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Parliament as the ‘Voice of the Nation’

Below are two examples where Parliament has reflected the voice of nation or public opinion.

The Norway Debate

Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister had carried out a policy of appeasement of Germany before 1939 and, forced to enter the war when Poland was invaded, was a poor wartime prime Minister. The sudden attack by Hitler on Norway exposed how badly prepared Britain was.

Chamberlain defended his policy in a debate on the issue and implied that the Conservative whips would ensure Government support in the vote, which the Opposition Labour Party had forced, as the Conservative had a majority of 213 from the 1935 General Election.

There were devastating speeches from Sir Roger Keyes, a Conservative MP and former Admiral, who criticised military policy, from Leo Amery, a former Conservative Minister, who echoed the words of Cromwell to the Long Parliament, “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing ……In the name of God go” and Lloyd George, the Prime Minister who won the First World War, who replied sarcastically, “Hitler does not hold himself answerable to the whips” and called on Chamberlain to resign.

The Government majority fell to 81 as many Conservative MPs voted against or abstained”. Chamberlain, seriously weakened, tried to form a coalition with Labour but they refused to join while he was Prime Minister and he had to resign and Churchill replaced him.

The Expenses Scandal

A number of MPs had warned that the system of claiming expenses for improvements to the second homes that MPs needed in London and the ability to make their other home their second home and claim for that as well was leading to abuses. When the Daily Telegraph exposed what a few MPs had been claiming there was a huge public reaction against Parliament.

The Speaker, Michael Martin, had presided over the expenses system and had moved too slowly to avert the scandal. In the debate in June 2009, senior MPs from both sides, not implicated in the scandal, bitterly attacked the Speaker when normally the Speaker is seen as above reproach. Sir Patrick Cormack, an expert on the history of Parliament referred to the Norway debate.

Although there was no vote on the issue the Speaker resigned the next day, the first Speaker to be forced out by the Commons in over 300 years.