Web links: Chapter 13
Who are the small parties?
Use Parliament’s state of the parties list to find out how many parties have representation in the House of Commons, alongside the two main parties. Alternatively, go to Parliament’s list of MPs and filter by party to find out who the smaller party MPs are.
Funding for small parties
All opposition parties receive public funds to support their parliamentary work, known as Short Money. You can see how much Short Money parties receive here. If parties have lost votes or seats at a General Election, the short money they receive will be reduced in the following parliament. When the Green party lost funding in the 2017 Parliament they turned to a crowdfunding campaign to ensure that they could maintain their parliamentary support team in the Commons. This was later mirrored by Jenny Jones, the only Green Peer in the House of Lords, who began a similar campaign.
Small party rights
The Standing Orders of the House of Commons barely mention political parties. Can you find any? There are references to committee appointments being made according to the ‘composition of the House’. In an interview with The Independent in April 2015, Caroline Lucas talked about her experience of being an MP, including how small party MPs will receive the smallest offices in the Palace of Westminster.
Small party strategies in the House of Commons
The debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill on 6th and 7th February 2017 demonstrated the difficulties faced by small parties in the House of Commons chamber. When the SNP’s MPs struggled to contribute to the second reading debate on the first day (6th February), the party whip asked the Speaker if he would allow a further SNP contribution. Joanna Cherry (SNP) was called, but wanted to speak beyond the time limit given by Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. The following point of order raised by Alex Salmond saw a heated debate about the right of a small party MP to speak and the SNP’s concern that the Commons was not able to hear Scottish voices in such an important debate. Watch the exchanges here.
When SNP MP Patrick Grady was called to speak in the debate on the bill the following day (7th February) he held the floor for nearly an hour, letting other SNP MPs intervene on his speech. It was a clever strategy to enable his party to make a bigger contribution to the debate. Watch his full speech and his colleagues’ interventions on Parliament TV.
Calls for greater small party rights
In May 2014, SNP MP Pete Wishart gave oral evidence to the Procedure Committee requesting that smaller parties receive representation on the Backbench Business Committee as full members (see the written transcript here). He described how small party MPs can feel like ‘second class citizens’ in the House of Commons. Following the session, the Committee Chair Charles Walker confirmed that the committee would recommend that a place on the committee be reserved for members of ‘minority’ parties.