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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Anatomy of a Debate: Part 2

So, at 2.30pm the afternoon session begins. On our chairs we find Order Paper III, which explains (unsurprisingly) the order in which items will be voted upon. It is therefore our first indication of how the debate will progress. You can read the whole thing by following the link, but the bit that is relevant for our debate is reproduced below:

Ms Vasantha Gnanadoss (Southwark) to move:
11. 'That this Synod, noting that in 2004 the Association of Chief Police Officers adopted a policy whereby:
"no member of the Police Service, whether police officer or police staff, may be a member of an organization whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the general duty to promote race equality" and "this specifically includes the British National Party",
request the House of Bishops to formulate and implement a comparable policy for the Church of England, to apply to clergy, ordinands, and such employed lay persons as have duties that require them to represent or speak on behalf of the Church.'

Mr Justin Brett (Oxford) to move as an amendment:
28. Leave out all the words after "That this Synod" and insert "affirm that membership of any organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the promotion of race equality is incompatible with the Apostolic Christian faith.".

If item 28. is lost:
The Ven Norman Russell (Archdeacon of Berkshire) (Oxford) to move as an amendment:
29. For the words "noting that in 2004" to 'British National Party" substitute "recognising that every human being is made in the image of God".
Leave out "comparable"; and
At the end insert ", which makes clear that racism has no place in the life of the Church.".

If item 28. is lost and whether or not item 29. is carried:
Mr Tim Hind (Bath & Wells) to move as an amendment:
30. Leave out "clergy, ordinands, and such employed lay persons as have duties that" and insert "persons whose duties".

So, despite the fact that mine was submitted last, it will be the first amendment to be voted upon. If it is passed, then the other two amendments become irrelevant. If it is not passed then the next to be voted on will be Norman Russell's. Whether or not that one is passed, Tim Hind's will then be put to the vote next, and after that we go back to the main motion, in whatever form it now stands. Before we continue, one point is worth making at this stage. You may or may not have noticed, but in this whole amendment process, at no point do we see anything other than the changed text in an amendment. In Norman's this is particularly important - if you look at the previous blog post you will see that it makes some very particular changes to the look and feel of the motion that are not easily seen from the Order Paper text.

Now we have the Order paper, and the Archbishop has given his Presidential Address, so it is time for the Bishop of Gloucester to take the chair. This is the point at which we get our second indication of how the debate is going to progress. I said above that the order paper determines the order of voting (although this can be changed by the Chairman of the debate) but it does not determine the order of debate. That is determined by the Chairman, and in this case the Chairman's first act is to lay out the following programme. The motion will be introduced, and moved, by its proposer. She will have up to 10 minutes. There will then follow a debate on the substantive motion. After some speeches, each person who has proposed an amendment will be asked to speak to his amendment but not to move it. There will then be further speeches focused upon the amendments, after which the amendments will be formally moved and voted upon. There will then be a further debate on the main motion - as amended or not - before it is put to the vote.

I suspect I might need to put my debaters anorak on for a moment. To speak to a motion or amendment means just that - to make a speech about it. To move something in debate has a very specific meaning - it opens the clause, motion, amendment or whatever up to debate, but it also means that discussion may only be about that particular item until it has been voted upon. Moreover, when an amendment to a motion is moved, the proposer of the original motion has an immediate right of reply before there is any other debate. So, the Chairman's ordering of business this afternoon effectively separates the proposer's speech for each amendment from the response to it, and also from the specific debate about it. It was at this point that I realised all three of us proposing amendments were going to be stitched up.

This was always going to be a frustrating debate - after all, you're not going to get anyone standing up and saying that they support the BNP in the middle of Synod, which means that it would focus upon what we do about the fact that we all think racism is wrong. Inevitably that is pickier and more messy. What actually happened was a procession of speeches mostly saying exactly the same thing - Something Must Be Done - with variations on the something. None of the amendment speeches was received with particular enthusiasm, and the speeches from the floor that followed were not really that engaged with the amendments. When it came to the process of formal movement and debate, mine fell after it was effectively killed of by the Archbishop of York. The Archbishop of Canterbury managed a similar hatchet-job on Norman's amendment, despite a last minute attempt to rescue it from the Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity.

I need to put the anorak back on for a minute, don't I. It is entirely at the Chairman's discretion who gets to speak in a debate. People fill in 'request to speak' forms, which sometimes help the Chairman decide who to call, but essentially it is his business how he balances the debate and whom he calls. However, there are some people whom he ignores at his peril... If either of the Archbishops, either of the Prolocutors (Chairs of the Houses of Clergy for Canterbury and York) or the Chair or Vice-Chair of the House of Laity stand to speak, it is expected that they will be called. Obviously, this can put them in a very good position to influence a debate. Philip Giddings, Lay Vice-Chair, is a particular master of this technique - popping up occasionally like the proverbial demon king. Sadly, it did not work this time.

Tim Hind's amendment was dispatched with slightly more debate, but it too fell - by one vote as it turned out - and we were back to the main motion. A few speeches later and it was all over. The motion was, of course, passed overwhelmingly, but it wasn't passed nem. con. I will put the actual figures in later - probably tomorrow - but 20 or so abstained and a dozen or so voted against. And now we move on to the next thing...

I might post a little more about this particular issue in due course, but I hope that this rather long pair of posts will have served a useful purpose. What I hope it will do is first reveal a little of the hidden mechanisms behind a debate. It also may well be interesting to compare what account I have left here with whatever appears in the media over the next day or so.

(GS 373)

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