour’s tactics on the Bill now in the spotlight?

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00;00;00;00 - 00;00;30;10 You are listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 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, its Budget week where Chancellors announce their exciting plans for taxation and public spending. 00;00;30;11 - 00;00;54;19 But how does Parliament get to grips - indeed, does it get to grips - with the nation's finances? We talk to Conservative Peer Nicky Morgan, who's been both a Treasury minister and a scrutineer on the Treasury Committee. More dreadful polls for the Conservatives, some of them outright catastrophic. So what would the House of Commons look like if the Conservatives fell below 20% at the next election ? And the exodus continues 00;00;54;20 - 00;01;16;27 Paul Scully MP joins the band of senior Conservative MPs planning to leave at the election, leaving some choice words about the future of his party ringing in his colleagues ears and a 16 part Twitter thread talking about the brutality of politics and the toll it takes on politicians and their families. 00;01;16;29 - 00;01;34;24 But first, Ruth, I suppose inevitably we've got to talk about the Budget. It's always one of the big events on the parliamentary calendar. There's all sorts of theater that goes on. The Chancellor raising his red box in front of Number 11 for the photographers to take the traditional picture. What's the Chancellor going to have to drink at the dispatch box? 00;01;34;24 - 00;01;55;18 Is it going to be water or is he going to default back to the good old days when they could have alcohol? But this is supposed to be the moment when the Government unveils its plans for the management of the economy, for the levels of tax, for the levels of spending for the coming year. And this time the unveiling was pretty perfunctory because the veil had been ripped away some days before in the national press. 00;01;55;22 - 00;02;14;14 Yeah, I mean, there were days when Chancellor of the Exchequer used to resign, having leaked just a sentence of the Budget. This year we got pretty much most of the proposals on the front pages of the national newspapers. And interestingly, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, neither of them took the Government to task for this. Yeah, it was remarkable. 00;02;14;14 - 00;02;40;09 And I think that goes back to the weakened state of Mr. Speaker Hoyle these days in the wake of that long running row about the SNP Opposition debate and his choice of an extra amendment there. Maybe he's a bit too bruised, but in past years there have been rebukes issued from the Chair for leaking of announcements and this was so comprehensively leaked that you always wonder what the point of having a long Budget statement was. 00;02;40;09 - 00;03;00;03 In the end there really wasn't that much. In fact, there's probably nothing to surprise anybody. No rabbits were plucked from the hat. Everyone was waiting till the last moment to see if some exciting announcement would suddenly become ginned up to wrong foot. Sir Keir Starmer, who has the job as Leader of the Opposition in replying to a Budget for reasons lost in the midst of time, but no wrong footing for that. 00;03;00;15 - 00;03;19;14 This must be one of the easiest replies to a Budget statement that any Leader of the Opposition has had to do in the last 40 years. Yeah, but it actually was the SNP that brought the real - the only bit - of theatre really at the Budget statement when they suddenly pushed for a division on the first motion that the House considers after the Budget statement. 00;03;19;14 - 00;03;38;14 And normally it's perfunctory. It goes through on the nod. I can't remember a division. It's the provisional collection of is motion isn't it? Which means in effect that the new taxes that the Chancellor's just announced, things like duty on beers, wines and spirits or whatever take effect pretty much immediately. And that, as they say, is a normal part of the Budget ritual. 00;03;38;14 - 00;04;01;16 It happens on the nod. Everybody gets on with it. And this time the SNP, I think partly to demonstrate their continuing irritation at the way they were treated a couple of weeks ago, decided to force a division. Yeah. The other unusual bit was that we had two quite outspoken responses to the Budget, against what Jeremy Hunt was proposing, but from the Conservatives own MPs including a minister. 00;04;01;16 - 00;04;21;29 So Douglas Ross, the leader of the party in Scotland, and Andrew Bowie, a minister, both speaking out against the proposals in relation to this. This is the continuation of the Energy windfall levy which is an extra tax slapped on the energy producers as a result of the vast rise in energy prices for imported gas as a result of Putin's war. 00;04;21;29 - 00;04;53;05 And this is something the Scottish Tories have said is frankly a bad idea. Douglas Ross, as Scottish Tory leader, apparently had a public argument with the Chancellor at one point. The SNP, of course, is making great play of the fact that the Scottish Tories always used to trade on this idea and they had a lot of leverage over the Government because the they were so important in Theresa May's days at least to the Government's majority, the SNP is now able to say look at them, they can't make the Government change on anything, even something that they conceive of as a very bad idea for Scotland. And there's been more kickback on another aspect of 00;04;53;05 - 00;05;22;13 the Budget, which is that the Chair of the Defense Select Committee, Jeremy Quin, is not happy at all and he's written to the Chancellor demanding a meeting. Quite an interesting situation. The Defense Secretary, Grant Shapps, said in a fairly recent speech that he thought the country had moved from a postwar situation to a pre-war situation. In other words, we might be ramping up to some kind of conflict with Russia, and that kind of implied to most people that the Government was going to bring forward a big increase in defense spending. 00;05;22;16 - 00;05;46;14 And that certainly hasn't happened in this Budget. Indeed, the Budget appears to cut headline defense spending and headline investment in defense. Now there's some dispute around whether or not everything's been counted in this, does this kind of aid to Ukraine and things like that. But at the same, it's hardly a giant increase. And Jeremy Quin, who's written, I think he actually wants to see Grant Shapps, but he would be perfectly happy to have the Chancellor as well, I'm sure. 00;05;46;16 - 00;06;10;11 Jeremy Quin, who speaks with the authority of being a fairly recent minister for Defense procurement, he was in the MOD for really quite a long time. He's now chairing the Defense Select Committee, and I think that just underlines the depth of backbench conservative concern about the state of the national defense. It's because the Army, Navy and Air Force all been run down to quite a low level compared to their former glories. 00;06;10;14 - 00;06;31;16 So what happens now in terms of Parliament? We've got four days of debate on the Budget, will then have a vote at the end of that next week and on Wednesday there will be a bill that will be rammed through probably in a single day, which will deal with the further cut in National Insurance, which was the centerpiece really, of Jeremy Hunt's offering this week. 00;06;31;17 - 00;06;52;26 Yeah. And then they'll have to be another piece of legislation which will be the Finance Bill which will give legal cover, legal effect to all these other proposals in the statement. And there's a different kind of complaint about the nature of the Finance Bill, which suggests that the way the Government is kind of structuring the FInance Bill narrows down MPs ability to propose changes to it. 00;06;52;26 - 00;07;20;08 And it all centers around a very techie sounding provision called the Amendment to the Law Resolution, which used to accompany Budgets and is now not seen so often. Yes, this is why we're getting really into the nerdy weeds of parliamentary procedure. But it does matter because it is about backbenchers rights and abilities to amend the Budget. Now first thing is to say that MPs who are not ministers can't increase attacks or extend the purpose of attacks. 