Gale`s View – 5th September, 2012.
Parliament is sitting again this week and it is, perhaps, worth asking why and at what cost to the tax payer.
A certain amount of useful business will be conducted, some catching up will be done and there will be the added spice, on the Government benches, of a re-shuffle. The Opposition will seize the moment to hold the Government to account over examination marking and results or some such and in addition to Prime Minister`s question time and perhaps an Urgent Question or two there will be an Opposition Day debate.
Members of Parliament generally like being back at Westminster. It is, after all, the real cockpit of politics. Party Conferences may be where the”grandstanding” is done by all three major political parties but it is in the Houses of Parliament, both of them, that the wheeling and the dealing and the cut and the thrust and the horse-trading over policy is done. Never more so than under a coalition Government. In addition, there are real friendships, on a much wider cross-party basis than is understood or expected by the electorate and also real enmities – frequently within a party. Told by a new Member of Parliament that it was good to have the enemy in our sights” an older, wiser Member said No. That`s the Opposition. The enemy is behind you”.
The cost, though, is another matter. It is right that Parliament should always be open to recall to discuss national emergencies and there have been several such in recent years. It has, though, become a response to press accusations of a three month holiday” to bring Parliament back for a couple of weeks before rising again for the Party Conference season. There used, then, to be a spillover” period when the loose ends of legislation were tidied up before the end of the session and the State Opening and the Queen`s Speech. With the introduction of the Fixed Term Parliament the State Opening has been moved to May and so, in the interests of family friendly” hours there is a half-term holiday instead.
The fortnight`s sitting requires the reinstatement of a building that is in deep maintenance. That means that, at a cost of many thousands of your taxpayers pounds, the carpets are temporarily re-laid, the catering facilities for staff as well as Members are fired up and all of the support systems move briefly into top gear. Before shutting down again!
Attempts to bring the Party Conference season forward and to at least allow a clear run have failed. They met stiff resistance from all three major parties on the grounds that the season had to start with the Trades Union Conference and finish with the Conservative Party Conference and that was that. The Procedure Select Committee, of which I am a member, took evidence at length and concluded that, with a bit of tinkering around the edges, what we already have is the least worst solution available to us. Notwithstanding press headlines that screamed MPs to vote on a four-day week” we in fact sit for pretty much the same number of hours as we always have but in a slightly re-ordered way.
It is now suggested that, in order to re-furbish the Houses of Parliament and to prevent the building from falling down and to restore the Clock Tower to an upright position, we may have to vacate the premises for up to five years. That will be huge upheaval, of course, but it might be another opportunity to look at the whole way that Parliament works and at the manner in which our constituents, whose personal problems now take up much of an MPs time, and interests, are best served.