Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Amending the Motion on the Queen's Speech

The Motion (which is in its traditional form) is
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
An number of amendments have been put down (though not all will be chosen by the Speaker). Votes will only be held on amendments he calls. To illustrate how amendments work I have just printed the ones from the Eurosceptics (Amendment b) and from the Official Opposition (Amendment g) .
Amendment (b)
Line 6, at end add ‘but respectfully regret that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Gracious Speech.’
If passed this would retain the current text of the motion but add the extra words. [The line numbers were printed in the order paper - and the same device is used in amendments to bills - to aid MPs see where the amendment is placed]
Sir Peter Bottomley has proposed an amendment to Amendment (b)
Line 2, at end add ‘and welcomes the publication of the draft Referendum Bill.’.
If chosen by the Speaker, this would be taken first, and voted on. [The Speaker could just call the original amendment, ]. 
If Bottomley's amendment fails then the amendment stands and the original Amendment b will then be voted on. If it succeeded - the amendment would be amended - and a vote taken on the amendment as amended. If the amendment were not to be chosen, then any vote would be on the original amendment b.
Once all successful amendments (if any) were made, the final vote would be on the original motion (as amended, if that had happened).
Amendment (g)
Line 6, at end add ‘but regret that the Gracious Speech has no answer to a flat-lining economy, the rising cost of living and a deficit reduction plan that has stalled, nor does it address the long-term economic challenges Britain faces; believe that the priority for the Government now should be growth and jobs and that we need reform of the European Union, not four years of economic uncertainty which legislating now for an in/out referendum in 2017 would create; call on your Government to take action now to kickstart the economy, help families with the rising cost of living, and make long-term economic reforms for the future; and call on your Government to implement the five point plan for jobs and growth, including bringing forward long-term infrastructure investment, building 100,000 affordable homes and introducing a compulsory jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed in order to create jobs and help to get the benefits bill and deficit down, legislate now for a decarbonisation target for 2030 in order to give business the certainty it needs to invest, implement the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and establish a proper British Investment Bank.’.
As with amendment b, this does not alter the existing text but adds new words. Depending upon the result of the vote (and no one actually doubts that this amendment will fail) - the original motion (unless amended by one or more of the other amendments) will be voted on.
Possible outcomes
(1) No amendments succeed - and original motion is passed
(2) One or more amendments made - and vote on Motion as amended.
As you can see, an amended motion (with amendment g) may be embarrassing, but only by implication suggests no confidence in the Government. [The opposition amendment is critical across the whole range of policies put forward - and would suggest that the Government had lost the confidence of the Commons. I'd argue that Cameron should offer his resignation. It wouldn't cause a General Election - thanks to s2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act  2011. Cameron could stay on - no doubt a vote of confidence would follow sooner or later, but without significant Lib-Dem or Conservative defections he would win that.] Prior to that legislation there might have been a convention that a Government would resign if defeated on an amendment which was so thoroughly critical of a Government's programme - but that convention would have been killed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
In 1924  the Conservative Government, which had lost its majority in the December 1923 General Election did present a programme which was set out in the Kings Speech of January 1924. It lost that vote - but the amendment did say "But it is our duty respectfully to submit to your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House"
If Labour's motion succeeds, I would argue that Cameron should resign, if only to uphold the importance of the House of Commons which was inadvertently diminished by the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. He could be reappointed by the Queen - and of course would, with some humility, agree to take note of the mood of the House. His failure to offer his resignation would be followed by a failed Vote of Confidence which would highlight the impotence of Parliament against the Executive.
If the Eurosceptic [I think this word is inappropriate - it should be Europhobic] motion were to be passed - as it is on a single issue - I don't think anyone can argue that Cameron has lost the general confidence of the House. It would be embarrassing, but no more.