00;07;20;08 - 00;07;42;21 But what they can do is reduce a tax rate or enhance relief tax relief. But in order to do that, they've got to be able to amend what's called the first Ways and Means motion that's tabled after the Chancellor's Budget statement. Now, the scope for amendment of the subsequent finance bill is determined by the scope of this motion that's tabled by the Chancellor. 00;07;42;23 - 00;08;07;00 And historically what's happened is that these motions are tabled, as you say, called amendment of the law motions, and these are broadly drawn in scope. So essentially it's expedient for MPs to amend the law with respect to the national debts, public revenue, further provision in connection with finance. It's all pretty broad financial terms. So if you've got that wording, then the sky's the limit. 00;08;07;00 - 00;08;39;23 And this kind of changes you can propose. Yeah, but what's happened importantly, and it's a change that the Government brought in itself, it's been doing it since 2017 in successive Budgets. It's done it without any consultation is they've introduced the first Ways and Means motion tabled after the Chancellor's statement, not as broadly drawn motion, but as a much more narrowly drawn one which deals simply with income tax, which means that the scope of an amendment that an MP can table has to be about income tax, it can't be about anything else. 00;08;39;25 - 00;09;12;13 So that clearly narrows down the opportunities that employees have to offer suggestions to come up with ideas. Now, this is tacky procedural stuff, but it basically means that the backbenchers have got much less opportunity in what is already a pretty limited arena for them to operate than they otherwise would have. And they've been complaints about this from one of the committee's most hardened street fighters, David Davis, briefly Brexit secretary a few years back, but essentially someone who's looked sharp like on the backbenches, pouncing on various causes. 00;09;12;15 - 00;09;30;17 And there's been a very, very effective operator. And he's seen the technical issues around this, and he's raised it in a letter to the Chancellor. Yeah, I mean, I suspect the Chancellor is sort of, you know, mixed, he’ll shrug and probably won't be around for the next Budget to deal with it. But essentially David Davis is taking up the cudgels to defend backbenchers rights. 00;09;30;17 - 00;09;48;12 And he's saying to Jeremy Hunt, you've shut down the rights the House has enjoyed for more than 100 years and he makes the important historic point that, you know, Budgets and finance bills were the reason for having a Parliament to approve the expenditure of the executive to tax. So some control over Government, over the crown, of course, historically in those days. 00;09;48;12 - 00;10;15;08 And he says, I urge you to restore these historic rights for members. Don't hold your breath. So, Mark, we're going to pop along to Westminster to talk to Nicky Morgan, Baroness Morgan, who's former Treasury minister herself, but also scrutiny on the Treasury Committee. See what she's got to say. Yeah, plenty indeed to explore with her about how Parliament does fit in to the scrutiny of the money. 00;10;15;11 - 00;10;34;09 Well, to get an insider's view of how Budgets are made and then how they're pushed through Parliament, we've come to the House of Lords to meet Nicky Morgan, Baroness Morgan of Cotes. A former Treasury Minister - you were Economic Secretary to the Treasury, you were then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and in the later incarnation you were Chair of the Treasury Select Committee. 00;10;34;09 - 00;11;01;24 So you've seen Budgets being made and you've seen Budgets being sent through Parliament. So I guess our opening question really is how much traction does Parliament really have over this whole process? Well, I think obviously the fact that the Budget has to be presented to Parliament and it is a key moment of the parliamentary year and of course the Finance Act eventually has to go through Parliament in terms of setting of tax rates. 00;11;01;24 - 00;11;33;12 But the reality is, look, I think Chancellors will often involve their parliamentary party colleagues, at least in a normal way, by appearing to ask for their suggestions. Of course, appearing well, they will hold a meeting, they will ask for suggestions. How many of those suggestions actually appear in the Budget is always a bit of a guessing game. I mean, George Osborne started this certainly as far as I was concerned, which is can you spot the constituency or the MP that is in favor in the Budget speech? 00;11;33;12 - 00;11;58;15 Because often you'll get people literally named - so-and-so has suggested this measure or I'm delighted to announce this funding for this statue in so-and-so's constituency. I think it was about what was it, the RAAF station that was preserved in Uxbridge, so that Boris Johnson had to say “thank you” when he was Uxbridge MP. Of course, the big role for Parliament is the Treasury Select Committee’s role post-Budget in scrutinising the contents and why things have been announced. 00;11;58;17 - 00;12;20;19 How effective is that? As Treasury Select Committee Chair did you feel that you had the time, the resources, the information at your disposal to really do an effective job? Well, I guess I mean, it's part of a wider issue, which is does Parliament have the resources and the capability to hold Government to account? And of course, we're always at a slight disadvantage because we haven't got the civil service, we haven't had all the inputs. 00;12;20;19 - 00;12;42;28 But I think overall, actually, I think it's one of the things that the select committee system does really well and the Treasury Select Committee does very well. We have great members of staff and also because we were able to call for evidence not just from the Chancellor, but also from people like think tanks, like the the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies), but also the Resolution Foundation, the Women's Budget Group as well. 00;12;42;29 - 00;13;00;25 Other academics we get the OBR in - the Office of Budget Responsibility - and that's actually really, really interesting . To hear from the OBR, we always you start with the question, have you had any influence in any way on the judgments that you've made and in your report to which the answer iscertainly so far, it would be no. 00;13;00;27 - 00;13;22;23 So hearing from them and then hearing from the Chancellor, one of my memories is that Philip Hammond sat down at one of our sessions and said, I'm very busy. How long am I going to be here? And I thought, Well, you're going to be a lot longer. Now, you said that. And the fact is that we are able to keep ministers in front of the select committee, much to the upset of the officials, as long as we need them to be there to answer questions. 00;13;22;23 - 00;13;45;00 And of course, in a select committee, you can keep asking the same question. And I had a great band of select committee members and we would find different ways to ask the same question until we got to some sort of an answer. Other examples of those Treasury Committee hearings actually changing anything or getting an unexpected explanation out of a minister of why this a particularly the feature of the Budget? 00;13;45;02 - 00;14;09;05 I think no, perhaps not from the minister themselves, but from the bill. They will often perhaps highlight something that might have been missed in the commentary and perhaps also from the think tanks and other commentariat, if you like, around the Budget who would come in and point out something to us that perhaps gets missed. It's not a headline feature, but a chart, a distributional analysis, The reality of whether money is actually going to be raised. 00;14;09;05 - 00;14;27;23 And often, you know, one of the numbers that does a lot of heavy lifting in Budgets is how much HMRC are going to raise when they crack down on tax avoidance. And then often people come in and say, this is a figure that's never going to be achieved. And so I can't it generated headlines, but I think those in the know definitely look at the sessions and think, is there any more that we can follow up on? 00;14;27;28 - 00;14;51;25 There is this sense of unreality sometimes about Budgets that the whole thing is predicated on a whole load of forecasts which we know can be seriously derailed by events which we know are very seldom completely accurate. So you make a set of tax cuts predicated on getting so much growth and getting so much in taxes and having to pay so much for your borrowing. 