Sunday, February 06, 2011

When are MPs going to grow up?

Let's go back to October 21st 2008. It was a proud moment for me as I watched Willie Rennie, then MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, introduce his Ten Minute Rule Bill which eventually changed the law to enable driving instructors to be suspended from the register. This was in response to a constituent's awful experience of having been sexually assaulted by her driving instructor, who was convicted, but the next day was back out teaching.  The procedure for having someone struck off the register did not provide for suspending them even in the wake of such a serious conviction so he was free to continue to work for 6-8 weeks or so.

A very serious subject. And a very serious speech. There's a bit of a procedure about it - lots of bowing and stuff after the MP introducing such a bill makes their speech and they have to walk towards the Speaker's chair and hand it in. As Willie was doing that, we in the office noticed then home secretary Jacqui Smith smirk and there was a whole load of noise in background.

When I quizzed Willie later as to what was going on, he told me that he was getting dog's abuse from particularly the Tory benches, being called a Scottish git and the like, clearly to the amusement of some members of the Government front bench.  This sort of childish behaviour is, as anyone who's ever watched Prime Minster's Question Time, not uncommon.

Tiresome though that episode was, it pales into insignificance to Tory MP's Paul Maynard's experience of mockery by Labour MP's. He has Cerebral Palsy and he recounted that he was subjected to some diabolical treatment during a debate last year. Trevor Phillips, interviewed on Marr this morning, told the BBC that he felt physically sick at the story.

I can't see that you will ever eliminate entirely the macho panto style parliamentary confrontation, but surely it's time for Party leaders and whips to start getting tough with people who go to far in this way. And the Speaker and his deputies too. If that sort of stuff was going on, then I don't understand why the person in the Speaker's Chair didn't publicly embarrass the MPs doing it and literally boot them out of the Chamber. There is a process, known as "naming" where an MP can be suspended for a period of several days for misbehaviour.

The Speaker would only have to do it once or twice to ensure better behaviour, and in a situation like Paul Maynard's, I suspect he would have the overwhelming backing of the public.

The first part of PMQs last week was conducted in a real spirit of professionalism and maturity by both Ed  Miliband and David Cameron. It was really refreshing. I note that they weren't discussing domestic policy, though - maybe they can work on that for this coming week.

It has to be made clear to MPs that macho, bullying, name calling, unpleasant behaviour has no place in the Mother of Parliaments and it will need action by all parties to bring it under control.


Anonymous said...

Very well said. This sort of behaviour can only be a hindrance to the development of real diversity in the chamber, not to mention contributing to public cynicism towards the political process. It should be in all MPs' interests to get it in check, and I join with you in hoping that the Speaker will start doing more to tackle it.

cynicalHighlander said...

When they start doing the job that they are well paid for.

Silent as the stones: What Michael Moore MP (didn't) have to say on Scottish jobs, fuel costs and future

And we pay £10 million for this what a disgraceful waste of money, time he got a proper job in the private sector. Roll on May.


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