Ms Vaz had to contend with thuggish barracking from the government side, such that deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing had to intervene on occasions. Ms Vaz anticipated the argument that Labour would do the same in the Tories' place:
In 1974, the minority Labour Administration had a Government majority on the Committee of Selection, but it appointed Standing Committees with no overall majority. That is, there were Committees with equal numbers. In October 1974, there was a Government majority and that was reflected in the Committees. In April 1976, when the Government lost their overall majority, a motion was passed that stated that the Committee of Selection would appoint Committees with a Government majority only when the Government had an overall majority. That was the Harrison motion. From that point, the Committee of Selection nominated Standing Committees of equal numbers. That was a Labour Government being honourable.
Alistair Carmichael said in moving the Liberal Democrat amendment:
The most important job that we as Opposition Members of this Parliament have to do is scrutiny, which is why the composition of the Committees to which we commit Bills upstairs matters. That is why it is, in fact, a matter of quite fundamental principle. I think that we might all acknowledge that, from time to time in this House, we indulge in a little bit of hyperbole, occasionally even straying into polemic.
I think of some of the matters that the right hon. Gentleman [Oliver Letwin, the previous speaker] and I opposed during the years of the Blair-Brown Government. One example is when they tried to extend detention without charge to 90 days. I remember also the passage of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. He and I and others described them then as constitutional outrages—it was a “power grab” and an “affront to democracy”. I may even on occasion have indulged in a small measure of hyperbole and rhetoric myself. [Hon. Members: “No!”] We all do it. I am reminded that when Paddy Ashdown was leader of my party, it was a joke popular among other parties—obviously not to me or the media at the time—that the message on his answering machine was, “Thank you for calling Paddy Ashdown. I am not able to take your call. Please leave your message after the high moral tone.” We have all done it, but the difficulty that is caused by relying on rhetoric and hyperbole is that it is difficult then to know what to say when we come across a proposal such as that which the Government bring to the House today. I can describe it as others have done as a, “constitutional outrage”. I can say, as others have done, that it is an affront to democracy. However, to say that suggests that that is somehow just the same as those measures that we have previously described in those terms, but it is not. It is much worse. It is an obnoxious measure for which I know of no precedent in my time in the House.
In this country, we do not have a written constitution. We proceed much of the time according to the process of convention and principle, and so it is also for the ordering of our proceedings in this House. Here, too, we often rely on the process of convention and precedence. It is a delicate system of checks and balances. I am certainly not saying that it is one that is incapable of improvement. I have supported many improvements to it over the years, but we have to approach these matters in a rather more holistic manner than is being taken by the Government tonight. Once we start removing these checks and balances, we risk at least one of two things.
First, we can bring the machinery of Parliament to a grinding halt, and tonight the Government risk breaking our machinery beyond repair. The alternative prospect is that we raise the possibility of other parts of the system reacting in a way that is designed to compensate for our breaking of the checks and balances.