UK Liberty

Has the Commons lost all power?

Posted in control freakery, politicians on liberty, separation of powers by ukliberty on December 1, 2009

Andrew Whittam Smith in the Independent:

The Committee of MPs set up to examine the procedures of the House of Commons in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal has finally reported on something much worse, the emasculation of members. In its account, the Committee unconsciously describes this state of affairs almost as the dictionary has it. For emasculation can mean “rendering a male less of a man”, or “making a male feel himself to be less of a man by subjecting him to humiliation”.

In just this way, backbench MPs feel themselves ineffective and regularly reminded of their unimportance. That is why the Committee, led by Dr Tony Wright, observes: “At present many Members (of Parliament) do not see the point in attending debates or making the House the primary focus of their activities.” …

Why is this? Because ordinary Members of Parliament have no control of the agenda of the House. The timetable of business is arranged by the government of the day down to the last five minutes. It is obvious: if you can only discuss and debate what the Government says you may discuss and debate, then there is no reason at all to turn up. …

Smith makes some interesting points, but there is something missing in his article about what the problem is.

Ordinary Members of Parliament do ultimately have control of the agenda of the House.  After all, it is they who decide the composition of Government – the Government is usually formed by the party with the majority of seats in the Commons, it is not a wholly distinct body, and if a majority of MPs decided a different Government should be formed, then that is the Government that will be formed.

It is because those MPs prioritise their Government over day-to-day control of the Parliamentary timetable that they do not have day-to-day control.  In other words they have surrendered that power for the sake of their Government.  Other MPs of course can legitimately feel emasculated, but not those who help form the Government.

Hmm, in retrospect the above is a bit idealistic and doesn’t take into account the complexities of party constitution and structure…

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