Thursday, 15 September 2011

What Is A Grand Committee And What Does It Mean For Welfare Reform?

 Cross posted with thanks to LatentExistence

After all the fuss of the Welfare Reform Bill in the house of lords yesterday I wasn’t expecting much for a couple of weeks when it will reach committee stage. However, I woke up today to find that the government had tabled a motion in the lords to send the bill to the grand committee, held in a side room.

This is in fact the normal procedure for legislation moving through parliament. The committee stage is where the bill is examined line-by-line and objections from the debate at the second reading turn into amendments to the bill before it goes back to the house for the report stage and the third reading. Parliament’s own web page states:

Any Bill can be referred to a Committee of the whole House but the procedure is normally reserved for finance Bills and other important, controversial legislation.

So you can see, controversial bills are supposed to be debated by a “committee of the whole house” rather than a “grand committee.” As one lord stated in the debate today, no one can argue that this legislation is not controversial. The peers have stated over and over again during debate that they have been inundated with letters, emails, and phone calls from people concerned about this bill. They show surprise at the scale of concern shown to them. Unfortunately, despite a heated debate this afternoon in the end the lords voted 263 to 211 to pass the motion and move the bill to the Grand Committee. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the motion, and Labour voted against it. Some of the reasons given were that it would block up the chamber and delay the passage of other bills, and that too many people would want to speak in the debate and it would take too long. (Yes, really! Democracy apparently takes too long.) One lady stated that several of the bills going through parliament are really three bills in one, and that of course it would take longer. (As an aside, I would urge you to look up Shock Doctrine for reasons as to why changes are being made so quickly.)

The difference between the two options for committee stage are quite important, I think. Here’s the official description of the committee stage:

Line by line examination of the Bill
Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Committee stage can last for one or two days to eight or more. It usually starts no fewer than two weeks after the second reading.

Before committee stage takes place

The day before committee stage starts, amendments are published in a Marshalled List – in which all the amendments are placed in order.

Amendments on related subjects are grouped together and a list (“groupings of amendments”) is published on the day.

What happens at committee stage?

Every clause of the Bill has to be agreed to and votes on the amendments can take place.

All proposed amendments (proposals for change) can be discussed and there is no time limit – or guillotine – on discussion of amendments.

What happens after committee stage?

If the Bill has been amended it is reprinted with all the agreed amendments.

At the end of committee stage, the Bill moves to report stage for further examination.

Here is the critical part though:

Grand Committee

The proceedings are identical to those in a Committee of the Whole House except that no votes may take place.

As compared to:

Committee of the whole House

In the House of Lords the committee stage of a Bill usually takes place in the Lords Chamber and any Member can take part. The Committee may choose to vote on any amendment and all Members present can vote.

So you can see, apart from being in a less-accessible room, with space for far fewer peers to discuss the bill and no public gallery, sending a bill to the Grand Committee also means that the amendments cannot be voted on individually. I think, on the whole, this can be viewed as a bad thing.

However, please keep sending your messages to peers. They have noticed our objections, and we can’t let up now. Details are in my previous blog post.

***Important Update***
As Sam points out below, in the Grand Committee there is no voting on amendments, which would enable a majority vote to fix some of the worse points. Instead, the committee must agree unanimously on an amendment which means that just one person siding with the government can block any attempt to fix this bill.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


After an incredibly constructive debate yesterday in the House Of Lords the government appear to be concerned about how many Lords had significant concerns about the Welfare Reform Bill, even those Lords who in principle supported the bill had major questions they wanted answers to.

For a bill of this size and importance, convention dictates that the next stage of the bill should be kept in the main chamber of the House of Lords for debate. It's particularly important the bill be continued to be debated in the main chamber as disability access to the smaller committee rooms is very limited and people will not be able to access the committee rooms to exercise their democratic right to observe the passge of the bill from the public chamber.

At 3.30pm today the govermnent are tabling a motion to move the grand committee stage of the bill into one of the smaller committee rooms. Presumably the government are hoping that by moving a bill into the committee rooms it will be harder to scrutinise - there won't be enough space in any of the committee rooms to allow for all the Lords to participate, let alone for us to scrutinise online or attend in person.

This is an outrage - the government are clearly concerned by the level of queries and opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill highlighted by yesterday's debate and wish to quietly sideline it to a committee room where they hope it will pass with less opposition. Tabling the motion for the afternoon following PMQ's is also an underhand trick as it means it will be harder for us to object through the main stream media.

This is our call to arms. This bill affects us, our families and every aspect of our lives, as well as the lives of those currently paying into the system in anticipation of protection should they require it. If we can make enough noise in the next few hours the government will be forced to keep the passage of the bill in the main chamber of the house of lords where it can be effectively and appropriately scrutinised by all.

