An important surprise


Mr Speaker Bercow has sprung quite an important surprise on the Commons.

He's allowed not two, but three amendments to the motion on the Queen's Speech to be voted on today. A slightly bemused Leader of the Commons, Andrew Lansley, politely asked if he would set out the "application of the terms of standing order 33 relating to the number of amendments that are selectable…"

Because up to now everyone (including me, in an earlier post) assumed the rules only allowed for two amendments to be called.

With the solemn glee of a Supreme Court judge extending the law, Mr Speaker was glad to oblige:

"….I believe that there is a need to interpret Standing Orders in way that facilitates the business of the House in a developing parliamentary context; conditions and expectations today are very different from those in October 1979 when that standing order was made - I have studied the wording of SO 33 very carefully - my interpretation is that the words that a further amendment in fifth line may be interpreted as meaning more than one amendment successively - in other words only one amendment is being moved at any time, once disposed of a further amendment may be called…"

This matters quite a lot. It seems the Speaker is not going to interpret the rules, in future, in a way that carves significant factions in the Commons, or the smaller parties, out of debates.

A number of viewpoints will in future be express-able in Commons debates. This is good news for the smaller parties, who've always hated the rules which always forced them to choose between Conservative and Labour views on any given subject, even if they had no particular liking for either.

But more than that, it's good news for significant factions in the House, who want a particular view debated…in this case, supporters of an EU referendum. The advent of the Backbench Business Committee has already allowed such groups to bring a non-binding motion to the floor of the House, but this ruling ratchets up their ability to get Commons votes that are a bit more than merely symbolic.

It looks a bit like preparation for more multi-party hung parliaments where there will be a series of competing viewpoints - who may want to say "maybe", or "yes but," rather than simply vote aye or no to every question.

It will be interesting to see if this precedent is extended beyond the once-a-year context of a Queen's Speech debate…the anxious look on Mr Lansley's face suggested that he, as the minister in charge of getting the government's legislation through the Commons, feared it might be.

I'm going to sniff around this a bit more and I'll report back…

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    S033 or SO's and the humble clerk holding all the cards....As I've suspected for a very long time the men of a grey variety push this little old game along quite nicely. Oh it's a game alright, unfortunately it would take the board being thrown out the window and all the pieces being thrown into the dustbin of history!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Mark I don't think it would automatically follow that the Speakers interpretation of SO33 would flow to other SOs as 33 specifically relates to a return on the address rather than general business,

    I'm sure the Clerk would had advised him most carefully on that point otherwise I'm sure the decision would not have been made to allow the extra amendment if it did flow to other SOs

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    @1. Little_Old_Me

    ....oh for a Govt, of whatever colour, to actual represent us, the public, effectively....


    Politics by its very nature is divisive and there will always be more members of the public who didn't vote for the Government of the day than those that did.

    In our democracy it seems that the minority always wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    A bit of confusion just adds to the interesting chaos happening today.

    Nadine Dorries is back and helping. Just now on the BBC News, she helped with this, "A divided right only allows the left to come through the middle." Right got it? Sorry I mean, OK got it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    So the courts have no leeway because it is Parliament's job to procrastinate.

    I suspect there are some 650 opinions on what is parliament in the HoC

    I think, rather than shabby nit picking over referenda perhaps the house needs to prepare itself for a kicking in 2015 after all this is not the 1890's

    just a thought

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Quelle surprise - Andrew Lansley's first brief as a Minister saw him unaware of what the key person/his mate was up to......

    ....his second life as a Minister sees him unaware what the key person he works with is up to......

    ....he is as cluseless as the rest of Cabinet......

    ....oh for a Govt, of whatever colour, to actual represent us, the ublic, effectively.....



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