Another Rwanda Roadblock: ping-pong and the House of Lords (Parliament Matters : Episode 27)

21 Mar 2024
©Adobe Stock
©Adobe Stock

The Lords have dug in their heels and inflicted seven defeats on the Government over the Rwanda Bill this week. The Government claims the Bill is emergency legislation but it will not go back to the House of Commons until after the Easter recess. We discuss why, and what will happen next.

Senior Conservative backbencher William Wragg MP tells us why he has lost confidence in the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, and why he has therefore resigned from the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. As Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, he also discusses the Committee’s work scrutinising the centre of government and tells us what advice he would give to new MPs at the start of the next Parliament.

And we explore why a spanner has been thrown into the local election works in the West Midlands after the Home Office failed to keep track of its statutory obligations under the Government’s new Levelling Up and Regeneration Act. Consequently, a judge this week quashed a decision by the Home Secretary to transfer the functions of the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands to the Mayor. With the local elections just weeks away it’s thrown the electoral process into some chaos: will a vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner be back on the ballot on 2 May?

It’s a cautionary tale of legislative confusion, flawed Whitehall communications, and the problems that can arise when public consultation is so rushed it is deemed insincere and when the Government insists on pushing through its agenda without heeding genuine concerns raised by Parliament.

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 - 00:00:29:00 You are listening to Parliament Matters. A Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn More at Welcome to Parliament Matters, a podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox. And I'm Mark D’Arcy. Coming up. Peers put up another roadblock on the long and winding road to Rwanda. 00:00:29:04 - 00:00:50:17 Why one key Conservative backbencher still wants Mr. Speaker to step down. And are we going to elect a police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands or not. How did the government get itself into a terrible tangle over an election that is now due in just a few weeks time? 00:00:50:19 - 00:01:13:21 But first, Ruth, let's start by talking about the Rwanda Bill. It seems ages since the government hasn't been trying to pass new laws to make it possible to send migrants to Rwanda. And the latest one, the safety of Rwanda, Bill, is still stuck bouncing between the commons and the Lords. On Wednesday night, Piers defeated the Government seven times in the latest exchange with MPs in the House of Commons. 00:01:13:23 - 00:01:33:00 What's happened is that they've made changes to the bill. It's been pinged to the Commons. The Commons has struck down those changes. It's now pulled back to the House of Lords and peers have reversed the changes, put them back in again after the Commons had taken them out and now the bill goes back to the Commons. And interestingly, it won't go back to the Commons until after Easter. 00:01:33:00 - 00:01:52:00 Now it's due back there on April the 15th when MPs return. So there's not going to be an attempt in the coming week, even though both Houses will be sitting to try and reverse those changes as a bit of a breathing space going on there. And that's attracted a fair bit of interest in itself. Does this be token, some sort of confusion or difficulty at the heart of government policy? 00:01:52:00 - 00:02:09:08 Are they not actually ready to send people off? Were Parliament to pass the law? Yes. I mean, if you think back to the start of this process, the Prime Minister and the government were saying this was emergency legislation. They've got two more days next week when the houses are sitting, they could be considering the bill, you know, next stage of ping pong. 00:02:09:14 - 00:02:34:12 They've decided not to. They've pushed it beyond Easter. And interestingly, the labor lead on this bill in the Lords, Lord Coaker, was pressing the ministers last night to explain why they're not bringing it back. And as you say, that's journalistic is wagging and I know your call. So is there something going on? I mean, if you look at the amendments, you say, you know, seven amendments have now been passed back to the Commons. 00:02:34:14 - 00:03:07:14 Small majority from the first time round, so down to between 30 and 55. The Conservatives got a few more of their peers out in the voting lobby, got that many more. The word was that actually the Conservatives had soft pedaled earlier votes on the Rwanda bill, but we're going to bring all their troops out. When we got to this ping pong process of agreeing the final form of the bill between the Commons and the Lords and then deploy them, then with the additional argument that Conservative peers would be asked, in effect, to support the view of the elected House of Commons, whatever they themselves might have thought of the bill, the time had come to 00:03:07:14 - 00:03:24:24 bow to the will of the elected House. But if that was the sort of decisive joke that was being played, it doesn't seem to quite worked. And the arithmetic in the Lords is still a little bit forbidding for the Government with these 50 odd vote majorities for most of the changes that were made in the Lords being reasserted. 00:03:25:01 - 00:03:38:15 I know this is all a bit tacky and complicated, it appears. Put things in and please take them back out, Piers, put them back in again and the process goes on. As long as it goes on. I think some people think there's a kind of three strikes and you're out rule, but there is nothing formal on the rule book. 00:03:38:16 - 00:04:00:06 It's just after three goes. Sometimes peers lose the will to continue and say, well, we've tried and the elected house has said no, How long are we going to go on with this? Yeah, and it's actually that that process, the first ping, if you like, from the Lords to the Commons that has seemed to annoyed quite a number of peers because the Government sent it back with really no engagements at all on the amendments. 00:04:00:06 - 00:04:29:12 Just a blanket note rejecting all of these and you know, not much in the way of reasons given as to why they were doing it. And the House of Lords, I think understandably, given its constitutional role as a revising chamber, is looking askance at a government which basically just won't engage. I mean, Shami Chakrabati, the Labor peer, made I think, an interesting point when she said that a minister in the Commons had said that her amendment that she'd been working on was both unnecessary and wrecking and that she made the point, well, it can't be both. 00:04:29:14 - 00:04:55:07 So it's the lack of engagement and the lack of any willingness to contemplate that Perhaps the House of Lords has come up with some ideas, some thoughts that are worth considering and worth looking at. The wording of the bill and seeing whether you can make some adjustments and some amendments here and there. But just this sort of blanket rejectionist blanket, No, that will in itself, I think, not help in terms of persuading the peers to give way sooner rather than later. 