For the past 30+ years I have been in and out of Parliament – for the last ten years quite intensively – certainly as much as some members of parliament! I have never been impressed. The so called ‘Mother of Parliaments’ has become a bed ridden old hag; beautiful only to those who are part of it.
My thoughts were confirmed yesterday in three ways – first the good news!
The good news is that both Houses of Parliament are full of good people with good intent who really want to make a difference. I met them at a joint reception held for leading LGA members and members of the DCLG Select Committee and Parliamentary party DCLG teams. That is all the good news!
The bad news was confirmed to me in two ways:
Firstly, by watching DCLG question time. What a waste of time. Tory MPs asking planted questions brown nosing to their local press and to the Minister. Labour MPs had some good questions but which were fatally weakened by the fact that one year later they had been saying the exact opposite. Lots of people were speaking – next to no-one was listening! Arguments were being made but were not as important as points being scored.
Secondly I had a very well subsidised meal in Portcullis House with David Belotti and two of my favourite Lords, Tope and Shipley. They were preparing for an all night sitting. News was coming in of the votes that might be taken and of the entertainment being laid on to keep peers entertained whilst they waited for the droning on to continue. Peers would be released home in batches. Young peers (below 75 I think!) were having to stay until 8.00 a.m. whilst older peers would be released at 2.00 a.m. Isn’t it bad enough to scour the old folks homes of London to get a house of parliament going without inflicting them to what a civilised society would term a cruel and unusual punishment?
In both cases there is a total lack of reality. Does anyone really think that having MPs asking antagonistic questions in public will improve the Localism Bill? Does anyone really think that having any debate at 4.00 in the morning is real and effective scrutiny of anything?
Well some do. They are Members of the Commons and Lords most of whom will complain about the system and realise its futility when first arriving but after a year find their feet within the club and rapidly become old fogies!
I could go on! Have any of you ever seen the list of meetings a Minister will have during the day. There can be up to 20 of them. Where is there time for thinking and reflection? How can they make rational decisions when meetings are put before them like machine gun fire?
Have you ever appeared before a Select Committee or a Bill Committee? Don’t be worried if you haven’t and are summoned. The average standard of questions is below that in an average council chamber. A list of questions is usually prepared by the committee clerk and they decide who is going to put them. Well and good if they understand the question embarrassing if they don’t and you don’t. I well remember not having a clue what one MP was asking me. He didn’t either so he repeated the question slowly and loudly! The clerk was required to intervene!
The description I have for it is ‘revving in neutral’. There are far too many people inside Parliament and inside Ministries working very hard yet achieving nothing. It is a monstrous and massive waste of money and none of the Parties have the will to do anything about it.