Welcome to my day: 27 November 2023 – there’s no need to burn down Parliament given what some MPs are doing to it…

I’m visiting Parliament this week, in my capacity as a member of the National Assembly of the National Association of Local Councils, and it looks like I’ll be entering something of a controversy. Not me, I hasten to add, or anything to do with the event, but the building itself. For, whilst the building is in an increasingly dangerous state, leading figures in both Houses of Parliament appear determined to delay any decision that would allow the major works needed to be completed in a timely and cost-efficient manner. Indeed, a promised debate on which of two options was to be adopted has been postponed until next year.

Whilst you can argue about the value of refurbishing a building which suffers from so many shortcomings, or indeed, whether Parliament should remain on that site or even in London, as a metaphor for the shortcomings of the Government and our democracy, the Palace of Westminster takes some beating. An aging structure containing obsolete infrastructure, with an increasing risk of disaster… need I go on?

But despite this, it is just as easy to argue that the behaviour of some Parliamentarians puts the institution at risk. Hyping up the “threat” from refugees in small boats when you’re letting in more migrants than ever by legitimate means so as to divert the attention of voters towards the former and away from the latter, or claiming the biggest tax cuts on record when you’re actually raising taxes to their highest level since World War 2, brings Parliament into disrespect with the public, who are generally not as stupid as some Conservatives would have us believe. And the sheer sense of entitlement which leads a minority to behave in ways which would lead to our sacking were we to act similarly.

I’m not a great believer in enforcing strict moral codes of behaviour on people, including those in public life – such rules tend to punish those whose lives are not perceived as mainstream, but society relies on some clear ethical standards, such as honesty and integrity, which in turn inspire confidence. And those ethical standards need to be underpinned by effective standards, understood by all, and applied justly. It doesn’t help when a series of Conservative MPs deny any responsibility for wrongdoing or that they should be held accountable.

As for the Autumn Statement, it is, as usual, what wasn’t emphasised that will be the most important. The squeeze on local government finances will drive more principal authorities into bankruptcy as the costs of social care and specialist child support mount up, and cuts in spending by non-protected Departments will impact on a spectrum of core services already struggling to hit performance targets already. In a country increasing perceived to be “broken” by an ever growing proportion of the population, the prospects of any incoming administration turning things around in a single five-year Parliament appear remote. Add to this the strong suggestion that there’s more than a hint of optimism in the published economic forecasts, and Liam Byrne’s infamous “there is no money” memo might turn out to have been decidedly more positive than any note Laura Trott could leave her successor.

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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12 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Nov '23 - 11:57am

    Might we reasonably expect/demand more of the Speaker?

  • @ Steve Trevethan, “Might we reasonably expect/demand more of the Speaker ?”

    Such as ? Specific suggestions always have a bit more substance than a rhetorical question.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th Nov '23 - 4:29pm

    The question about the attitude and performance of the Speaker is real but here are a few more detailed suggestions.

    Enabling an atmosphere which enables discussion with depth?

    Insisting on questions being properly answered?

    Facilitating sets of related questions which might result in thoughtful answers rather than cheering and cheering?

    Checking out/calling out lies and liars rather than expelling those who do?

    Less emphasis on dress and more on behaviour and nation focused contributions?

    Can anyone think of any others?

  • Neil Hickman 27th Nov '23 - 6:39pm

    Steve is absolutely right.
    In the hands of a determined Speaker, the existing procedures of the House of Commons could be used to make the House considerably more effective than at present. As long ago as 1693 it was resolved that
    “To the end that all the Debates in this House should be grave and orderly… Be it Ordered and Declared, That no Member of this House do presume to make any Noise or Disturbance, whilst any Member shall be orderly debating…”
    Moreover, the paragraphs of Erskine May which were invoked by the Committee of Privileges in dealing with Boris Johnson MP are commendably clear:
    “Any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of their duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results, may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.
    It is therefore impossible to list every act which might be considered to amount to a contempt, as Parliamentary privilege is a ‘living concept’…”
    And Johnson’s behaviour was regarded as contempt.
    Currently, questions to Ministers appear to be regarded more as an opportunity for a scripted sound-bite or a scripted quip at the expense of the questioner than an occasion for imparting information. It is not clear why that behaviour does not also fall foul of Erskine May Paragraph 15.2.

  • nigel hunter 27th Nov '23 - 6:48pm

    Lets reneovate all of the building and then make it a tourist haunt and charge for visitors.A new building in the centre of the country would be ideal.It might kick the past away and allow us to arrive in this century.

  • Dear Mark, please forgive my intruding — it’s because you’re on duty this evening. Could there be more of an intro for novices like me, please? I need clearer instruction about ‘op-eds’ and the like. I have something urgent ( I feel) but there are so many technical terms I don’t know where to start. Have I missed the basic-course? No need to publish this, obviously: but a glossary of ten terms, say, would be much appreciated , perhaps by more than just this dum-dum!

  • @ Neil Hickman “A new building in the centre of the country would be ideal”.

    I think you’ll find Newcastle is in the middle of the country (i.e. the UK), Neil. Good transport links (rail & air) – though I guess that wouldn’t suit those from the so-called, “Blue Wall”.

  • Simon Robinson 27th Nov '23 - 9:56pm

    I agree with @Nigel Hunter about making the existing Parliamentary building a tourist place. Aside from the structural/maintenance issues, the Commons chamber is totally unsuitable for use as a modern Parliament: We really need the kind of thing that most countries have – with MPs seated in a semi-circle, emphasizing cooperation and promoting professional governance, rather than the two opposing sides of the current chamber, and with MPs having desks and electronic voting at their seats etc.

    I think the problem is, a new more suitable venue would likely cost £billions, and that’s going to be a hard sell to the electorate at any time, let alone during a cost of living crisis.

    Rather than build something brand new, I wonder if buying the QEII Centre that’s just opposite Parliament and turning that into a new Parliament building would work. It does after all already have a conference hall that’s already roughly designed in the way you’d want, and the location is ideal.

  • William Wallace 28th Nov '23 - 12:28pm

    As Mark will recall, the Rehabilitation and Restoration Committee has been through umpteen proposals, which have included building a new, semi-circular chamber in the space between Portcullis House and Richmond House. But the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg have blocked all attempts to get us to move out for long enough to undertake the major repairs and reconstruction that are needed, in a Palace built for gentlemen to debate in, with officers of Parliament accommodated in various wings.

  • Leekliberal 28th Nov '23 - 2:35pm

    The Palace of Westminster is a stunning example of the genius of architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin and includes historic Westminster Hall, built just after the Norman conquest. It is unthinkable that this iconic building should not be saved for the nation, but a chamber where two main parties are definably two swords length apart is emphatically not fit for purpose in a modern multiparty democracy.
    We need a light airy circular chamber for debate AND proportional representation, as is used almost without exception in democracies worldwide. It would mean the end of ‘majority’ Tory Governments as they have never received more than around 43% of the vote and PR is favoured by three-quarters of Labour Party members. Starmer is the only barrier holding back progress in bringing in PR so we must challenge him vigorously, particularly if there is no majority party after the next election.

  • David Blake 29th Nov '23 - 1:43pm

    Can we have the letter which appeared in the Guardian on here, please, with the full list of signatories?

  • We should move parliament out of London permanently as part of trying to rebalance the country.
    The site equidistant from the centres of London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast is between Leeds and York.
    For some Tories it would be a good experience to meet some good Yorkshire folk and we should quickly see investment in transport etc in the North.

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