Tag Archives: Commons

First female Commons Speaker dies. Is this the best comment on her?

Betty Boothroyd: first female Commons Speaker dies aged 93.

This Writer is saddened to learn of the death of first female Speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd, at the age of 93.

She was also the first Speaker I can remember who became a media personality in her own right – not only because she was a woman but because she was a former Tiller girl (it was a famous dance troupe, back in the day).

The best comment I’ve seen on her passing is this:

It puts the official word from current speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle in the shade:

Will we see her like again? Definitely.

But with people like Hoyle around, and politicians like Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, it seems unlikely that they’ll turn up for a long, long time.


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Tory Bridgen facing Commons suspension over lobbying – but is the penalty strong enough?

Suspension threat: Andrew Bridgen.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen may be suspended from the House of Commons for five days after he failed to declare a financial interest in a firm while writing to ministers about it.

The Commons Standards Committee found that Bridgen had breached lobbying rules “on multiple occasions and in multiple ways” – and that he had also made an “unacceptable attack on the integrity” of Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone.

A BBC report stated:

The committee said Mr Bridgen had called the integrity of Ms Stone into question on the basis of “wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations, and attempted to improperly influence the House’s standards processes”.

According to the BBC (again),

It was recommended he be suspended for three days for this – in addition to two days for three breaches of the code of conduct, including failing to declare a relevant interest in emails to ministers.

The committee said Mr Bridgen should have told ministers and officials he received a donation and a funded visit to Ghana from the Cheshire-based firm Mere Plantations, and had a £12,000 contract to be an adviser.

Bridgen appealed against the decision, but a panel has dismissed this, saying the proposed penalty was appropriate. MPs will vote on whether to uphold the recommended five-day suspension.

It seems Bridgen had had questioned whether his reputation as an outspoken critic of then-prime minister Boris Johnson could have influenced Ms Stone’s findings:

He wrote to her saying: “I was distressed to hear on a number of occasions an unsubstantiated rumour that your contract as Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is due to end in the coming months and that there are advanced plans to offer you a peerage, potentially as soon as the Prime Minister’s resignation honours list.

“There is also some suggestion amongst colleagues that those plans are dependent upon arriving at the ‘right’ outcomes when conducting parliamentary standards investigations.

“Clearly my own travails with Number 10 and the former PM have been well documented and obviously a small part of me is naturally concerned to hear such rumours.

“More importantly however you are rightfully renowned for your integrity and decency and no doubt such rumours are only designed to harm your reputation.”

The committee said Mr Bridgen’s email “appears to be an attempt to place wholly inappropriate pressure on the commissioner” which is “completely unacceptable behaviour”.

In his appeal, it seems Bridgen criticised the investigation as “flawed”, arguing that it had not fully considered the motivations of the person who had made the initial complaint.

He also said he had been carrying out the duties of a constituency MP.

But the Independent Expert Panel, that had been asked to consider his appeal, concluded that the motivations of the complainant were “completely irrelevant” and that an exemption for an MPs constituency duties did not apply in his case.

Its members added that sanctions “could properly and fairly have been more severe”.

Then why weren’t they?

There are three fairly serious misdemeanours here:

  • he failed to follow lobbying rules (on multiple occasions, we’re told);
  • he tried to exert pressure on the Standards Commissioner by attacking her integrity; and
  • he tried to claim the investigation was part of a personal attack by whoever made the complaint about him.

So this is not just about lobbying, and possibly benefiting financially from such activities; it’s also about bullying and deflecting blame.

If a five-day suspension is the worst sanction that the Parliamentary standards system can impose, then perhaps there should be legislation to formally criminalise this behaviour, with jurisdiction on any punishment handed over to the courts?

Or would this simply give the police another opportunity to kowtow to the Conservatives?

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Commons suspension update: NO ACTION over Ministerial Code breach?

Could anything else so succinctly demonstrate the power that Parliament has to hold the government to account – or rather the lack of it?