00:04:55:08 - 00:05:17:19 I think ministers in the Commons are probably just getting a bit sick of having their legislation rewritten wholesale in the House of Lords again and again and again. Hundreds of defeats in every parliamentary session suffered by the Government, often on really quite significant parts of their bills and that's the purpose of the House. Yes, that's the purpose of the House, the House of Lords, but it happens a lot more than it used to. 00:05:17:19 - 00:05:41:22 Yeah, I think you can trace this back really to the middle New Labor years, When the House of Lords developed a penchant for rewriting Labor's anti-terrorist legislation and there were some very, very extensive bouncing of bills between the Commons and the Lords then over things like the permitted period of detention without charge. And ever since then the House of Lords has been quite keen to rewrite extensively. 00:05:41:22 - 00:06:16:13 Remember the stuff about slow moving protests a while back? All those kind of things stack up and after a while maybe government's toleration levels decline, even though, as you say, this is the function themselves, it's there to say, Hang on a minute chaps, have you thought this through? Should you do this a bit differently? Will that work? The House of Lords, I think with some justification, would say one of the reasons they're actually sending these bills back with sort of red pen written all over them is, is look, you know, the quality of the legislation that you are providing to us is not as good as it used to be, yet claiming extensive powers, not 00:06:16:13 - 00:06:39:06 telling us exactly how you propose to use them. And, you know, just the overall sort of approach to the policy making process means that the legislation has got quite significant lacunae, flaws, problems with it. I mean, think back to a recent session. The government proposed on an education bill and then when the House of Lords started looking at it, they promptly took 13 clauses out of it at the start. 00:06:39:08 - 00:07:02:10 And then the government decided actually they weren't going to proceed with it at all. So the House of Lords sometimes has a point. Yeah, and that's before you get onto the Government's unfortunate habit in recent years of suddenly adding vast new sanctions to a bill in the House of Lords that haven't been debated at all in the Commons and then getting a bit antsy when the House of Lords doesn't like them and strikes down those changes so that the House of Commons never does have a chance to get their teeth into them. 00:07:02:12 - 00:07:35:13 So there's all that, but I can empathize a little bit with ministers. It gives me kind of post-traumatic memories of my O-level history essays coming back covered in red biro with the words See me at the bottom. Oh dear, you're not a grade A student. My glass of water for Mr. D'Arcy. Well, shall we come onto. It's quite a techie issue, but really rather important, this vexed question of what is going to happen in the West Midlands to the role of the Police and Crime Commissioner and whether his powers are going to be transferred to the Mayor of the West Midlands, which of course is at the moment prior to the elections on 2nd of May, 00:07:35:13 - 00:08:05:04 is the conservative mayor, Andy Street, and the Police and Crime Commissioner is a Labor commissioner, Simon Foster. Now basically we're talking about the role of the House of Lords and, you know, its importance in looking at legislation. And this is a Prime example of where something has gone wrong in the legislative process in terms of departments monitoring the implications of the legislation that they are passing through Parliament and getting themselves into a complete muddle about consultation. 00:08:05:06 - 00:08:25:21 And the consequence of all of this is that they've just lost a proceeding in the High Court and the judge has quashed a decision taken by the Home Secretary to transfer these Police and Crime Commissioner functions to the mayor. And we're now looking at, well, what's going to happen? We're just a few weeks away from the elections and nobody quite knows whether there will be an election. 00:08:25:21 - 00:08:43:15 But will they wait or wait? Maybe an election? Will the functions be transferred? Are the people of the West Midlands going to have to be asked, after all, to vote for a police and crime commissioner whose functions might be transferred shortly after the election? So it's all a bit of a mess, but it really brings to the fore questions about how we legislate. 00:08:43:16 - 00:09:05:04 And this is of course the Hansard Society's old bugbear secondary legislation is this is an order to transfer the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner to the elected Mayor of the West Midlands in the future. So whoever wins that election in May would previously have also taken over the police force as well. So instead of having two elected figures, a police and crime commissioner and a mayor, you'd have one. 00:09:05:06 - 00:09:27:16 Yeah, and that is the case in a number of places. So Manchester, Andy Burnham has got the police powers in here in London. You've got Sadiq Khan who has got control over the Metropolitan Police with jointly with the Home Secretary. It's also Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire. Now there are two proposals at the moment, this one in the West Midlands and another in South Yorkshire to transfer the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner to the Mayor. 00:09:27:18 - 00:09:56:22 The difference between the two is that in South Yorkshire all the parties are agreed. In the West Midlands they are not because you've got one conservative mayor, one Labor, police and crime commissioner. They are not agreed on on what should happen. And the government in the Leveling Up and Regeneration Act, which it passed in October of last year, which is Michael Gove's big flagship act, it passed a change to the arrangements for how the transfer of powers between the Police and Crime Commissioner in the matter should happen. 00:09:56:24 - 00:10:25:02 Instead of needing the approval of both parties, it replaced it with a requirement to only gain the approval of the Mayor. Now, from the Labor Commissioner's perspective, that was a squalid stitch up because we don't know whether Andy Street will still be the Mayor come third of May. But the assumption, you know, this was aiding what Andy Street wanted. Now critical bit here is that as well as making this change, the legislation also provided for a new consultation requirement. 00:10:25:04 - 00:10:48:02 One of the things happening with a lot of legislation, it is littered with consultation requirements which departments have to keep track of. But the Home Office whose responsibility the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner all appear to have missed this change in the Leveling up Act and are basically saying the leveling up department didn't tell us, so they just did it by force measure and ask people afterwards. 