Saturday, 18 October 2008

My week - Friday

Friday: usually I'd be back in Bristol by Thursday night, but I stayed on in London for a couple of Private Members' Bills. I've only done this two or three times, and still haven't quite got my head round all the shenanigans that accompany it. The session started off with a late addition to the order paper, an amendment to the Planning and Energy Bill, which was interrupted almost immediately by Christopher Chope - whose PM's Bill on abolition of the TV licence fee was next on the agenda - calling 'that the House should sit in private'. So we had to traipse through the division lobby, and after a whole bunch of duty Ministers appeared out of nowhere, the result was 0-36.

As I understand it, this was an attempt by Mr Chope to ruin the first item of business by showing that the House wasn't quorate. But the quorum is 35, so he failed. If he'd succeeded, the Government's amendment would have fallen. And as you can only move one such vote on a Friday, they could move on to Mr Chope's Bill without anyone being able to call for a vote to see if that business was quorate.

So after that rigamorole we got back to the Planning and Energy Bill. It allows councils to set local targets for on-site renewable energy, on-site low carbon electricity and energy efficiency standards, and requires developers to source at least 10 per cent of any new building’s energy from renewable sources. So good stuff and this amendment was just a technical point, agreed by all sides. So why did it take an hour to get through it? And why did the Minister keep referring to his 'short speech' when he was going on and on (and to be frank, not saying a great deal)? Then I realised - it was typical Friday stuff, designed to 'talk out' later business.

Eventually we got on to talking about abolishing the television licence fee, which no-one except Mr Chope supported, and I eventually got to stand up and do my bit about Casualty and the BBC wasting money on moving into local news websites rather than doing things they do well, like natural history programmes. Unfortunately I had to follow Ed Vaizey, the Tory frontbencher, who made some reference to the fact that in every single debate about the BBC, someone ends up mentioning the Blue Planet.... that would be me. But seeing as the Natural History Unit is based in Bristol, I couldn't not do it.

Madame Deputy Speaker had been quite strict about previous speakers keeping to the subject - the licence fee - rather than allowing them to talk about public service broadcasting in general, so basically I got away with murder in talking about Casualty and spent most of my speech expecting to be told off at any moment, which somewhat cramps the style. Will have to write her a little thank you note. Never does any harm being nice to the Speakers.

The late start meant I had to disappear before they got on to the second PM Bill of the day, which was about umbilical cord blood donation, something which had been brought to my attention by a particular case in my constituency a year or so ago. Although not sure if they ever did, as by all accounts the DCMS Minister had come equipped with a long, long speech.

Rest of the day: having my hair cut (mostly spent taking phone calls from the media about what I'd said in the debate), train back to Bristol, picked up car without going into flat, drove to constituency office, radio interview on drivetime BCFM, signed some post, downstairs to the Labour club for our monthly General Committee meeting, back upstairs to the office to look at the rest of the post, emails, etc. Home at 11pm, finally got something to eat, and then for some stupid reason, given that I had to be up at 7am, stayed up till 2am reading other people's blogs and the newspapers...

So that was it. Next week is looking a little bit quieter - at the moment.

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