Commons chaos: Can the Speaker survive a monumental misjudgement? (Parliament Matters: Episode 21)

22 Feb 2024
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, chairing a session of Prime Minister's Questions. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)
The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, chairing a session of Prime Minister's Questions. ©UK Parliament / Maria Unger (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)

There were chaotic scenes in the House of Commons this week - as bad as anything seen during the Brexit convulsions – as the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle made a hash of handling the SNPs Opposition Day debate on a ceasefire in Gaza. Furious MPs signed a motion expressing no confidence in the Chair. But why and how did the Speaker end up in this position and can he survive?

Is it really a big deal or is it just political game-playing? Has a rubicon been crossed if the Speaker contravened the letter and the spirit of the Commons rules to protect MPs and their families from threats and intimidation outside Parliament? And what on earth will the public make of it all?

It's reported in a new biography of Keir Starmer that a future Labour Government would make use of Citizens' Assemblies to help resolve contentious issues. So Mark and Ruth also discuss whether this is just the latest constitutional fad or a useful addition to the public policy process.

Please note, this transcript is automatically generated. There are consequently minor errors and the text is not formatted according to our style guide. If you wish to reference or cite the transcript copy below, please first check against the audio version above. Timestamps are provided above each paragraph.

00:00:00:00 - 00:00:32:24 You are listening to Parliament Matters. Hansard Society Production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn More at Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy. Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox and I'm Mark D'Arcy. Coming up, as bad as anything seen during the Brexit years, the House of Commons made a hash of debating one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time, Gaza. 00:00:33:04 - 00:00:53:02 The Speaker apologises to MPs for his handling of the debate. But will that be enough to save him? A constitutional fad or a useful addition to making public policy: are citizens’ assemblies worth having? 00:00:53:04 - 00:01:14:12 But first, truth is part of the charm of the House of Commons. I suppose you look at the agenda, you think this looks like a bit of a quiet week. Then bedlam breaks loose. And so it was on Wednesday when Mr. Speaker Hoyle's decision to allow Labour to put down an amendment to an SNP motion on Gaza caused absolute havoc in the Chamber of the Commons. 00:01:14:13 - 00:01:41:05 The speaker ended up apologizing to MPs and I can't recall the Speaker ever having to apologise to MP for a ruling that had gone wrong before. Not John Bercow, Not even Michael Martin, certainly not Betty Boothroyd. So there was a really unprecedented, utterly remarkable scene when M.P.s were supposed to be debating what, as you say, was one of the great humanitarian tragedies of our time, the tens of thousands of lives being lost in Gaza. 00:01:41:07 - 00:02:12:10 What you actually got was MPs getting incredibly angry about a procedural detail that will simply be lost on most of the people who are watching that debate. And I suspect, incidentally, quite a lot of people were watching that debate on television and online. Yeah, I mean, my sense was exactly that. It's interesting. I was stood at the train station platform coming home on Wednesday evening and two youngish women were stood debating, discussing exactly what on earth had gone on and what happened and why, and basically were pretty damning about the scenes that they were witnessing. 00:02:12:11 - 00:02:35:14 Yeah, it was a huge outbreak of party game playing alongside this incredibly serious issue. And no one pretends, I think for an instant that the verdict of the House of Commons on what's going on in Gaza is going to have the slightest influence on events in the Middle East. It's not as if Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet or the leadership of Hamas were waiting with bated breath to discover the verdict of the House of Commons here. 00:02:35:16 - 00:03:00:22 But it mattered in the sense that these awful events have been unfolding for weeks and weeks now, and the House of Commons really needed to take a view. And so the House of Commons tried to take a view and ended up talking about itself. Yeah, and that I think that sort of sums up the problem when you get these difficult issues, the House of Commons processes and procedures don't really allow it to come to a consensual view. 00:03:00:24 - 00:03:22:05 It's stuck in this binary position. It's sort of one side or the other and where you've got multiple options or multiple choices, multiple sort of forms of phrasing, there isn't a process and a procedure that enables the house to reach a consensual view. And consequently you get this partisanship and you mix that then with the unhappiness of minor parties. 00:03:22:05 - 00:03:43:15 In this case, the third party, the SNP, really, really angry about feeling that their opportunity in the House of Commons this week to take the initiative, set out a case and have the House vote on it, it was ripped from them. Well, we don't see it. It's not as if the smaller parties in the House of Commons get much of a slice of the procedural pie anyway. 00:03:43:17 - 00:04:20:01 I think the SNP has about three days of debates a year . No, a session. I beg your pardon. And then that can be more than a year of course. And they have to sort of cede some of that to the smaller still parties, the Lib-Dems and the DUP and so forth. So having the big boys muscle in on some of their very scarce time is pretty infuriating for them just on general principles and on this issue when they have this carefully designed political trap which would have caused the Labour Party to go into absolute contortions, possibly seen frontbench resignations, all sorts of other stuff to have that dashed from their lips 00:04:20:01 - 00:04:38:16 was something that they are absolutely furious about. The fury of the SNP leader Stephen Flynn over the Speaker's ruling was something to see. I suppose we better go back to the beginning really and unpick what had happened exactly here. First of all, this was an SNP opposition day debate. They get to choose the subject, they get to choose the motions. 00:04:38:16 - 00:04:55:09 Some days they will actually have two debates in the allotted time and they'll be quite short debates. This time it was going to be two, but it went down to one because of time wasting tactics that have been going on earlier. So that's the start of it. Now then you have the speaker delivering what was a pretty unusual ruling. 00:04:55:11 - 00:05:17:18 Yes. So on opposition days, you have to think about the political choreography a little differently. So for the purposes of this debate, the SNP, the third party in the House has the initiative. It's its debate, its motion, and the government is in effect in the role of the main party of opposition to it. And Labour for the purposes of this debate, is effectively the third party normally occupied by the SNP. 00:05:17:18 - 00:05:39:10 So they could expect to be bystanders. Yeah. And there were actually three amendments. It was the government amendment, the Labour amendment, and there was a Liberal Democrat amendment. So all the main parties put their amendments down. It would have been unprecedented for the Speaker, not to have selected the amendment from the Government to an opposition day motion unless it was deemed disorderly, if it was something sort of technically wrong with it. 00:05:39:10 - 00:06:00:10 But there wasn't in this case. And having selected the government amendment, the question is then that the speaker confronted was was it was he going to select one of the others? And normal practice is not to. We've seen opposition amendments selected when there hasn't been a government amendment, but when there's been a government amendment, the practice is you've got the main motion and the government amendment. 