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Philip Davies MP and the process of filibustering in Parliament

24th March 2017

Parliament

On February 24th, Conservative MP Philip Davies spent one and a half hours introducing 50 minor amendments to a Bill in a bid to prevent it from passing. The process, known as “filibustering”, has been used by the Shipley MP multiple times to stop bills from progressing through the parliamentary stages.

According to an article by the Huffington Post: “Davies was accused of ‘wasting time’ and being ‘a shame on our democracy’ by speaking for so long that new tables by MPs would fail to be debated and voted on in time.” He has attempted to block laws to help prevent violence against women and legislation to impose tougher sentencing for crimes of animal cruelty. But the filibustering process is perfectly legal. On the Parliament website, the exact definition states: “Filibustering is to deliberately waste time during a debate by making overlong speeches or raising unnecessary procedural points.”

Filibustering dates back all the way to the times of Ancient Rome, where the process was supposedly used in response to Julius Caesar’s land reform bill.  Labour MP John Golding spoke for over 11 hours in an all-night sitting at the committee stage of the British Telecommunications Bill in 1983. Though filibustering exists in legal systems all over the world, as those in legal jobs will be aware, campaigners are rising up against the process in the UK.

An article in the Huffington Post in April 2016 reported the Parliament’s Procedure Committee warned against filibustering, stating it is “is leaving the public feeling bemused and angry’. Almost a year later, little has changed. Philip Davies’ attempts to halt a Bill hailed by campaign group IC Change as “the most comprehensive legal framework on ending violence against women and girls”, angered UK citizens and cross-party MPs. SNP MP Dr Eildih Whiteford, who introduced the Bill, gave a speech after Davies’ 90 minute filibustering attempt. According to a report by The Independent, she said: “Grown-up politics is about compromise. Frankly, if there was less grandstanding on our hind legs in this place and more constructive discussion and real work, I think we’d all be much better off.

“I do not need to respond to some of what we’ve heard this morning. I’m aware that the member opposite enjoys being the pantomime villain in this very public theatre and that he genuinely opposes the principles of the Bill. But I have to say that the way that he’s gone about tabling wrecking amendments and talking about them at length this morning does nothing to enhance his reputation or the reputation of the democratic process.”