Commons Speaker Lyndsay Hoyle suspended a sitting of the House of Commons on Thursday (December 8) after discovering that Michael Gove had failed to deliver a full copy of a ministerial statement on the opening of a new coal mine, either to him or to Opposition parties.

This meant the Speaker was unable to select the MPs who would question the minister on the decision, because nobody had the information needed to inform such questions.

This is a breach of the Ministerial Code and by rights, Gove should have resigned.

But, as Maximilien Robespierre observes in the video below, he’s not going to resign.

He won’t be punished by prime minister Rishi Sunak.

And the Commons sitting was suspended for just five minutes.

Pathetic. Toothless. Pointless.

Here’s the clip:

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Speaker suspends Commons session after government breaks the rules AGAIN

They were warned.

Time and time again, Tory ministers have been told that their statements to the House of Commons have to be made in a very particular way, which is:

  • not after announcing what they’re doing to the media first, and
  • not without giving Opposition parties full access to the contents of their speech.

But Michael Gove – who has been in government on and off since 2010 and therefore should know better – broke those rules yet again, and this time Commons Speaker Lyndsay Hoyle had had enough.

He suspended the sitting of the Commons – firstly for five minutes and then for a longer period, in order to investigate Gove’s reasons for failing to supply more than a brief summary of his long speech before he delivered it and to provide Opposition parties with a chance to absorb what he had said and formulate questions on it.

Was Gove trying to avoid letting his fellow MPs have the chance to ask pertinent questions?

Or is he just incompetent?

As always, it’s hard to separate idiocy from intent with this lot.

The whole saga was captured on video, so you can watch it for yourself:

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Extinction Rebellion activists arrested after Commons chamber protest

This was only to be expected. You can’t break into the seat of UK government and cause a scene, and then expect to walk away totally free.

But it does show one thing: it really was completely disproportionate for the Tory government to try to label Extinction Rebellion as a terrorist organisation.

If the group had been terrorists, they would have been able to level the Palace of Westminster from the inside before anybody in authority had a clue what was happening.

And that’s the reason This Writer thinks the arrests really happened: it is humiliating for Parliamentary authorities to discover that anybody can waltz in and superglue themselves to the Speaker’s chair whenever they feel like it.

So here’s what has happened:

Eight people have been arrested after climate activists glued themselves together around the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons.

The protestors, from Extinction Rebellion UK, were on a guided tour of Parliament when they took the action, a spokeswoman said.

MPs are currently on their summer break, and are due to return next week.

The Met Police said it had launched an investigation into the “full circumstances of the incident”.

It’s an entirely token effort. These people have probably been released already.

One wonders whether their message will be taken as seriously as their presence was?

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Extinction Rebellion invades Parliament to protest climate change inaction

This just in from Extinction Rebellion:

Just before noon today (Friday, September 2), a group of around fifty people took nonviolent action at the House of Commons to kick off the first phase of Extinction Rebellion’s September plans. The Parliament action began with three people booked on an official tour of the building, gluing themselves in a chain around the Speaker’s Chair inside the Parliamentary Chamber. They took it in turns to read a speech, pointing to the need for a Citizens’ Assembly to cut through the corruption deep in the heart of Westminster. They wore t-shirts that read ‘Let The People Decide’.

Behind the Speaker’s Chair in the great hall, two people held two large banners that read ‘Citizens’ Assemblies Now’ and ‘Let The People Decide’. Outside of the building, a member of Extinction Rebellion climbed up the scaffolding around Big Ben and held another giant banner that read ‘Let The People Decide- Citizens’ Assemblies Now”, while two others chained themselves to the railings.

Everyone inside the building had entered legally via an official tourist booking.

The speech read out in the chamber said: “We are in crisis. And what goes on in this chamber every day makes a joke out of us all. We can not afford to carry on like this. 

“It is possible to act on climate and costs in a way that is fair and supports everyone. But our political system is too out of date and out of touch to see beyond the next election cycle and do what needs to be done. We need a new way of making decisions, where more voices are heard, not just those at the top. We need the true diversity of the country to be represented.

