Fixed-term Parliaments (Repeal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 6th March 2015.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit) 2:14 pm, 6th March 2015

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

Let me return to my thread. Half of the business of Parliament is now decided by Parliament rather than the Executive—far more than ever before. Before 2010, Back Benchers controlled no time at all and could not initiate substantive motions or debates. Now, most Thursdays are taken up by debates chosen by the MPs who form the Backbench Business Committee, not Ministers. Back Bencher-initiated debate on questions such as cervical cancer, contaminated blood and mental health have ensured that unfashionable but vital issues are properly aired on the Floor of the Commons. Of course, a significant amount of time allocated for Commons business is also given to the Opposition for the debates they choose on the questions they consider vital.

The Procedure Committee recommends that there should be broadly 150 days in a Parliamentary Session. Of these, 20 days are allocated to the Opposition, 27 to the Backbench Business Committee, three to estimates, five to the Queen’s Speech, four to the Budget and 13 for private Members’ Bills. That leaves 78 of the 150 days in Government control, but some of that will include House business, which the Government introduce. As a result, in this Parliament the Government have controlled just over half the time allocated for debate, a lower percentage than ever before. That is not a zombie Parliament. It is a democratic Parliament, in which the power of the Executive is limited and the role of those holding the powerful to account is augmented.

On top of the amount of time that the Government allocate to others for debate is the amount of time that Mr Speaker allocates to others to hold the Government’s feet to the fire. This is not a zombie Parliament when it comes to how Mr Speaker and his Deputy Speakers have used their power to grant any Members the right to ask urgent questions, initiating mini-emergency debates on any topic or issue by calling the relevant Minister to the Floor of the Commons. So far in this Parliament, there have been 148 urgent questions. In the 2005 to 2010 Parliament there were 50, and in 2001 to 2005 there were just 40. So, there has been a 270% growth in that use, the opposite of what one might expect in a zombie Parliament.