Report on Yesterday’s SORS Committee
The Commons Committee met yesterday morning, and as this report from a leading Rt Hon suggests, the steamrolling of SORS through Parliament has begun.
Late yesterday afternoon the government chose MPs to sit on a Committee to discuss the Sexual orientation regulations. There was nothing unusual about that, save for two things.
The first was, the Shadow Attorney General had written to the government explaining that this was a complex piece of legislation, which warranted putting into a Bill so that Parliament could have proper debates about it. A bill receives time for second and third reading debates, as well as a committee stage where MPs can move amendments to help the government get it right. Instead we were given 90 minutes only in a committee on something which could not be amended.
The second was, the government insisted on the Committee sitting at 8.55 am the next day, giving MPs little time to clear their diaries and do the reading necessary. Usually MPs are given several days notice of a Committee and its membership.
Yesterday also happened to be the day of the big Trident debate. It looked as it the government hoped they could slip these regulations through without much notice on the back of the furore surrounding the Labour splits on nuclear weapons.
This morning a good number of Conservative MPs turned up for the Committee, although most of us were not members of the Committee. Any MP can attend, and if opportunity presents can also speak, but you cannot vote unless you are an official member of the Committee.
We made a number of points of order. We urged the government to delay the committee, to give everyone time to read the latest draft and to talk to constituents about it. We urged the government to have a debate on the floor of the House, given the strong interest in these regulations on both sides of the argument.
We urged the government to think again about the desirability of a Bill rather than a Statutory Instrument.
The Minister remained impassive, and the MP chairing the committee refused all our requests.
The three front bench spokespeople used up all but 3 minutes of the Committeeâ€™s time, leaving an opportunity for just one backbencher to begin a speech to set out the problems many Christians see with the regulation.
At the end of the permitted 90 minutes many MPs were frustrated that they had not been allowed to speak, and many Christian lobbyists will doubtless feel their case had not been allowed a proper airing.
Why is this government so afraid of honest debate about these issues? They had the votes to win, but they also have a duty to engage with those who disagree, or who think the objectives can be met in a better way. Sensible governments try to win arguments, as well as trying to win votes. Bad governments think the arguments do not matter, until one day the electorate think the government needs changing.
Preach it brother! Seriously though, this is a shocking use of Parliamentary procedure to ignore a proper debate on SORS. But there is a glimmer of hope. The involvement of the Shadow Attorney General in the debate means that the Opposition are not going to roll over on this – they will hopefully move to annull a dismissal vote if it comes and force a proper debate on the floor of the house.