The Parliamentary Labour Party

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The Parliamentary Labour Party
The Parliamentary Labour Party

Africa-Press – Mauritius. 1906 was a historic year for the Labour movement in the UK.

That year saw the Labour Representation Committee change its name to the Labour Party; and it saw a general election at which no less than 29 Labour MPs were elected. At one bound the Labour strength in the House of Commons increased from 4 to 29 — a dramatic increase indeed.

With 29 elected members, and certain support from a number of “Lib-Labs” (as they were called; one indeed joined the Labour Party immediately after his election), the Labour Party at once organized a Parliamentary Labour Party, to which belonged all the Labour MPs Thus 1906 is the year in which the Parliamentary Labour Party was born.

Ever since the foundation of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the MPs who comprise it, have elected a Leader every session. If the Party is called upon to form the government, the Leader becomes the Prime Minister; in time of opposition, the Party Leader is the Leader of the Opposition.

When there is a Labour government, the appointment of Ministers rests with the Prime Minister who does not consult the party as a whole before making appointments.

He probably, indeed doubtless, will consult senior members of the Party before making decisions as to who will fill this, that or the other ministerial post; but I repeat, he does not consult the Party as a whole, nor does he seek their approval of his appointments.

This appointment of all Ministers means, therefore, that in time of Government, the Prime Minister selects all the Party Whips, since the holders of the offices of Whip are all members of the Government.

The Chief Whip is Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury; the Deputy Chief Whip is given an office in the Royal Household; the junior whips are Lords Commissioners on the Treasury.

When the Prime Minister has made his ministerial appointments, the Parliamentary Party as a whole appoints someone, a backbencher, to become Chairman of the Parliamentary Party and to preside at the regular (in practice weekly when the House is sitting) meetings of the Parliamentary Party.

A vice-Chairman is also appointed, and a Committee consisting of the chairman and the vice-chairman of the Parliamentary party, the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House of Commons (who is a Cabinet Minister) forms a liaison committee between the back-benchers and the Prime Minister.

Criticisms of the Prime Minister are conveyed through this committee; and the Cabinet uses this committee to convey to the backbenchers as a whole their reasons for pursuing a particular policy or for taking a certain line of action.

But when, as now, the Parliamentary Party is in opposition, the situation is rather different. The Party Leader is elected at the beginning of every session, a Deputy Leader and a Chief Whip.

If more than one nomination is made for any position, a ballot is held. The Party Leader, when the Party is in opposition, acts as Chairman of the Party and presides at its regular meetings.

(The deputy-leader takes his place in his absence.

) In opposition, too, the Parliamentary Party elects, in addition to the three officials mentioned, a Parliamentary Committee of 12 members. This Parliamentary Committee is popularly known as the “Shadow Cabinet” i. e.

, it is popularly regarded (though it is not necessarily true that it will turn out so) as being composed of the men and women most likely to be in the Cabinet when the Party is next called upon to form a Government.

Normallythere are many more than 12 nominations for the Shadow Cabinet, so that in practice a ballot is always called for; the Shadow Cabinet is elected at the beginning of every session.

The officers of the Parliamentary Party, when it is in opposition, elect the deputy chief whip and the assistant whips. All Labour MPs are members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Membership of this party implies acceptance of the code of conduct laid down for the members of the Party: this code of conduct is contained in the Standing Orders of the Parliamentary Labour Party which can be found printed in the appendices to the annual reports of the Labour Party.

There are six orders altogether; the first says bluntly and specifically: “The privilege of membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party involves the acceptance of the decisions of the Party Meeting. The Party recognises the right of individual members to abstain from voting on matters of deeply held personal conscientious conviction. ”

In other words, if the Parliamentary Party decides on a certain course of action, then all members of the Party (whether or not they were present at the meeting which took the decision) are bound to support that course of action.

The only escape clause is the clause regarding “deeply held personal conscientious conviction”. Two examples will help to explain what that means. Suppose the Party decides to vote in favour of increased armaments expenditure.

Any individual member who was a pacifist would be free to exercise his right not to support the party on this issue since his pacifism would rightly be regarded as a deeply held personal conviction.

Or, if the Party decided to vote for a reduction in the money to be spent on the navy and the naval dockyards, a member representing a naval constituency would be allowed not to support the Party on this issue, since the welfare of his constituents would be affected.

The right of abstention is, it will be noted, reserved to individual members. That is in order to prevent the formation of pressure groups inside the Parliamentary Party which might try and influence the Party by a concerted threat to abstain from supporting the Party on some controversial matter.

Other Standing Orders lay down the procedure to be followed when the Parliamentary Party wishes to withdraw the Labour Whip from any member; i. e. , when it wishes to expel any member, or suspend any member,from Party membership.

The procedure for dealing with breaches of Party discipline, where these have been persistent, is dealt with; and the orders give the Party the right to amend, rescind, alter, add to, suspend, or reinstate Standing Orders under such conditions as the Party itself may decide.

Standing Order no. 5, like Standing Order no. 1 quoted above, ensures concerted Party action. It says: “For the purpose of securing concerted action in the House, Members shall consult the officers of the Parliamentary Party before tabling any motion, amendment or prayer, or other proposal which may involve Party policies or decisions.

” (Note -the word”prayer” in this context is a technical parliamentary phrase used principally for the method of debating, or attempting to get the annulment of, a statutory instrument or Order in Council).

In other words, all Labour MPs undertaketo do or say nothing which may involve Party policy or decisions without first consulting the officers of the Parliamentary Party.

This is a voluntary abrogation of their pure freedom of action inside the House; it is voluntary abrogation in the interests of efficient Party Government.

An important aspect of the organisation of theParliamentaryLabour Party is the existence of Groups. There are a number of such Groups which deal with certain subjects, education, the colonies, local government and so on.

Any member of the Parliamentary Party may belong to any group; in practice, of course, members join those groups which deal with the subjects in which they have particular interest or experience.

The groups discuss party policy on the subjectmatter of the particular group; in opposition, the groups give detailed consideration to the Government’s proposals; in Government, the groupsare an additional bridge between the Cabinet and the back-benches.

Thegroups do not exclusively confine their discussions to their ownmembership; the Education Group, for example, has discussions from time to time with a body such as the National Association of Labour Teachers, so from the serving teachers who form the membership of that Association the Education Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party can hear what the rank-and-file of the teaching profession think of the Labour Party’s education policy, and so on.

Also, the Party has area groups, which are constituted geographically and consider any proposals which affect specific areas – e. g. Scotland, Wales, seaside resorts, Lancashire, East Anglia.

But in any form of Leg Council Labour Party organisation which might be introduced in Mauritius, area groups would obviously be one refinement which would be unnecessary in view of the small size of the island.

Meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party are, by the way, private and no outsiders are permitted. It is a gross breach of confidence for any member to reveal outside what has transpired at a Party meeting.

If it is desired to let the outside world know what has happened, then an official press statement will be issued through the news agencies. If Party Government is to come to Mauritius, and I see no valid reason why it should not, then clearly some form of Legco Party organisation will be needed.

I hope the foregoing will be of use and interest to those members of the public, as well as to MLCs, who are actively interested in public affairs and who would like to see the party system working properly in Mauritius.

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