DPMQs: Nick Clegg looks forward to Mañana

The LDV Collective have asked me to add the monthly Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions to my radar screen. When these sessions started they seemed rather manufactured and unnecessary. However, they have evolved into an important part of the Commons’ calendar, covering a wide range of key issues. They are of interest especially for those of us in the Liberal Democrats who are interested in hearing what Nick Clegg has to say in his official capacity, under scrutiny from MPs, in a mercifully Flashman-free environment.

But this will never be like Prime Minister’s Question Time. The chamber is only about a quarter full, for starters. But perhaps that is no bad thing. Perhaps this session allows a little more mature reflection on the pivotal policies of the coalition government. But I shouldn’t speak too soon.

This week’s session covered, it helpfully tells us on the DPM’s official website, these twelve topics:

  • House of Lords Reform
  • the Parliamentary voting system
  • the AV referendum
  • The Monarchy
  • Lobbying
  • the Scottish electorial Commission
  • the National Health Service
  • Wales
  • Social mobility
  • the Mental Health Act
  • Alarm clock Britain
  • and the Digital Economy Act.

That list rather puts a helpful spin on things. In fact, the leitmotif throughout the session was the Voting reform/Seats reduction bill. We came back to it again and again like a dog with amnesia returning to its doings.

House of Lords Reform – it’s going through a committee before it goes through another committee. Nick Clegg was asked about this subject by Julian Lewis (Con) who is evidently not a fan, sarcastically calling it a “brilliant plan”. It’ll double the number of MPs and throw out lots of skilled people (that assumes that they don’t stand for election and that there is no “grandfathering” – of which more later). The answer to all the objections raised, as always, is, for better and worse, “Look at the US Senate”. And that is more or less what Nick said:

My own view, as someone who has always supported greater democracy in the other place and greater accountability to the British people, is that the legitimacy of the other place would be enhanced. There are plenty of other bicameral democracies around the world that have two elected Chambers of different size with different mandates, elected even by different systems, which work extremely well in striking the right balance between effectiveness and legitimacy.

Punch and Judy soon entered the fray in response to some party-preening from David Winnick (Lab)when Nick referred to “the dinosaurs in the Labour party in the House of Lords who are blocking people’s ability to have a say on the electoral system that they want.”

Duncan Hames (LibDem) then popped up to say that Lloyd George knew his grandfather. Well it was worth a try. In fact he mentioned a parliament of which Lloyd George was a member and “grandfathering”.

For those who are as baffled as me as to what “grandfathering” is. Look it up and you find it can be a caterpillar or woodlouse. Or Terry Gilbert explains it here in the context of Lords’ reform. It means leaving current peers in place.

Nick Clegg said something about “staging”. That wasn’t really a clear answer to Duncan Hames’s question, except it seemed like he was saying that current peers would remain for a while.

As Duncan implied, the “temporary provisions” of the 1911 Parliament Act have been somewhat non-temporary.

This Second Chamber reform all seems a bit foggy if you ask me.

We then got onto condemning Labour in the House of Lords for delaying the bill on voting reform and seat reduction. It seemed to me that Clegg had to be prompted by a Tory (Paul Uppal) to endorse the reduction of seats proposal. But he was fulsome when he came to it.

Chris Bryant (Lab) then tried to wind up Nick Clegg about splitting the bill. Oh how Labour would love that. Nick Clegg then got a bit logically inconsistent, defending the combined bill by saying: “It is the choice of the coalition Government to say that we want to reform politics not in a piecemeal fashion, but in a meaningful way.” Oh, come off it Cleggie, British Constitutional change has always been Piecemeal with a capital “P” and nothing the coalition is doing is fullmeal, if that’s the opposite [Wholemeal, maybe? Ed]. Less piecemeal than before, perhaps.

We then got onto the Act of Settlement. Thank the Lord for that! Phew! And suddenly someone called Mark Harper was answering the questions. How weird was that? After a second detour onto the Register of Lobbyists we were back to Clegg. And, unfortunately, back to the combined bill and a tiresome point from Diana Johnson (Lab) about the LibDems “abandoning” 35% of their manifesto. Never mind the 65% that’s being enacted as a minor partner in government. “Split the Bill” – shouted Chris Bryant. Oh go and boil your head you tiresome tyke, Bryant! Which is, in terms, what the Speaker told him also. It then all got a bit repetitive about splitting the bill or saving money by not splitting it.

