Procedure Committee Reports
Backbench Business — [32nd( )Allotted Day]
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
The hon. Gentleman underlines my point. I am not blaming Members as they simply cannot know the minute details of the effects of all amendments. That is why having explanatory statements—a limited amount of text clearly explaining what a particular amendment seeks to achieve—is so important. If Members had that information, they would be much better able to exercise their vote judiciously on behalf of their constituents, and would be able to put their hand on their heart and say, “Yes, we do know what we are voting on here.”
I was about to discuss the question of who is at fault. I am not blaming hon. Members; I am blaming the way we work. Given the way our system is set up, it is perhaps understandable—but it is not acceptable—that many MPs have to rely on the Whips to tell them how to vote, and do not really know what the amendment they are voting on actually does. I have seen Members literally being physically propelled through the Aye Lobby in support of Government legislation even as they are trying to find out the significance of what they are voting on.
Members might be less likely to be treated in such a way if there were a simple explanation of the effect of each amendment under consideration, and at least they would know whether they actually agreed with the Whips’ directions. If there were explanatory statements, there would be more transparency and better debates, and Members would be better able to object when the Government make a large number of significant amendments to their own legislation on Report with inadequate time for scrutiny.
It is, of course, absolutely right that MPs should as much as possible listen and contribute to debates in the Chamber, which should enlighten them on the effect of any given amendment. However, as all Members know, being an effective MP involves many other tasks, including responsibilities to undertake work on Committees, to attend debates elsewhere, to chair and attend meetings, to take part in all-party groups, and to meet constituents. As a result, MPs do not, and frequently cannot, sit in the Chamber for all the time that the debate on amendments on which they will later vote is going on. Furthermore, if it were easier to work out what the amendments meant before the debate, more MPs might contribute.
It is obviously good for democracy for MPs to know what they are voting on, but it is also important that we have a system that can be easily understood by members of the public who want to follow a Bill. Currently, interested citizens who might be following proceedings on television or on Twitter have to go separately to the Bill, then look up the clause and then probably go to the explanatory notes to the Bill to try and make sense of what is happening. We need a remedy.