“We need a Citizens’ Assembly, now. Citizens’ Assemblies empower ordinary people to make decisions that benefit everyone. Decisions that can get us out of this mess and make life better, safer, fairer for all of us.”

With a new Prime Minister to be chosen next week by a fraction of the country, and the UK suffering from a cost of living scandal meaning millions won’t be able to pay their bills this winter, faith in politics is at an all time low. There is an urgent need to upgrade our political system to allow more representation and give ordinary people a say over the major crises facing us.

In July this year the high court ruled that the UK Government’s pathway to net zero is unlawful because it is so lacking in detail it’s not even possible to hold them to account on it. Recent polling by Ipsos found that eight out of ten people in the UK are concerned about the climate crisis and over 52% percent think the government’s plan to get net zero by 2050 is too late, that’s around 35 million people who think the government’s plan isn’t good enough. Yet both candidates for PM have said they plan to increase production of new fossil fuels.

Our current politics is too focused on the short termism of the election cycle to tackle the major issues of today, like widespread inequality and the climate and ecological emergency. A citizens’ assembly on climate and costs would break the deadlock on Westminster corruption, allow more people to be represented, and restore trust in politics.

Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion, said: “It is possible to change things and update politics so it really represents ordinary people. Independent citizens’ assemblies can show that those blocking progress in Westminster have no democratic mandate to continue destroying the environment and give power back to people. Selected like a jury and supported with independent, expert knowledge, this is true democracy that reflects the diversity of the population. 

“But to create a new, fairer politics will require first thousands, then millions of us. It will require sustained culture-shifting civil disobedience, until we become impossible to ignore. Then, when there’s enough of us, positive change will become inevitable.”

The action today is the opening act for Extinction Rebellion’s September plans, which itself will act as a launch event for a 5 phase plan to bring 100k people onto the streets in civil resistance next Spring. This exciting new plan will centre people power at its core, because Extinction Rebellion’s mission is to build a movement that is impossible to ignore. [3]

September will boost energy and build momentum as a first step in a laser focused, strategic plan that sees Extinction Rebellion growing in numbers and building momentum towards Spring  2023. Politics as usual will do anything to avoid facing up to the reality of the climate and ecological crisis, so without large numbers out on the streets our demands will be ignored. We believe now more than ever as cost of living leaves people desperate, and strike action for better pay is demonised, that a mass movement of 3.5% of the population is needed to bring about radical change. In order to achieve that there’s an urgent need for a mature plan that people can believe in, a plan which maps out precisely how we can win between now and next Spring.

Extinction Rebellion has worked on a roadmap to success and it begins with fierce mobilisation and connecting with communities across the UK. After the September weekend, we will tour the country to hold People’s Assemblies to capture the true voice of the country and find out the biggest concerns people are facing, and how we can tackle them together. This will be followed by mass disruptive action together with other groups, for maximum impact on October 14th, focusing our outrage at the cost of living scandal into solidarity action.

Following this, Extinction Rebellion will be focused primarily on growing the movement and targeting all of our energy in April 2023.

The plan will be in 5 phases:

PHASE 1: A curtain raiser action prior to the 10th and mass London and UK – wide Paint the Streets on the evening of Friday 9th Sept!

PHASE 2: Meet at Marble Arch on September 10th for 3 days of deliberative democracy, community building & resistance in an undisclosed, disruptive green space.

PHASE 3: Rebellion Buses will tour the country over 4 weeks, hosting People’s Assemblies, meeting and hearing from local groups and communities, engaging in intensive mobilisation.

PHASE 4: On the 14th October we invite everyone to come back to Westminster, London, for disruptive nonviolent civil disobedience to join forces with other groups organising around the cost of living scandal.

PHASE 5: THE BIG ONE – This will centre major government disruption over a prolonged period until the government agrees to empower an independent Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

Integrated with our methodical mobilisation campaign, Project 3.5, we will pledge to sign up 100k people by Spring 2023 to come back to London for major nonviolent civil resistance to win on our demands.

