A few days ago, Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley, effectively blocked a proposed law to introduce free hospital parking for carers by deploying a tactic known as filibustering. Aided and abetted by Tory MPs Christopher Chope and David Nuttall, he voiced his opposition to the bill until all the time allocated for the debate was used up.
The private member’s bill had been tabled by Julie Cooper, Labour MP for Burnley, and proposed full exemption to hospital parking charges for carers. Insisting that the charges place an unfair financial burden on those caring for disabled, seriously ill or infirm friends and relatives, Cooper described her experience of caring for her own mother when she was in hospital. “Each night when I left tired and distressed I queued up to pay for my parking,” she said. “At that time it was costing me £40 a week. On one of those days driving out of the car park, it occurred to me that I was lucky because I could afford to pay this charge and I went on to reflect on the matter and I thought: what about those people who can’t afford to pay?”
Davies countered that the proposals would mean “higher car parking charges for everybody else who visits the hospital in order to protect that revenue stream for the hospitals”.
The bill now rejoins the back of the queue of Private Members’ bills.
Even more recently, Alistair Burt, the Tory health minister, filibustered the proposed Off-Patent Drugs Bill, despite the fact that the plan had cross-party support from backbenchers.
Whatever we may think of the merits or demerits of either set of proposals, it surely cannot be right that legislative procedure can be sabotaged in this way by one or two people’s selfish interests. Also referred to as ‘talking out a bill’ or ‘talking a bill to death’, filibustering is derived from the Dutch word for ‘pirate’ and became popular way back in the middle of the 19th century. On December 2 2005, Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, spoke for three hours and 17 minutes to block the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Property) Bill.
When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done. And that is not what we want from our elected representatives. Filibustering should be prevented by the imposition of time limits on speeches. It is a time-honoured dirty tactic that has no place in a modern democracy.