00:06:00:10 - 00:06:26:02 You don't have a further opposition party amendment, but that's what the Speaker chose to do. He chose to select the Second Amendment from the Labour Party and that meant, under the quirks of the Standing Orders, the Labour amendment was voted on. First, the choreography here, which I think Mr. Speaker was expecting to happen, was that there would be a vote on the Labour amendment and the Government and the SNP would vote that amendment down. 00:06:26:04 - 00:06:43:12 Then there would be a vote on the SNP position. Yeah, and the Government would vote that down and then there'd be a vote on the government amendment and that would be what the Commons would pass. That was that's the way of things because the government has a majority in the Commons. So that was what he expected to happen. 00:06:43:14 - 00:07:02:22 And then the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, pulled the rug out from under that in mid debate by announcing that the Government would take no further part in the debate, wouldn't move its amendment and chaos ensued. Yeah, I mean, it's interesting. At the beginning of the debate when he announced his decision on this election, there was obviously a lot of furor there, a lot of angry voices. 00:07:02:22 - 00:07:22:20 There were calls on him to resign. They were saying, the new bercow's making up the rules. If he goes along, then it quieted down and the debate did start and ran on for several hours. And it was a little bit heated in places. But then towards the end of the debate, yeah, Penny Mordaunt suddenly appears at the dispatch box to make a point of order. 00:07:22:24 - 00:07:59:23 So this was the Deputy Speaker by that time in the chair and suddenly announces that because of what has happened and the way in which it's been done, basically the government is withdrawing so it won't have put its amendment to the House to be voted on. And the heavy politics of all this was that by putting a Labour proposition on the table to be voted on, the government got the Labour Party off rather a nasty hook, because otherwise the only option for Labour MPs who wanted to show to their constituents that they supported an immediate ceasefire in Gaza would have been to vote for the SNP motion. 00:08:00:00 - 00:08:35:14 And that was a motion that was a bit unpalatable to a lot of people on the Labour side because, for example, it talked about collective punishment by Israel, of the Palestinian people, which is essentially accusing Israel of a crime under international law, which is somewhere Labour didn't really want to go. So there was a bit of difficulty there and you might have seen a position if the Labour amendment hadn't been available to vote on when Labour MPs, including frontbenchers, including possibly even Shadow Cabinet members, might have felt they were forced by constituency pressures into defying the party whip that have been resignations, that have been sackings. 00:08:35:16 - 00:08:56:15 Keir Starmer would have been having to sort of reconstruct his shadow cabinet or his frontbench yet again. The other parties have gleefully have been able to point to Labour chaos, so there was a lot of room footing that Labour avoided because it was able to have a Labour proposition which all this MP could vote for, which did call for a cease fire, but in language they could live with. 00:08:56:19 - 00:09:15:18 Yeah, and one of the suggestions, and I have no way of knowing whether it's true, is that actually one of the reasons that the Conservatives withdrew effectively from the process is because there were possible concerns on their backbenches that actually some of their MPs wanted to vote for the Labour motion, and that would have made life difficult for the Conservatives. 00:09:15:18 - 00:09:35:21 Now, who knows? I mean, you know, there is a lot of sound and fury, there's a lot of allegations being made, a lot of rumors circulating, and a huge amount of contortion around this. And one of the irritating things about these debates is that people sort of blithely pronounce that these are non-binding votes. This is a vote at the House of Commons. 00:09:35:23 - 00:09:58:17 It's non-binding only in the sense that there's no real way to enforce the consequences of it, But it's a vote of the House of Commons. They're actually expressing a distinct opinion in this and in fact, by almost by default ended up passing the Labour motion. But there's no way that the House of Commons can kind of enforce it and make the government call for a cease fire in the terms there without threatening to no confidence. 00:09:58:17 - 00:10:21:17 The government, at which point the conservative majority in the Commons chamber would say no to that. Well, this was the additional bit of chaos then that full opening Mordaunt statement, because actually the voting process then degenerated into a chaotic mess. So William Wragg moved a motion for the House to sit in private, which is not unusual, like motions for that are sometimes moved during each session. 00:10:21:17 - 00:10:40:08 But I think the last time it was actually passed and the House did sit in private was 2001. It was defeated. I mean, what was the point of doing it? Well, I think it was both partly a delaying tactic to get them passed. The final cut off time for the vote, which is called in, in procedural terms, the moment of interruption. 00:10:40:10 - 00:11:05:06 And I think some of them possibly thought that if they got the debate and they were still sort of voting on that, you know, the House should sit in private at 7:00, then the votes on the Labour amendment wouldn't be permitted. They'd be cut off. But actually, that's not how it operates. For years it's been if there is at the cut off time, you know, there's business to be considered, that vote can still take place. 00:11:05:06 - 00:11:27:13 And indeed what did but actually there wasn't a division on that because there's a distinction here between a vote which can be MP shouting I and nay very loudly and the person in the chair deciding on the basis of effectively a Clapometer noise level or a division, which is where they all file through and register votes in person in the voting lobbies on either side of the chamber. 00:11:27:19 - 00:11:52:17 So you can have a vote that's not a division and that's what sort of occurred here. The story is again, rather murky. Rosie Winterton, the deputy speaker who was in the chair at the time, basically took the voices. The whole process I've just described and she didn't apparently hear anyone shouting. No, and that's quite understandable, which is a bit weird because a lot of people quite evidently were shouting No. 00:11:52:23 - 00:12:17:24 And what normally happens is if you got lots of chance, I and lots of shouted no, but then the next thing that happens is that the person in the chair calls “division” and they start voting one by one through the division lobbies and it didn't happen here. And this is just plain weird. I do not understand why it didn't happen, because it quite evidently there were people shouting I and no, to the extent that the division would be the logical next step and it didn't take place. 00:12:17:24 - 00:12:42:16 So the Labour motion was sort of way through very controversially. And then you get the situation where shadow leader of the House Lucy Powell, can stand up at the dispatch box and claim that the Labour amendment has been passed unanimously, which then just led to another storm of outrage on the conservative MSP benches. I mean, I do wonder whether the deputy speaker in the chair whether she just lost track of things. 