When you think of the House of Commons, you most likely think of the main chamber with its green benches and raucous debate.
But, as I have written previously, work is also going on elsewhere around the Parliamentary estate.
On the first floor, overlooking the River Thames, is the main Committee Corridor where committee rooms of various sizes are located.
In the process of making a law, the Committee stage takes place after the main second reading debate in the chamber when the general principles of the bill are discussed. But in the Committee stage we go through the bill in detail, line by line.
For the past few weeks, I have been leading for the Opposition on two bills at committee stage, both private member’s bills – i.e. proposed not by the government but by back-bench MPs.
The Boundaries Bill is proposed by my colleague from Manchester, Afzal Khan. Afzal’s bill proposes to start a new parliamentary boundary review, but maintain the number of constituencies at 650 (the government wants to reduce the number to 600) and use more accurate figures on which to base the new proposals.
But although the government is opposed to this, many Conservative MPs support it. The government can’t risk a rebellion, so instead they have used a procedural trick to stop the bill.
Before being considered in committee, the House must approve the expenditure of public money: it is called a money resolution and is normally a formality. But ministers have not moved such a resolution. So, every Wednesday morning the committee meets, and immediately adjourns. It is a farce and very frustrating.
On Wednesday afternoons, I am sitting on the Overseas Voters Bill, proposed by Welsh Tory Glyn Davies. At the moment, if you live abroad then you can only vote in General Elections for up to 15 years. Glyn wants to remove that time limit, and Conservative ministers agree with him. I disagree, because if someone has lived abroad for 30 years they are no longer in touch with the UK and won’t be affected by the decisions of the government they’re voting for.
But the Committee stage is not the time for general points or principle, but for detail. So, I have been tabling amendments for discussion or for vote, to try to improve the bill as it stands. Each section of the bill is then voted upon before it returns to the main chamber for a final decision.
Making laws doesn’t always take place in the full glare of publicity in the main Commons chamber, it is a detailed and time-consuming process – and rightly so.