Un-reforming Parliament?

BBC Parliamentary correspondent Mark D’Arcy’s (@DArcyTiP) latest column discusses the possibility that should the May 2015 general election result in a single-party majority government, either Conservative or Labour, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act is likely to be repealed. I fully understand why the major parties in the UK would be inclined to repeal this Act. Unlike similar legislation here in Canada, the UK Act fixed the duration of the parliament at five years, rather than the more usual four year duration of a majority parliament. The five-year term was the subject of much puzzlement and a fair bit of disagreement during the various hearings on the bill. However, some have come to appreciate the five-year fixed-term as it allows politicians and […]

If it is clear that the government has the support of its backbenchers, the Lords will be more willing to give in on certain points. If, however, it is clear that there is dissension in the backbench ranks, it is ministers who will be compromising with the House of Lords.

Meg Russell on “Does Parliament Matter”

Professor Meg Russell of UCL’s The Constitution Unit delivered a talk today on the topic of “Does Parliament Matter?” The event was live-streamed, and the podcast will be available on iTunes U late next week. I was trying to take notes while watching the live-stream, and was rather less successful at that than I might have hoped. However, I did managed to jot down a few key points that she made, and after debating whether to wait until the podcast was available so that I could re-listen to her talk to make sure I didn’t miss something, I’ve decided to go ahead and share some of the points she made. The theme of the talk, “Does Parliament Matter” in part […]

Topical questions might seem a bit odd to Canadians but I will attempt to explain. Essentially, every MP interested in asking a topical question submits the same question: “If he/she will make a statement on his/her departmental responsibilities.”

On questions on notice

The Hill Times has an interesting article describing how the current Canadian Cabinet prepares for the daily Question Period. One former staffer, Chad Rogers, states: “Look at Westminster, our mother system. They’re given notice of every question that’s asked in advance so the ministers can be prepared for it. There’s no such thing in ours. It’s a surprise every day when the clock hits 2:15 p.m.” This isn’t correct. It is true that MPs in the UK must table questions for ministers a few days in advance; however, not all questions that will be asked of ministers are known to them in advance. As I have explained over and over again (apologies for boring regular readers), at Westminster, each ministry […]

Standing Orders and Oral Questions: the UK House of Commons

In part three of our comparison of Standing Orders governing Question Period, we now turn our attention to the mother of all parliaments, Westminster. While Australia and New Zealand both had very clear rules in place governing their version of Question Period, rules which outline the content of both questions and answers, there are actually very few standing orders in place governing Questions in the UK House of Commons. I think this is an important point. There has been a lot of discussion recently in Canadian political circles about the need for tougher, clearer rules as a means of improving the quality of the Canadian Question Period. Australia has fairly clear rules governing both answers and questions, yet Question Time […]

In the UK, while 2-3 supplementaries is the norm, if the subject of a question is one on which the government is vulnerable, the Speaker is free to decide to allow several more supplementary questions, including often hostile ones from the government’s own side – which would never happen in Canada.

Question or Answer Period?

Recently in the Canadian House of Commons, the Leader of the Official Opposition vented his frustration over the repeated non-answers to questions he was receiving from the Government side during Question Period on the Speaker. After first pleading for the Speaker to enforce the House’s rules on relevancy and repetition, he then openly questioned the Speaker’s impartiality. This caused the Speaker to deny the Leader of the Opposition his final two questions in the rotation. The next day, before Question Period began, the Speaker delivered a statement to the House in which he explained that the rules on relevancy and repetition did not apply to Question Period, and that the numerous rulings in the past had clearly established that it […]

This tells you, Mr. Speaker, that notwithstanding the complaints and carping of the opposition, we actually have more ample debate here than they do in the British House of Commons.

Peter Van Loan, Government House Leader

Quality over Quantity

On 15 September 2014, MP Elizabeth May raised a questions of privilege in the Canadian House of Commons over the Government’s “unprecedented” use of time allocation, which she argued, has “obstructed, undermined and impeded” her rights and the rights of her colleagues, in particular those from smaller parties and independents. In his response to Ms. May’s question of privilege, the Government House Leader dismissed her concerns that the House had insufficient time to properly scrutinize legislation and hold the Government to account  by comparing the Canadian House of Commons to the UK House of Commons, which I will quote in its entirety: Contrary to the arguments of many in the opposition and media pundits, we actually have more extensive debate […]