Andy McSmith's Diary: Defenders of the vulnerable - salute the Commons’ dullest committee

 

In an obscure corner of the parliamentary process sits a committee called the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee.

I salute the MPs on it, because the job of reading through obscure regulations to check that they are procedurally correct might be about as exciting as a wet afternoon in Hitchin. There is no political or personal reward in this work, and yet these unsung heroes meet, deliberate and issue reports of resounding dullness, listing the statutory instruments they have examined and to which, in most cases, they have given the okay – most, but not all.

Buried near the bottom of their most recent report there is an excoriating assessment of a statutory instrument from the Justice Department, amending the regulations that allow debt collectors to enter homes and seize property. It concerns the question of whether vulnerable people should be protected from having their belongings seized.

The Ministry of Justice agrees that they should, but since there is no official definition of “vulnerable”, it proposed to rewrite its National Standards for Enforcement Agencies to make it obligatory for debt collectors to be trained to recognise vulnerability and to decide on the spot whether someone is vulnerable or not. In other words, someone mentally ill could have debt collectors turn up, decide they look okay and strip their home of movable belongings.

That will not do, says the Statutory Instruments Committee. To quote its exquisitely worded conclusion: “The committee accordingly reports the use of the undefined expression ‘vulnerable person’ as calling for elucidation incompletely provided in the department’s memorandum.”

Showing a little respect

Yesterday’s Commons session, which deliberated on whether to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union, was unlike any other Friday sitting in living memory. There was the impressive turnout, with 294 MPs plus the Speaker in their places at 9.30am.

And there was the strange silence of James Wharton, the Conservative MP for Stockton South, who tabled the private members’ Bill. The 29-year-old was at one point spotted having a whispered conversation with advisers, and had to be told that only ministers are allowed to do that.

The Labour MP Mike Gapes frivolously suggested that David Cameron could solve that problem by giving the youngster a job. Apart from that, there was not a squeak out of Mr Wharton all morning. He listened while the grown-ups talked.

Wizard of Westminster

Tories in Westminster are holding a £100 “touch of the Orient” dinner, to which guests have to turn up either in evening dress or in fancy dress with an eastern theme. The party chairman, Grant Shapps, will be their special guest. He could go as a Buddhist. He has, after all, been through at least one reincarnation, as the internet wizard Michael Green.

Labour’s air of civility

In the 1995 memoirs of John Cole, the former BBC political editor, there is a passage in which he notes that Gordon Brown had stood aside for his “friend” Tony Blair in 1994. “The leadership election which followed was conducted with a civility that has not always attended such events in the past,” it said. How good they were at keeping up appearances back then.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London