00;14;51;28 - 00;15;07;27 And none of those figures may come true in the end. So there is this weird sense of shadow boxing about it all. Yes. And I think perhaps that's become more so. I mean, I think the first thing to say is because we have the forecasts, the Office of Budget Responsibility, that's something we didn't have probably, what, 15 years ago. 00;15;08;00 - 00;15;32;11 And I think that's the same with anybody. You can say the same about the Bank of England making decisions about interest rates. They're very reliant on on their forecasts and other people's forecasts. But I think particularly at the moment, perhaps particularly in an election atmosphere, there is definitely a sense of sort of shadow boxing, I think here in Parliament, which is actually decisions and things are being announced when actually we all know that perhaps in a couple of years time it could look very different. 00;15;32;13 - 00;15;59;04 What I'm working round to here is the idea that you have unaffordable tax cuts predicated on undeliverable public expenditure reductions, not to mention the annual crackdown on tax evasion that's announced by every chancellor every year. Yes. And I think probably where this comes out of this ultimately is going to be, I think, in the election campaign itself, and that that point will be made repeatedly, I'm sure, about both sides spending plans and tax plans. 00;15;59;06 - 00;16;17;25 But, of course, I mean, go back to how is the Budget, how is the Treasury held accountable by Parliament? You know, both by the select committees, but also in terms of questions to the Chancellor and everything else. And I think also just the public, this sort of sense, eventually they'll see that actually what was said a couple of years ago isn't manifestly true. 00;16;17;27 - 00;16;40;28 And you have to look at the whole way in which the Office of Budget Responsibility does its forecasts. Could things be more effective if, for example, the Treasury Committee has either a subcommittee or there was an alternative committee looking at specifically the Budget or taxation? The feeling is that the Treasury Committee is quite stretched in terms of the sort of the political and policy landscape it's got to look at. 00;16;41;00 - 00;17;08;17 Just from your perspective, having been a chair of that committee, do you think it's any benefit to that? Well, I think often setting up a subcommittee for a specific purpose is a very good idea, and particularly when I suppose you might get a sense that something is unfolding or going to unfold that needs careful monitoring. And of course, an example of that has been around the scrutiny of financial services legislation post-Brexit, where obviously the Treasury is now much more in the driving seat rather than the EU. 00;17;08;19 - 00;17;27;23 I mean, of course one of the things is that committees is the challenge of both launching new inquiries but also returning to existing issues. And I suppose in a way because Budgets and fiscal events do come around, you know, seem to come around every couple of months now there is the opportunity to keep returning and to keep looking at what happened in terms of the forecasts. 00;17;27;23 - 00;17;51;17 And that's partly obviously about why the members of a select committee are so important in terms of the quality of the scrutiny that they give, the questions they ask. And look, the staffing as well. I mean, nobody ever has quite enough resources, but I would argue that resourcing of select committees is a phenomenally important job for Parliament to get right. Was there any discussion in your time about something like a Parliamentary Budget Office, for example, that other Westminster style parliaments, Canada, Australia for example, have. 00;17;51;19 - 00;18;24;28 Yeah, there was discussion. It has been put forward. I mean it would be helpful. Obviously we have, you know, whether it would be an extension or something like - it's a bit more than the library - but that way you've got people who really know the detail of things. Perhaps they're a former select committee staff members.Of course, select committees can appoint expert advisors for particular inquiries, and it may well be thats something that they wanted to do. But, you know, I think actually as these areas become more and more important, as I think the role of select committees becomes more important, as I think there's a sense sometimes that actually Governments of all persuasions 00;18;24;28 - 00;18;52;07 aren't terribly keen about being held to account by Parliament, I think that is an issue that will probably have its time. Talk us through the kind of the upstream process for making the Budget decisions. I mean, there's already been some blowback about some of the things the Chancellor's announced - about the energy windfall tax, for example, about the level of defence spending - how much consultation in advance is there with the relevant cabinet ministers, or are they just sort of handed the pot of money and now you've got to make do with that? 00;18;52;09 - 00;19;09;16 Well, there's an element of both, I suppose. I mean, I think it depends on whether the departmental minister in particular I suppose the Secretary of State, is calling for something to be changed or to be invested in, in which case there's quite a lot of lobbying, including particularly with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and you have those meetings. 00;19;09;18 - 00;19;26;03 But equally, I guess if sometimes there is a change that the Chancellor decides to make and they know that's not going to go down very well in the department, you can often find that actually you get told. I mean, I do remember getting a call from George Osborne the night before one Budget about the impending sugar tax, for example. 00;19;26;05 - 00;19;44;02 But otherwise, typically you don't see the whole thing stitched together until the cabinet meeting that happens the morning of the Budget. By which point, of course, the documents being published, the speech has been written, and then you have to work out whether you could launch a bit of a rearguard action. And I might add, The Sunday Times exclusive on the contents of the Budget is a couple of days old. 00;19;44;05 - 00;20;03;22 Well, I think that is extraordinary. I mean, look, I think this year quite how the cut in national insurance got to be front page of a newspaper the day before - was it a leak? was it a well-timed guess? was it a briefing? I don't know. But I suspect that actually the House of Commons is pretty unimpressed. 00;20;03;22 - 00;20;21;29 And I think what that made us all think in a way was that there was another rabbit out of the hat and it turned out that there wasn't. What we talking about is actually quite a serious democratic deficit, because you've just said cabinet ministers sort of see in the round the morning that it's announced. Parliament doesn't have that much control over it. 00;20;21;29 - 00;20;52;29 So essentially it's been decided at the center by the Chancellor, by the Prime Minister. That's quite a serious problem given the amount of money that we're talking about that’s both being raised through taxation and through expenditure by the departments. Well, it is in one way in the sense that I guess the Treasury - and that's more typical, I suppose, of the way the Treasury conducts business on a, on a more general basis actually. As again, having been a spending department, a minister, you will often find that you were arguing the case with Treasury officials who think they know better how to spend the money in your department than you do. 00;20;53;01 - 00;21;07;07 And I think that is also to the upset of the officials in the in the relevant department as well. But having said that, of course, and we talked about the coverage, because often what happens with the Budget, you know, it's great announcements on day one and then you’ve got to worry about the day two, the day three coverage. 