ICYMI 16 September 2015

The National Assembly of Quebec adopted a motion to put an end to clapping in the Chamber by MNAs during the daily Oral Questions. This is, in my opinion, a very good thing, and I hope other Canadian legislatures move in a similar direction. Regular readers will remember that I am not a fan of clapping in the Chamber.

New Labour Party leader and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn was front and centre for his first-ever Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Corbyn took a very different approach to PMQs. He put out a call to the general public asking them to submit questions he could ask of the Prime Minister and received over 40,000 responses. The Leader of the Opposition gets six questions during PMQs and Corbyn read out questions he’d received. This brought to mind an idea former Labour leader Ed Miliband had floated, namely, a “Peoples’ PMQs“. Corbyn’s tactic was interesting. It did certainly force other MPs to behave more respectfully since they didn’t want to indulge in the usual partisan heckling and braying since these weren’t questions from Labour per se, but questions from “real people”. It also made it much more difficult for the Prime Minister to answer the questions in a flippant or mocking way as is (too often) the case during PMQs.

Reaction to Corbyn’s tactic was decidedly mixed. Some thought it was a very good move, and could bring about real change, while others pointed out that it made PMQs sound very much like a radio phone-in show. Others warned that reforming PMQs would mean a very boring PMQs. Personally, I really dislike it when politicians try to humanize themselves by making references to “real people” so I was not very keen on Corbyn’s tactic. However, I am willing to adopt a wait and see approach.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the House of Representatives Privileges Committee released its report on a Question of Privilege regarding the use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings. This stems from a Speaker’s ruling from the previous parliament (May 2014). The Speaker was concerned about Members commenting on proceedings on social media, in particular, when these comments reflected on other Members (including the Speaker). As the Speaker observed:

The longstanding and carefully nuanced rules of the House do not necessarily sit comfortably with the informal and instant nature of the new information and communications technology, with its potential to reach a very wide audience very quickly.

The Committee recommended 1) that the Speaker issue guidance based on existing rules of the House to all members of the House and the Parliamentary Press Gallery on appropriate use of social media to report on parliamentary proceedings, and 2) that the Standing Orders Committee review the “Rules for filming and conditions for use of official television coverage” as part of its regular review of the Standing Orders. The full report can be downloaded from the NZ Parliament website.


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