Loans to Ireland


Over at ConservativeHome’s Platform, I have set out a view on loans to Ireland:

Yesterday, the Commons passed the Loans to Ireland Bill using an emergency procedure which saw all stages taken in the House in an afternoon. I supported the allocation of time, on the basis that if it needs doing at all, it is an emergency. I abstained on second reading – for I didn’t have the heart to rebel – and then supported Douglas Carswell’s amendment to decide the rate of interest democratically.

Now of course I support setting interest rates using the ultimate economic democracy which is the unhampered market, but since that wasn’t on the table, Douglas’s amendment would have been a step forward. It was defeated.

I would have spoken in the committee stage, had the timing been different. I would have expressed four concerns:

Read those concerns and the rest of the article at ConservativeHome.

Peter Bone made an interesting speech on democracy during the debate on the allocation of time, on which I intervened. Here’s the relevant section:

Mr Bone: In concluding my opening remarks, I want to say a few words about what I think is wrong. Let me state to the House how this mother of Parliaments should work in relation to timings of debates. The driving principle of reform should be the redistribution of power-from the powerful to the powerless. That means boosting Parliament’s power to hold the Government of the day to account. The House of Commons’ historic functions were to vote money for Governments to spend, and to scrutinise laws. It now barely bothers with the first, and does the second extremely badly. There was a time when legislation that had been formulated after months of civil service and ministerial deliberation was sent to the House of Commons which would pore over it, shape it and send it back, get it back, look at it again and improve it some more-Bill by Bill, clause by clause, line by line. Every piece of legislation would be put under intense scrutiny. Is it legally sound? Will it be effective? Is it worth the cost?

Let us compare that with today. Let me take Members on the journey of a piece of legislation as it passes through the modern House of Commons. It is likely to have been dreamt up on the sofa of No. 10. A Bill is drafted and it is sent to the House for a couple of hours of routine debate among a few MPs. Then the bells ring, the whips are cracked and suddenly, out of nowhere, all the Members turn up to vote. More often than not, they do not even know what they are voting for. The Bill limps through. Then it goes into Committee. The Committee’s duty is to look at the detail clause by clause, but it is packed full of people that the Whips have put there. So, surprise, surprise, the Government rarely lose a vote on any of the individual points of detailed scrutiny. Then it is back to the House to do it all again-debate, bell and then vote to wave the legislation through.

Every Bill now has a programme motion setting out how much time can be spent scrutinising and debating each part. There are automatic guillotines, and the time allowed for scrutiny is set in advance, before anyone can see whether or not a particular issue is contentious or complex. Watching a Minister in the Commons drawing out one point for an hour to fill the time, to an audience of dozing Back Benchers-that is not accountability. How can the mother of all Parliaments turn itself into such a pliant child?

Unfortunately, I cannot claim credit for that last section of my speech. It was in fact from a speech on fixing broken promises delivered on 26 May 2009 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron). I do not think that Ministers on the Front Bench today want to upset the Prime Minister. So they have an opportunity, before the conclusion of the debate, to say that they will withdraw the allocation of time motion, and that we will have proper debate.

For many years I have sat on the Back Benches imploring others to give more time for Parliament to scrutinise legislation. I believe that to be the fundamental role, not only of the Back Bencher, but of Parliament itself.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to say just how much I stand behind the Prime Minister in his remarks, which my hon. Friend has so generously shared with the House. However, does my hon. Friend agree that if this bail-out is necessary at all, it is an emergency?

Well, the Bill was carried through as if for an emergency. We shall now find out the result.

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