00;21;07;07 - 00;21;24;04 Look, I have experience of, you know, we wanted all schools to be academies. We announced that in 2016. Actually, the parliamentary party were not keen, didn't want to see it. And it was one of those things that a few weeks later we had to row back from. So I guess in terms of accountability, it happens in a number of ways. 00;21;24;06 - 00;21;48;04 Is there a sense that there's almost an inverse relationship that the better the headlines of the day, the worse the Budget unravels later on? Well, there's always that real worry, isn't there? I mean, I remember when I was in the Treasury, now you have, as you say, hopefully positive headlines, hopefully support, you know, the morning after. And then I think that probably what you hope is that the news agenda is going to move on very, very quickly. 00;21;48;11 - 00;22;09;12 Everybody's focus moves elsewhere. I mean, I think I think there are many people in the Conservative Party who are still very scarred by their pasty tax and the caravan tax. I mean, that's one of the things that's often struck me about. I mean, years ago covering local government, you used to see this at Leicestershire County Council - they’d wave through £1,000,000,000 of public spending and then have a five hour argument about the paper clip budget. 00;22;09;14 - 00;22;36;24 And I think there's something not dissimilar happens in the Commons. They can't really get their teeth into the grand strategy of a Budget. So they think what remaining teeth they have into stuff on the edge as you say the pasty tax, the caravan tax. Look, I think that's one of the danger sometimes with Parliament generally isn't it, is that often we will, particularly as backbench MPs focus, partly because that is the response that we are seeing in inboxes. 00;22;36;27 - 00;23;02;00 People will obviously marshal their resources from outside to criticise something and it's easier to criticise a specific measure or to marshal forces against it and to say, you know, this has got to be reversed, this has got to be stopped than to attack I suppose the whole grand strategy. And of course, what you do is you get a groundswell of opinion, potentially, you get people signing online petitions and all that sort of thing, and it grows from there. 00;23;02;00 - 00;23;18;26 We talked only about the House of Commons because of course the House of Lords has a very limited role. Its role is to basically agree with what the Commons wants on financial matters. You've now seen this debate from all sides. You're now in the House of Lords. Do you think there's more that could be done? I mean, the Peers have more time. 00;23;18;26 - 00;23;37;13 They haven't got a constituency, so they haven't got those kinds of constituency pressures. Is there more that they could do, for example, strategically to look at some of these questions in a way that wouldn't interfere with the primacy of the Commons on financial matters? It's quite a delicate relationship between the two Houses on this. It's a very delicate relationship. 00;23;37;13 - 00;24;04;25 Firstly, I guess MPs would perhaps feel pretty uncertain if Lords started saying more, particularly on specific measures. We are going to have a general debate on the Budget. And I do think that one of the things that we probably don't appreciate sufficiently is that the resources, the insight, the expertise that sits in the House of Lords chamber in terms of former chancellors, but, you know, former economists, former academics and people, of course, have been the front line in terms of spending. 00;24;04;28 - 00;24;26;22 We do have the Lords Economic Affairs Committee and they do a fantastic job. They probably do in many ways look at the bigger themes actually, rather than looking at individual spending measures. I guess its parly tied up with House of Lords reform as well. I suppose the ironic point would be Treasury officials are never keen on their ministers coming before House of Commons select committees. 00;24;26;24 - 00;24;46;29 Can you imagine if they had to spend more time answering questions of the House of Lords as well on finance matters. Just a final thought, really: do you think that this Budget has moved the dial at all in terms of public opinion, or might there be a further mini Budget or fiscal event yet to come before the country finally gets a vote in a general election? 00;24;47;01 - 00;25;10;02 Well, that is, if we knew in the general election what we would be able to answer that confidently. I suspect there is more to come. If you think the election's going to be in the Autumn there'll be a bit of time, perhaps for another mini fiscal event before that unfolds. Is it going to change things? Probably not, because people I think - national insurance, which is the big measure - is one of those things that people don't necessarily understand anyway. 00;25;10;03 - 00;25;28;02 I think the childcare changes actually, childcare benefit, will probably have more immediate relevance for the relevant households. But I guess the measure is not just about does it change things, but does it make things any worse? In the sense that going back to what we were saying about what the Chancellor does not want to do is to make life more difficult for the Government 00;25;28;02 - 00;25;50;15 And I think on that measure he's probably been successful. Nicky Morgan, thanks very much for joining us on the pod. Thank you for having me. If you're enjoying the pod 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;25;50;17 - 00;26;06;19 You can join us and follow in the footsteps of our first members, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. And if you're enjoying the issues that we're talking about on the pod, you'll also be getting our special members-only Despatch Box newsletter each week where we bring together the best news and stories about parliaments here in the UK and around the world. 00;26;06;27 - 00;26;27;02 You can join by going to So we'll be back again in a few minutes to talk about the Budget again with Professor Henry Midgley, who used to work at the National Audit Office and the House of Commons to talk about how Parliament's control of the Budget and spending plans could be improved. 00;26;27;04 - 00;26;55;09 But in the meantime, we thought we'd take a short budget break and discuss Rwanda. Yes, the Government's bill to allow migrants to be removed to Rwanda is in its final stages now in the House of Lords. Peers have had quite a lot of fun in the last week rewriting large chunks of it. And they've passed ten amendments that were resisted by the Government on issues like removing limitations on the ability of courts and tribunals to consider someone's removal to Rwanda. 00;26;55;11 - 00;27;19;15 Looking at whether or not you can challenge, as a matter of fact, that Rwanda is safe in courts and tribunals. The Government took quite a battering, lost a whole series of votes, often by quite impressive margins in the House of Lords at what's called report stage. But that's not the end of things, because the Bill will have a quick Third Reading stage in the coming weeks and then it'll be sent off to the House of Commons for what's known as parliamentary “ping-pong” 00;27;19;15 - 00;27;41;08 where the changes to the bills have to be agreed by both houses. And the Government will doubtless use its majority in the House of Commons to strike down all those ten changes that have been made and send the Bill back to noble Lords. What struck me, Mark, about the ten votes that the Government lost - now bear in mind the Conservatives have got 271 peers in the House and these majorities were quite large. 00;27;41;13 - 00;28;02;21 Sometimes a hundred votes between them. And at no point did the Conservatives manage to muster more than 189 peers in their own lobby. Basically, the Conservatives didn't get their troops out fully. Now, was that because actually quite a number of Conservatives just didn't want to turn up? You know, it's almost a form of abstention. Yeah. Or did the Government just not try? 00;28;02;21 - 00;28;09;18 They're quite content for these amendments to go through with big majorities against them. And, you know, say to the Commons, look, this is the dreadful House of Lords trying to be 00;28;09;18 - 00;28;22;10 difficult and come up with all these changes to our bill and we're just going to block them. And the second element of the discussion, I think that struck me was Labour's positioning on this, you know, two strands to it. 00;28;22;12 - 00;28;39;17 There's all the politics of immigration and Labour not wanting to take a stance which can be used against it in evidence in the coming general election. But Labour also looking at the very real prospect of being in Government. And the one thing they really, really don't want is to have the House of Lords doing to them what it's doing to the current Government. 