My blog on Thursday was a call to MPs to stay away from their constituencies on the following day in order to vote on the Istanbul Convention as part of a private members bill. The convention is an international agreement to hold all signatory Governments to account for the way they deal with issues of violence against women and girls. The title of my blog was ‘Tomorrow is a new day’ and indeed for the House of Commons it proved to be the case. One of the reliable and predictable elements was that Philip Davies, MP for Shipley was in attendance and did his level best to ensure that the vote did not take place. He introduced 65 amendments and reading the transcript of what took place on Friday, even some of his usual collaborators in his attempt to talk out bills questioned the wisdom of some of these amendments. Jacob Rees Mogg at one point stated “I wonder whether he [Philip Davies] has thought through the constitutional implications of allowing a vote in this House to have any formal standing when it is neither a statutory instrument nor primary legislation. Would that not risk bringing the courts into the proceedings in Parliament?”
To a certain extent Davies was aided and abetted by his friends such as David Nuttall and Christopher Chope along with Peter Bone and Philip Hollobone but the good news is that in the end the bill started by the MP for Banff and Buchan, Dr Eilidh Whiteford was passed on its third reading by 138 votes to 1, the one person opposing the Bill being Mr Davies. Had there been fewer MPs present a vote would not have been guaranteed and Mr Davies may well have been able to derail it. The presence of Maria Caulfield, Henry Smith, Jeremy Quin, Nusrat Ghani means that four out of 16 Sussex MPs were in attendance and voted on the Bill. That is comparable with the number of MPs in the Chamber being almost one in 4. Outside of the issues implicit in the Bill, this whole process highlights once again certain failings of our democratic system:
When Laws are being passed we have every reason to expect all 650 MPs to be present and to vote or in abstaining to make it clear why they cannot decide. I personally have chosen on occasions not to vote because I do not wish to support any of the candidates on offer. I would like to see NOTA (none of the above) on all ballot papers and indeed in the House of Commons so we would know who has chosen to abstain and who cannot be bothered to show up!
It seems hard to imagine that Philip Davies is doing a faithful job of reflecting the needs and wishes of his constituents. Of course some men and perhaps even a few women in the UK may well support his position on the issue of the Istanbul Convention. However having an MP who consistently opposes private members legislation, almost as though he wants to make a career out of filibusters means that many within his constituency must feel frustrated and let down on a regular basis. The fact that he once said in an interview “When I first got elected to Parliament my mentor was Eric Forth and he really was the past master of talking out bills on a Friday. He did it for fun and he was brilliant at it. After he died I vowed I would do the same kind of work. He taught me that lots of these have all got a worthy sentiment behind them but you can’t pass legislation on the whim of a worthy sentiment because it affects people’s lives and livelihoods. I agree with him. It is a very unsatisfactory way to pass legislation.” indicates that his intentions are not honourable. It is clear that there are many ways of removing sentiment from policy, but constantly denying policies from being tested and scrutinised is the least effective way of achieving this and is anti-democractic.
Reading through some of Davies’s remarks it is clear he believes the Government will not follow through as effectively as some of us would wish:
The Prime Minister made it clear that she supports the Bill as it will be amended by the Government amendments, and I will explain why that is a long way from agreeing to the Istanbul convention. It strikes me that the Government amendments are all about trying not to ratify the convention. I made it clear on Second Reading that I do not agree with the Istanbul convention because it is discriminatory, but at least I am up front and honest about that and about opposing the Bill and seeking to stop it going forward. That is a bit more appropriate than pretending to support something but quietly trying to fillet it to make sure it does not come into place. However, other people, including, hopefully, the promoter of the Bill, can explain their motivations when they get the opportunity to speak.
It will depend on Parliament to ensure that the Government do not fillet the convention.