MPs considering secret speaker vote

Published: Wednesday 25th March 2015 by The News Editor

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MPs will vote tomorrow on whether the Speaker of the House of Commons should be elected in a secret ballot in what some may see as a bid to destabilise John Bercow.

The Government has tabled a motion giving MPs the opportunity to vote on the way the Speaker is elected in response to long-standing calls from the Procedure Committee for secret ballots to elect the Speaker.

The last minute change to the final day of Commons business before May’s general election may be seen as a move to oust Mr Bercow, who has proved a divisive figure.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs will have a free vote on the issue, while Labour has labelled the move a “grubby last-minute plot in the dying hours of the Parliament”.

A spokesman for Commons Leader William Hague said the motion was tabled as a free hour opened up in Thursday’s business after the House of Lords approved the Modern Slavery Bill.

Time had been allocated to debate any Lords amendments to the Bill but peers backed down in a stand off with the Commons, freeing up time.

MPs will also vote on several other measures raised by the Procedure Committee that have not come before the Commons, including on the Deputy Speaker elections and on when amendments to a Bill can be tabled.

Labour MP Jon Ashworth described it as a “last minute plot” to “get Bercow”.

He tweeted: “Tories in Commons jubilant tonight at their little last-minute get Bercow plot. Still the nasty party aren’t they”.

Earlier in the chamber, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle described the motion as a “surprise” on the final day before the dissolution of Parliament and said Labour had not been consulted.

Raising a point of order in the Commons, Ms Eagle told Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle: “It’s just come to my attention that the Government has tabled a motion for debate on the final day of this Parliament, with no notice whatsoever to myself as shadow leader of the House, proposing changes to the way in which the Speaker of this House is elected – procedural matters in this House, with no consultation with the Opposition, no consultation with the chair of the committee itself, for debate in only one hour tomorrow.

“Is this in order? Do you believe the procedures of this House should be bandied around in Government in this way, that we should have surprises delivered to us in this manner on the last day of the first ever fixed-term Parliament, which attempts to influence results of the first thing that will happen in the next Parliament with no chance for large numbers of people, who have no knowledge that this was happening, to participate?”

Mr Hoyle replied: “This was – rightly or wrongly, whichever the House may decide – agreed to yesterday as I understand it and as we know all business of the House is decided by the Government, not by the chair.

“So it’s not a matter for the chair.”

Labour’s John Spellar (Warley) asked if the motion was signed off by the coalition or was a Conservative Party proposal.

Mr Hoyle replied: “This is agreed business of the Government.”

Both Mr Hague’s spokesman and a Lib Dem source said it was important to give MPs the chance to consider the cross-party Procedure Committee’s recommendations, as is customary.

The committee has been calling for MPs to be given the opportunity to decide whether the Speaker should face a secret ballot after being re-elected to Parliament in the general election.

Mr Bercow was first elected as Speaker in a secret ballot following the resignation of Michael Martin – now Lord Martin of Springbank – at the height of the expenses crisis.

He was elected by secret ballot in 2009, beating rival candidates including Tory Sir George Young and Labour’s Margaret Beckett.

As is traditional, he stood in the 2010 general election as the Speaker, with the main parties not competing in his Buckingham seat.

Following his victory in Buckingham he returned to Westminster and resumed his role as Speaker, having been re-elected unopposed by acclaim in the Commons chamber.

A small number of MPs tried to force a vote on Mr Bercow’s future as Speaker but their calls were overwhelmed by a roar of approval for his continued tenure and the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, refused to order a formal division.

A copy of the proposal outlines a secret ballot would take place if there is any opposition to Mr Bercow – should he be re-elected as an MP – being returned as speaker in the next Parliament.

Published: Wednesday 25th March 2015 by The News Editor

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