00;28;39;23 - 00;29;03;01 They don't want its legislation struck down. They don't want to set a precedent that an elected Government can have its legislation butchered on a regular basis in the House of Lords. Now what's happening here is is not that that legislation is being destroyed. The Lords are proposing amendments. The Commons will strike them down. The Lords may then say, “well, let's insist on a few watered down versions of those amendments and try again, see if we can swing the opinion of the Commons.” 00;29;03;03 - 00;29;24;27 But after a few go rounds, what normally happens on these occasions is that the House of Lords gracefully backs down and it can happen by a process almost of erosion. Now some people say, well, look, we've tried, the elected House wants this bill. We tried to suggest to them it should be different. They're not prepared to listen. How much longer are we going to go on, round and round, trying again and again to get the same result? 00;29;25;00 - 00;29;44;10 It was interesting, in the debate, Lord Hodgson, the Conservative peer, said the Lords role here “is to wound, not to kill”. And then there was a sort of a discussion - I mean, it was actually Lord Deben, the Conservative peer formerly John Gummer - the artist formerly known as John Selwyn Gummer - and he was making the case, he was supporting the amendments against his own Government's position. 00;29;44;12 - 00;30;10;11 He was making the argument that the Opposition wasn't really performing its function because its role was to stand up on these issues and to perform the Lords revising function. But the Labour position - the question is, how, how long is ping-pong going to go on for? The Labour Party has kind of indicated that they're content for the Government to get its bill broadly before Easter, which would suggest it's not going to go through many rounds of ping-pong, perhaps two, maybe three. 00;30;10;14 - 00;30;31;14 There are some in the House, and indeed outside the House, - an argument being advocated by people like Sunder Katawala from the think tank, British Future - saying Labour's got a good hand here. It could stand up for the rule of law, it could stand up for the humanitarian principles and say, yes, the Government can have its bill, but we want some of these amendments through. 00;30;31;15 - 00;30;47;09 And if you are going to object and stand in the way, if you're not even going to consider the amendments, then we're going to spin it out for a longer period of time. So the Government - you put into the Government's hands, you know, you can get it through quicker, but you're going to have to make some concessions. If you don't make concessions, then it's going to take a lot longer. 00;30;47;11 - 00;31;05;28 And one of the concerns I think some of the peers were expressing in the debate this week was that Labour doesn't really seem to be prepared to use that hand. There's certainly quite a lot of irritation at the thought that the Government isn't listening and it's just waiting for the moment when it can overturn all these amendments and tell these bothersome peers where to get off. 00;31;06;01 - 00;31;31;00 And the House of Lords doesn't like that. The House of Lords takes itself seriously and expects the Government to take it seriously. And the awful suspicion lurks that the Government actually doesn't take it all that seriously and just sees it as a problem to be managed. But at the same time, there are issues here. It's absolutely extraordinary that you have to put down an amendment saying this bill must be consistent with the principle of the rule of law, domestic and international law. 00;31;31;02 - 00;31;53;18 That's an extraordinary thing to even have to say. And then you've got the whole issue of whether or not it is proper for the Government to just assert as a matter of law, Rwanda is safe. I keep coming back to a wonderful quote from former law officer Edward Garnier, who's a Conservative peer, saying that it's the legislative equivalent of declaring all dogs to be cats. It is not what Parliament should be doing in his view. 00;31;53;20 - 00;32;13;16 And so there are a couple of really good sticking points there, where they could actually have quite a sort of glamorous last stand, at least for a while. But then the politics perhaps takes over, the politics of what might be said in a general election campaign, the politics of what might then start to happen to Labour legislation if there's a Labour Government after the election. 00;32;13;18 - 00;32;35;21 But if you accept the Lords role is not to block and to reject, that it's a revising chamber, its job is to put forward proposals to improve, to amend, to adjust. As Lord Coaker, the Labour peer leading on the bill, made the point, the Government's role vis-a-vis the Lords is to listen and to engage and to consider amendments. 00;32;35;21 - 00;33;02;11 And as Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the former FCO official I think, said, it seems like the Government's position on the bill is that there's nothing that the Lords have suggested that they would consider. There's nothing that they're prepared to amend, there's nothing that they're prepared to adjust, there's nothing that they think the Lords have said that is worthy of revision. And therefore its actually the Government breaching its constitutional relationship with the Lords by not really engaging in a constructive way. 00;33;02;13 - 00;33;29;27 And if that's the case, then is Labour, the Opposition, right to go along with it? But there is an interesting side issue to all this, which is the Convener of the Crossbenchers, Lord Kinoull, has been putting together a paper about what the Lords should and shouldn't interfere with, what comes under the so-called Salisbury Convention, where the key manifesto commitments of an elected Government are immune from being scrapped or wrecked by the House of Lords. 00;33;30;00 - 00;33;58;01 And he's, he's kind of widening that a bit. And the argument seems to be, and I'm paraphrasing him wildly here, that if something's within the kind of general thrust of a Government's offer to the electorate, then the Lords should not get in the way of it. And so while there wasn't a Rwanda Bill specifically mentioned in the Government's manifesto back in 2019, the Rwandan policy is broadly consistent with what the Government said it was going to try and do and therefore Peers shouldn't get in the way of it. 00;33;58;03 - 00;34;26;11 Now that's interesting, both because it's a considerable widening of an important constitutional doctrine and also because you kind of think to yourself that maybe a Labour Government coming in might quite like that, might like a little bit of extra room for maneuver that it would get from that. Because of course, it's entirely possible that the Labouru manifesto for the next general election might include a pledge to scrap or seriously reform the Rwanda scheme, at which point under those rules, their Lordships couldn't really interfere with that and it would go straight through. 00;34;26;14 - 00;34;47;19 And it's also of a piece with the fact that party manifestos, whilst they've got bigger and bigger, have actually got vaguer and vaguer. I mean, you haven't got this in a lot of manifestos, you don't have that kind of specificity. And I think potentially it is helpful and it may well be why Lord Kinoull is engaging with this, you know, ahead of the election to try and sort of set out the parameters and find where there is a consensus. 00;34;47;21 - 00;35;04;24 And it also gets Labour off that hook of not having to appoint hundreds of peers to make sure it's will is done in the House of Lords. Yes, because it seems to me that the only alternative to appointing that number of peers is to have some kind of deal, whether that's a formal or an informal agreement, about how they are going to operate. 00;35;04;26 - 00;35;26;16 So a Labour Government with a, you know, pretty good majority in the House of Commons, if that's what is going to happen, as the opinion polls suggest, can't be blocked by unelected Conservative Peers in the House of Lords. I'm looking forward to a Smiths-True Convention. Well, yeah, but the other thing is also a convention exists when all the parties accept, you know, if you like, the rules of the game, how, whatever the convention is about, it should operate. 