Peter Bone is MP for Wellingborough.
We need a biased Speaker in the Commons. I can almost hear the howls of protest now – for that sounds like an indefensible proposition. For everyone says that the Speaker must be neutral and not favour one side or the other in Parliament – and that is of course correct.
Unfortunately, however, the current Speaker has not to turned out to be an impartial umpire, but has instead been a player for one of the teams. His decisions over recent months have not just bent the rules in favour of the Remainers, but broken the rules. He has created a situation in which Parliament cannot function properly.
His recent decision to allow a Standing Order 24 motion (emergency debate) to be a substantive rather than a general debate clearly breaks our Standing Orders. These are our Bible as to how our procedures are governed in Parliament. If we can’t rely on our Standing Orders, then Parliament cannot function properly.
The breaking of those Standing Orders led to a major constitutional Bill being rushed through the Commons in about five hours. This is outrageous – and just plain wrong. If the Speaker had not announced his retirement, I have no doubt that he would have faced a motion of censure.
One of the clearest indications of the Speaker’s bias was when he announced his retirement and the opposition side of the Commons stood, cheered and clapped him, while the government benches largely sat stony faced. Any Speaker that receives that sort of response on his retirement must know that he has failed Parliament.
For the first half of the Speaker’s tenure, he implemented wide spread and welcome reforms supporting backbenchers and Parliament against the Executive, but his desire to oppose Brexit and break Parliamentary rules has, in my opinion, greatly sullied his legacy.
Having said all of the above, all Speakers have to be biased in a certain sense. Their judgement on important issues of procedure must be based on a bias towards Parliament and away from the Executive.
It is fundamental to our constitution that the person who umpires the Commons is not batting for one side or the other, therefore, where there is a convention or Standing Orders are clear, the Speaker must make the decision in accordance with them.
However, we do not have a written constitution and many of the decisions the Speaker makes are based on their own judgement. For instance, whether to allow a motion to be put on the Order Paper or not. Let me give you a specific example – Standing Orders say that in any one session of Parliament the question on the same proposition cannot be put more than once. Equally, there is a convention and practice which is widely used that a proposition can be moved “notwithstanding the provision of standing orders”.
Therefore, Standing Orders say that something can’t happen, but there is a regularly used convention to overcome that. In such circumstances, the Speaker can rule that a subject can be voted on again or equally that the motion cannot be put. Now I would hope that a Speaker, where there isn’t clear guidance from convention or standing orders, would rule in favour of Parliament rather than the Executive.
In this regard, the Speaker is rather like an umpire in a cricket match when an appeal is made. Sometimes a batsman is clearly out, and sometimes he is clearly in, on other occasions it is not clear and the umpire must make a judgement call. In the case of cricket, the benefit of doubt will always be given to the batsman. Normally, in those types of cases where a judgement is required in the Commons, the Speaker should always give the benefit of doubt to Parliament and not to the Executive. There is however a gigantic, big but to that general rule – and that is Brexit.
Our sovereign Parliament delegated to the British people the decision of whether we should be in or out of the European Union. Unbelievably, 1,179 days have passed since that referendum and Parliament has not delivered what the people instructed it to do.
So, I would argue, in the case of Brexit, that wherever the question of Brexit arises in the Commons, and the Speaker is required to make a judgement call relating to it, that they should always give the benefit of the doubt toward Brexit and the British people. In these circumstances, the Speaker should be totally biased in favour of Brexit, since that was the decision of the British people, and it should overrule the priority to put Parliament before the Executive. A biased Brexit speaker is essential.