A great deal of parliamentary work takes place away from the chamber. My regular activity tends to be committee focused. Chamber activity tends to vary depending on the business. Subjects that fall within my areas of interest can be rather like London buses – there isn’t one for ages and then two come along at the same time. This past week two debates came along on succeeding days.
On Monday, I was in the chamber for a full day debate on the size of the House of Lords and the need for it to be reduced. The debate was initiated by the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber. It was agreed that Lord Cormack, as Chair of the Campaign, should open the debate and that I, as the Convenor, should wind up as the last backbench speaker, responding to points made. There was a total of 60 speakers and I was in to listen to all of them. You can read my speech here. There was a clear theme throughout the debate: the House is too large and a select committee should be appointed to consider the various options for reducing the size.
On Tuesday, I had to get to the House by 8.30 a.m. in order to chair a breakfast meeting of the Parliamentary University Group. It was a valuable discussion, addressing the relationship between social media and student mental health. The main work of the day was being in the chamber for the Second Reading of the Higher Education and Research Bill. There were seventy speakers and, unlike speakers the day before, a good many overran the advisory speaking time. (As a result, we rose at 11.00 p.m. rather than the target time of 10.00 p.m.) I detailed various problems with the Bill, not least in terms of inadequate protection for students and in the proposal for a teaching excellence framework. The speech was covered on BBC Parliament and you can watch it here.
Wednesday was back to my more usual routine, with time spent primarily in committee rooms rather than the chamber. The morning was spent in committee. The Constitution Committee is examining the legislative process and we had a productive evidence-taking session on pre-legislative scrutiny. (You can watch the session here.) Lunchtime and early afternoon was spent attending the executive committee of the Association of Conservative peers and then the full meeting of the ACP. I later attended the 1922 Committee. (Having written the 90th anniversary history of the 1922 Committee, I am planning to write its centenary history, so being a participant observer is valuable.) I also had to be in the chamber as there were divisions. I also attended the History of Parliament Annual Lecture, given by Lord Morgan, on Asquith, Lloyd George and the Liberal Party. I am a Trustee of the History (and indeed gave the 2011 Annual Lecture) – it does sterling work in researching the history of the institution.
I was able to get away to catch the last train to Hull, so I could be back for busy teaching days on Thursday and Friday. I was also committed on Saturday, as I was giving a Culture Café Heritage and History talk on Hull’s political heritage, focusing on its parliamentary representation. Hull has returned MPs to Parliament since at least the early 14th Century (in the 17th Century, they included Andrew Marvell and in the 18th Century William Wilberforce), but I concentrated on the period since 1900, looking at the extent to which changes in parliamentary representation reflected wider political changes in the country, not least the change to class-based voting. It was a good session, generating considerable interest and a wide range of questions.
It was a not untypical week in that I thought I was doing well if I got home before 11.00 p.m. It balanced out in that the first three days it was closer to midnight, but the remaining evenings were the right side of 10.00 p.m.