Thursday 19 January 2017

Tradition and nostalgia

One of the important issues exercising the minds of our MPs at the moment is the little problem that the building in which they debate is in danger of falling down around their ears.  This story appeared in a number of sources this week, outlining some of the problems and issues, of which there are many.
(As an aside, one of them is that the Palace of Westminster is apparently seriously infested by rats and mice.  Who’d have thought it?)
In most walks of life, the fact that a building which is not fit for purpose is crumbling away would be seen as an opportunity to take a long hard look at the requirements and even the location, and consider a range of options.  A legislative chamber which does not contain enough seats for all its members (even after the proposed reductions) is clearly not fit for purpose, the confrontational layout with its lines on the floor to ensure that members remain at least two sword lengths away from each other is quaint but more than a little dated, and the approach to decision-taking which involves the members standing up and walking through doors to be counted is antediluvian.
In any rational world, structural problems on this scale would be seen as an opportunity to create a legislative chamber which facilitates efficiency and the making of good legislation.  But no chance; the debate about options is limited to whether the building should be evacuated whilst it is repaired, or whether they should continue operating whilst the work is carried out around them – perhaps by making those doing the repairs work around the clock.  Tradition – in this case, working in the same way as their predecessors worked in the past – is more important to them than efficiency and effectiveness.  But then, as we’ve seen on so many other issues, looking to the past is what they do best.


Anonymous said...

A few days ago, I think on the Daily Politics, I heard someone say that one particular temporary location for the chamber was unsuitable because MPs would have to walk on the street to get to the voting lobbies, which would be a security risk.

I've no doubt that it would be a security risk, but that particular risk could be eliminated by changing to electronic voting instead. The fact that it didn't even enter his head that the refurbishment might be a perfect opportunity to introduce electronic voting - even if only on a trial basis while the work was taking place - spoke volumes.

Democritus said...

Proper remote electronic voting would make it largely unnecessary for the vast majority MPs who aren't ministers to leave their constituencies and spend hours travelling to/from London at all in any given week.
Given the requirement to vote in person the division system has a certain logic to it, but it doesn't need any special facilities. Both the QE2 Conference Centre and/or Richmond House could work just fine for the Commons. Recall that Plenaries for the first two Welsh National Assemblies were hosted in a converted server room on the ground floor of what's now Ty Crickhowell.
Of course now that we're on the path to a "going for broke Brexit" it may be best to avoid spending money we probably won't have and (once the ECJ can't overturn it) restore crown immunity for government buildings and royal palaces so that the health & safety at work laws will simply cease to apply.