Westminster Diary: Why all the queues?
PUBLISHED: 10:30 03 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'!
There were three important moments in Parliament this week. First, MPs "debated" the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Second, MPs were invited to sign the 'Book of Commitment' to mark Holocaust Remembrance Week. Third, MPs debated assisted dying: not whether they were for or against it, but whether or not there should be an inquiry into the impact of the current state of the law. But behind the scenes, all three were characterised by queuing and saying sorry. It's a very British Parliament.
The "Brexit debate" was a series of set-piece speeches with everyone knowing how everyone else was going to vote before the debate had even started. The whip system makes sure of that Nonetheless, we still voted on five amendments to the Bill.
In the Scottish Parliament and the European Parliament, voting is done on a tablet and takes a matter of seconds. Not in Westminster. We have to "vote with our feet" which meant over an hour of queuing just for one Bill.
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The debate on assisted dying is a highly controversial, sensitive and for many - deeply personal - issue. Like many other MPs, I had received lots of emails on the subject.
I was pleased to speak. But I was also lucky to have spoken at all. The rules state that you can't speak in a debate if you're not there at the beginning but my previous meeting started 40 minutes late.
The reason? The constituent I was meeting was stuck in a queue trying to get into Parliament. But I wrote a grovelling apologetic note to the MP chairing the debate, explaining about the queue. He sympathised.
Finally, the queue to sign the 'Book of Commitment' was 30-strong when I arrived. It was really good to see such support from MPs of all parties, but it did mean that I missed some colleagues speaking in the Chamber. I had only intended to pop out for a few minutes but the queue meant that I didn't return for more than half an hour. More queuing, more apologies.
They say us Brits like to join queues. But I don't and I'll be the first in line to tell you that!
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