00:12:42:16 - 00:13:05:01 I mean, she'd had a pretty awful hour, been fairly torrid, very torrid. And I do wonder, you know, a number of employees have been critical of the fact that the speaker had not come back into the chamber to preside over those final proceedings and slammed it to her, because it's normally the deal that the speaker's there for. The really big moments would impose their authority, especially if things are getting a bit rowdy. 00:13:05:03 - 00:13:25:22 And by that time, you know, the leader of the SNP, Stephen Flynn, had already been calling on the speaker to come back saying where is the speaker? You know, how come we drag him back? He said. And then he swiftly corrected himself, How can we bring the speaker back into the chamber? But I mean, the SNP were clearly absolutely furious with the Speaker for allowing Labour to muscle in on their debate. 00:13:25:23 - 00:13:55:09 Yeah, and I think that is fair point. I think the SNP, you can criticize them for putting this very contentious proposition to the House, knowing full well how difficult it is for MPs of all parties in their constituencies across the country. But at the end of the day, something the SNP feel passionately about, it's their opportunity to have the House debate and vote on an issue that they want to put and no opportunity had been provided by anybody else. 00:13:55:09 - 00:14:25:15 I mean, Labour could have used one of their opposition days in the last few weeks and months to have a motion on the subject. The Government could have put down a motion on this subject and it was left to the SNP to do it. Yeah, and part of the issue here is that the way opposition days are structured, the rules, the procedures which have been developed, you know, many years ago in a time when we had Tea Party politics, we have with the SNP having a considerable number of champions in the House, they don't see the Government necessarily all the time as the main party of opposition for them in Scotland. 00:14:25:15 - 00:14:50:13 Labour is and they are interested, you know, in a normal opposition day when it's the Government Labour, it's about the Labour Party wanting to put criticism to get the Government on the hook on a point with a problem of policy or a weakness or putting their own policies in the a shop window. For the SNP, it's a different calculation, absolutely, not least because the main electoral threat to the SNP clearly comes from the Labour Party. 00:14:50:13 - 00:15:12:01 And you can tell that from the way that so many of the questions that a leader deploys at Prime Minister's questions are actually aimed at Labour rather than Rishi Sunak that I find is directed very much at Labour and this was a maneuver that could have got Labour into quite a lot of trouble. Yeah, and it didn't. And people will take a view on that depending upon whether they are inclined to be more supportive or less supportive of the SNP. 00:15:12:01 - 00:15:32:22 But at the end of the day, procedurally, in terms of the House of Commons position, this was the SNP's moment, one of only three. They get, as you say, in the parliamentary session and in effect, as Stephen Flynn himself said, you know, what should have been an opposition day for the SNP became an opposition day for Labour by dint of the Speaker's selection. 00:15:33:00 - 00:15:54:03 And none of the smaller parties want that precedent to stick because it could just as easily be done to the DUP or the Lib Dems or anybody else. Yeah, this is a long standing issue that the Commons, as you were saying earlier, finds it very difficult to process politics when there's more than two views during Brexit the indicative votes during Brexit where they got into terrible tangles. 00:15:54:05 - 00:16:14:22 But in the meantime there's now quite a bill of indictment building up against Mr. Speaker Hoyle. Yeah, I mean, he is in, I think, quite considerable difficulty, I should say that for listeners benefit. We are recording this in our studio in Soho. It's sort of lunchtime on the Thursday, so the day after the events we're talking about and the House of Commons is still sitting. 00:16:14:22 - 00:16:34:13 So we're keeping a wary eye on what's happening in the Commons chamber to see if there's any developments. And by the time you get this in your feed over the coming days, events might have moved on. So very conscious of that. But yeah, I think he's in difficulty. He said at the outset his rationale for selecting the amendment was that it's a highly sensitive subject. 00:16:34:15 - 00:17:13:11 I think everybody can agree on that. Feelings are running high. He thought it was important to consider the widest possible range of options. Problem with that is that's not really the purposes of the opposition by debate necessarily. But also then when he came back to the chamber at the end and as you said earlier, you know, delivered this apology to the House that things had not unfolded as he had expected or had wanted, he sort of indicates that a significant element of his reasoning was that he was concerned about the safety and security of MPs who were coming under immense pressure and facing threats if they didn't vote for a ceasefire. 00:17:13:11 - 00:17:46:06 Yeah, yeah. And I think it's, you know, we can taking away from the sort of taking a step back from the sort of the heat of the moment. So that's actually what worries me most about this whole debacle, because if we're saying that threats, intimidation or threats of violence outside the House of Commons can influence openly the decisions of the chair and can lead to, I would say, a breach of both the spirit and the letter of the rules of the House of Commons. 00:17:46:08 - 00:18:06:15 Where does that ban leaders? That is a very, very dangerous position. Yeah, and that is going to be a huge concern for MP going on now. I mean, is this going to happen with stuff around net zero? Is this going to happen with stuff around Ukraine? Who knows what the next controversy to engage those kind of threats and demonstrations outside peace houses and all the rest of it? 00:18:06:16 - 00:18:28:14 We saw that this week with Tobias Ellwood. You know, his his family home in his constituency. Protesters outside trying to get onto the property and him having to have the police out and he couldn't return home with his family. It's just not on. And no democracy can work very well under those kind of conditions. And the speaker's apology, I think, was really quite a significant moment. 00:18:28:14 - 00:18:57:09 I can't recall ever having seen Betty Boothroyd ever apologise for anything. The original never apologised, never explained. Speaker Michael Martin got into difficulties, but I don't think ever directly apologised for things like his handling of the MP expenses scandal, which ultimately cost him his job. John Bercow never apologised for anything either. No, quite the reverse. This is the first time I've ever seen a speaker come to the House and say I made a ruling and it didn't work the way I thought it was and I'm sorry for that. 00:18:57:12 - 00:19:18:01 Which, to paraphrase, is pretty much what Lindsay Hoyle said. Now, is that a serious moment of weakness? There is quite a lot of pressure building up around. Mr. Speaker. Now there is an early day motion calling for him to resign, tabled by William Wragg, who's the Chair of the Public Administration Committee, and he's also a member of the 1922 committee. 00:19:18:01 - 00:19:43:20 Conservative backbench executive is quite a significant figure in the Commons, and that's now attracted somewhere approaching 60 as we're talking anyway, something approaching 60 signatures. That's a lot. And Wednesday you notice that some of those signatures are from people like Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee, probably the single most influential conservative outside the Cabinet and probably more influential and quite a number of conservatives inside the government. 