D&S column: A momentous time in the Commons

WESTMINSTER has been a fascinating place to be over the last 12 days. As a new MP, I’ve been inspired by what I have heard, witnessed and participated in.

The House of Commons has seen four hugely significant events in a short space of time – the Strategic Defence Review, the Autumn Statement, a statement on Syria by the Prime Minister, and a debate on airstrikes in Syria culminating in the vote on Wednesday night.

For those who question the relevance of Parliament in the modern age and the role it plays in holding Government to account, these events have demonstrated its importance. The decisions taken in the House of Commons over these 12 days affect us all and have set the course for our nation for the remainder of the Parliament.

The Strategic Defence Review (SDSR) is conducted every five years by a joint committee of the government, armed forces and intelligence services. The SDSR assesses the security threats the UK faces and outlines what capabilities and equipment we are investing in to deal with them.

Next was the Autumn Statement which set out the plan for public finances and spending for this Parliament. To put this in context, these decisions relate to over £4 trillion of future public spending.

After that came the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria last week. He answered over 100 different questions from constituency MPs for over two hours. It is worth noting that the PM’s statement was a response to a report published by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, illustrating the influence of these cross-party committees of backbench MPs. 

Lastly, as I write this column the debate on whether to extend air strikes to Syria is underway and will go on for more than ten hours with over a 150 MPs likely to participate.

In the Other Place, as the House of Lords is referred to in the Commons, my illustrious predecessor William Hague took his seat in the upper chamber last Thursday.

The ceremony whereby a new peer takes his or her place in the House of Lords is called an introduction. It lasts just five minutes but is an historic, slightly solemn, occasion dating from 1621.

William, or Lord Hague of Richmond as he now known officially, was led into the chamber by Black Rod, a senior official of the House perhaps best known for the door-knocking ritual he performs at the State opening of Parliament.

Also part of the procession was the Garter King of Arms who is the principal adviser to the Queen on heraldic matters, a role which dates back to 1415! He was dressed in the most extravagant and colourful uniform covered in coats of arms.

Accompanied by two be-robed supporters, Baroness Stowell, Leader of the House, and Lord Finkelstein, the distinguished Times columnist who worked for William when he led the Conservative Party, Lord Hague took the oath of allegiance. The next stage of his distinguished parliamentary career began on Wednesday when he made his first speech in the Lords. As ever with William, he was humorous and insightful. He also paid tribute to all of you, his former Yorkshire constituents.