00;35;26;18 - 00;35;56;29 It's pretty clear now that actually the convention about manifestos commitments perhaps isn't universally accepted and that the parameters, the grounds for it - there are different views in the in the House of Lords - and therefore actually perhaps we do need a restatement or a development of a new convention to clarify things. And I think after the next general election, my first act might be to get my constitutional anorak dry cleaned ready for the next exciting episode of this. And talking about after the next election, there have been some absolutely fascinating - for conservatives 00;35;57;00 - 00;36;23;27 horrifying - opinion polls out there consistently there have been two or three polls showing the Conservatives in the 20% area. Less than half the Labour vote. In one poll I think there were 47% with the Conservatives on 20 and the Lib Dems on nine and the Greens and Reform both on eight, just behind the Lib Dems. And the projections of what a Parliament would look like if that were to actually happen in a general election. 00;36;23;29 - 00;36;54;21 have the Conservatives down to third party status with 27 seats to the Lib Dems having 47 or 48 I think. Gosh. We've had a bit of fun with this because I'm - just a bit of fun as the great Peter Snow would say - I'm yet to be convinced that the debacle will be this bad for the Conservatives, but this is Ipsos Mori, the established pollster, saying that this is the lowest percentage share of the vote that's ever been recorded in their poll for the Conservative Party since they started polling this question in 1978. 00;36;54;21 - 00;37;13;18 So let's take it as it is and assume that this might be the result. Where does that leave the House of Commons? Like you say, it would be astonishing. The Conservative Party would become, from the party of Government, the third party. What does that mean? But it also means that collectively the Opposition benches would consist of not much more than 100 MPs. 00;37;13;19 - 00;37;47;27 So the Liberal Democrats with 48 seats would be the official opposition to the Government. I imagine you'd have Labour MPs having to sit around onto the opposition side because there's just be so many of them they couldn't possibly fit in on the Government side, you know, even if they were jammed in sort of buttock to buttock. So you'd have the Lib Dems as the second party, the official Leader of the Opposition with all the perquisites that involved. Ed Davey residing in the Leader of the Opposition's rather splendid office behind the Speaker's chair and the Conservative leader, whoever it might be at that point, consigned to some sort of modest office suite in Portcullis 00;37;47;27 - 00;38;07;02 House, perhaps. And that's before you get onto the fact that it be the Lib Dems who had opposition day debates and the Conservatives as the third party would have three days of debates available to them. They'd have to share some of that with the smaller parties, the SNP, the Democratic Unionists and so forth. You'd have combined Liberal Democrats and Conservative MPs about 72 MPs. 00;38;07;05 - 00;38;26;24 Now think about what that 72 MPs are going to have to do. They're going to have to provide frontbench opposition for all the Government departments. They're going to have to provide members of select committees. The Liberal Democrats would get a few chairs of select committees. One or two, I think, possibly three. And some are dedicated, of course, to the main opposition party. 00;38;26;24 - 00;38;54;01 so chair of Public Accounts Committee, for example, you're going to have to staff those. They're going to have to have enough members to cover delegates to legislation, committees, public bill committees on primary legislation. They are going to be run ragged. Absolutely. I mean, if you think about it more than half of the putative 47 Lib Dem MPs in this admittedly somewhat improbable scenario would have to be shadow secretaries of state or chief whips or other jobs like that. 00;38;54;01 - 00;39;11;21 So you've got a shadow cabinet of 22 members, doesn't really leave much space for anybody else in the Lib Dems to do stuff. And if some of those are then taken up by, you know, as you say, chair of Public Accounts, chair of Standards and Privileges, chair of the Backbench Business Committee, plus a couple of departmental committees on the side, there won't be very many Lib Dem backbenchers. 00;39;11;21 - 00;39;33;15 They'll be pretty rare creatures indeed. Meanwhile, you've got over 500 Labour MPs. What on earth will they all do all day? Labour is going to be able to basically send 100 of them off for a constituency weeks to nurture their local area one week every month. So whilst the Opposition are completely out on their feet, Labour's sort of, you know, swimming in people. 00;39;33;15 - 00;39;52;25 Now another point about these numbers, of course, is that you're talking about the Conservatives in this, as I say somewhat improbable scenario, having half the number of Lib Dem MPs for twice the number of votes that the Lib Dems got. So the Conservative share of around 20%, the Lib Dem share 9%. But yet the Lib Dems have twice as many MPs. 00;39;52;25 - 00;40;16;01 Now. I don't know if that will prompt a Damascene conversion to proportional representation on the Conservative benches or whether they'll just hope that come the next election after that, you know, British politics will default back to its factory settings and they'll resume their natural place in the order of things. But I suspect the Lib Dems will quite enjoy the moment and possibly take the view that if the Conservatives want to live by first past the post, then they're occasionally going to have to die by it. 00;40;16;04 - 00;40;34;02 And you think about what it's going to mean for the Conservatives in the chamber. They'll be relegated in terms of Prime Minister's Questions. They won't be at the dispatch box across from Keir Starmer. They'll be relegated in terms of selection of amendments. They won't get priority in terms of being called in in the debates. The other thing is money. 00;40;34;04 - 00;40;59;06 So the opposition parties get what's called Short Money, centrally Government provided money to support their operations. When you don't these numbers, you get very, very much reduced support. So at the moment, Short Money, you get about £21,000 for each seat. So if you've only got, you know, was it Conservatives have got 25 seats, that's a significant reduction on what they might otherwise have expected going into opposition 00;40;59;06 - 00;41;17;17 if that's what happens. You get a top up of £42 for every 200 voters, so they'll benefit more than the Liberal Democrats on that side if these these poll numbers play out. But they won't get the million pounds that the Office of the Leader of the Opposition gets. So presumably that's going to Ed Davey. But as you say, this kind of feels like an unfairness there. 00;41;17;22 - 00;41;38;00 They are the official opposition but they've only got half the share of the vote that the Conservatives get. But nonetheless they get the million pounds and whoever might be the Conservative Party leader, I mean, amongst whoever's left amongst this 25 MPs, they wouldn't get much support at all. The psychological shock of that would be enormous. But as I say, I keep on harping on this. 00;41;38;02 - 00;42;01;29 It's such an improbable scenario and such an overturning of the table that you wonder if it could possibly happen. But then you think on the fate of the Scottish Labour Party, once totally dominant in Scotland, wiped out overnight in 2015. Recovering a little bit now. Recovering a little bit now. But not to the levels that they once were, But where once the map of Scotland was pretty much red, suddenly there was just one red dot left. 00;42;02;01 - 00;42;27;08 And remember what happened to the Liberal Democrats. Again, once a substantial party with 50 MPs, knocked down to a shadow of its former self again in 2015. So disaster can strike and the results can be pretty stunning because the electorate these days is much more willing to change its mind. Yeah, I mean, you've got to go back nearly 100 years, I think probably to Baldwin's Government when he he got 560 odd MPs. 00;42;27;08 - 00;42;45;20 I think there were only sort of 60 others. This is the 1930s national Government. Yeah, that's the nearest comparison really in terms of the scale of of what this poll suggests. But I mean, we're having a bit of a laugh about this and sort of amusing ourselves with what might happen. But in terms of scrutiny of the Government, I'm not sure it would be a very good thing. 