00:19:43:20 - 00:20:02:08 I come to that. You're beginning to sense real trouble. The SNP do not appear to have been soothed down by any apologies. Lindsay Hoyle may have offered them in meetings after that debate. So there's quite a large section of the Commons now basically suggesting that he ought to go. Now that's not an easy thing for a speaker to live with. 00:20:02:08 - 00:20:22:07 They've got to be neutral on part. They've got to be able to chair without fear or favor and I really do wonder whether Lindsay Hoyle can survive with that and B, how effectively he can chair if he's constantly looking over his shoulder at hostile actors. Yeah, I mean, it is interesting the sort of the array of names. I mean people like Geoffrey Clifton Brown, Deputy Chair, effectively of the Public Accounts Committee. 00:20:22:09 - 00:20:41:00 Jesse Norman in the SNP, people like Joanna Cherry, you know, former shadow leader, the House people, people, these are not headbangers, no. So he has got serious difficulty. He has said at the end of his apology, I want to meet with all the key players. I think what's difficult to understand about this is how else did he think it was going to play out? 00:20:41:00 - 00:21:03:02 I mean, did he just sort of think that the SNP would accept the fact that he chosen this amendment and just move on and get on with the debate? The other thing that's come out of this is for the first time there has been a letter published by the Clerk of the House setting out that in his view as the chief sort of constitutional adviser to the speaker. 00:21:03:03 - 00:21:34:06 In fact, she thinks the speaker, you know, it was within his rights to do what he did. He had that discretion, but he thinks that he was effectively breaching precedent and consequently he's published this letter. And this letter is a new feature. And this is one of the great ironies of this. This was a process that saw Lindsay Hoyle himself set up when he became speaker, and it was intended as a way of breaking with what a lot of people thought was the way John Bercow made up the rules as he went along. 00:21:34:08 - 00:21:54:06 If the clerk wasn't happy with something that the Speaker was doing, the clerk could publish a letter explaining that. I don't imagine that Lindsay thought for a moment that that mechanism would be invoked against him. But now he has been. And I actually think that might be the thing that possibly concerns in most about all of this, because he set himself up as a candidate for speaker as sort of the anti burka. 00:21:54:12 - 00:22:22:18 Yeah. The person who would not be the erratic breaching conventions, breaching the standing orders, but he would be called bipartisan. I mean. John Bercow I don't think ever was quite the partisan figure that some of the Brexiteers like to depict him as at the end of the Brexit process, but he was seen at the end as partisan and what Lindsay Hoyle wanted to be was the alternative to that traditional social speaker classic if you like. 00:22:22:20 - 00:22:46:15 Yeah, and I think that could weigh heavily. You know, he will be, I think, really discomforted by the idea that there are now quite a number of MPs who sort of see him in that light. And one of the things to note here is the John Bercow legacy. Here we talk about John Bercow being seen as anti-Brexit and I think it's probably fair to say that in the end he probably was. 00:22:46:17 - 00:23:21:01 But the whole process of Brexit in Parliament arguably began with John Bercow in 2013, allowing an extra amendment to go down. This time in the Queen's Speech debate, some Brexiteer Conservative backbenchers calling for a referendum and that always set the ball rolling and ended up culminating in the vast pressure on David Cameron to concede a Brexit referendum and the rest is history and what John Bercow was doing there was trying to make sure that a viewpoint that had been a significant block of support in the Commons could be aired. 00:23:21:03 - 00:23:46:15 So he broke with precedent. He clearly stretched the rules, perhaps beyond their actual meaning to allow the Brexiteers to put down that motion, and that is in a way not dissimilar to what Lindsay Hoyle ended up doing, said Here's a viewpoint that needs to be aired. The context in which he did it was a bit different, but all the same he was trying to kind of make room for more than two viewpoints. 00:23:46:17 - 00:24:10:12 But this is, I think, the then his problem, because the clerk had clearly warned him that this outcome, i.e. that there might not be a vote on the SNP motion was a possibility. Yeah, that's I think his difficulty. And then it's the other issue for him is that and this is one of the reasons why you've got so many Conservative and SNP members signing. 00:24:10:12 - 00:24:37:08 They certainly the emotion of expressing their confidence in him is that there are all these rumors circulating. Who knows whether there is any truth in them at all or, you know, sliver of truth, but rumors circulating. But he came under immense pressure from the Leader of the Opposition, from Keir Starmer, from his office, from the Labour whips to choose this amendment, select this amendment because of the pressures that Labour was under. 00:24:37:10 - 00:25:01:14 And the suggestion is that it was intimated that if he didn't, he couldn't rely on their support for reelection in the next Parliament after the general election. Now that sort of has a slight mafia quality. I can hardly imagine Keir Starmer going in and threatening in those words. But I suspect that what didn't happen here was that someone came in and did a sort of comedy long London gangster routine things get broken, you know. 00:25:01:14 - 00:25:20:12 Speaker ships get ended. Wouldn't that be a pity? Now, I'm sure it didn't happen like that, but what I suspect Lindsay Hoyle was capable of doing is reading the rooms and thinking there's going to be potentially after the next election, a very large Labour majority. What if they don't want me? Because the first act of the new Parliament always remember is to elect its speaker. 00:25:20:14 - 00:25:44:10 And normally if there's a sitting speaker, then reelected pretty much on the nod. But it doesn't have to happen that way. There's a window there where you can change the speaker right at the beginning of a parliament and that could well have happened. And we know that there is a history. He is a former Labour MP, that the benches that he came from, but that there are some Labour MPs in the parliamentary party who have been unhappy with him. 00:25:44:12 - 00:26:06:03 We've seen ourselves at meetings in recent months where, you know, certainly barbershops have expressed a view that's quite critical. I mean, I think on a couple of occasions you and I have raised our eyebrows. Well, it's not about we know that, you know, Labour MP were unhappy with some of the decisions he made during the virtual parliament and during COVID, that he didn't stand up to the government enough. 00:26:06:06 - 00:26:33:19 So, you know, we know that there's a degree of unhappiness there and as you say, he's an astute politician. He's been around a long time, and I don't think he needs anybody to go in and tell him I wouldn't have happened that way. But that is you know, now part of the discussion that's happening and think tearooms and think about the implications of that, though, once you get to the point where a speaker is facing direct threats, do as you're told or you're out, you've broken the speakership. 