Parliamentary ping-pong is a phrase used to describe a phenomenon in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, in which a bill appears to rapidly bounce back and forth between the two chambers like a ping-pong ball bounces between the players in a game of table tennis.
"Lutte a la corde" (French, meaning tug of war, lit. "struggle of the rope") is an older term for Parliamentary ping-pong. Believed to derive from the Norman French, in recent times it has fallen out of common usage.
The British Parliament is bicameral, consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The rule is that before a Bill can receive the Royal Assent and become law, it must be passed in its final form by both the Commons and the Lords without changes. If one of the Houses makes any change or amendment to it, the other House has to agree to those changes, or make counter-changes of its own, in which case it returns to the other House.
The debates in which the Bill is considered are usually scheduled weeks or months apart. However, in some circumstances the normal legislative procedure is radically accelerated to the extent that the proposed law, or Bill, appears to bounce back and forth between the two chambers like a ping-pong ball.
However, in certain circumstances when there is a non-negotiable time limit, and the two Houses disagree vehemently on the matter, this process can be speeded up to less than six hours per cycle, and carries on until one of the sides caves in.
Usually the time limit is imposed by the end of the Parliamentary session when all business, including incomplete Bills, simply gets erased from the books and has to start again. This usually occurs at the State Opening of Parliament some time in November; Parliament can continue working on the previous year right up to the night before. Another instance is the wash-up period of a few days between the calling of a general election and the ensuing dissolution.
An example: the Prevention of Terrorism Bill
An extreme example of ping-ponging began on the night of 10 March 2005 and ran for thirty hours. The Bill in question was the Prevention of Terrorism Bill 2005, necessary to create the control order so that the 10 terrorist suspects imprisoned under recently nullified Part IV of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 could be prevented from walking free. The dispute was over whether the Bill should have a sunset clause. The timetable of this session ran as follows:
10 March 2005
- House of Lords — 11:31am to 3:00pm
- House of Commons — 6:00pm to 7:37pm
- House of Lords — 10:15pm to 11:26pm
11 March 2005
- House of Commons — 1:20am to 2:39am
- House of Lords — 5:00am to 5:56am
- House of Commons — 8:00am to 9:13am
- House of Lords — 11:40am to 1:11pm
- House of Commons — 3:30pm to 4:00pm
- House of Lords — 6:30pm to 7:00pm
The Bill received Royal assent at 7:20pm on 11 March 2005.
Other recent examples
- Alternative Vote debate in February 2011
- ID Cards debate in March 2006
- House of Commons and House of Lords transcripts for 10 March 2005.
- Education Bill in July 2002
- George Jones (16 March 2006). "Peers and MPs to play 'ping pong'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- Patrick Wintour and Alan Travis (12 March 2005). "The longest day". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
- "MPs in twin stand-off with Lords". BBC News online. 16 March 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- "House of Commons debates, Thursday, 10 March 2005". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 2007-11-22.