Lesley Laird: Parliament needs to take back control

In her regular column, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Lesley Laird gives us her view on the Tories’ contempt for parliament.

Take back control. That is what we were told Brexit was about.

Specifically, we were going to ‘take back control’ of our money, our borders and our laws.

Now I’m of the opinion that we never actually lost control of any of those things in the first place, but it is the latter that I want to focus on today – taking back control of our laws.

Our country’s constitution is comprised of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Our executive govern (or at least they are supposed to), our legislature makes laws and our judiciary enforces those laws.

We live in a parliamentary democracy. People vote for and elect politicians to be part of that legislature. They vote for politicians to make laws, not merely to stand by and give the executive authority to do exactly as they please. That is what happened this week.

Politicians of all colours had the chance this week to ensure that Parliament had a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal – a vote on the future of our country. Yet when there was a chance for Tories to cross the floor and join Labour in pushing the Government to accept Parliament’s role in the Brexit negotiations, their bark was bigger than their bite.

Dominic Grieve, or the 'Grand Old Duke of York' as he is now known in Parliament, marched his troops to the top of the hill for the second time in a week only to march them straight back down. All because he fears defeating his own Government more than anything else. Dominic Grieve was the leader of the group who defeated the Government in November on Brexit legislation and was then targeted by the Telegraph and the Daily Mail who dubbed him and the other rebels as enemies of the people, mutineers and a saboteur.

I’m in no way surprised by the fact that this was the reaction. After all, that is the kind of bile and downright disgraceful language that we have come to expect from media outlets such as those when it comes to Brexit. What I was surprised by though was how quickly and easily Mr Grieve bowed to the pressure exerted on him this time around. This was Parliament’s chance to flex its muscle and show the Government that we would not stand idly by as they chose to embark on a Brexit voyage that will irreparably damage our economy, our rights, and our protections.

As disappointed as I was with Dominic Grieve for not pushing his amendment to a vote and letting the Government off of the hook, it was not the most disappointing action I had to witness that day. That came when I heard that the Government whips were not going to be allowing MP’s to be ‘nodded through’.

The practice of nodding through essentially means that MPs who are unwell are able to be on the Parliamentary Estate but not have to make their way through the often crowded and incredibly warm voting lobbies to cast their vote. Instead, a whip will be sent to their office, their cars or as has happened previously an ambulance that was waiting on the parliamentary estate. This is a long-established convention of the House and one that many seasoned veterans such as Dennis Skinner have never seen being broken. Yet this week they were.

Such is this Government’s contempt not only for Parliament, but for Members of Parliament, that they forced MPs who have been signed off as ill for a long time to come all the way to Parliament and wait for over 3 hours to vote. One Labour MP had to be wheeled through the Commons in a wheelchair clutching on to a sick bucket, and another who is 8 months pregnant was forced through the voting lobbies like cattle.

There was just something utterly calculating and cruel in their whole approach. Indeed many colleagues who have been here for a long time said that they have never seen anything quite like it.  

Let me be perfectly honest – the nodding through system itself must be changed. If an MP, who after all has the same rights as every other worker in this country, is ill then they should not be forced to come from wherever they are in the country to Parliament to sit on the estate until the whips nod them through.

It is bad enough to take this approach to an MP who is ill but their treatment towards pregnant MPs was quite simply something that should never happen in this day and age and will not be forgotten.   

This Government should hang their heads in shame at their actions this week.  But creating a hostile environment is what the Tories are all about. Brexit, immigration, Universal Credit, PIP assessments, rape clause.  I could go on. But overarching everything is party above people, party above country. It was ever thus. And don’t forget it.

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