00:26:33:21 - 00:26:53:17 I mean, that would be a huge constitutional blow if it was ever as crude and vicious as that would be. I think all speakers have had to be conscious of the political context in which they operate. Always, it's a political post. Most procedural decisions at this level are ultimately political decisions as well as an interpretation of the rule book. 00:26:53:19 - 00:27:15:17 Sometimes you get speakers who have to, as it were, decide what they think works politically and then find a way to rationalize it afterwards through the rules and parliamentary procedures. A living thing. It's not tablets, a stone brought down from Mount Sinai in the mists of time. It is something that has to be interpreted to give the House the opportunity to come to the decision it wants to come to. 00:27:15:19 - 00:27:33:05 So that's why you have a speaker rather than simply a group of clerks interpreting the rule book so that you can have that political flexibility to do the right thing more or less, regardless of what the rules say. Now, the question here is whether Lindsay Hoyle did the right thing and whether he might yet pay a considerable price for it. 00:27:33:05 - 00:27:55:16 I mean, if there was a serious attempt to remove him, how would it work? Well, I assume that if the numbers on the early day motion increase, I mean, there's no automatic right to debate in time for another motion. But if the numbers were to keep increasing, I assume that the government is going to come under pressure to schedule a debate. 00:27:55:18 - 00:28:21:06 And I think therefore, a lot is going to come down to the position of the Prime Minister, the position of the leader of the House of Commons, the chief whip. What do you do they take of this? I was very struck that after Lindsay Hoyle's apology, Penny Mordaunt s words were quite emollient, quite gracious. In response. She seems to be trying to play it down a little bit and sort of, you know, reduce the temperature of things and indicating that he still has her confidence. 00:28:21:08 - 00:28:47:08 But she will also have to take account of the views of Conservative backbenchers. But also, as she made clear in the debate yesterday, as leader of the House, she's more than just a government minister. She's also the representative for the House. She has to take account of the views of the smaller parties as well, and she made clear that she was concerned that the position that the SNP had been put in, this is where the kind of good chap and chaps theory of government comes into play here. 00:28:47:08 - 00:29:11:11 People are expected to kind of do the right thing, but it also got one eye on political expediency. So how it plays out is very hard to see at this point. I can remember the scenes well all those years ago now when Michael Martin was under immense pressure over his handling of the expenses scandal and an early day motion had gone down against him, calling for him to depart and there were increasing calls for it to be debated. 00:29:11:11 - 00:29:35:07 And there was this awful moment when he was being questioned by Douglas Carswell, the conservative backbencher at the time, about when can we have this debate? And he retreated in confusion because this kind of direct challenge to a speaker is practically unheard of. And the other thing to say about this is the numbers are already quite significant, almost certainly demotion, more of them for Michael Martin more than for Michael Martin, certainly. 00:29:35:13 - 00:29:58:00 I also remember at the height of the controversy around John Bercow, conservative backbencher and former minister called James Duddridge put down an early day motion saying that John Bercow should go. Dudders’ motion never required more than five signatures. Yeah, this, this one's 60 ish now and counting. So this is a very, very significant storm cloud on Lindsay Hoyle's horizon. 00:29:58:04 - 00:30:21:05 So I think a lot depends upon the outcome of the discussions that he has with the key players. I think a lot depends upon the position that Penny Mordaunt and Stephen Flynn take. He has indicated that he wants the Procedure Committee to look at the processes and procedures, the standing orders governing opposition debates. I do wonder whether he discussed it with the Chair of the committee beforehand or just landed her another. 00:30:21:07 - 00:30:41:00 I think he's just landed in at least a lap, I suspect. But what I also suspect in this is that even if the procedure committee started looking at this now, they wouldn't probably have managed to cook up a decent conclusion by the next election. So it kicks that into touch. But also several members of the Procedure Committee have signed this early day motion as well. 00:30:41:00 - 00:31:06:16 So that is a little problematic. But I do wonder if there's a possible solution if he's able to sort of get things back on track through these discussions, that the there could be a censure motion. So they censure him for that decision. They make clear in the motion that they do not want that precedent to stand. And the normal previous practices should be observed instead. 00:31:06:18 - 00:31:31:15 I mean, there are precedents for that be pretty bruising, but I suppose it falls short of being actually defense related. Yes. And I think therefore, part of it will also come down to what he thinks and feels after these discussions. Is he comfortable with thinking that he can carry on knowing as he looks across the chamber that at least 60, possibly more, of the MPs, do not consider him a fair and independent, impartial chair? 00:31:31:17 - 00:31:54:05 That is going to be a very personal decision and he may decide to go before he's pushed. He might come under pressure to go before he's pushed, or there may be this third way of a sort of a censure motion, which is critical, all but which draws a line under it of Lancashire. MP neighbor of Lindsay Hoyle, once said to me that the political byways of Lancashire are littered with the bodies of people who underestimated Lindsay Hoyle. 00:31:54:07 - 00:32:17:16 Apparently he was out in the tea rooms this morning, basically trying to schmooze MPs and rebuild a bit of confidence. So he's already out there on maneuvers. He will know he's in trouble. He's got all the resources and patronage and powers of his office to use to bolster his position. So I don't think anyone should write off Lindsay yet because he is a formidable street fighter when he needs to be. 00:32:17:19 - 00:32:37:20 Yeah. So, I mean, where do we think this takes us in terms of the wider sort of political ramifications? Labour will probably feel most pleased, even if it was a pretty bruising experience for them, but I suppose perhaps they might rue the day that they won like this. Yeah, I mean, the precedent has been set. We'll have to see what the Procedure Committee comes up with. 00:32:37:20 - 00:33:00:24 But you know, nonetheless, the precedent is set and Labour may come to rue the day when it is in government that something could be used in a similar way in the future and put them in in difficulties. If you know, the speakers can breach both the spirit and the words of the Standing Orders, as it were. So time for perhaps a more thoroughgoing review of the rules of debate. 00:33:01:01 - 00:33:26:14 Yes, to accommodate the idea that there may be more than two viewpoints on a given issue. Yeah. And also to reflect the fact that politics has changed politics today and the make up of the composition of the House of Commons chamber is not the same as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. And most interestingly, the MPC take very little interest actually until around breaks out in the way the House works in the rules of procedure. 00:33:26:16 - 00:33:50:01 Unusually, there's no standard body standing committee that looks at and reviews the rules on a regular basis. The Standing Orders have only ever been reviewed six times since the Second World War as a collective body of rules and we get all sorts of ad hoc changes to them brought forward by the government to address certain things, but they don't ever really look at them as a collective group of rules. 00:33:50:01 - 00:34:24:04 So what you've got is kind of decaying layers of precedent piled one on top of the other, sort of gradually rotting into one another. And we've seen through Brexit, we've seen through COVID, we've seen that this week that the understandings that members have about how these rules should operate don't necessarily hold in the same way that they used to and given that they need to look at, reflect on review and possibly make recommendations about changing them so that there is a settled understanding and that protects members and parties, but it also protects the speaker. 