Since the advent of automatic programming – timetabling, in other words – of most Government bills, the opportunity for miscreant backbench MPs to engage in old-fashioned filibustering has become much less frequent. But it’s not gone away entirely.
Most of the members of the self-styled awkward squad of the 1997 Parliament have now left the Commons, but Christopher Chope remains and he has been joined by a new generation, some of whom explicitly claim the late Eric Forth, the most awkward of the awkward, as their inspiration. Together they did their best to hold up the passage of the Daylight Saving Bill on Friday (a Private Members’ Bill) and the London Local Authorities Bill (a piece of private legislation) on Wednesday, neither of which are subject to the normal rules of programming.
Last Friday, for example, Chope spoke for an hour and-a-quarter during the Report stage of the Daylight Saving Bill, before a closure motion (requiring 100 MPs to be present to ensure that the relevant amendment is voted upon) stopped him in his tracks. Not to be outdone, Jacob Rees-Mogg picked up the baton, with a speech that included remarks such as: ‘China is very big. It must be acknowledged that the United States is also quite big, though not as big as China.’ At one point, he even quoted the book of Joshua:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed until the people avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven and hastened not to go down about a whole day.
Even Daylight Saving doesn’t keep the sun up for a whole day.
Before Rees-Mogg could go much further, he too was cut short by a closure motion, but thanks to the Awkward Squad’s antics, the Bill ran out of time.
Then, on Wednesday, they reassembled. Philip Davies spoke for 94 minutes during the Report stage of the London Local Authorities Bill, this time on the subject of litter control notices. Thanks to the verbal dexterity of Davies, the debate meandered into the use of turnstiles in public toilets. A closure motion again stopped him, but ‘flushed with success’ (Anne Main’s dreadful pun, not ours), Jacob Rees-Mogg quotations from the Magna Carta succeeded in talking out the time allocated to the Bill.
They are scheduled to resume their filibustering on the London Local Authorities Bill on Tuesday. Eric Forth would be proud of them, one and all.