00;42;45;21 - 00;43;06;25 It would be a terribly unbalanced thing. I mean, the whole system rests on the idea that you have two large blocks facing one another, able to kind of scrutinise each other and watch each other's every move. And it just wouldn't be possible for a tiny number of opposition MPs to do a decent job of scrutinising a Government that dominant in the Chamber of the Commons. 00;43;06;27 - 00;43;32;21 I think it would also raise such sky high expectations for uAt one level on election night. It would be good sport, you know, they'll enjoy it. There'll be a degree of euphoria, but that could wear off pretty quickly when expectations are raised so high. And of course, in that scenario you also have the prospect of there being hundreds of Labour MPs sloshing around with no substantive role, nothing to do on a select committee, nothing to do on a bill committee. 00;43;32;21 - 00;43;59;16 They're just sort of there as voting fodder and being sent back to their constituencies a lot. And the devil will find work for idle hands. You could find that almost as a matter of occupational therapy, some of them become a bit rebellious. Shall we move on then, Mark, from that bit of fun and back to the Budget? Well to take a look at how the Commons system for measuring finance, keeping across it, looking at tax and spend, compares to other countries 00;43;59;16 - 00;44;28;05 we are joined by Henry Midgley, assistant professor of accounting at Durham University and co-director of the International Center for Public Accountability. Henry, if Parliament, were a board of a major company, went through its finances in the way that Parliament goes through it, they'd be in trouble, wouldn't they? They would. There are very few people on the parliamentary estate who actually have a good knowledge of finance and therefore can really advise MPs on what's happening with the numbers and what the numbers mean. 00;44;28;08 - 00;44;54;24 And I just think there are often things that Parliament would want to know. For example, when Jeremy Hunt stood up and announced £3.5 billion for the NHS IT systems or £26 billion for National Theatre, will that money actually arrive and will that money be deployed in the way that he said it would be deployed? We don't actually know that at the moment and we won't know it even after a couple of years because nowhere is that reported. 00;44;55;01 - 00;45;28;01 Some other Westminster style parliaments have introduced a Parliamentary Budget Office to provide more support. We've got in the Commons a Scrutiny Unit but it's limited in scale in terms of the number of staff and the amount of capacity they have. Is a parliamentary style Budget Office, does that offer a solution? You're absolutely right on the Scrutiny Unit . When I worked on it, when I was on there, it only had four or five members of staff covering the whole of Government, and that's with the best staff in the world 00;45;28;02 - 00;45;55;02 that's a very hard task. The second thing in terms of a Parliamentary Budget Office is I think we need a clearer idea of what that would do. Is it just advising MPs like the Scrutiny Unit does already? And when you look at the system that the Commons has at the moment, there is no way for MPs to say hang on, Government, we'd like you to spend another 5 billion on say health and 5 billion less on education to pay for it 00;45;55;08 - 00;46;21;25 that's something that you'd see all the time in the US Congress. But the Westminster model, that just doesn't happen. Absolutely. And one of the things about it is it is almost so unprecedented that we wouldn't know what to do in the US situation. There are rules for how you shut down the US Government. I remember trying to work out what would happen if you shut down the British Government - if Parliament voted down the Estimates - and it is very difficult to work out. 00;46;21;27 - 00;46;50;07 There is a very obscure part of the constitution called the Comptroller function, which sits in the NAO, which is the thing which, if Parliament were to vote down the Estimate would block money coming from the Bank of England to then be distributed to departments. That power was last used in earnest in 1806. Wow. So we really have no idea what would happen if MPs voted down an Estimate and said, “no, we don't want this”. 00;46;50;10 - 00;47;13;00 No. I think Dominic Grieve puts up a potential amendment to an Estimate in 2019 during the heart of the Brexit wars, and we sat around, I remember, a number of us thinking what will happen if Mr. Grieve's motion actually succeeds? I guess in a way, since Budgets are a matter of confidence, the Government would fall. There would be a general election. 00;47;13;01 - 00;47;37;27 Exactly. I think that is the way. I think it's also important to distinguish between the Budget, though Mr. Hunt said the most about spending yesterday, and the Estimates because actually what the Budget's doing mostly in terms of legislation is covering taxation and then its the Estimates that sort of get slightly lost. There are three days of debates authorised by the Liaison Committee every year on the Estimates, but its the estimates that authorise spending. 00;47;37;28 - 00;48;00;13 So the Budget in a real way isn't actually the Budget. So this is a almost ritual process where there are Estimates day debates and they are usually focused on select committee reports on particular aspects of Government spending. They don't look at the whole breadth of the Estimates they're being invited to approve. It's just a rubber stamping exercise, really, isn't it? 00;48;00;16 - 00;48;25;17 Absolutely. And it's an improvement on what used to happen before. Before, it was actually technically not In order to discuss expenditure in an Estimates database, as the SNP were very fond of pointing out. To get back to the Budget, because obviously we've had the big announcement this week, and one of the concerns is that the Treasury Committee will look at this, 00;48;25;17 - 00;48;53;19 it will conduct a rapid fire scrutiny exercise before the Government brings forward the Finance Bill. And there's a feeling that the Treasury Committee is overloaded, that we would be better to have a dedicated Budget committee or some kind of Taxation committee to look at these issues. Is there any benefit in that, that you can see? I think with almost all the committees of the House, you can make an argument for overload. 00;48;53;20 - 00;49;14;20 I could see a benefit in that. The Procedure Committee discussed it in a report in 2019 or 2018. I think the other side of that, though, is you do have a limited number of backbenchers who are willing to perform scrutiny roles in the House and are willing to devote time to it, particularly as we get closer to a general election. 00;49;14;22 - 00;49;43;02 But equally, I think there's also a point about the other departmental select committees. They are supposed to be responsible for scrutinsing the finances as well as the administration and policy of their departments and in general, they don't. Every select committee under its core tasks, as you say, has this obligation to scrutinise departmental annual reports and accounts. Is there more that therefore they could be doing in terms of looking at the accounts? 