00:10:48:02 - 00:11:12:01 Yes, well, it didn't quite get that. So Andy Street, after the act was apparently passed in October, Andy Street wrote to the home secretary and said, Could you please therefore transfer the powers to my office? And the home secretary wrote back and said, Yes, absolutely. My officials will now make the necessary provisions for it. And then somewhere in the home office, at some point shortly thereafter, they realized, oops, we can't do that. 00:11:12:01 - 00:11:39:09 We actually have to consult and the home secretary, you could argue, had preempted the decision by writing back to Andy Street first before the consultation took place. Now, at this point, we're in early December, so the Act got assent in late October. We're into early December when all this discussion is obviously happening at the Home Office and they announce a public consultation for six weeks at the end of December. 00:11:39:09 - 00:12:03:07 So five days before Christmas runs to the end of January, the end of that process, January of this year, they've got seven signings and consultation responses. Now the government's argument is, look, quite a lot of these were cut and paste responses. It's quality, not quantity that matters. But even if you take out the 900 or so cut and paste responses the minister says they got, you still got 6000 responses. 00:12:03:09 - 00:12:31:04 Six days after that consultation closes, the Home Secretary writes back to Andy Street and says, We will be transferring the functions. Obviously, someone in the Home Office could do speed reading. Indeed, and this is where you get into difficulty. So the Home Office the following day lays the secondary legislation that delegated legislation in the form of an order in council, and it has to be debated and approved by both houses of Parliament. 00:12:31:06 - 00:12:49:14 That happens in February in March. So both Houses look at it. But in the meantime, the Police and Crime Commissioner in the West Midlands is not happy that this sort of shoddy consultation has taken place and whistles up my learned friends and takes it all to court. Yeah. So he pursues a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision. 00:12:49:16 - 00:13:13:20 All the while the judges considering this, they laid this order before Parliament. They have to produce the legislative text, but they're all supposed to provide supporting documentation, the explanatory memorandum and so on for the committees and the members to scrutinize the instrument. They don't say anywhere in the explanatory memorandum what the results really of the consultation are. We know what was the balance of opinion, how many were supporting it, how many were against it, just the laws. 00:13:14:00 - 00:13:43:17 So this was essentially struck down on the basis that it was a slight sort of Potemkin consultation. Yeah, Yeah. And it turns out the 50% against 46% in favor and 4% didn't know were undecided, but it took a committee in the House of Lords, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, to get this out of ministers in subsequent correspondence and its MPs pressing it in the delegated legislation committee, which is used to scrutinize instruments in the Commons, took them, pressing the Minister on what the answers were. 00:13:43:22 - 00:14:03:20 This is the kind of information that departments ministers are supposed to put in the explanatory memorandum to enable MPs to scrutinize these policies. A bit of an epic fail in getting the process right here, even if theoretically at least the consultation might have narrowly supported what the government wants to do. But how do they get out of this one? 00:14:03:22 - 00:14:22:21 This is the difficulty. We don't know. And I presume the Home Office officials and the department for leveling up officials are now sort of scratching their heads wondering what on earth can they do in terms of make. Yeah, I mean, if you think about the process, the election administrators have got to get all the paperwork ready. They've got to get ballot papers, write the campaigns of what have all their mailings ready. 00:14:22:23 - 00:14:49:03 The electoral timetable effectively kicks in from next week. So the normal expectation you'd have this all done already. Are you going to reimburse the parties for their campaign costs if they start an election and then it's canceled halfway through? I mean, I don't that that's the outcome. I think if they have to go ahead with the election as is, they'll have the election of a police and crime commissioner and they'll have to deal with it after the election, in which case the local council, the electoral administrators will have been put to an awful lot of trouble and cost. 00:14:49:05 - 00:15:04:22 The electorate will have been asked to go out and vote for something that's shortly to be abolished. I mean, it's absolutely ridiculous, really, when you think about where we are. And again, we were talking on the Rwanda bill about the role of the House of Lords, the House of Lords in the debate on the leveling up, Bill flanked some of these issues. 00:15:04:22 - 00:15:25:20 They flagged concern about the tight timetable for the transfer of functions prior to these local elections and suggested that actually the coming into effect of these provisions should be delayed and the Government rejected it out of hand and said, No, no, we're not doing that. We're committed to the principles whereby we give six months notice to electoral administrators for changes that are going to come in. 00:15:25:22 - 00:15:47:10 Well, they haven't done that. That's what they said they were going to do. That's what they said they wanted. But three months later, only then was the order laid before parliament and less than three months before the electoral administrator would need to implement it. So it's a prime example of where if government sometimes listened and took sensible decisions, they'd avoid some of these problems. 00:15:47:10 - 00:16:16:16 But they're so set on what they want and what their policy is that they don't listen and they ignore the House of Lords as a cautionary tale for future governments. I suspect. And talking of cautionary tales, the other thing that we learned this week of long running parliamentary sagas is that there isn't going to be any decision any time soon on rebuilding the buildings of the palace of Westminster, doing the long awaited restoration and renewal project that seems to have been kicked now pretty definitively into the next parliament, left for the next lot of MPs to sort out. 00:16:16:17 - 00:16:41:05 Yeah, so what's called the Restoration and Renewal Client board, which in effect is the Commission, is the governing bodies of both houses. They've produced another report which they say is setting out a pathway to enable the houses to take an evidence based decision in 2025 less. So they're now going to work up costed proposals, but we're realistically we're back where we were just another turn and a hamster wheel, isn't it? 00:16:41:05 - 00:16:58:19 I mean, they've been ducking this decision forever. It's not with the best within the world going to be top of the agenda of any incoming government, but any incoming government, if it wanted to go ahead with this, is going to have to sign off on spending really quite enormous amounts of money. So here we are amidst the discussion we've had endlessly on and I suppose as much need to linger on it too much. 00:16:58:19 - 00:17:24:18 But for heaven's sake. But I think some interesting things just worth penning down though. So full decant the idea that both houses move out for most of the period of the work always makes them sound like a will. And it does. But with the commons coming back, they mean priorities to return first. That's still on the agenda, and it's clear that there's been no change in thinking about where would they go if they have to do this. 00:17:24:18 - 00:17:41:22 And that is to the Queen Elizabeth Conference Center for the House of Lords, just across Parliament Square and just at Whitehall, Richmond House, which is the old Department of Health Work and Pensions building, those are still on the agenda and there've been some concerns that they might not be. So that is a bit clearer. This idea of continued presence. 