How not to make legislation

Went to the gardens next door to Parliament to be photographed with a sheep (not real) for an RSPCA promotion of their ‘mark’ which will would signify food that has their approval ofr how the animals are treated. Realised after photographer had finished that I had stood at sheep’s rear end!

During questions today in Parliament I was desperate to get in on a question (somebody else’s) on British Transport Police. I wanted to ask the Minister what action he had taken since the controversy in summer over the use of stop and search powers on the rail network and the hugely disproportionate number of ethnic minority members being stopped.

Then statement in the House on Turkey’s accession to the EU. I was particularly interested in this as there’s a substantial Turkish community in Haringey and the issue of Cyprus very important to both the Turkish and Greek community here. From the statement, it became clear that there will be around 10 – 15 years while Turkey now tries to bring a whole raft of things in line with EU policy. There is no question that the Cyprus issue would have to be resolved and that its record on human rights would have to be vastly improved. It was equally clear that this must be the way forward – as Turkey’s desire to join the Union is the strongest motivator for improvement and resolution.

The bit of the debate I was less keen on was the constant reference by Straw to the EU being seen as a Christian club if a Muslim country such as Turkey (albeit pretty secular) was not admitted. I would have much preferred the debate to remain on the secular side as the EU should have no truck with using religion as a deciding factor on how to treat people or countries.

Later, Mr Speaker (Michael Martin) had invited new MPs to the Speaker’s House for a drink. Magnificent apartments! I talked to his chief of office for a while – and now understand better how I need to jump up and down to be called during question sessions. But it means jumping up and down all the time – even if it’s not really the question you want to be called on – so you end up risking getting called to speak on something you don’t want to talk about or staying sitting most of the time and not getting called at all.

It’s one of the macho things about the house I already can’t stand. Another is that the longer you talk, regardless of value of content of what you say, the better man you are. I had noticed in debates where speeches are limited to ten minutes that MPs nearly all talk for the entire ten minutes regardless – but not me! No doubt I am wrong to only say what I need to say; but call me old-fashioned – burbling endlessly is not a skill I intend to acquire.

Another bugbear is the way that legislation is brought forward and amended. You would not believe how archaic this is or that the age of technology had arrived.

Take the In Violent Crime Reduction Bill which is starting its committee stage starting on Thursday, You have the Bill, the Lib Dem amendments, the Tory amendments, the Government amendments, explanatory notes, selection order papers and so on – all which have to be to hand on each amendment. It would be SO SIMPLE to have an electronic version of the Bill with all the different amendments and information marked up on it in different colours. But no – another macho game is to make it much more complicated than it needs to be. Of course it does result – as we see all the time – in badly written legislation.

I whipped in to see the Labour whip on the committee to ask him about the programming motion (a 15 minute meeting on Wednesday to decide what and how long each bit should take). And he agrees with me about the presentation of bills and amendments – so cross party – perhaps … in the next century …