00:34:24:05 - 00:34:44:08 But of course, the other thing is what do the public outside think of the ludicrous sort of orgy of party games being played around an issue like this? Yeah, that is the problem that within the bubble of Westminster, those of us who deal with the processes and procedures, we kind of understand why they end up in this position, as we've explained. 00:34:44:10 - 00:35:08:14 But to the watching public, it is just utterly dreadful. It's embarrassment. Westminster at its worst, really what the public see is one of the great issues, really difficult issue, a contentious issue, but an issue when people's lives are at stake, being treated like a political football and also an issue where the differences between the parties are not so vast that they couldn't have been bridged. 00:35:08:20 - 00:35:28:23 Yeah, as well. And on that, Ruth, perhaps it's time to take a break. If you're enjoying the pod and think like Mark and I do, that Parliament matters, why not join the Hansard Society? This year? We celebrate our 80th anniversary. Throughout the year we'll have a number of special events to mark this important milestone. For as little as a cup of coffee each month, 00:35:29:00 - 00:35:45:00 You can join us and follow in the footsteps of our first members, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. And if you're enjoying the issues that we're talking about on the pod, you'll also be getting our special members only Despatch Box newsletter. Each week we bring together the best news and stories about parliaments here in the UK and around the world. 00:35:45:06 - 00:36:12:15 You can join by going to And we're back again. And Ruth, rather overshadowed by the pyrotechnics later on, but I just want to point to something happened at Prime Minister's Question Time, which was when Sir Keir Starmer started asking very detailed, very forensic questions about the government's handling of the post office horizon scandal. 00:36:12:15 - 00:36:45:10 Essentially, when did they know that there was a problem with the horizon system, which they now seem to think was actually 2015, 2016? So with the whole scandal still rolling on for some years after that, and also the truth of this allegation by the former chair of the Post office that he had been told to slow things down because the government didn't want to take on too many huge spending commitments and the numbers being paid out in compensation to the victims of post office Horizon are actually big enough that they start causing problems for government spending. 00:36:45:12 - 00:37:12:15 Had he been told to drag his feet on that to avoid problems before the general election, Keir Starmer directly asked Rishi Sunak whether or not he was prepared to back his business secretary, who had said flatly that that was a lie and didn't get a direct answer. The reason I raised all this is not so much to refight the exchanges, but just to note that what's happened here is that Keir Starmer has gone into forensic prosecutor mold in a way. 00:37:12:15 - 00:37:39:13 Last season, when he was chasing Boris Johnson about party gate, he started asking very, very detailed questions. And this is No. One bubble scandal. This is something the general public have noticed. If there's nothing there, if those allegations can't be proven or are in fact, actively disproven. Well, he was asking reasonable questions. If there is something there that's electoral kryptonite devastating for the government. 00:37:39:15 - 00:37:58:14 So I think is very much one to watch. And in particular, I will be watching out for the appearance of some of the key players in this before the business Select committee next week, because those questions have to be asked and answered pretty quickly. I think otherwise it's going to be a very large cloud hovering over the government for quite a while to come. 00:37:58:17 - 00:38:32:04 Yeah, Kemi Badenoch was the sort of the core focus base of Prime Minister's questions and the points of order after PMQs. It's very noticeable that a number of Labour MPs, a number, a select committee chair of the Business Select Committee, were homing in on what had Kemi Badenoch said. What had she done? I'm trying to pin down and it wasn't just the post office, it was also the negotiations with Canada over a sort of trade deal and the suggestion that she had perhaps not been entirely truthful about the status of those negotiations. 00:38:32:10 - 00:38:55:20 And the Canadian High Commissioner has written to the business Committee to set out his understanding of what the position is, which doesn't entirely gel with what the Secretary of State has said. So clearly honing in on some of these issues, trying to get to the detail and figure out whether is something there, if she's, you know, entirely accurate in her statements to the Commons and there's nothing to see that she'll be fine. 00:38:55:22 - 00:39:19:12 But if there is any, you know, evidence comes to light that she has perhaps not been entirely open and honest with the house, I think she'd be in serious trouble. And clearly, from Labour's perspective, looking ahead, they may be thinking about this is somebody who is being positioned as a potential future leader if the Conservatives lose after the next election, so damaging her at this stage would be quite useful politically for them. 00:39:19:17 - 00:39:47:20 There is actually a little basket of ticking scandals or time bombs floating around that the government's got to it's got to work its way through. At the moment. There's this business about the published reports of the borders inspector. He was sacked for talking about some of the problems with the leakage, as it were, under UK's borders. That's a difficult issue for the Government since immigration and controlling immigration is such a big part of their offer. 00:39:47:22 - 00:40:11:06 And there's also the evidence that the veterans minister, Johnny Mercer, a former Army officer, has been giving to an inquiry looking at whether there were illegal killings in Afghanistan by members of the SARS, where he's actually refused to give names that have been asked for by the head of that inquiry and for serving minister not to fully cooperate with an inquiry is quite a big deal. 00:40:11:06 - 00:40:38:20 So there's some very significant action just going on at the moment that isn't getting vast attention, but which could suddenly erupt into little later on. Yeah, I mean, the statement made by the chair of this inquiry into allegations of murder by special forces in Afghanistan were pretty tough. I mean, he said Johnny Mercer's decision to refuse to answer legitimate questions of public inquiry was disappointing, surprising and completely unacceptable. 00:40:38:22 - 00:41:02:19 And then he thought about he'd got as chair of the inquiry. You've got significant powers under the Inquiries Act. He'd prefer not to use them, but he warned Johnny Mercer that he would. I think the question there is what would that imply and how quickly might those powers be applied and what hot water is that potentially going to land Johnny Mercer in, particularly as he's a minister of the Crown, a serving minister in the government in the Cabinet Office at the moment. 00:41:02:19 - 00:41:31:17 So wants that space. Yeah. So should we talk about citizens assemblies Mark. Why not? Everybody's favorite subject. Yeah, well, apparently Sue Gray's favorite subject. So see, Gray, the former civil servant, now chief of staff, to Keir Starmer. She's been quoted in a new biography of the Labour leader that's due out soon by Tom Baldwin. And in it, apparently she's championing citizen's assemblies as a way to resolve contentious issues. 00:41:31:19 - 00:41:52:10 And she talks about them as apparently transformational in Ireland, where they have been used quite extensively to build consensus for constitutional change and notably to allow abortion. Yeah. And as a result of this, citizens assemblies are sort of on the agenda. And, you know, it's been a lot of discussion around them this week about whether they are a good thing or a bad thing. 