As a former Shadow Leader of the Commons, I naturally take a close interest in what is happening at the other end of the building. Many people will have been dismayed to learn that MPs would not have been able to debate and vote on a motion of confidence in the Speaker without Government co-operation. We had an unprecedented situation in which a leader of one of the major parties (Nick Clegg) and numerous backbenchers on all sides publicly withdrew their support for the Speaker, yet the situation could not be resolved without Ministerial assistance. The reason is not because of any archaic rule – it is simply that the Executive is dominant in our legislature; there is no time – save for on rare Opposition Days – for Members of Parliament to take votes on serious issues, or even on internal imperatives, unless the Government makes the time. The Conservatives, of course, could have allocated of one of their days for debate, but that seemed unlikely.
In the Lords, however, we are more democratic! Because is no majority for any party, it’s much easier to get a motion debated – we call it “calling for papers” and though by convention these are not voted on, they could be if a Peer called for such a vote. Indeed, I am seeking such an opportunity my Constitutional Renewal Bill. Amongst many other reforms, the Bill would tackle the lack of effective disciplinary procedures for both Members of both Houses.
In the meantime, had we tried to debate Michael Martin’s speakership – and the parlous position into which his office and his stewardship of it had descended – I fear we would have angered MPs. Many of us may think that the Speaker has made a bad situation worse, but I am sure Members of the Commons would resent us interfering in their affairs. It may have been timely for the Lords to prove what it’s like to have control of our own business, but on this occasion I think MPs might just have told us to mind our own business.