The protest has been live-tweeted on Twitter:

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Partygate: Boris Johnson may be getting no more fines, but he’s a long way from getting away with it

Boris Johnson at a party: this one was in Christmas 2020, apparently, but the police aren’t fining him for it. Hmm…

Never mind the rumours that Boris Johnson met Sue Gray to discuss how to “manage” her report on the Covid-19 lockdown-busting Downing Street parties; he’s not likely to affect her verdict.

Apparently they only met to talk about whether she should publish images in her report – and he said it was a matter for her to decide on her own.

At the moment, it seems she is pushing for clearance to name the so-called ringleaders of the Partygate scandal, discussing with Civil Service human resources and legal teams, as well as trade unions, how explicitly she can point the finger.

That’s not the behaviour of someone who has taken orders not to rock the boat.

Indeed, avid scandal-watchers are bulk-buying popcorn in time for next week’s publication of her report, which promises to issue scathing criticism of senior political and Civil Service figures, calling into question why illegal social gatherings were allowed to take place.

But the real scandal appears to be the possibility that the Commons Privileges Committee is unlikely to report on whether Johnson intentionally misled Parliament over these parties until September.

The Committee has not yet met to decide who will chair the inquiry, after Labour’s Chris Bryant recused himself over [an] accusation of bias.

It is also unlikely to conclude its investigation before Parliament breaks up for summer recess in July, raising the prospect of Mr Johnson waiting until September at the earliest until the final verdict is delivered on Partygate.

The net result of all this delay has been to diffuse the strength of the scandal.

Ms Gray was originally set to publish her expected-to-be-damning report in January, less than two months after claims came to light that Tory ministers and civil servants took part in illegal parties over a period of more than a year.

But she was delayed after Johnson’s fellow Balliol College, Oxford, alumnus Cressida Dick commissioned a Metropolitan Police inquiry into the allegations that has delayed matters for four months.

And in the meantime, MPs decided to hold their own inquiry into whether Johnson had broken the Ministerial Code. It is known that he repeatedly provided false information to the Commons about whether parties took place but the important question is whether he did so, knowing that his words were not true.

It is this inquiry that may push Johnson out of Downing Street, because knowingly misleading Parliament is a breach of the Ministerial Code for which the penalties go as far as expulsion from that assembly.

But if the verdict won’t be known until September, who will care?

Source: Boris Johnson to wait months for final ‘Partygate’ verdict on whether he misled Parliament

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No more Partygate fines for Johnson – if we trust Downing Street – but what will Sue Gray say?

Sue Gray: all eyes are turning to her, now she is at liberty to publish her full – and probably damning – report on Boris Johnson and the illegal Downing Street parties he allowed to happen under his nose.

The prime minister’s office at Downing Street has said that Boris Johnson will not receive a second fine for taking part in illegal parties there during the Covid-19 lockdowns that he himself had imposed.

With the police refusing to name anybody they have fined, we are being asked to take the word of people who are themselves likely to have been fined for taking part in the parties (126 people have) and who may have been told to protect their boss.

But whether or not you believe the people who initially spent more than a year hiding the fact that these parties took place at all, the closure of the Metropolitan Police inquiry means that Cabinet Office civil servant Sue Gray may at last release her own full report on the scandal.

This could be far more damning to Johnson than the police investigation because it may include her verdict on whether he lied to his fellow MPs about whether the parties took place and about his own participation in them.

Lying to Parliament is a grave offence under the Ministerial Code, for which it is entirely possible that Johnson may not only lose his job as prime minister but be expelled from the House of Commons altogether.

Of course, ultimate authority for punishing offences against the Code lies with – guess who? – the prime minister but in a situation in which the PM himself is accused, it seems logical that alternative arrangements will be made to judge the matter.

And MPs have already arranged their own inquiry. A motion for the Commons Privileges Committee to do so was passed “on the nod” after attempts by the Tory leadership to prevent their backbenchers from voting for it were defeated.

We have already been told that the Gray report is so excoriating of Johnson that it may end his premiership:

The Times, citing an official it described as being familiar with the contents of the complete report, said Ms Gray’s full findings were even more personally critical of the Prime Minister and could end his premiership.

