Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Economy debate going on without me

Got a short breathing space before I head to the Fabians seminar on child poverty, at which I'm speaking. Will reply to some of the questions on the child poverty post later in the week, when I have more time.

At the moment a full day debate on the economy is taking place in the main chamber. I wanted to speak in it, but it's not so easy when you're one of the newer arrivals in the House. The Speaker tends to call people in order of seniority, so two and a half hours into the debate we've had contributions from John Reid, Ruth Kelly, Peter Lilley, John Maples, as well as Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Vince Cable. Everyone except the front-benchers are on a ten minute time limit. This is intended to ensure that everyone who wants to speak, can do so, but by the time you've allowed for interventions it often means those at the end of the running order have to squeeze all they want to say into five minute's worth of manic gabbling and hope it looks better in Hansard than it sounded at the time. And because I've got other commitments today, including this Fabians seminar, I would definitely be at the very bottom of the list.

Yesterday's Africa debate was an example of things not going quite according to plan. It started off with a 14 minute time limit on speeches, which would have been decided by the Speaker when looking at how many people had asked to speak. (If you write to the Speaker beforehand you're more likely to get called). After a couple of hours of debate this time limit was cut to 12 minutes, indicating that more speakers had turned up. It was then increased to 17 minutes, indicating that some people hadn't used their full allocation or had given up waiting and decided not to speak after all. This turned out to be a misjudgment. In the last hour or so the Minister started to worry that there were still four or five speakers left, which would totally squeeze the time left for him to respond to more than five hours of debate. Either the PPS or the whip then has to persuade the backbenchers to try to cut down their speeches, which doesn't go down too well when an MP has been sitting there for five hours waiting to be called.

If it was a more obscure issue I could probably get away with popping into the Chamber for the last couple of hours and still being called, but not today.

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