What you can do to help is this;

Please post copies of this blog onto your facebook, your twitter, stumbleupon, wikio etc. Please email it to everyone you know, please talk about this on your own blogs. Email or phone your MP to register your objections, email or phone the house of lords to explain your concerns, email or phone the media, local or national and explain that whether or not people are in favour of this bill, that it is a fundamental democratic right to have it debated in the main chamber of the house of lords where there is space for all who wish to attend and observe. Highlight the injustice and hypocrisy of the governments behaviour in trying to sideline this important bill into a room too small for all the Lords to attend and certainly too small to allow those in wheelchairs, or with guide dogs, the very people most affected by this bill to be able to observe from the public gallery.

If we make enough noise before 3.30pm today the government will have to drop this underhand tactic and the Bill will continue to be debated in the main chamber of the House of Lords where everyone who wishes to can attend and observe.

UPDATE 13.30
The email addresses to contact are; – this is the chief whip to whom you should send the email and cc it to the others . – opposition chief whip

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Who Would Care For My Family If I Need To Seek Treatment For Myself?

 Thanks to The Hackenblog for this guest post

A few months ago, Mrs Hackenbush had noticed that a small rash on my chest that I’d been choosing to ignore had gotten bigger. “You should get that looked at.” she said, probably realising that it would take a hell of a lot more (well intentioned) nagging than that to get me anywhere near a doctors surgery. Not that I’m squeamish about doctors or anything, I just didn’t think it was that big a deal. And sure enough, I did nothing. Several months went by and the rash had grown. It didn’t hurt or anything (aside from itching a little in hot weather) so it never occurred to me that it might be worth investigating.

Eventually things got to the point where even I couldn’t ignore them any more. The marks (which in the 2 largest cases were now shaped like I’d been branded by an old metal iron) had spread and were now up my back and appearing on my arms and legs. A doctors appointment was booked.

After the topical cream my GP prescribed did nothing, she admitted she was out of ideas and suggested seeing a specialist dermatologist. The NHS being what it is, this wouldn’t be happening for another 6 weeks.

Flash forward 10 weeks. I’d had the first meeting with the dermatologist, a pleasant albeit hard-to-read man in his mid forties, and he’d taken biopsies of the largest rash and a lump on my right shoulder I’d assumed was an unrelated and somewhat stubborn spot. I’d had the fun and games of trying to keep the stitches from the biopsy sites out of reach of my slap-happy 15 month old daughter. And I’d had, after a fortnight, the stitches removed.

I’m sitting in the Dermatologists office and he’s explaining to me how the samples he sent off are being analysed further by additional specialists and that there is no conclusive result yet. He says that, despite this, there are two possible explanations for my mystery marks. The first is something called Benign Reactive Lymphocitic Infiltrate, which while it sounds like my body has been taken over by intelligence operatives, actually means that my immune system is fighting an unknown entity and the marks are a by-product of that process. Explanation two was Skin Lymphoma. A slightly less traumatic way of saying Skin Cancer.

My blood ran cold. Cancer? That’s that thing OTHER people get, surely? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I summoned all my composure and managed a considered and highly intelligent sounding “Guh?”

The Doctor went on to say that the lymphoma was just one possibility and that the fact my bloodwork had come back normal was a very good sign. He outlined the potential treatments available should Option 2 become a reality. These included radiotherapy which to my surprise had nothing to do with listening to Chris Moyles until death seems like a blessed release, and chemotherapy pills which are less unpleasant than regular chemo and are less likely to make your hair fall out, which is good as it took me bloody ages to grow this bloody Mohawk and beard combo.

I walked back home in somewhat of a daze, wondering how Mrs Hackenbush would take the news. It’s not, after all, the easiest thing to lay on someone, especially when that person is ill themselves.I mean, its one thing being a household with one disabled person and a carer, but two people sick? Suppose I need extra help? Who would look after Mrs and Jr Hackenbush if I needed to go for treatment of my own? Where the hell is *that* money coming from? We are one of those evil sponging families on benefits after all and private care doesn’t pay for itself. So many thoughts were whizzing round my brain I hadn’t even noticed that I’d arrived home.

Turns out I needn’t have worried as she took it like a trooper, telling me that whatever happened we’d face it together. JrHackenbush did her part by demanding a huge hug.

It’s now a day later and the air of unreality hasn’t altogether lifted but it has dissipated enough for me to write about things. Getting it all typed out has definitely helped straighten out my thoughts and at least this way I can direct people here rather than repeat the whole thing again.

Either I have cancer or I don’t. Fifty fifty. Not the best odds in the world, but a shitload better than many.
Fingers crossed.