00;49;43;05 - 00;50;05;05 You do need to pay more attention to it, but the problem is just as with the Scrutiny Unit the staff support for the select committees here is quite limited. They have four or five members of staff. They will have very few people who actually can read these documents. I think select committees in general are far too content with their lot. 00;50;05;07 - 00;50;36;17 I would like to see them moan an awful lot more about what they are not getting. If you look at the Estimates, I mean, they're pretty much unintelligible to anybody who's not an accountant. And it's fascinating to look at how they've changed because they've become looser and much more vague over time. So if you go back to some of the 19th century ones, you can actually understand what they say. In the education Estimate in the 1880s it says these are how many schools we will spend money on and these are how many pupils we will educate. You come to today and I 00;50;36;28 - 00;51;06;01 I agree with you the categories make much less sense to a laypersons eye. I'm a bit cynical about reforms that the Government is invited to make that would make its own life more difficult. They always end up being kicked into touch unless - you;re talking about the Hansard Society’s raison d’etre Mark! It's a fair cop, the Society's to blame. What can be done within the realm of, if you like, practical politics, something that the Government might accept is worth doing. 00;51;06;03 - 00;51;23;26 There are two things Parliament has. There is a lot of formal power that Parliament has, most of which it doesn't use because of the Government's in-built majority in the House of Commons. Occasionally it does use it and Budgets have been changed. Philip Hammond on NI. But a tonne of power comes to Parliament through purely its use of the bully pulpit. 00;51;23;28 - 00;51;42;23 It's the fact it can get up and stand up and keep saying things and slightly embarrass Government into doing things. So we need to be much more assertive within Parliament and we need to follow up. When they make a promise, let's not let them off the hook. Henry Midgley, thanks very much indeed for joining us on the pod. 00;51;42;26 - 00;52;07;23 Thank you very much. So that was Henry Midgley on how the House of Commons manages the purse strings. Meanwhile, Ruth, the exodus continues. Another fairly substantial Conservative MP has announced that he will leave the Commons when the next election comes. And that's Paul Scully. He's been a middle ranking minister for quite a long period, having won his seat back in 2015 off the Lib Dems in Sutton and Cheam. 00;52;07;26 - 00;52;36;28 He's announced essentially that he's had enough, and he did so in a long Twitter stream that went through some of the problems, privations and disappointments of political life. His Twitter thread was really interesting because it brought into focus a number of things. I mean, one, the incredible pressures the MPs are under and the way in which life as a parliamentarian, life at Westminster, splitting your life between London and the constituency, how that can have a real impact not just on you, but on your family and friends. 00;52;36;28 - 00;52;52;16 And he talks about the last nine years that he's been an MP having been an incredible rollercoaster. He feels like he's achieved a lot. And he talks about, you know, he's been acknowledged as a minister who led the way on the Post Office, actually was one of the first minister to really get start to get to grips with that Horizon scandal. 00;52;52;23 - 00;53;17;03 And he talks about other issues, you know, working on some international issues. But he also notes that he's lost his marriage and he's also lost two colleagues, of course, Jo Cox and David Amess murdered during his time in Parliament. And he talks about the fact the time has come to pass the baton on. But he also has some pretty strong, robust advice to his Conservative Party colleagues suggesting that they really need to get to grips in the next Parliament with the direction of travel. 00;53;17;10 - 00;53;37;26 It's worth quoting some of this a bit “Fuelled by division the party (that is the Conservative Party) has lost its way and needs to get a clear focus, which I hope the Budget can start to provide. It needs a vision beyond crisis management, which can appeal to a wider section of the electorate, including younger people.” Then he goes on, “If we just focus on the core vote, eventually that core shrinks to nothing.” 00;53;37;29 - 00;53;58;29 “Talk about housing, renting first because homeownership has drifted too far away from many. Show a real connection and empathy with other generations. Otherwise we risk pushing ourselves into an ideological cul-de-sac.” And he adds, and this is quite a fun piece of language which may enter the political lexicon, “The standard deviation model is true in politics. Most people are in the middle. 00;53;59;05 - 00;54;25;18 We can work with the bell curve or become the bell ends. We need to make that decision. I fear the electorate already has.” Now, that's not language that often crops up in a family podcast, but it was quite, quite an effective way of summing up where he fears his party's going. And it's worth saying, I think, that although the number of retirements essentially from Parliament are not yet at the scale that we've seen in some past elections, they are heading in that direction. 00;54;25;18 - 00;54;43;10 And there’s this suggestion that Conservative Central Officer has asked MPs to space out their announcement. So they're not all coming together. So it doesn’t look like a stampede, for the doors. There is just this sense of an awful lot of middle-ranking ballast in the Conservative Party, saying that enough is enough. And part of that is the horrors of parliamentary life. 00;54;43;10 - 00;55;01;07 The divorce rate amongst MPs, especially the two or three years after they come into Parliament, when people settle down to the rhythms of parliamentary life, they suddenly discover it can be pretty hard on families. We've done research on the experience of new MPs in that first year as they sort of transition from being a member of the public to being a Member of Parliament. 00;55;01;09 - 00;55;31;27 We did it in 2005, 2010, 2015 and what comes through is how, actually how lonely they find those first early months when they land in Parliament. It’s such a different and alien atmosphere in many respects and actually we surveyed what were they looking forward to a few months in. And a number of them said “finishing”, “Christmas” and it kind of, sort of feels it's a bit depressing, really, that, you know, landing up in our national Parliament, they arrive ready, eager, enthusiastic, glowing with the light of duty in their eyes 00;55;31;29 - 00;55;51;22 and then actually it dissipates quite quickly and it becomes quite stressful. And though that, you know, that research was done before all the more recent pressures and threats and social media is much more, plays a much bigger role in their working lives than than it did when we were doing the research, so things have got more intense and they've got more difficult. 00;55;51;26 - 00;56;10;27 So I think that is something that the political parties are going to have to think about quite hard in the next Parliament. It’s how particularly, you know, you talk about Labour having a very significant intake, supporting them, helping them manage their way through those early months, and that's certainly something that the Society will be working on in the new Parliament. 00;56;10;27 - 00;56;42;26 It's not so much a matter of them needing intensive whipping as potentially is going to be a vast Labour majority. It's more a case of needing a kind of HR department that provides them with the support, the training and maybe just the sympathetic ear that they will occasionally need. And that is something that the Hansard Society is poised to assist with because we have, we've got some funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and we're going to help with professional development in areas like how to understand the legislative process, how to read a bill, how to understand the Budgets and Estimates processes that we've been talking 00;56;42;28 - 00;57;07;22 on today's episode about. So, we stand ready to to help. And that I think Ruth is probably the moment to stop. Yeah, we'll see you next week. See you then. 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;57;07;22 - 00;57;25;00 by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback, Our producer tells us it's important for the ,to give the show a boost. Oh, 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;57;25;02 - 00;58;01;13 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 @Hansard Society to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 00;58;01;16 - 00;58;17;21 Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit and find us on social media @Hansard Society. 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.

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