I remain grateful to The Chester & District Standard for giving me a twice-monthly column. I always try to get a balance between what’s happening at home in Chester, and what’s going on in parliament.
It’s difficult though, because there is little happening in the Commons at present.
In a sense Parliamentary democracy has grounded to a halt temporarily because the government is not voting on issues for fear of losing. So, there are very few votes taking place and little new legislation coming forward for scrutiny.
No better example of this could be seen than last week, when Labour used an Opposition Day Debate to table a motion proposing that the roll-out of Universal Credit should be halted. The system is failing and too many people are finding themselves without the money they need to get to work, pay their rent or feed their families. The system needs to be fixed before they go any further.
There are only 20 opposition days each year, and for the government to not engage shows a lack of respect for our democracy. Whilst the votes do not bind the government to the outcome, it is vital that ideas are brought forward from opposition parties and that the government of the day joins in the debate and ultimately takes part in a vote – this is at the very heart of parliament and everything it stands for.
In the case of the Universal Credit debate, there are many Conservative MPs who recognise the problem too. Their whips, concerned Tory MPs would vote against the government, felt it would be less embarrassing not to participate than to look divided and to lose.
To my mind they are showing contempt for parliament and a lack of support for one of their flagship policies.
MPs must be accountable for their decisions, which is why votes are always recorded. The government has already halved the number of days this year in which the subject is chosen by opposition parties.
Tory embarrassment is not a good enough reason to stop British people from decent representation. As the Speaker of the House said following the result of the motion on Universal Credit, “A minister from the government should come to the House and show respect to the institution and say what it intends to do. This institution is bigger than any one party and is bigger than any government.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.