On Friday a small number of MPs and at least one Government Minister took part in the Parliamentary tactic known as Filibuster to prevent a Bill being voted on. The Bill in question was designed to ensure that interns would be paid at a meaningful level by employers. One of the distinctions that was made as part of the debate was that between people who volunteer for a worthy cause, and those who are recruited to work in a commercial setting with the intention of learning a craft or gaining experience for their CV, but adding value to the employer in either case. The Bill was introduced by Alec Shelbrooke MP and one of those involved in the Filibuster was his Conservative colleague David Nuttall, MP for Bury North. David is very well experienced in the deplorable tactic of speaking in a debate for as long as possible, interrupting most other speakers and generally ensuring that Bills which have a deadline, never get voted on. Although this Bill was wrecked as I wrote on Saturday, there were a number of interesting elements that arose as part of Fridays proceedings that are worthy of further scrutiny. At the outset of the Bill it was proposed by Mr Nuttall that the debate take place in secret. Thankfully of the paltry number of 50 MPs present for the debate, 47 of them did not feel that such a course of action was appropriate. The three who did included two of the filibuster team, Philip Davies and David Nuttall along with Jacob Rees Mogg who often claims to be a democrat, but apparently wants to hold such debates in private to avoid his behaviour and that of his colleagues from being recorded.
Its fascinating what comes out of peoples mouths when they are determined to talk for as long they can. At one point Mr Nuttall explained “When I was running a small business, I could not afford to pay people to come and watch me work. I did not mind paying them if they were carrying out work, but I could not afford to pay them simply to come and watch. I did not mind them coming to do work experience, and I got lots of requests—I still do, as a Member of Parliament—from people asking to come and spend time with me. I said, “Of course, there’s no problem. I will chat to you and I will give you advice.” But I could not pay them to do that. The reality is that an employer, and particularly a small business, cannot afford to pay people who want to sit and watch and then simply walk away having added no value whatever to the business.”
Its hard to imagine many internships operating in this fashion, my son is currently finishing an internship, it has lasted 2 months and is only part time. However in that time he has carried out a large number of tasks that the Company concerned would have been forced to pay someone else to achieve without his involvement. The best sort of training is something that involves showing people how to carry out a task, asking them to help with a similar task, and then asking them to carry out the same sort of task while the apprentice master watches. Finally they are released to do the task alone with more distant supervision. This is as true in legal practice (where Mr Nuttall ran his business) as it is in any form of business. Such activity is recognised by most people as investing in your workforce. However Mr Nuttall was not finished. He went on to explore the difference between paid employment and unpaid activity:
“The crucial question is this: what is the position of volunteers? They work, surely, and is an intern not a volunteer? That question goes to the heart of the dilemma that faces my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell. After all, no one forces anyone to take up a position as an intern, so by definition they are all volunteers.”
In fact Alec Shelbrooke had already covered this subject in his opening speech and perhaps one of the tragedies is that David Nuttall appeared to have been working from a prepared speech, rather than making a dynamic response to Alec’s own speech when he had stated “This Bill does not concern itself with those who donate their spare time to support charities, for example, in helping to raise funds or deliver social activities. Those activities are a world away from interns being asked to work five days a week for long periods of time. Clause 1 defines what a workplace internship is, and it will ensure that those who undertake regular work and services will be paid the national minimum wage in return for their labour.”
As David Nuttall decided to raise this issue, I cannot see a distinction between what he is arguing for interns like my son, and his own role as an MP. To rephrase his own words “After all, no one forces anyone to take up a position as an MP, so by definition they are all volunteers.” The fact is that I would never support the idea of MPs being unpaid, but perhaps David Nuttall wishes to be an exception to this rule? After all as an MP he has sought election in a very competitive environment. Lets see David Nuttall put his money where his mouth is and hand back the £65,000 he received from the public purse last year!