00:17:41:22 - 00:18:03:15 The House of Lords moves out. The Commons moves into the House of Lords and the work is done around them. That's still on the agenda. The phrase expensive, dangerous billions, basically because people are sentimental about keeping a footing in the House at Westminster, the greater the risk because more people are on the estate, on a building site where you're running the national legislature, you've therefore got more mitigations that have to be put in place. 00:18:03:15 - 00:18:24:03 That equals more cost and normally go. But the third option, which is not quite new because it's been on the agenda for a little bit of time, but we're getting a little bit more clarity in this report. But the thinking this idea of enhanced maintenance and improvement is essentially a rolling program of works. Keep doing patching and mend year on year. With MPs and peers in situ. 00:18:24:04 - 00:18:45:06 Yeah, it's very hard to imagine that that's a sustainable situation given the state of the estate and the fact that the sewage works, the mechanical and engineering works all need to be done. You got to deal with asbestos. It's hard to imagine that that's really a workable possibility. But they are looking at it and fundamentally they're looking at it because members don't want to move out. 00:18:45:06 - 00:19:05:15 And the problem is nobody wants to accept responsibility, make a decision about the costs. And if the polls right and we're looking at an incoming Labor government, this is going to land on Keir Starmer's desk, Rachel Rees desk. And the question they've got to ask themselves fundamentally is do they want to be the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his watch? 00:19:05:17 - 00:19:32:22 Parliament burnt down or collapsed or somebody was killed? That's the question. And if they don't, they may have to make some hard decisions. Well, Ruth, shall we pause it there for a moment? And when we come back, we're going to be talking to William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, about all sorts of things, all these ideas to reform central government, to start using citizens assemblies and royal commissions to get vital reforms through. 00:19:32:24 - 00:19:58:21 And the question of what he thinks of Mr. Speaker and his handling of that debate by the Scottish National Party a while back, and whether Mr. Speaker should stay or go. 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. 00:19:58:23 - 00:20:15:00 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 we bring together the best news and stories about parliaments here in the UK and around the world. 00:20:15:06 - 00:20:39:23 You can join by going to So we've escaped the studio to come across to the Palace of Westminster to talk to William Wragg, Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and we're here in his office looking out onto Speakers Court And William, I wanted to ask you, your committee is focused very heavily on scrutiny of Whitehall. 00:20:40:00 - 00:21:07:01 What do you think the Civil Service think about Parliament? How do they treat it? Well, if I'd be concerned if the sort of stereotypical view that we might think what they think is the case, that of the hospital administrator might think that patients in a hospital are an impediment to the smooth running of that organization, I would hope that we're not so lowly regarded and I'm quite sure that we're not. 00:21:07:02 - 00:21:36:21 Similarly, in terms of MPs views of civil servants, I trust it is actually far better than the stereotype would have you believe. But I think where there is I'm from both perspectives and ignorance, a lack of understanding about how different groups work with their members of Parliament and the legislature, or indeed civil servants in Whitehall departments. That ignorance can lead to suspicion, which can morph itself into all kinds of skepticism. 00:21:36:23 - 00:21:56:11 So I think that what it is for us all to do, every members of Parliament or indeed civil servants, is to understand what it is that motivates the other. Do you believe in the idea of the blob, the idea that is amorphous mob of officialdom who absorb all energy and squash all initiatives and squash anything positive any government tries to do? 00:21:56:13 - 00:22:35:03 No is the short answer to that. Mark. I don't. I think sometimes there are ill thought through policies which are impractical to seek to implement and therefore don't go particularly far. And then rather frustrated ministers can blame the so-called blob for stifling their ambitions. But more often than not, what you find is that ministers have a clear vision of what it is they wish to achieve, are capable of commanding support within their departments to explain what it is that they're doing in much the same way, the commanding support among MPs and PS feel they know what the ultimate objective is. 00:22:35:06 - 00:23:01:02 Then they are able to bring forward those measures regardless perhaps of any initial skepticism that there might be this question about the center of government, about how number ten operates, how the Cabinet Office operates is quite a live issue at the minute, particularly the Institute for Government recently published a report on it and a lot of discussion about what if the polls are correct and we are going to have an incoming Labor government potentially with a large majority. 00:23:01:06 - 00:23:26:22 What are their plans for reform of the center? Your committee looks at this as well. What are your thoughts, rather embarrassingly, if we came to the opposite conclusion of the Institute of Government, and naturally I wouldn't want to disagree with them too publicly because I have an also and I have a great deal of time for the work that they do and indeed the effort that went into the production of this report, which I think contains a number of very valid recommendations. 00:23:26:22 - 00:24:01:04 But I do remain skeptical, as indeed did my committee after a short inquiry into it. So that sort of key recommendation of a sort of inner cabinet. Now we've had models of that, I suppose, but for very different circumstances, whether it was the quad during the Coalition that was there really for political management, varying in two different parties together, there's an argument that Cabinet overall is too big and has grown know, so they have to get the little extension table on for ministers attending, just ministers attending. 