Opinion: Why debate or amend a bill when you can just vote against it?
Leader of the Opposition WillShakespeare99 writes his weekly column for the Guardian.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Guardian.
This week, the Official Opposition tabled the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill, written by AnswerMeNow1, which passed the commons by an overwhelming majority. The bill will make upskirting – the act of taking a photo up a person’s clothes – illegal. It’s clearly a common sense, decent measure, and it was good to see almost the whole house united behind it to deliver a 90 vote majority in favour on a turnout of 92%. Many may have already jumped ahead of me and worked out that 92% turnout equals 92 MPs, and 92 minus 90 equals 2. That means two MPs did not vote for this bill. Did they abstain? No. They voted against banning upskirting.
The two rebels were Tory Environment Secretary and Welsh Conservative Leader Antier and former Prime Minister and Classical Liberal founder, and current Classical Liberal Scottish Parliament delegation leader, Duncs11. Both are senior politicians, and both are hoping to be First Minister of their respective nations. Surely, then, they must have solid reasons to have outright opposed banning upskirting. There must have been a fatal issue with the bill that nobody in the House noticed, or that they raised and everybody ignored, and that was completely unfixable.
Defending his decision on Twitter last night, former Prime Minister 11 stated that “On the whole, such a bill is fine. However, I hold specific concerns with 1(5), which by my reading allows for retroactive sentencing.” When asked why he did not amend this section he stated “the opportunity unfortunately passed me by.” When both his and Antier’s position on the bill was questioned, Mr 11 stated “do we really want to endorse putting bills on the books unquestionably?”
His reason itself was also questioned by my colleague, the former Labour Labour, NukeMaus who stated that “I don’t really see how 1(5) enables retroactive punishment, if I’m honest… it simply accounts for the change in magistrates courts’ sentencing powers.” Fromer Transport Secretary bloody_contrary also argued “For what it’s worth, that act allows for retrials where there is new evidence, and it seems to me the amendment in this bill simply limits the magistrates’ ability to sentence in relation to crimes created by this bill.”
Antier was less clear on what his objections were, criticising attacks on him by stating “It was the content of the bill was the reason I voted against. Maybe next time before you attempt to create attack ads actually listen to the reasoning behind the vote?” When asked what his issue with the content was he said “I just did, it was the content of the bill that ultimately led to me voting No on the piece of legislation.” When press on what the reasons actually were, Antier promised a press release that never materialised.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but was there not two days of debate where these issues could have been raised and amendments tabled? And yet, not a single member – neither of those who later voted against – raised any issues in the debate or made any attempt to fix them. Our job as Members of Parliament is, absolutely, to debate the details of and improve legislation but for these two to claim that opposing a bill that would have provided greater protection to women from sexual harassment and violation of their privacy is doing that, rather than actually debating those issues they have and trying to fix them, is disingenuous. Both claim to believe in the principle of the bill, but how committed can they be if they did not even try to iron out what they see as flaws.
In Duncs11’s case, his issue is highly dubious, and has been much questioned today, and in Antier’s case we do not know why he voted against the bill other than “reasons”. These two have utterly failed in their responsibilities as law makers, and it should now be up to their party leaders to decide whether they are still fit to serve in frontbench posts to which they have been appointed – Classical Liberal Brexit and Devolved Nations Spokesperson and Environment Secretary respectively – for their blanket opposition to this bail after having failed to provide proper debate. And it will be up to the Scottish and Welsh electorates to decide if these two can be trusted to manage a Government.
Written by WillShakespeare99 for the Guardian.