00:41:52:10 - 00:42:09:24 You know, isn't Parliament the citizens assembly and where does this all fit in? Is this to replace parliament? Is it, you know, a technocrat solution? Well, perhaps we should nail down what exactly a citizen's assembly is to start with my understanding, and you may know better, is that essentially what you do is you've got an issue that you want to resolve. 00:42:09:24 - 00:42:34:24 Maybe politics is a bit deadlocked around it. So go forth and get a representative panel of citizens. You'd usually get sort of a polling company or something to find a representative panel of citizens who could then spend a period of time going through the issue and come up with sort of nonpolitical, nonparty, deadlocked answers to whatever issue was. 00:42:35:01 - 00:42:52:01 So try and find a way to kind of lead the parties through. This is what the unbiased citizens panel has decided would be a good idea. Why don't new political parties follow their advice? Yeah, I mean, there's different ways of doing it and all sorts of different models that have been deployed in this country and around the world. 00:42:52:01 - 00:43:22:10 But yeah, essentially that is you bring together a representative body of citizens. You put it over an extended period of time, whether that's weekends, whether that's, you know, multiple weekends over the course of a year, whether that's over multiple, multiple years. And you put them in a room together to discuss and debate the issues and you put in front of them experts who can provide arguments, evidence to help them understand the issues that they can then debate and discuss and ask questions about. 00:43:22:12 - 00:43:52:10 And the idea is that they become more informed about the complexity of the policy, the nuances, and that they can discuss and debate the tradeoffs that are involved in the development of public policy and emerge with a consensus position, and that can then inform public policy. Now, in Ireland, what they did, interestingly, was before they had the formal citizens assembly, they actually had a constitutional convention, and that was composed of both citizens and members of the Dail. 00:43:52:10 - 00:44:17:17 So two thirds of it was citizens. A third of it was were MPs who were selected by their parties. And that was a way of sort of bringing together the sort of the deliberative elements and the representative elements to debate these matters. And then what followed subsequently was the citizens Assembly that looked at a range of issues, including, you know, abortion, it looked at voting rights and so on. 00:44:17:19 - 00:44:38:18 It has had some successes in Ireland. Not everything's been agreed upon. Not everything has been taken forward by the political leadership, but it has helped unlock some really difficult issues like abortion. So so what might it be applied to here? I mean, what are the difficult issues which Sue Gray might wish to see the Citizens Assembly unleashed on in the UK? 00:44:38:19 - 00:45:06:07 Well, we'll have to see. I mean, one argument you could look at it constitutionally, you could look at something like House of Lords reform, which the parliamentarians at Westminster have not been able to sort of reach a consensus on what the alternative to the House of Lords might look like. You could look at social issues, I guess, as things like assisted dying or you could look at forward looking policy issues, you know, things like gene editing, the use of artificial intelligence, regulating social media for children and so on. 00:45:06:09 - 00:45:24:18 So those kinds of issues. But at the end of the day, it is not an alternative to parliament. I mean, it sounds awfully sometimes like politicians outsourcing difficult decisions and hoping someone gets them off the hook. Yeah, but that's the critique. And that I think, is is the worry. And some people see, you know, a sort of technocrat solution. 00:45:24:18 - 00:45:43:07 I think there are all sorts of concerns and issues about how do you select this independent group, who's deciding who's funding it, who are the evidence givers? Just quietly, they have massive influence over the process because it's garbage in, garbage out. If you have the wrong set of people informing the decisions to start with, the citizen's jury could go anyway. 00:45:43:10 - 00:46:07:12 Who decides who the right and the wrong people are? Yeah, and you know, what does a balanced of people to give evidence look like? So there's there's a lot of complexities around it. And to do it well, I have to say it is not a cheap way of doing consultation. The House of Commons actually had a a select committee do a citizen's assembly on climate change, and they did it in partnership with the other organizations. 00:46:07:12 - 00:46:25:17 They got external funding as well as putting their own money in, but it was a significant sum of money. I mean, I think they were sort of heading up to the sort of half a million pounds mark. It was a very big exercise. And you have to say, what have the results been? Ultimately, I think they can be a great contribution to the consultation process. 00:46:25:19 - 00:46:49:22 It could possibly maybe be inserted into the legislative process. In terms of pre-legislative. Well, I was thinking about this. It may be the place for this is in shaping the early stages of some new policy or some new laws. So you have a privileged scrutiny process maybe, and you start with a citizen's assembly saying this is what we think should be done about this very complicated, knotty and possibly not very party political problem. 00:46:50:00 - 00:47:15:16 Yeah, but in terms of the the discussion around sea grace positioning of this in this book, the suggestion is that this was a way of bypassing Whitehall as Whitehall's desire to sort of hang on to power. I mean, fundamentally, yes, you can do this, but ultimately you've still got to have the formal policy processes of Whitehall and Westminster in place, and we know that those have not been operating as well as they have in the past. 00:47:15:21 - 00:47:34:14 They need reform and improvement. And the question I think therefore is how do they dovetail with all of that? But ultimately parliamentarians are still going to be the ones that have to legislate. Indeed, And maybe that's a good point for us to stop with this edition. We'll be back next week to do a health check on Lindsay Hoyle's prospects, the Speaker and doubtless much, much more. 00:47:34:16 - 00:47:54:15 And in the meantime, look out for a special edition of this podcast. We're going to be talking to one of the legends of political broadcasting in this country, Rob Burley. He’s worked with Jeremy Paxman, with Andrew Marr, with Jonathan Dimbleby, with Emily Maitlis. All the great interviews about the importance of the political interview in getting the truth out of politicians. 00:47:54:15 - 00:48:11:21 He says it's a vital part of political scrutiny, gives the voters a real chance to see inside the heads of our rulers. It's a great interview. One to look forward to and see you next week. See you then. 00:48:11:23 - 00:48:30:06 Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters. Please hit the follow or subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands and help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback. Our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm to give the show a boost. 00:48:30:08 - 00:48:55:08 Tell us more about the algorithm. Argue about algorithms. You know, I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. 00:48:55:12 - 00:49:30:24 And you can find us across social media @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety. Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a Quaker trust which engages in philanthropy and supports work on democratic accountability.

