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Coffee House

PMQs highlighted the Speaker’s diminishing authority

3 September 2014

1:28 PM

3 September 2014

1:28 PM

John Bercow, the self-styled champion of Parliament, is now being scrutinised by MPs via a series of increasingly hostile points of order. The Speaker’s response to today’s barrage of points was so poor that he has put himself in jeopardy. First Simon Burns asked him about a letter to the Prime Minister recommending the appointment of Carol Mills as Clerk of the House. Bercow said the matter was ‘very straightforward’ and gave Burns a small lecture on the importance of a spirit of goodwill and consensus.


He was grumpier after the next point or order, raised by heckler Michael Fabricant:

Fabricant: ‘Mr Speaker! Why were the recruitment consultants, Saxton Bampfylde, prevented from telling the advisory panel which he referred to that the candidate, Carol Mills, was under two investigations by the Senate, and is it not the case that Saxton Bampfylde did not, I repeat did not, did not initially recommend that Carol Mills be considered?’

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Speaker: ‘Unfortunately, but fairly predictably, the honourable gentleman is wrong. He’s wrong on both counts: I set out the position very clearly on Monday afternoon. It was my responsibility and privilege to respond with courtesy and in detail to points of order on that occasion, sadly it was a disadvantage to the House the honourable gentlemen was not present at that time – not during points of order in my recollection but if he was, he chose not to rise to his feet, he’s done so now, I’ve given him an answer, it’s very clear. I think that the House will want to proceed with its business.’

Then Chris Pincher raised another point of order, referring to a quote in Andrew Sparrow’s blog suggesting that many MPs did not understand the role of the Clerk. Bercow interjected:

‘Order! Order! I ask the honourable gentleman to resume his seat. It’s not normal practice to expect the Speaker to comment on any and every media report. I didn’t see the report, I’m not responsible for the report, and I do invite the honourable gentleman and members of the House as a whole, to rise to the level of events. I think perhaps we shall leave it there.’

‘Shame!’ MPs shouted. Sir Edward Leigh then told the House that it was essential for the House to uphold the authority of the Speaker. Whether or not he meant that as a supportive comment, it certainly highlights the Speaker’s diminishing authority. His dismissive responses to these points of order suggest a man lashing out as he comes under greater pressure.

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