Scandal that many MPs have no idea what they're voting on
13 October 2011
Brighton Pavilion's Green MP is pushing for an urgent change to the Parliamentary process today to address the fact that MPs often do not know what they are voting on when the Government is pushing through key legislation.
In a Backbench Business Committee debate this afternoon, Caroline Lucas MP highlighted a major flaw in the Westminster voting system which allows key bills to be passed without proper scrutiny - and demanded the introduction of explanatory statements on amendments (2) so that politicians can make informed decisions on how to vote.
Caroline, whose report last year, The Case For Parliamentary Reform, called for Parliament to be ‘dragged into the 21st century', said:
"This might sound like a technical issue, but it goes to the heart of exposing something that is very rotten about the way Parliament works.
"When I arrived here as a new MP last year and first started voting, I was astonished to find that, thanks to the absence of information explaining what an amendment is about, many MPs often have no idea what they are voting on when they file through the lobbies.
"I think the general public would be shocked if they knew the real extent of this democratic deficit - that legislation is effectively being rushed through un-debated by the Government and that many MPs are not in a position to know what they're voting on.
"This is a scandal that has been going on for years - and by refusing to take action on the issue now, the Government is effectively protecting a system that serves to keep MPs as lobby fodder, and keeps the public in the dark."
The MP also attacked the power of the whips in influencing the outcome of important votes. She said:
"Given the way our system is set up, it is understandable but not acceptable that many MPs rely on the whips to tell them how to vote, without really knowing what the amendment they are voting on actually does.
"I've seen Members literally being physically propelled through the ‘Aye' lobbies by the whips.
"This would be less likely to happen if there was a simple explanation of the effect of each amendment under consideration, and at least MPs would know if they actually agreed with the whips' directions.
"People in this country deserve elected representatives who will think independently, yet only 12 MPs have a rebellion rate of more than 10% - exposing just how much power the Whips wield over politicians from all sides.
"It is obviously good for democracy for MPs to actually know what they are voting on - but it is also crucial that members of the public who want to follow a Bill can easily understand the process."
Criticising the Coalition's failure to support moves to modernise the system, Caroline Lucas said:
"The Government claims that it wants more transparency and a healthier democracy, yet its response to the Procedure Committee's recommendation for explanatory statements has been negative and obstructive.
"In my well attended debate eight months ago on Parliamentary Reform in Westminster Hall, there was a high level of cross party support amongst MPs for explanatory statements on amendments. But since then, nothing has changed."
1) The Case for Parliamentary Reform, by Caroline Lucas MP
2) There is an ongoing pilot in at the Public Bill Committee stage, which allows members to table explanatory statements to amendments if they wish. But what is now needed is to make that pilot permanent and to extend it, so members can table explanatory statements during Committee of the Whole house and at Report stage.
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