Subscribe to Parliament Matters

Use the links below to subscribe to the Hansard Society's Parliament Matters podcast on your preferred app, or search for 'Parliament Matters' on whichever podcasting service you use. If you are unable to find our podcast, please email us here.

Blog / How should Parliament handle the Seventh Carbon Budget - and why does it matter?

The Climate Change Act 2008 established a framework for setting carbon budgets every five years. But the role of Parliament in approving these budgets has been widely criticised, including by the Prime Minister. The Environmental Audit Committee has proposed improvements in the scrutiny process to ensure effective climate action, particularly in the context of the UK’s commitment to achieving 'Net Zero' emissions by 2050. These reforms will significantly alter the way Parliament handles the Seventh Carbon Budget in 2025.

18 Apr 2024
Read more

News / Tobacco and Vapes Bill: free vote blows smoke in Rishi Sunak's eyes - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 30

Rishi Sunak offered his MPs a free vote on his flagship Tobacco and Vapes Bill and dozens concluded they could not support it. As well as exploring the politics of the Bill, Ruth and Mark discuss the concept of a free vote and how they have been deployed in previous parliamentary sessions.

19 Apr 2024
Read more

Guides / Private Members' Bills (PMBs)

Private Members' Bills (PMBs) are bills introduced by MPs and Peers who are not government ministers. The procedures, often a source of controversy, are different to those that apply for government bills. Below are 7 short guides that explain key aspects of the process, as well as data on the number of PMBs that are successful each Session, and our proposals for reform of the PMB system.

Read more

Blog / Two Houses go to war: the Safety of Rwanda Bill and the origins of the Parliament Act

The Parliament Act is being bandied about in the media again in connection with the Rwanda Bill. This blogpost explains why the Parliament Act cannot be used in relation to the Rwanda Bill and looks at the origins and key features of the Act to place the current debate about the role of the House of Lords in its historical context.

25 Mar 2024
Read more

Blog / Creeping ministerial powers: the example of the Tobacco and Vapes Bill

The Government’s flagship Tobacco and Vapes Bill will ban the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2009. The genesis of the delegated powers in the Bill – dating back a decade - tells an important story about the way in which incomplete policy-making processes are used by Ministers to seek ‘holding’ powers in a Bill, only for that precedent to then be used to justify further, broader powers in subsequent Bills. This ‘creeping’ effect in the legislative process undermines parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial action.

15 Apr 2024
Read more