Thank goodness for Hattie Harperson, who took us onto the NHS reforms. Second thoughts, perhaps not – even less safe territory. Harman said that the reforms have no mandate. Clegg said they sort of do. Huh? I’m still getting over the surprise.

Nick Clegg said that the government will soon come forward with proposals to repeal 141 of the Mental Health Act which means MPs in receipt of long-term mental health care forfeits their seat. That’s a result.

Proposals will also soon follow for MP recall, Clegg said.

There should soon be an announcement about sections 3 to 18 of the Digital Economy Act 2010, Nick Clegg said in answer to Dr Julian Huppert (LibDem).

Is it me? Or should Nick Clegg’s middle name be “Mañana”?

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12 Comments

  • Can you call her Harriet Harman please if possible? Calling her Harperson just plays into a false perception of our party and the great work of many within our party.

  • *I also admit a lack of sense of humour.

  • “*I also admit a lack of sense of humour.”

    At least you admit to it, unlike Harperson 🙂

  • Darren Reynolds 20th Jan '11 - 4:06pm

    Why don’t we just split the bill like Labour want? What harm can come from doing that?

  • ‘Harperson’ – it’s political correctness gone mad, etc. This level of wit is Littlejohnesque – I didn’t know Lib Dems appealed to that demographic, the Tory right/UKIP do. Your party is still, on paper at least, committed to gender equality, isn’t it?

  • Nick (notClegg) 20th Jan '11 - 6:22pm

    ” Harperson” may have been funny (well not very ) once. Now its just silly and, actually, rather boring..
    But, Tabman, if “Harperson ” appeals to your “sense of humour” (sic) , how about doing something similar with your chosen name?

  • Patrick Smith 20th Jan '11 - 6:51pm

    The current tiresome move to `fillibuster’ the passage in the H of L`s of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 2010 should be `guillotined’ ,if this cynical attemped spoiling tactic, by Labour, continues.The full Bill has already been supported and passed in the H of C`s and is part of the `Coalition Agreement’.

    `The fillibuster’ was an effective tactic used by Charles Stewart Parnell, the protestant leader of the Irish Nats.in the 1870`s in the H of C`s when he sought to draw attention to Home Rule, at a time before it was vigorously pursued by Gladstone.

  • @Andrew Tennant

    By all means disagree with her methods, but to turn her name into a gendered insult suggests you aren’t sincere in support of gender equality.

  • @g – hence my comment. The Liberal Democrats are – in policy terms and attitude – the most gender-progressive party there is [though this doesn’t always bear out in representative terms because we don’t agree with the kind of harman-esque brand of labour-feminism, but rather adopt a political-liberal conception].

    Whilst I agree with your criticism of the use of ‘Harperson’, hence I decided to comment on it, please don’t try to make it about the party.

  • “we want to reform politics not in a piecemeal fashion”

    Which is why there is no mention of Lords reform in the Bill or of recall or of ………..

    It also sounds like acceptance that AV is not a stepping stone to a truly proportional system, not a means to an end but an end in itsaelf.

    It is a poor decision to risk the part of the bill that requires immediate ascent to push through other parts that are not needed for another 18 months at least. I actually listened to some of the Lords debate last night expecting total rubbish. What I actually got was Micheal Martin making a very good case for a Scottish seat (Argyle and Bute I believe) being given dispensation due to it’s geographical area and how hard some parts of it are to get to. It was certainly a better case than the Isle of Wight (but of course it is not a Tory seat).

    There are genuine issues with the proposals on equalising constituencies that deserve a longer process. I am most concerned that the Lib Dems want to remove the public from the process, not a particulalry in line with stated localisation. In my area there will probably be a constituency straddling Devon and Cornwall border. Anyone who has lived here would tell you how that will not work. There is more than a bridge seperating Plymouth and Saltash. The measures were not prominent in any election manifesto, no party promoting them would have done well in South East Cornwall telling them they were to be linked with Devon.

    The Bill at present has an element of Nimby ‘ism about it, it takes minutes to cross from the Isle of Wight and many hours to traverse Argyle and Bute. Either there should be no protected seats or there needs to be an independant, time limited, commision to identify those seats that need to be retained.

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