How embarrassing for Tory MPs: one of their own has managed to block the unblockable: a bill creating a new criminal offence of ‘upskirting’. Plenty of Conservatives have turned on the culprit, Christopher Chope, both in WhatsApp groups and in public, to show that they do not have the same views as him.
To be fair to Chope (and it is hard, especially for a magazine that prefers its motto of ‘firm but unfair’), he wasn’t suggesting that upskirting was in some way OK. He is part of a group of MPs with the odd hobby of objecting to Private Members’ Bills on principle because they don’t think that MPs from opposition parties should be able to write laws which could cost the government money or could be very bad policy. Oddly, though, this doesn’t stop them introducing their own bills. They set themselves up as regulators of legislation, even when that legislation is something a majority of MPs support.
As Katy says, this is not a good look for the Tories at all. But in the spirit of being firm but unfair, it’s difficult to have much sympathy for them, given they have steadfastly ignored all proposals to reform the system of Private Members’ Bills. The Procedure Committee has been on at ministers for years about the way these pieces of backbench legislation promise so much and disappoint even more because of the way in which they are introduced and debated in the Commons. You can either block such a bill by shouting ‘Object!’ as Chope did today, or talk it out if there are fewer than 100 MPs who can vote in favour of a closure motion to shut you up. That number is surprisingly hard to come by because PMBs are debated on Fridays, when MPs are in their constituencies, normally with back-to-back appointments.
All this talk of Procedure Committees, closure motions and the very name ‘Private Members’ Bills’ sounds rather nerdy and dull. But the ‘upskirting’ row shows how these technicalities can have big, tangible implications. Chope’s behaviour has damaged the Conservative party, but if only it had listened to calls to reform the way backbench legislation is debated and blocked, then they wouldn’t be WhatsApping one another furiously this evening.