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Speaker’s Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 3:31 pm, 21st October 2019

I think he said something from a sedentary position about tomorrow, with evidence being taken and witnesses being heard, and that is absolutely right. I do not know what he expects me to deduce from that. I would not dream of seeking to comment adversely—still less to trespass, which it would be quite improper to seek to do—upon the legitimate autonomy of any Select Committee of this House. It is perfectly proper for his Committee to undertake such an inquiry. I am entirely untroubled by it, and it is a reflection of his conscientiousness that he should do it.

Thirdly, with regard to how unfortunate it is that one side seems to be disadvantaged by judgments from the Chair, I say to the hon. Gentleman—and there are people in this Chamber who know very well the truth of what I say—that I do not have, off the top of my head, a count of the number of times that I have in the past granted urgent questions, and in some cases, though they were less fashionable at the time, emergency debates, to people of what was then called a Eurosceptic disposition and would now be called a Brexiteer disposition—and he was one of them. When I was granting him and some of his hon. and right hon. Friends the opportunity to challenge, to question, to probe, to scrutinise, and, in some cases, to expose what they thought were the errors of omission or commission of the Government of the day, I do not recall him complaining that I was giving him too many opportunities to make his point and that it was not a fair use of the House’s time—that it was very unfair on his party and a violation of the rights of his Government. Now, it may be that sotto voce he was somehow making this point, but if so, I did not hear it.

I remind the hon. Gentleman additionally, and fourthly, I think, that—yes, I will make this point because it is an important point to make—his hon. Friend Mr Baron tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech in 2103 on the case for a referendum on UK membership of the European Union, a most unusual though perfectly proper thing for a Government Back Bencher to do, and I selected that amendment. I did so because I thought that it was well supported and there was a compelling case for it to be considered. So what I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that when he was getting the decisions in his favour, he was not grumbling. He is grumbling now because he does not like the judgment I have made, but the judgment is an honourable and fair one, and I am afraid that if he does not like it, there is not much I can do about that. I am trying to do the right thing for the House as a whole.

My last point to the hon. Gentleman—and it is very important not just for, or even particularly for, Members of the House, but for those observing our proceedings—is that nothing in what I have said in any way impinges upon the opportunity for the Government to secure approval of their deal and the passage of the appropriate legislation by the end of the month. If the Government have got the numbers, the Government can have their way, and it is not for the Speaker to interfere. The judgment I have made is about the importance of upholding a very long-standing and overwhelmingly observed convention of this House. That is what I have done, and I make absolutely no apology for it whatsoever.