The fact that members of Parliament still have to walk through the 'aye' and 'no' lobbies to vote on Government Bills tells you a lot about the archaic way things still work here in Parliament.
But it's worse than that. The current system of voting on amendments to Bills means that MPs often don't have the faintest idea of what they are voting on when they walk through those lobbies.
Most MPs just vote as their party whips say, without even knowing the meaning of the amendment in question.
This is not entirely the fault of MPs - rather there is a real failure by the Government to provide proper explanations and information to members about what amendments are intended to do.
Quite often all that will be printed is something like “Clause 2, leave out line 1”, then MPs have to go to several documents to try and work out what that does in law.
When there are a high number of amendments to look at and as MPs are busy carrying out their duties to constituents and on Committees and All Party Groups, for example, this can be very challenging.
I am one of a cross party group of MPs, including Michael Meacher and Zac Goldsmith, who have been calling for 50-word explanatory statements to amendments.
It now looks like these will be permitted as there is a motion by the Chair of the Procedure Committee, supported by both Front Benches to allow for it.
However, they’ll be voluntary - not mandatory.
This is a real worry as we know that during the pilot for these 'statements', they were not always provided by those with the chance to do so.
We need to make sure the explanatory information is mandatory so that the scandal of MPs not knowing what they are voting on can be brought to an end.
Making them mandatory would also ensure that constituents who wish to follow what is going on in this place are assisted to do so.
We could win this if enough MPs get behind it, so please take 30 seconds to cut and paste a link to this blog - and send it to your MP (find them here) with a request to sign Caroline's amendment on STATEMENTS ON AMENDMENTS TO BILLS (!) to make explanatory statements mandatory.
I've pasted the full statement and amendment below.
STATEMENTS ON AMENDMENTS TO BILLS - what we're hoping to amend
Mr Charles Walker
Mr Andrew Lansley
Ms Angela Eagle
That this House approves the recommendation contained in paragraph 21 of the Procedure Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2012-13, Explanatory statements on amendments, HC 979, noting that the Public Bill Office will assist Members as required in the preparation of such statements.
My amendment (a)
Mr Michael Meacher
Dame Joan Ruddock
Dr Sarah Wollaston
Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to ‘noting’ in line 3 and insert ‘notes the recommendation contained in paragraph 21 of the Procedure Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2012-13, Explanatory statements on amendments, HC 979; and resolves that explanatory statements on amendments be mandatory, subject to guidelines to be issued under the authority of the Chair’.