Giving Standing Order No. 23 Some Balls

The more complex and procedure based a thing is, the less likely people will spend time looking into and understanding it.  If they then do not understand it this ignorance can be exploited.  Here’s a question: You stop 100 people in your street…  How many do you think would be fully versed in Parliamentary procedures and protocols?  My guess would be very few and it’s not that the public are all thick or even disinterested.  The Brexit referendum saw the biggest turnout for a vote ever – People are interested.  However there are professional and educated people that would be on some level ignorant to Parliamentary procedures.

Here’s why – there are far too many and they are far too nuanced.  An average person could not possibly hope to have an intimate grasp of all the protocols and procedures.  There are probably MPs who aren’t even fully aware of all of them.  To have a full understanding you’d have to set out to study them and for some time.  For example, I only know things about the Federal Reserve in America because I once took an interest and spent about two years digging right into its origins, history and true function.  In doing so I came across a lot of economic terms and expressions that the typical person hasn’t heard of, and if they have they don’t know anything about it.  It’s not really their fault.  These systems are made unnecessarily complex on purpose.  It’s so that you will give up trying to understand them even if you bother at all.

Many of these procedures in Parliament seem utterly pedantic and like they’ve come from the mind of someone neurotic over rules.  Read up a bit on this Standing Order No. 23, aka “The Ten Minute Rule”.  This is relevant because it’s something that Anna Turley lined up for February.

I’ll comment in bold…

The Ten Minute Rule, also known as Standing Order No. 23, is a procedure in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for the introduction of Private Member’s Bills in addition to the 20 per session normally permissible.  It is one of the ways in which a bill may receive its first reading.

Fair enough so far.  Anyone able to cite all the other ways since this is one of the ways?

Any MP may introduce a bill under the Ten Minute Rule, although in practice it is only used by backbenchers.  To qualify to introduce a bill under the Rule, the MP in question must be the first through the door to the Public Bill Office on the Tuesday or Wednesday morning fifteen working days (usually three weeks) prior to the date they wish to introduce their bill.  Due to the popularity of the Rule and the difficulty in launching a Private Member’s Bill by other means, MPs have been known to sleep outside the Public Bill Office in order to guarantee a slot.  In 2014 three MPs agreed a sleeping rota between themselves in order to ensure that they were first in the queue.

And so begins the process of this neurotic obsession with little rules.  If it’s so popular doesn’t that suggest a need for more than the allowed number?  What sort of batshit crazy system actually creates a need for an MP to sleep outside an office just to do this?  It’s nuts.  This is the 21st century.  We have technology and logistics experts.  This process is totally unnecessary; the same facility could be offered without all the drama.

Ten Minute Rule motions are held in the main Commons Chamber after question time, at around 12:30pm on most Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Whichever MP has reserved the slot presents their bill and is entitled to speak for 10 minutes to convince the house of its merit.  After the 10 minutes have passed, another MP may speak for a further 10 minutes to oppose the bill.

Let’s be honest.  No one can make a comprehensive case in ten minutes.  After all that stupid hassle they should at least get an hour.

The Speaker then calls a voice vote to decide whether the bill should be allowed a second reading, which is when the bill is debated at a later date.  The Speaker will divide the house for a recorded count of votes if there is some opposition.  However, the majority of Ten Minute Rule motions are not objected to, and are allowed to proceed without any debate at this stage.  This is because MPs have not yet had time to review the bill’s content.

In short it usually gets a second hearing because MPs don’t know what’s in it.

When a Ten Minute Rule motion passes, the bill is added to the register of parliamentary business. It is scheduled for debate along with the other Private Member’s Bills, but at a lower priority. The MP presenting the bill must tell the Speaker the date for this second reading debate. The bill is generally printed and published shortly before the second reading.

Yeah.  Those words ‘lower priority’ don’t exactly fill me with confidence.


Bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule rarely progress much further, since the Government usually opposes Private Member’s Bills in the later stages and, given their low priority in the schedule, there is often insufficient time for the debate to be completed.  Most Ten Minute Rule introductions are instead used to stimulate publicity for a cause, especially as the debate follows the media-popular question time and is usually broadcast live on BBC Parliament, or to gage the opinion of the house on an issue which may later be introduced in another bill.

Okay.  So after waiting months for it and forcing MPs to sleep outside an office the thrust of it is that they rarely progress any further and are sort of like an MP’s version of a publicity stunt.  I guess it has some value as a tactic then.  I’d prefer a procedure on the inside that was high priority and something more than a publicity stunt though.

However, bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule do sometimes become law, passing through every stage of Parliament right through to Royal Assent.  Since 1945, there have been over sixty Acts of Parliament which were initially introduced under the Ten Minute Rule.  A recent example was the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002.  A famous bill introduced under the Ten Minute Rule was the Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill in 1999, which provoked a denial of royal approval for its progression to a second reading.

So there are precedents which have sometimes become law but usually not.  The most recent example was 14 years ago, so I think we’re overdue another otherwise there’s only so much value to the process.  It is October next month.  The bill is to be heard in February and I’d rather like it to have more than cosmetic value.  I’d like it to be added to the list of 60 occasions in which Acts of Parliament were introduced on the back end of it.   And that is why we all must MAKE it that.  Everything we do between October and February should all be about putting so much pressure on Government and Parliament that by the time February comes this bill does become more than just a discussion point.


One thought on “Giving Standing Order No. 23 Some Balls

  1. I remember watching a documentary which included the 3 MPs doing the sleep rotation you mentioned. There was another MP who was against the bill openly said that he basically planned to heckle the 3 so much that the bill wouldn’t get a proper hearing.
    How can such immature behaviour be allowed to happen?
    You may be against something but you should at least have the decency to let others speak and get their point across. I’ve watched a bit of parliament in action and it’s pathetic. They argue, shout across one another, heckle and politely insult each other. I saw no signs of a civilised debate.


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