Following a quick debate on the Gagging Bill that many MPs described as “shoddy” and “shambolic”, Craig Whittaker MP followed Conservative party orders and voted with the majority of MPs to overturn recent improvements made by the House of Lords.
MPs following the Coalition Government line voted to:
- remove new rules limiting secret lobbying by big business
- put back in key limits on what campaigners, charities, and voluntary groups can do to speak up on issues of the day.
As reported in Hansard, many MPs found the debate shambolic, with the Government unable to clearly explain what it was proposing to do, and no time for MPs to absorb and understand its last-minute proposals.
MPs said that as a result of the Gagging Bill, the electorate “hold them in contempt”, that the debate was “an affront to democracy” and “This process is holding the House in contempt”.
Even Andrew George MP, a Lib Dem MP who voted in line with Coalition government orders, said,
“The Government have timetabled this Bill in an entirely shoddy and inappropriate manner.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas asked,
“Does the right hon. Gentleman agree Parliament is being made a laughing stock by the fact that we are trying to concertina such a complex issue into such a short time?”
Towards the end of the debate, she went on to say,
“The Government must be in a parallel universe if they genuinely think that the reassurances that they have pretended to give today will provide any comfort to people in this institution and, more important, those outside this institution. It is deeply insulting to our intelligence to say, “Well, a Minister might be able to change the meaning of this clause some time in the future,” and think that we will all go home thinking that that is fine.
That matters not just because of the importance of the Bill, but because what is happening here today is being watched by people all around the country. People are very dismayed about what a shambles this process is. It undermines our credibility as an institution if we cannot organise ourselves better to do justice to the arguments that have been debated in public meetings up and down the country. I have had more contact and received more letters on this issue than on anything else, other than the reorganisation of the NHS. People care about it deeply. It shows how out of touch the Government are that they think that they can rush the Bill through and get plaudits from people outside for the few amendments that they have introduced at the last moment, which do not go anywhere near far enough.
No matter how many times the Government repeat that there has been consultation or that there is transparency, I am reminded of Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking-Glass”, when he says that words mean whatever he wants them to mean. That is what is happening here. The Government are in a parallel universe. They are deeply out of touch with ordinary people. If more Government Members had listened to the public, they would know that they cannot get away with this.”
What MPs voted on in the Gagging Bill debate
There were 3 big votes in the Gagging Bill debate in the Commons today:
- On the vote to require Ministers’ special advisors to record their meetings with lobbyists 311 MPs voted to reject the change, and 258 voted to accept them.
- On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to how much staff costs count towards total spending limits, amendment 108: 310 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 278 MPs to accept them into the Bill
- On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to the scope of what activity counts towards constituency spending limits, amendments 26 and 27: 314 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 274 MPs to accept them
The House of Lords will now get another vote – probably next week. They have the option to refuse to back down, and force MPs to vote yet again.
The votes were quite close. A number of government MPs did rebel – thanks in no small part to all the petitions, leaflets, emails and public events, according to a report from 38 Degrees.
If 17 more Conservative or Lib Dem MPs had voted differently, the Coalition government would have lost the vote.
Details of how each MP voted are posted in Hansard here .
Yet again MPs have pushed through a law which the public have never voted for, and which has been heavily criticised by everyone from the United Nations to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Women’s Institute to the Royal British Legion.
An alarming number of politicians seem to want the public to shut up.