MPs are clearly learning how to use the new system of backbench debates and, in both these cases, it was clear that the debates were part of a wider strategy to push the particular causes.
Only last week, a backbench debate on extradition was held in Westminster Hall, the Commons parallel debating chamber where issues can be aired and ministers can be quizzed, without a vote being taken. That debate was secured by rising Conservative star Dominic Raab and covered everything from concerns about the European Extradition Warrant to the UK-US Extradition Treaty, to individual cases including those of Babar Ahmed and Gary McKinnon.
Encouraged by the fact that 24 MPs spoke in that debate, Mr Raab is now asking for a full Commons debate on a motion calling for the Government to bring in a bill to reform extradition law “as a matter of urgency”. In a skilful pitch to the committee, he pointed out that there has been no Government statement to MPs on the conclusions of Sir Scott Baker’s review of extradition arrangements, and that many of them want a chance to question ministers and debate the issues.
The exact wording of the motion was negotiated in the corridor outside the committee hearing, to incorporate concerns from the Green MP Caroline Lucas, who had wanted an urgent debate on the particular case of Babar Ahmed. The agreed motion adds that the aim of the bill would be: “to enact the safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Fifteenth Report of 2010-12, and by pursuing such amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 and the EU Council Framework Decision 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant as are necessary in order to give effect to such recommendations.”
More and more parliamentary campaigners have discovered how useful backbench debates can be to their particular causes. This morning the Chair of the Business, Industry and Science Committee – Labour’s Adrian Bailey – supported by his Conservative colleague Brian Binley, put in a bid for a debate on Pubcos – pub operating companies. The activities of Pubcos have been the subject of four reports by the BIS Committee, most recently in September.
And following the response from the Government the committee is keen to push the Government on the need for regulation – not least because they thought they had extracted a commitment to regulate from the BIS Secretary, Vince Cable. But, again, they’re playing a cunning game. They want to hold a backbench debate only after they have had a chance to cross-examine BIS ministers. So here’s another example of a parliamentary strategy designed to push the Government into a change of policy.
The Committee’s verdict on the two debates has not been announced yet – I’ll update when it is. But this kind of exercise would have been well-nigh impossible in the previous parliament, when backbenchers had little traction over what was debated in the Commons. The ripples from the creation of the Backbench Business Committee just keep spreading.
UPDATE: the Backbench Business Committee has just confirmed that there will be a three hour debate on Extradition on December 5th.