POLITICS

MPs' 'Distasteful' Filibustering Could Be Banned Under New Parliament Rules

The dark art of talking out Bills could be banned

18/04/2016 14:07 | Updated 18 April 2016
Parliament

MPs spending hours talking down the clock in the Commons to stop Bills becoming law could soon be a thing of the past.

Parliament’s Procedure Committee has warned the practice of filibustering – where an MP talks for hours until time has run out to vote on a Bill – is leaving the public feeling “bemused and angry”.

In October last year, Tory MP Philip Davies was branded “shameless” after he spoke for 90 minutes against a bill which would have given carers free hospital parking.

By the time he finished speaking, there was no longer time to vote on the law.

This afternoon, Procedure Committee chairman Charles Walker is expected to tell Parliament the whole process of considering Private Members Bills needs to be reformed.

Speaking before the session, he said: “The Private Members’ Bills process is, at its worst, a fraud on the people we represent. Procedures on sitting Fridays are often used to frustrate worthy proposals, and an increasing number of MPs feel they cannot commit to attending the House to support measures which have no chance of success.

Walker added: “We also want to introduce a guaranteed vote on second reading debates on bills which have been given priority for consideration. This will allow the Speaker to impose time limits on those debates, if necessary, thereby ending the practice of ‘talking out’ bills which so many find distasteful.

“In its present form I cannot see much of a future for private Members’ Fridays. Without reform, it seems inevitable that the process will become increasingly irrelevant and ineffective, and that backbench legislative opportunities, as we know them, will become a thing of the past. That would only increase the grip of the executive over the legislature.”

Davies, MP for Shipley, has garnered a reputation as a filibuster expert in his 11 years in Parliament.

Other Bills he has helped talk out include:

  • Stopping rogue landlords evicting tenants who ask for basic repairs
  • Regulating payday lenders
  • Getting smoke detectors fixed in rented properties as standard

After he blocked the hospital parking charge change last year, Labour’s London Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan branded him “shameless.” 

Labour MP Julie Cooper, who drew up the Bill, said: "People all round the country who watched that debate will be disgusted - particularly carers.

"To see the government playing games with it and to think that's clever and funny is obscene.

"I won't be letting the issue drop and I'm glad we did win some concessions. The minister said there will now be a recommendation to provide free parking."

Davies admitted he took inspiration from former Tory MP Eric Forth, who was considered a master of the dark art.

In an interview with The Independent in 2014 he said: “[Eric Forth] did it for fun and he was brilliant at it. After he died I vowed I would do the same kind of work.” 

“He taught me that lots of these [bills] have all got a worthy sentiment behind them but you can’t pass legislation on the whim of a worthy sentiment because it affects people’s lives and livelihoods. I agree with him.  It is a very unsatisfactory way to pass legislation.”

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Walker said Davies' filibustering had "destroyed people's faith in this place and this process."

Davies - who began his remarks by saying "I shall aim to be brief" - argued that filibustering can already be stopped if 100 MPs turn up to vote on a so-called closure motion.

 

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