Recall of Parliament

September 27, 2002 ,

MP's returned to Westminster last Tuesday to receive the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

They traveled from all four corners of the world. One, Pontypool-born Joan Ruddock had been on a fact-finding mission in Afghanistan, where gangs of aggressive men still rampage around causing trouble.

Another, Glasgow MP, Tom Harris, had just returned from his holiday in Tenby, which he said was spoiled by gangs of aggressive men rampaging around causing trouble.

It would appear that Tenby's growing reputation as the stag night capital of Wales is starting to ruin its image as a quiet place for a family holiday.

On these occasions when Parliament returns to discuss an important international crisis almost everybody wants to speak in the debate.

But if, like me, you are a relatively new Member of Parliament, then you are well down the pecking order; below ex-ministers and senior members who have been in the House for decades.
At least on these occasions members are not permitted to filibuster. This is a term borrowed from American politics, meaning to deliberately speak for a long time in order to frustrate some measure with which you disagree.

In February 1983, John Golding, MP, spoke for eleven hours in a committee on the Telecommunications Bill. But he was allowed to take breaks.

In the chamber, where there are no breaks, the Tory MP Ivan Lawrence spoke for four hours and twenty-three minutes on the Flouridation Bill in 1985, and my predecessor, Rhodri Morgan, once managed two hours and forty minutes on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

But on this occasion, with more than one hundred written requests from members, Mr Speaker placed a ten-minute limit on contributions.

Even so there was still no chance for new members to be called. I do admire Huw Irranca Davies, the MP for Ogmore, who tested this unsuccessfully by trying to catch the Speaker's eye for more than eight hours.

But there are other ways to get your point across. Some chose to register a protest by voting on a technical motion on whether the House should adjourn.

I managed to express my concern in a private meeting with the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and also publicly on BBC Radio 4.

What has really alarmed Government back benchers is the new so-called ‘Bush Doctrine' announced by the US President last week, of striking at those countries judged to be a threat before they've actually done anything.

As Jon Owen Jones, MP for Cardiff Central, pointed out, there isn't actually anything new in this.
It was a doctrine developed by Welsh Rugby coach Carwyn James during the 1971 Lions rugby tour to New Zealand, and refined on the 1974 tour of South Africa as the '99 call'.

The doctrine was ‘get your retaliation in first' combined with a philosophy of ‘one in, all in'.

It may have been a suitable way to meet the physical threat of the All Blacks and Springboks on the rugby field in the 1970's. But it is hardly the basis for building stability and lasting peace in the world of international diplomacy of the twenty-first century.