Eric Sallies Forth
Friday was another private members bill day. I had turned up for two bills, but only one got through second reading.
The reason for this was Eric Forth. I am not quite sure what he gets out of the process, but he turns up to filibuster the private members bills and as a consequence it becomes harder to get one through the process.
A bill has to have 2 hours debate after which, with the agreement of the (Deputy) Speaker it can be moved that "the motion be now put". For that to pass as a division at least 100 MPs need to vote aye. (That is how Clare Short's bill failed, because only 91 MPs voted aye).
Eric Forth managed to speak for an hour on the Microgeneration Bill before I came into the chamber. There was a bit of the "usual channels" going on about when he may be forced to end. At the end of it he accepted that if he didn't stop talking at 1.30 he would be forced to stop.
Then the second reading passed without a division. The process of a division has two interesting steps. The first is that the (Deputy) Speaker askes for people to say "aye" or "no" and if there are people saying "aye" and people saying "no" then (s)he calls a division. Then they appoint tellers and there is a second requirement for people to say both "aye" and "no". It is after that point that we are committed to a division.
Generally people avoid divisions because they are a nuisance. They require all the MPs to troop through the lobbies. That means dropping whatever they are doing and rushing to the lobbies. First divisions have 8 mins notice and later ones 6. For people with offices some distance away that is quite difficult.
Some debates have 3 hour periods during which it is guaranteed that there won't be any divisions. That allows MPs to wander off to meetings off the "parliamentary estate" or beyond the division bell range.
The division bells themselves are quite interesting as they are based upon traditional solenoids.
The Speaker and Deputy Speakers put some effort into trying to make sure that debates are actually debates and that MPs listen to what other MPs have said and respond to the debate rather than just reading out set speeches.
That means that to speak you need to stay in the chamber for all of the debate until you speak then 2 speeches afterwards and return for the summing up.
Although MPs generally do not respond to the debate it is a good idea to try to work this way. To be fair to Eric Forth he does manage to spend quite a bit of time banging on about each private members bill in a vaguely coherent manner even though what he does is basically a real nuisance. What he did yesterday was to prevent the second bill from getting a second reading.
Although I did not actually vote yesterday I did need to be there. If Eric Forth had thought that there were not 100 Mps supporting the proposal then he would not have ended his speech and a closure would have had to be moved.
Like much of practical politics, if it is clear which way things are going to go then there is less resistance.