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Monday, October 31, 2005


Glaswegian Fiend's Exploit Explained

Over on Pundita I came across a post on the ineffably vile George Galloway, which contained this interesting snippet:

In 1997, while he was a Labor Member of Parliament, George Galloway blocked proposed legislation (the "Conspiracy and Incitement Bill") to ban foreign terrorists residing in Britain from "plotting and conducting terrorist operations overseas."

Which surprised me: not that Gruesome George blocked the bill, of course, but that he could. The rank-and-file British legislator has almost no power whatsoever, especially if he is not a member of the government party (GG used to be a member of the Labour Party, which was not in power when this bill was being debated). When I was at school back in the 1980s I remember being told that the British parliament had stricter rules of order than the Supreme Soviet. Certainly a "private" member of parliament can't filibuster debates (unlike a US senator) and an MP who votes against his party line several times is likely to be thrown out of the party (like Galloway) in which case he will pretty much be reduced to forming a new party if he wants to continue in politics (like Galloway).

About the only privilege a "private" member has, in fact, is that he can introduce legislation. But this is not as much fun as it might sound: the time allocations for debates are controlled entirely by the government, so the only way a "Private Member's Bill" stands a chance of becoming law is if the government choose to allocate time to it.

The "Conspiracy and Incitement Bill" was a member of that rare species. Proposed by a private member, the government (this was the Conservative one back in the dim and legendary era Before Blair) decided to support it. Accordingly, it got its Second Reading debate, was referred to the appropriate committee and reported out, and proceeded to its Third Reading debate. If it had passed this debate, as seemed likely, it would have gone off to the House of Lords, who would probably have passed it as well, in which case it would have become law.

At this point Gruesome George enters our tale. He took an interest in this proposed law, and I might speculate on his motives for that, if I didn't live in the country with the world's most repressive libel laws. (I want my Green Card...) Possibly Roger L Simon has some thoughts on the matter... At any rate, Galloway was one of the few MPs who turned up to the Third Reading debate; in fact fewer than forty MPs were present at the Third Reading, which meant that the House didn't have a quorum to enact legislation. Galloway was the man who pointed it out. That was all.

IANAL but I don't believe the lack of a quorum would have ipso facto rendered the law invalid; it would be seen as a procedural matter of the House of Commons alone. Therefore, it's narrowly accurate to say that Galloway "blocked" the legislation, although his actions were (procedurally) less egregious than the SOP of the US Senate: Byrd's filibuster of civil rights legislation or Helms' blocking of Weld's ambassadorship being two examples that spring to mind.

UPDATE (Nov 4th): The creature Galloway has been less assiduous in his Parliamentary attendances recently.

Good analysis. My understanding was that "technically" he blocked it from leaving committee; because this resulted in the bill's failure I thought I was safe in imitating Galloway's hairsplitting approach and simply observing that he blocked the legislation.
Thanks! But I can't claim much credit; the hard work was done by Baber and Wood.

I'd agree that Galloway blocked the legislation, but my point was that he was only able to do so because the government of the day failed to vigorously support it. Some blame must attach to the "statesmen" who were obsessed with who would succeed the pathetic John Major as party leader and neglected the business of the nation. If two dozen more MPs had been sitting in the chamber that night (two dozen out of six hundred and fifty) then Galloway's procedural manouevre would have failed, and the bill would likely have become law.

For want of a nail...
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