00:24:01:04 - 00:24:20:03 And no disrespect to any minister currently or in the past who's attending, but they sort of be dished out to those who, as a consolation prize didn't quite make it as Secretary of State. But do what we can still come along and sit at the end of the table, almost like they're sort of children at Christmas time. And so I think that is maybe one that we might look at to make Cabinet more wieldy. 00:24:20:05 - 00:24:41:12 But also, frankly, it's about behavior. It's about the attitude of the Prime Minister Day How much do they value Cabinet government now Is Cabinet government there to thrash out the issues, to actually be more than simply a rubber stamping exercise to be gotten out of the way on a Tuesday morning, which prime minister can you think of actually engaged in Cabinet government? 00:24:41:12 - 00:25:10:17 I mean, of all recent prime ministers, Blair was famously imperial. Gordon Brown pretty much was David Cameron. I think David Cameron had to be for that particular circumstances. Regards coalition. I think for all talk of a margaret Thatcher she was and many of the people in her cabinet were considered political heavyweights and of course it's well documented she she enjoyed a good argument and it as a way to really understand policy maybe less so towards the end of that is how it often goes. 00:25:10:17 - 00:25:35:05 And I'm not talking about going back to the days of Gladstone and Disraeli, nine or ten people, but I think smaller cabinet than we have currently. And I think it's about valuing the good that can come from that rather than sort of seeking to impose like hide it away, which I think sort of inner cabinet would inevitably would be that know somebody I'd sort of describe as a parliamentary man. 00:25:35:05 - 00:25:55:18 So if you had aspiration as to ministerial office early on, you set them aside and you've you've really focused your career on Parliament. One of the trends, a sort of the zeitgeisty at the moment in terms of decision making is this idea that an incoming government should perhaps have citizens juries, citizens assemblies and so on to help in a decision making. 00:25:55:20 - 00:26:22:13 Counter-argument to that is that is what Parliament who studies the Citizens Assembly. What are your thoughts exactly that latter point The House of Commons exists as that. If I quotation marks, say a citizen's assembly, and the more that politicians seek to delegate difficult decisions to get off the hook, frankly, the more that Parliament is diminished. And that is problematical. 00:26:22:15 - 00:26:47:17 I'm also skeptical of citizens assemblies because certain politicians only propose delegating certain policy decisions to them. I've not heard them talk about delegating, for example, immigration or law and order. And that leads me to think it's because they might not necessarily like the answers that come back. So we have a citizen's assembly perfectly well established. The House of Commons. 00:26:47:19 - 00:27:21:15 Perish the thought. There was a place that MPs could go to share their views in public and speak about it. The Chamber of the House of Commons, for example. And, you know, I subscribe to the Burkean idea of what an MP is as a representative rather than a delegate, and ultimately MPs are accountable. I'm not too sure citizens assemblies and how they're described would be, but after the next election, whoever's in government, there are any number of really, really knotty, politically charged problems that need to be sorted out. 00:27:21:15 - 00:27:45:13 What to do about the planning system, whether or not any government can continue with the triple lock on pensions, the future of the NHS, another one, all those kind of things all lurking in the in-tray for the next Prime Minister and citizens assemblies or Royal Commissions or whatever might assist it both in coming up with solutions but also getting all parties to, as it were, dip their hands in the blood. 00:27:45:15 - 00:28:20:23 Royal commissions have their place certainly, but what I still maintain is that the whole point of putting yourself forward for election, the whole point of wishing to be Prime Minister is surely to make decisions. If you don't want to do that or frankly, not up to doing it, then I'd reconsider the career that you've chosen for yourself. One of the criticisms that's made about MPs at the moment is that they are abdicating their role as legislative scrutineers to focused on the local, not enough on the the legislative role, the scrutiny role, whether that's law or whether that's finance policy. 00:28:21:00 - 00:29:03:07 What are your thoughts now after nine years as a backbencher? I think you hit the nail on the head with one of the issues, two issues. The scrutiny that the Commons gives the legislation is insufficient. Now we've got incidences of business finishing early, so clearly not enough people are bothering to put in to speak. But then we have the other thorny issue of simply abdicating responsibility to the House of Lords for it to carry out its work, but were still in that you have whole swathes of new clauses, amendments put forward by the Government after the Commons has had its opportunity to scrutinize being brought to the Lords and lacking that, that scrutiny now sometimes 00:29:03:07 - 00:29:22:18 that's basically because the Government doesn't make its mind up on quite how it wants the legislation to be about what should be included in it. But that's not a satisfactory way to carry out scrutiny of legislation. The second thing is what is the role of an MP? It's a fundamental question. The role of MP in my mind is to make the law. 00:29:22:20 - 00:29:49:06 It's to scrutinize the government and as importantly, to seek redress of grievances for constituents. But that redress of grievances now means that our time focused on constituency issues is greater. And I understand that. I'm not saying we shouldn't do that, far from it. But if it's a question of who is there to record videos about potholes in our constituency and who is there to make the law, I'd suggest that piece of that to meet the law and that local councilors of that to be bothered about potholes. 00:29:49:08 - 00:30:27:11 But increasingly all parties are looking for what are an inverted commas. Local champion super councilors almost whose focus is so local. The as you described, turning up to debates on the detail of some law of is pretty secondary. Well, absolutely. And you know, I have the honor to represent my home town now. And of course, I've stood under the banner of a strong local voice of local champion and always that on if I mean, maybe it's possible to combine both, but you should always remember as well that the village idiot is also local. 00:30:27:13 - 00:31:02:08 How would you change it? It's very easy to say he should be much more focused on national issues, but if that means they get defeated because their opponents start claiming they don't care about local people, it's pretty self-defeating. How do you change that and get more of the sort of gimlet eyed legislative scrutineers into the chamber? I actually think that we do down the electorate sometimes about how they judge members of Parliament and in my experience, without my head swelling too much, the constituents quite like it when they are represented by somebody they considered, quote, independent minded. 