Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Incompetence of Mr Speaker Knows No Bounds

Labour MP David Winnick was pulled up by Mr Speaker ealier today when he tried, on a point of order to raise the question of the appeal to the High Court to prevent details of MPs' expenses being published. Michael Martin informed him that for the House of Commons the matter was sub judice. Here's the exchange...

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be possible to know whether the appeal by the House of Commons Commission to the Appeal Court is limited to the question of addresses, or extends to the wider question of second homes? If it is the former, that would be perfectly understandable on grounds of security. If, however, the appeal against the information tribunal is on the wider question of expenditure on what are described as second homes, it should be noted that some Members, certainly myself, are very much opposed to the appeal being lodged. In my view, it is unfortunate that no way of voting—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This matter is before the court, and while I know that the media can talk about it, the rules are clear that it is sub judice for the House of Commons, and I cannot discuss it. In relation to many of the questions that the hon. Gentleman raises, there is nothing to stop him going to the court and finding out the grounds for the appeal.

What an arse. The House of Commons can discuss anything it likes. And if it can't talk about the propriety of MPs' expenses, what on earth can it discuss?! Rosa Prince on Three Line Whip says...

Now, I’m no expert but even I know there are no laws which permit newspapers to report matters that MPs are banned from discussing.

In fact, the opposite is true – Parliamentary debates enjoy privilege, allowing MPs and peers to raise topics without risk of libel or other legal action.

The Head of Legal explains the law of sub judice, as it relates to the House of Commons...

Sub judice isn't a rule of law; legally, Parliament can discuss whatever it likes. Unlike the media, it need not fear that the Attorney General will try to injunct it to prevent contempt of court; nor can anyone else take action against it for what member say, whether under libel laws or any other cause of action.

This whole sorry episode gives further fuel to those of us who believe Michael Martin is not up to the job.And before the lefties start bleating in the comments about snobbery, it's got nothing to do with it. Accusations of snobbery with regard to Michael Martin are the last refuge of the desperate.

UPDATE: Loved this from Macchiavelli in the comment thread...

Nobody thinks higher of Mr Speaker than I do... and I think the man's a bloody idiot.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's nothing to do with snobbery. Any criticism of Michael Martin's incompetence, like any criticism of Ken Livingstone's corruption, is racist. Anyone responsible for such criticism is a racist and their views, no matter how well supported by evidence and rational argument, must be disregarded.

john said...

There is, however, the sub judice rule. Although it is actually a proper application of the rule, it should not apply when it is the house itself effectively acting as a party.

machiavelli said...

Nobody thinks higher of Mr Speaker than I do... and I think the man's a bloody idiot.

Anonymous said...

Iain...I share your frustration...What an idiot the Speaker is....In Hollyrood expenses are published quarterly...Why not Westminster? What is the Speakers problem?..I'm sorry but I have to say this...The Speaker is thick...that feels better. Regards, Martin

Head of Legal said...

I don't think it's a proper application of the rule at all, John. the resolution embodying the rule is at page 14 of this report, and you'll see it's far from the absolute rule that people might think. It's quite unreasonable and improper for him to decide, as he must have done, either that this is not a matter of national importance or else that, in spite of that, MPs should still not be able to discuss it.

Anne Eves-Dropper said...

"Nobody thinks higher of Mr Speaker than I do... and I think the man's a bloody idiot" - reminds me of something I once overheard, "no one thinks higher of Iain Dale than he does himself".

Bring Back Betty said...

The House of Commons has the Speaker it deserves.

verity said...

I loathe the speaker in all his priggish, self-righteous, smug ignorance and his low jiggery-pokery in Parliament. But could people stop referring to him as Mr Speaker? His post, to our dismay, is that of the Speaker of the House of Commons. He is addressed as Mr Speaker but referred to as the Speaker. For God's sake, don't award him any more airs, graces and privileges than those he has already surrounded himself with.

It is a disgrace and an insult to Parliament that this man occupies this position. Ably assisted in his sleazy, hungry pretensions by his wife who feels too mighty to show her idenfication to get into the House of Commons. She seems to have had one of those "Don't you know who I am, my good man?" moments. What a couple of scrubbers.

hatfield girl said...

The Speaker used to be executed when the House could stand no more; short of that he cannot be moved, unlike the Lords.

There's a lot of that kind of power about in the UK constitution but until New Labour's permanent power and no guilt, no redress policies were implemented, abuse was rare.

