Westminster Diary: A baptism of fire as legislation rushed through Commons
PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 February 2020
Welcome to my Westminster Diary. Each week, I’ll be giving a light-hearted behind-the-scenes take on what life is really like as a new MP. From jeering and bobbing, procedures and prayers, I’ll be lifting the lid on the mother of all Parliaments. Think ‘The Thick of It’ not ‘House of Cards’!
Emergency criminal sentencing legislation was rushed through the Commons recently and as the Justice Spokesperson for my party it was a baptism of fire.
Normally, MPs consider new laws three times over a period of several weeks or months (before Specialist Committees and the House of Lords scrutinise them further, all with the press looking on and reporting to the public). This time, MPs rattled through it all in five and a half hours on a Wednesday afternoon.
In the preceding 48 hours, there had been a mad scramble. On the Monday night, the government circulated a letter to all MPs ( a "Dear Colleagues letter" ) setting out the purpose and key points of the proposed law. A second letter gave MPs 24 hrs to suggest changes. And then I received a quick call from the Minister: "Hi Daisy, we're trying to do these three things... do you have any concerns?"
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Parliament can be chaotic at the best of times but when something like this comes up, you just have to drop everything. Meetings and appointments were cancelled and work put on hold, as my team and I crammed to work out our position. In the early hours of Wednesday morning (03:27 to be precise) an established legal centre circulated its views to MPs, making suggestions as to the kinds of issues we might raise.
Wednesday itself was a fast moving event. The day's "order paper" was at risk of being out of date before any proceedings had even started. MPs, including myself, had tabled a raft of amendments to the legislation, but it wasn't at all clear in the morning whether we would even be allowed to put any to a vote.
Behind the orderly proceedings of the Chamber, there was furious Whatsapping between the whips office, the speakers office and MPs. A Minister was canvassing opposition MPs right up to the start of the debate, notes were getting passed back and forth, and MPs were Googling references made by their colleagues. By 6pm it was all over.
Whilst it's reassuring to know that the House of Commons can act at speed when it needs to, fast law can be bad law. On this one, time will tell.
You can contact Daisy at email@example.com