00:31:02:14 - 00:31:37:10 Does it mean they agree with the member of Parliament? Far from it, but they have a respect for people who do perhaps say things a little differently, perhaps do focus on issues that aren't considered fashionable. So I think that we shouldn't diminish the intelligence of the electorate. Far from it. If I were to make you, by the powers vested in me, to make you leader of the House of Commons and looking at the way the House of Commons works for a backbencher and thinking about what you consider important in the role of an MP being a legislative scrutiny and so on, What would you change? 00:31:37:12 - 00:32:02:11 I wouldn't necessarily immediately seek to change systems, structures, timetabling, etc. I do very much think and it must be an old romanticized idea me that it is about changing the behavior of the members of Parliament half the time to realize what incredible things they can do if they just put their mind to it. Spend a bit of time understanding how things work and things have come to work in the way that they have over centuries. 00:32:02:13 - 00:32:28:12 And they've done that for a reason because it has sort of settled in a way that does work. I read articles and may be guilty about this sometimes myself about, this place is totally dysfunctional, It's all awful. Know the little violin section is warming up in the corner, but I still think it's important that MPs seize the opportunities that are there, realize them, and maybe do a bit more of that before tinkering with systems. 00:32:28:14 - 00:32:47:02 Let me pose the question a different way then, because I to some extent, I agree with you. You know, the society, you know, we've churned out over 20, 30 years lots of reform proposals about how we can improve scrutiny of legislation and so on. And it is very difficult to get traction on them because no government wants to give up control and pounce on as we know. 00:32:47:04 - 00:33:11:04 So one of the things we're thinking about is you've got to change the incentive framework. And one of the ways you do that is, as you say, to change the culture and the behavior of members. And one of the ways into that is helping new members coming in at start the new parliament to better understand their role, how they can use the machinery that is a magic commons, the tools, the procedural tools to best effect as a as a backbencher. 00:33:11:06 - 00:33:31:19 So we're thinking about training program. How do we introduce MP basics? What is a bill? They don't get that necessarily at the start of a budget. So thinking about that new set of MPs coming in, what advice would you give them? First thing is know the order paper. Understand the order paper. Sit in for half a day, follow the order paper. 00:33:31:19 - 00:33:55:02 You'll soon realize how it works. Pick up that document. Standing orders are not simply the preserve of the government Whip's office. Get yourself a copy available free online. I know it sounds like onerous, and maybe when you become an MP, the idea that you have the leisure necessarily to do this I accept, is limited. But through steady immersion you understand. 00:33:55:04 - 00:34:16:11 I found the most helpful thing for me in terms of understanding the legislative process was when I was successful in being drawn within a matter of weeks in the private members ballot in 2015, and I steered through a very short bill, page and a half before all the different stages and got it onto the statute book, invaluable for understanding, quite frankly, where the public bill office was. 00:34:16:16 - 00:34:38:20 No, I mean, perish the thought. Any government whip's office or Opposition whips Office allows the members to know where it is. You go to table an amendment. But that's the problem. Isn't that actually the high command of any political party doesn't necessarily want its troops to know how to rebel or how to put a different view or how to say something inconvenient or change legislation in a way that they don't quite like. 00:34:38:20 - 00:35:05:08 No, no, no, indeed. And, you know, ignorance is bliss, particularly to any leadership of any party, frankly. But ultimately, what is it that breaks through that? Well, it's the MPs. Now, look, I'm not that naive even to realize why some people get elected to parliament. Do you see that every reshuffle, whichever party is in power, people going around wanting quote “a job”, and when they're suddenly reminded they have a job and it's called being a member of Parliament. 00:35:05:08 - 00:35:30:01 They don't quite know how to respond to that because they simply become a member of Parliament, because they wish to be a government minister. And that's a whole different question about motivation. One final thought for us, really, You were the proposer of a motion calling on the speaker to step down over his handling of that Scottish National Party opposition day debate at a while ago where he allowed an extra Labor amendment, a much sound and fury from various quarters. 00:35:30:03 - 00:35:48:12 Has that all gone away a bit now? Has it all gone a bit quiet or is the speaker still in a bit of jeopardy? I think he's in jeopardy because what he did was wrong. And worse still than that, what he did was an exact opposition to what he expressly said he would not do when he sought to be speaker of the House of Commons. 00:35:48:12 - 00:36:29:21 And why I and others, particularly conservatives, supported him. And it was, in my view, a frequently partisan thing, which he did. And the idea is about MPs safety, I'm afraid, is offensive because it wasn't. If it was about MP safety, it was about the safety of Labor MPs, because for those Conservatives who would have followed the party whip and by the way, I had intended to vote for the SNP motion unamended, but for those Conservatives they would have voted against not just the Labor amendment that was stuck on the front, but also against the main motion until getting to the government amendment, at which point time may well have run out. 00:36:29:21 - 00:36:50:13 So they would have voted against the word ceasefire twice. So the idea that it was about safety is also nonsense. William, you recently stepped down from the Speaker's committee on the Electoral Commission on which you've been a member for quite a while. Was that divesting yourself of responsibilities as you head into the sort of final months of this Parliament, or was that related to your thoughts about the Speaker? 00:36:50:15 - 00:37:14:22 No, I didn't want to divest my responsibilities. I've always taken my role in scrutinizing and working with the Electoral Commission very seriously, whether it's been part of the appointments panel for the current chair of the Commission or for various electoral commissioners over the year and the work that Pacac has done previously. So I think it's very important to know far from divesting, I'm just afraid because I've lost confidence in the Speaker. 