No New Labour sense of responsibility to anything but themselves, and we all know whose prerogative power without it is.

Anonymous said...

Before you ascend any further on your high horse, Iain, you might take the time to research the sub judice rule and its purpose a little further.

It is an unwise blogger who seeks to cite Rosa Prince as any kind of authority.

Head of Legal might seek to consider the content of the sub judice rule himself before he kicks off.

Unsworth said...

Speaker Martin is doing immense damage to the reputation of Parliament and MPs. He should stand aside. I cannot recall any Speaker who has been viewed with such public contempt and loathing.

When he (and the fragrant and lovely Mrs Speaker Martin) eventually are persuaded to relinquish the trappings, what will be his legacy? Will have done anything at all to raise public approval of the Parliamentary system?

This man is a disgusting shameless reprobate.

verity said...

HG - I liked that bit where you used the word "executed".

Paul Burgin said...

Am unsure of this as I seem to remember Betty Boothroyd tearing into Michael Mates when he made his resignation speech out of fear of the legal consequences. I will need to look up the incident as I am writing this from memory, but purely on that basis I would question the legal points you have made

Anonymous said...

What no one says, and I hope it is not through ignorance, is that the House of Commons is part of the High Court of Parliament.
So for Martin to say the matter is sub judice and cannot be discussed is to say that because it is before a lower court it cannot be discussed before a higher court, which is a nonsense and shows him up for the ignorant prat that he is. But no one corrects him, which shows that ignorance about themselves is general among MPs, and explains a lot.
BTW, the other part of the High Court of Parliament is the House of Lords, which remains the supreme court of the land, and court of ultimate appeal. Or has everyone forgotten that too?

Anonymous said...

anon@6.58:

the sub judice rule exists precisely because Parliament is a court. It is a self-denying ordinance which provides that the Commons should not usurp or prejudice the proper role of judges or courts in determining cases.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 6.58: "ignorant prat" indeed? Look at your own comments before you start tossing allegations around.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Speaker was using 'sub judice' in a wider sense.

Several times I have been at committee meetings where someone has attempted, sometimes under AOB, to raise an issue which is the subject of a dispute which is being dealt with elsewhere. The chairman has vetoed any discussion of the matter on the grounds that it is 'sub judice'. On each occasion all members of the committee have understood and accepted the chairman's decision.

I suggest that this was a similar situation.

wonkotsane said...

According to Parliament's own rules, the rules on sub judice debates don't apply if it's in the public interest.

Adrian Yalland said...

Parliament is the only proper place to discuss this! Is this embarrasement of a speaker seriously suggesting that the Daily Mail has more rights than Parliament!

Does he even know how Parliamentary perogitive works, or does he think that Parliamentary perogitive is his perogitive to live it up at our expense, then cover up when he is busted with his snout in the trough!

Anonymous said...

Of course Martin was wrong . Totally wrong .

The basic point,though, is that Martin wanted all discussion of this matter supressed and he used his (waning) authority to do supress it.

Even the generality of MP turds must be getting fed up with him now . He's living on borrowed time!

Unsworth said...

@ Anonymous 8:48 PM

I do not regard the job of a Chairman as being anything more than the servant of the Committee. Certainly I have always operated on the basis of asking my fellow Committee members for their 'instructions' - rather than imposing my will. Martin should have sought the will of the House rather than issuing this dubious edict. It's clear also that he completely overstepped the mark in his assessment of the powers of the court vis-a-vis Parliament - something his most junior clerk could have corrected him on.

And let's not equate the House of Commons with any Committee - no matter how powerful that Committee may think it is.

Anonymous said...

It's not true that parliament can talk about anything it likes. Cornwall is a Duchy (one step down from a principality) and has a unique constitutional status. It was annexed by England a few hundred years ago but never legally became part of it. Any MP who tries to raise its constitutional position is told they can't discuss a crown estate.

Anonymous said...

Unsworth said...
"I do not regard the job of a Chairman as being anything more than the servant of the Committee. Certainly I have always operated on the basis of asking my fellow Committee members for their 'instructions' - rather than imposing my will."

I have been on dozens of committees over the years and have been Chairman of several of them. I have never known a Chairman to ask for 'instructions' from the members. It is normally the case that he asks for their 'views'. In situations such as the 'sub judice' case then the decision is his, unless other members object, in which case it might or might not be discussed further, depending on the forcefulness of the Chairman. I am not saying that is right but that is the way it works in practice. The Secretary is the person who asks for instructions.