How many amendments?
- 28 November 2013
- From the section UK Politics
How's the Leader of the House's attempt to put the Speaker back in his box working out?
The spat over the apparently minor issue of how many amendments the chair is allowed to call during the Queen's Speech debate is being fought out in the dark recesses of the Commons order paper, deep within a section entitled "Remaining Orders and Notices."
There, lurking at number 40 is a proposed amendment to standing orders - the Commons rulebook - which would reverse the precedent set by the Speaker in May, when he called an extra amendment from Conservative backbenchers, regretting the lack of an EU referendum bill in the Queen's Speech.
This led directly to the Conservative leadership's decision to go for a private members' bill on a referendum in 2017, and thus the "James Wharton Bill"(expected to clear the Commons tomorrow) was born.
But that parenthetical fragment of Commons self expression had big consequences and clearly shivered the timbers of the Government.
So down went the standing orders amendment, in the names of the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, and his Lib Dem deputy, Tom Brake.
Further timbers were then shivered; first a set of usual suspect Tory backbenchers put down a brace of amendments to that amendment which would maintain the Speaker's precedent.
And this morning, with an almost audible thud, the Commons Procedure Committee has weighed in.
ProCom had been offering a compromise position under which Mr Speaker would be restricted to four amendments on the Queen's Speech.
But they're so annoyed at the Leader proposing a change to standing orders without routing it through them, that they've effectively taken that option off the table.
Their amendment, signed by the entire committee membership, would replace Mr Lansley's proposed wording with "this House considers that the Speaker should retain the discretion allowed by current standing orders in respect of amendments to the address in answer to the Queen's Speech."
This is more than an issue of etiquette.
The Commons is supposed to own its standing orders, and not allow them to be changed at the behest of ministers.
And there are plenty of senior figures about the place who think the government has enough of a stranglehold on their work, already.
I'm not sure how this will play out, but the atmosphere is getting increasingly snippy.
Yesterday (Wednesday) Mr Lansley raised a point of order complaining that the Speaker had not announced his proposed Digital Democracy Commission to the House - an offence for which the Speaker regularly chastises ministers - and it didn't have any air of gentle mischief either.
It's possible the Leader may back off and not find time to debate his attempt to clip the Speaker's wings, but if not, maybe the debate should be set for high noon.