00:37:14:22 - 00:37:41:17 I couldn't in all conscience continue to serve upon the committee chairs, which is why I did so without fanfare and until being asked this question. I haven't played that on the record, but as you asked me, I thought it appropriate to answer honestly. So what happens now. Is there a realistic possibility of your motion being debated before the end of this Parliament, or is this just going to be something that rumbles around in the background without generating any particular result? 00:37:41:17 - 00:38:03:15 Now it remains there. The EDM remains there. There are a number of people who, for whatever reason don't sign EDMs but have the same view and unfortunately the speaker is now compromised because if he's seen to do something and to the government's favor, who was seen by the Labor Party of trying to balance things out, which is not how a speaker should behave or should be put in that position. 00:38:03:15 - 00:38:24:02 So I think it's just left him incredibly weakened. And where does that lead? Well, I think we need a new speaker, but the question of getting there as everything else in Parliament is sometimes the incumbent's best friend is apathy withinWragg. Thanks very much for talking to us on the pod. You're very welcome. Thank you for having me. 00:38:24:04 - 00:38:47:17 Well, Ruth, I thought that demonstrated pretty conclusively how the bitter aftertaste of the SNP opposition day debate and the Speaker's decision to allow extra amendment is still lingering. I mean, I'm not sure anything can actually happen about the future of the Speaker because there isn't a way to bring William Wragg's early day motion up for a debate at any point, even though it still has quite a number of signatories. 00:38:47:19 - 00:39:08:22 But all the same, I think it does restrict the speaker's ability to do things he still, if not wounded, at least pretty seriously bruised, and his authority does seem to be a bit compromised. And that shows at key moments like PMQs. Yeah, I mean, again, we we talked about this in previous episodes, so sort of keeping track of the speaker's interventions at PMQs. 00:39:08:22 - 00:39:40:05 And again, it was quite low key compared to the weeks in the run up to the opposition day debate, whereas in the past he's been quite on his feet and quite strong in addressing backbenchers who are barking. He intervene three times with the word order. And I thought that that remark of William Wraggs that if he were to do something that seemed to favor the Conservatives, Labor would think he was trying to balance the books, refuse to do something that seemed to favor Labor, the Conservatives suspicions would be redoubled, just demonstrates the depth of the problem he's in. 00:39:40:05 - 00:40:00:02 I mean, it wasn't a particularly great Prime Minister's questions this week. I thought it sound as if he'd been scripted by GB News, all these endless recycled attack lines from the two major players. But my goodness, there will be moments even in the dog days of this Parliament when the speaker has to make a ruling and then he's got all this sort of clouds hanging over him as he does it. 00:40:00:04 - 00:40:24:03 And I think William importantly made clear that it's not just the 90 MPs on the early day motion that they signed it. They are concerned. There are clearly others on the frontbench ministers who can't sign items, who have got concerns and others in the in number of the party. So this goes more widely. And as you say, the Speaker does appear to be bruised and concerned about how things are going to be handled in the future. 00:40:24:03 - 00:40:52:02 But it's very difficult to see, given that the two frontbenchers are currently supporting the Speaker, how any resolution is going to be reached and we'll just have to go through to the end of this Parliament and see what happens. And while the takeaway from that interview was the level of skepticism he showed about things like citizen's assemblies and various other mechanisms to try and finesse really difficult political issues so that politicians didn't necessarily have to have the blood on hands. 00:40:52:04 - 00:41:15:07 And I think even though he's leaving Parliament at the next election, that's a marker for the next parliament because I think a lot of MPs will start to feel that actually the sort of things being delegated to citizens assemblies are properly their job. For example, Storm a government was to start using citizens assemblies to resolve these difficult questions about the future of the NHS or the pension system or the planning system or something else. 00:41:15:09 - 00:41:49:08 Then I think that would start to bite with a vengeance. Let's leave workers found out in Ireland with things backfiring there after referendums, after citizens assemblies and so on, I thought was interesting. Also, his thoughts on what a new backbencher should do to acquaint themselves with the job and the kinds of things that the whips won't necessarily tell them and how they need to sort of immerse themselves in the role, take a bit of time, sit in the chamber, absorb what's happening, look at the order paper, see all the kinds of things that will actually be quite difficult for new backbenchers to do in those early days because they're under so much pressure and so 00:41:49:08 - 00:42:16:05 many too many things to do at the same time. But that I think, is just maintaining a step back and, you know, immersing yourself in it to learn as you go along. Yeah, well that's definitely a lesson for the next generation coming up there. Now, Ruth, again, we've got a listener's question to deal with. We have so we've had a question in all dwindling political party memberships, a cause for concern regarding the quality of people entering parliament. 00:42:16:07 - 00:42:40:11 So yes, yes, I think we we're not going to disagree on this one always. Yes. We sort of talked a little bit about this in previous episodes, particularly, of course, we talked to Michael Crick about his monitoring of the selection of parliamentary candidates. If you remember when Paul Waugh stood to be the Labor candidate in Rochdale byelection, he wrote a piece shortly after talking about his experience. 00:42:40:13 - 00:43:13:15 And in that he talked about a selection meeting of about 320 people, which at the time struck me as quite high. And normally in a lot of these seats, it's a little it's a lot lower than that, reflecting the fact that actually party memberships are quite low. I mean, you know, best figures we've got House of Commons library briefing, Labor about 430,000, Conservatives about 172,000, SNP somewhere between 75 and and 100,000 pending upon which latest figures you use the Lib Dems about 74, 75,000. 00:43:13:15 - 00:43:41:01 So you're talking about less than 1% of the population. Even for labor appear to have the most members, and the smaller you are, the less representative you are and the more likely you are to get someone who's a candidate who appeals to a sort of narrow clack of local party members. I mean, this is this is why David Cameron, when he was opposition leader, started experimenting with the idea of open primaries where people could run to be the conservative candidate for a seat, which was quite an interesting experiment. 