According to the paper, the official said: “Sue’s report is excoriating. It will make things incredibly difficult for the Prime Minister. There’s an immense amount of pressure on her – her report could be enough to end him.” No 10 declined to comment.

According to the i newspaper, in a report last month, Tory rebels have been organising to oust Johnson and the now-four-month reprieve Johnson enjoyed as a result of the police investigation merely allowed them to organise themselves.

Even though we have been told he has not received any more fines, these backbenchers were also watching the results of the local elections at the beginning of the month – in which the Conservatives took a drubbing.

Remember: these were council seats and devolved Parliament places where the Labour Party had enjoyed the so-called “Corbyn bounce” in 2018, and where the Tories may have reasonably expected to make gains this time. Instead both they and Labour lost out to the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Ms Gray is expected to release her report next week – and then the sparks may really fly.

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Will Boris Johnson be tackled for ‘misleading’ House of Commons after Covid in care homes ruling?

Here’s something that happened after the end of the last Parliamentary session, but that should be raised in the new one.

More than 20,000 people died in care homes because of decisions made by Boris Johnson’s ministers (notably then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock).

Johnson made a statement in Parliament that ministers were not aware of asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 at the time they were ordering that care home residents in hospital should be sent back. The evidence shows it was false.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting claimed this was not true, highlighting a point of order raised by Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader of the House of Commons.

Speaking to MPs on Thursday, Ms Debbonaire claimed the government was provided with evidence at the beginning of 2020 that pointed to that asymptomatic transmission of the Covid virus.

“On 28 January 2020, advice from Sage on asymptomatic transmission included that ‘early indications imply some is occurring,’” she said. On 24 February, the Lancet published a paper finding that infected individuals can be infectious before they become symptomatic.

“On 13 March, Patrick Vallance told the Today programme that ‘it’s quite likely that there is some degree of asymptomatic transmission’. Yet it wasn’t until 15 April that the government’s guidance was changed to require patients were tested before being discharged to care homes.”

Ms Debbonaire said Johnson might have “inadvertently” misled the House of Commons, but This Writer disagrees.

Either he was briefed on asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19, or he deliberately chose to miss the briefings at one or several of the COBRA meetings that he skipped (due to laziness?) in early 2020. In any case, the responsibility to know the facts fell on Johnson.

Therefore, if he told the Commons that ministers didn’t know about asymptomatic transmission, he was deliberately choosing to mislead MPs. He should be challenged and he should resign.

Source: Boris Johnson accused of ‘misleading’ House of Commons after Covid in care homes ruling

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Talk of the Parish: MP resigns after admitting he watched porn in House of Commons

Neil Parish: he has admitted looking at porn in the House of Commons and is resigning as a member of Parliament.

This Writer’s biggest question now is, what tractor website has a name similar to an internet pornography site – and will it be changing its name in the near future?

Neil Parish has said the first of two occasions in which he admits watching pornography in the House of Commons was when he was trying to look at tractors; he accidentally opened a porn site with a similar name, he said.

He later returned to the site he had found – deliberately – while sitting in the House of Commons, waiting to vote, he admitted. It was after this occasion that two female colleagues claimed they had seen him looking at porn on his phone while sitting near them.

It is right that he should go – if only because he tried to brazen it out at first.

Like his erstwhile party leader Boris Johnson, Parish initially said he would wait for the results of an inquiry led by his party’s Whips’ office before making any decision on his own future – and he refused to say whether he had watched porn in the Commons, even though he obviously knew he had.

Johnson had previously refused to discuss his alleged attendance at lockdown-busting Downing Street parties and whether he had lied to Parliament about them (an offence for which he should resign, according to the Ministerial Code). He has since been fined for attending one such gathering, with investigations continuing regarding five others.

Parish’s resignation may be seen as an attempt to prevent another scandal from affecting the Conservatives’ chances in the local elections, which will take place on Thursday (May 5).

But is anybody going to want to elect a representative from a party whose members watch porn rather than concentrate on their work, and then try to lie or dissemble their way out of the blame when they’re caught?