Sometimes Labour MPs make it very obvious why their party hasn’t had the political nous to win a general election in 17 years. Yesterday afternoon Labour York MP Rachael Maskell stood up to ask a point of order, after Grant Shapps had spent an hour having fun pointing out all the Labour MPs who stood up to ask questions in defence of the strikes, without declaring their interests after pocketing thousands from the RMT Union. Following the question session Maskell stood up to complain to the deputy speaker that this was very unfair:
“You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that many members of the Labour party have a relationship with the trade unions that we are incredibly proud of, including with the RMT. The advice that I received from the Standards Commissioner ahead of that debate, and therefore ahead of today, stated under the requirements for declaration:
“Members are required, subject to the paragraphs below, to declare any financial interests which satisfy the test of relevance, including:
a) past financial interests (normally limited to those active within the last twelve months)”.
It is my recollection that the general election was two and a half years ago, so can you advise, Madam Deputy Speaker, on whether a declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests should keep being raised two and a half years after it has been made?”
To paraphrase Eleanor Laing’s no-nonsense response, she told MPs to present the whole truth when representing their union paymasters, not just try and get away without a declaration because of a small technicality in the members’ rule book. A cracking misjudged intervention from Maskell all round…
Busy newsflow pushed the controversial passage of Priti’s Borders Bill out of the headlines, although there was one eyebrow-raising moment from last night still worth highlighting: Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing losing her patience with SNP MPs attempting to prevent the vote by blocking the aye lobby and repeatedly intervening during the debate. As always, Laing put the misbehaving Members in their place…
Dawn Butler has once again tried to get herself booted out of the Commons for the sake of a few Twitter likes. Last time, it worked – this time, not so much. Standing to make a point of order this afternoon, Butler claimed Gillian Keegan had given “misleading information to MPs on the government’s handling of contracts during the pandemic“, and was “incorrect and wrong“. After discouraging “such long points of order”, Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing politely pointed out that Butler’s claim “was not a matter for the chair”.
Sensing an opportunity to go viral, Butler then asked:
“I just wonder how we’re supposed to operate in Parliament if Ministers do not come to the House and tell the truth.”
After scolding Butler for accusing Gillian Keegan of lying, Laing gave her the chance to retract the statement. Butler tried again:
“The minister is rewriting history and I think we have a problem with that.”
Rather than giving Butler what she wants, Laing accepted the claim and let the issue pass. Another well-handled moment from Laing after she did the same thing with Zarah Sultana last week…
In a point of order this afternoon, Liam Fox raised a Point of Order referencing the extraordinary intervention in proceedings in Scotland yesterday, where implicating the First Minister was censored from Salmond’s evidence against Sturgeon. Fox quoted Salmond as saying:
“the complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between Government, political party, and indeed the prosecution authorities in any country which abides by the rule of law.”
Describing the analysis as one that would be a damning indictment in a tinpot dictatorship, Fox asked Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing what could be done to “ensure the conduct of the Scottish Government does not bring politics in the whole of the United Kingdom into disrepute”.
Laing herself stressed the seriousness of the matter and how it affects “the bedrock of our constitutional settlement“, stressed her concern with “safeguarding democratic standards“, and went as far as almost encouraging him to bring it before the House once again. Guido gets the impression this is only the beginning…
Following up on the story Guido reported yesterday – that an EU-funded KCL and LSE research scheme sent MPs over a thousand fake letters mid-pandemic – a point of order was just raised in the Commons. Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing condemned the fury-inducing time-wasting casework stitch-up:
“At a time like this it is hard to see how any responsible researcher could have thought that sending over 1000 spoof emails adding to this work load was a good idea. Or how any responsible ethics committee could have approved it, or indeed how any responsible body could have decided to fund it.
“Mr Speaker is extremely concerned about these matters and he will be writing directly to those involved”
A bollocking from the highest commoner in the land will no doubt be an accolade the researchers won’t forget in a hurry…
UPDATE 25/02: Read Mr Speaker’s bollocking in full –
A Tory Party fringe event this afternoon saw Tory deputy speakers Eleanor Laing and Nigel Evans speak at a “The Future of Parliament” chat hosted by Conservative Young Women, in which it was revealed the new Covid-friendly voting method in the Commons – with MPs tapping their vote in via a card reader in the No or Aye Lobbies – will stay forever post-pandemic, signalling an end to the ancient method of six Commons clerks recording votes by hand (and latterly by iPad), based on members’ name. Hopefully this will both speed up divisions and the time it takes to get MPs’ votes up on the Parliament website…
During the Zoom fringe event, Evans also revealed that while Big Ben’s scaffolding has begun to come down, it will take a whole six weeks for the metal casing to be removed entirely.
When asked about the legacy of John Bercow, both were very diplomatic however conceded the former speaker allowed too many Urgent Questions and Sir Lindsay has now got the balance right and is making the right procedural calls, including disallowing the Brady amendment. Finally, they supported the u-turn on cutting the number of seats in parliament and keeping the figure at 650 due to there now being no MEPs. Bravely they even spoke the unspeakable truth: that rejigging seat boundaries will actually “benefit the Tories”…