00:43:41:01 - 00:44:00:03 It produced some interesting people. A number of them ended up, however, in other political parties. By the end of that period. Yeah, I mean, the membership is the selection pool. It's both where you get your candidate from, but it's also where the members vote on who they want to be their candidate. It's the electorate and I mean, this is not a new problem. 00:44:00:08 - 00:44:17:14 This is not something that's just happened. In recent years. Membership in political parties has been on the slide for a long time. I mean, you've got to go back to the early 1950s, really, where you were getting memberships for the parties in the millions. Yes. Yeah. I mean, Labor had a million conservatives at one point claimed 2.8 million in the early 1950s. 00:44:17:16 - 00:44:36:19 So it's a long road since then of a downward trend in membership. But if you are a member of a political party, one of the few things you have these days is the right to choose a parliamentary candidate. Yeah, almost everything else, only memberships and votes in conference, are increasingly less influence on the actual policy of the party. 00:44:36:21 - 00:45:07:10 The choice of leader is often at several removes and you get a vetted pair of candidates to vote for at the end of it all. So the big thing that you have every couple of years, the chance to choose a parliamentary candidate. Yeah, take that away and what's the point? And that's the problem. That's for example, the Conservative Party is having the most Labor as well, is that having given that option to party members, awfully difficult now to withdraw it despite the difficulties that both parties have had in terms of selecting the leaderships over recent years. 00:45:07:14 - 00:45:37:06 So our answer is yes or no. Okay. So what do we got coming up next week in Parliament? It's the week before a parliamentary recess, and by hallowed Westminster tradition, that means that if people want to get away early, the business is usually so configured that they can do it. But as it turns out, all those efforts to allow a little bit of extra getaway time have gone the way of all good intentions, because it looks like a deal between the party whips on the Investigatory Powers Amendment bill has rather collapsed. 00:45:37:06 - 00:46:00:12 That's been reported in the last couple of hours or so. And so there will be contested votes on some quite high powered issues around various detailed amendments that are being proposed to that bill as a Labor amendment to a report on the Prime Minister's engagement with the Intelligence and Security Committee. You'll remember that I don't think any Prime Minister, since Theresa may has actually given direct evidence to that committee, which is a bit of a bone of contention. 00:46:00:14 - 00:46:23:23 And Labor now want a report on that. And there are all sorts of amendments too, around the issuing of bugging warrants on the phones of MPs and other legislators from the devolved assemblies and parliaments in this country, including one that will require a Supreme Court judge to sign off on them. So high powered stuff indeed, and now contested votes, because some sort of agreement that the whips thought they had. 00:46:24:00 - 00:46:41:09 Isn't there any more? So it looks like, well, as you say, plans that they might have had to get back to their constituencies or other places around the world for a break, won't happen. Perhaps as early as some of them might. But in any event, I mean, they're going to be working in their constituencies there going to be elections looming. 00:46:41:09 - 00:46:59:20 Yeah. Going to want to get on the doorsteps campaigning. Yes. So this media trope, I'm afraid that they're going to take three weeks off is for the birds. But otherwise the business is pretty low key. Pretty low key. I mean, there's the petty camps, Bill, and that's bizarrely enough, a committee of the whole House later in the week and committee. 00:46:59:20 - 00:47:23:15 The whole House is something you normally reserved for sort of weapons grade constitutional legislation as opposed to a comparatively minor regulatory bill. Not unimportant, especially if you've been knocked over by a pedicab or something. But all the same, it's hardly in the same as full dress law reform. You kind of know that time is being filled out because normally that's the sort of thing that'll be done in a committee somewhere and would be brought back very briefly for third reading. 00:47:23:15 - 00:47:43:17 And Bob's your uncle? Yeah, of course. We interviewed Nicky Aitken, whose private member's bill originally was at one of our earlier episodes on the Pod talking of private members bills. Then I think that probably brings us to what are our plans over the next few weeks for recess because we are going to take a short break, but we have got a recess episode in the bag. 00:47:43:17 - 00:48:16:11 We've been off to interview Wayne David, the Labor shadow minister for the Middle East, but he has got a private member's bill after 23 years in Parliament, he secured a place for the first time ever in the private member's bill ballot and he's got a bill to tackle slaps strategic litigation against public participation. This is the process of usually pretty rich and powerful people using the courts and the threat of defamation actions to squash critics who've been looking at their activities. 00:48:16:11 - 00:48:39:18 So rich oligarchs taking out actions against journalists, suddenly finding themselves thinking, Crikey, I could lose my house over this false legal costs being run up nine grand for a letter or something like that. It's a very, very effective way. Not only of silencing critics, but also deterring other people from even beginning to criticize. People start to self-censor rather than go there on some of these things. 00:48:39:18 - 00:49:10:05 It's not just oligarchs and it's not just the hyper rich, but you have to be pretty well-to-do to do it. But it's a trend that has been worrying people for a long time. And this bill from Wayne, David, could be one of the most significant private members to be passed in this session. Yeah, and it's interesting. Compare his experiences dealing with the private member's bill at the end of his parliamentary career when he's actually still learning things about Parliament procedure, which he tells us about, and compare it with William Wragg, who on our earlier interview was saying, you know, he was lucky he got a private member's bill in his first year and that really 00:49:10:05 - 00:49:37:00 helped him understand the legislative process. So it's interesting to compare the two. That episode will be coming up next week. And meanwhile, we'll take a short break for Easter. We'll be back the week after. See you then. See you then. that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters, please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better. 00:49:37:00 - 00:49:54:07 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. 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. 00:49:54:09 - 00:50:29:24 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 @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 00:50:30:01 - 00:50:46:24 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 @HansardSociety

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