In a twist to the parliamentary habit of demanding futile apologies from each other, here is a story where an apology on the floor of the House would actually have had a useful effect. Instead, the SNP’s John Nicolson weaselled, wriggled, slithered and slalomed in self-justification – and still got referred to the Privileges committee. That doesn’t sound so serious – but if Parliament were a Glasgow bar, there’d be blood and broken glass, and Nicolson would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
David Davis, from his spot high on the backbenches, laid out the case for the prosecution. In short – Nicolson had wanted to pursue Nadine Dorries over her testimony to the Culture committee on which he sat; the committee disagreed; Nicolson went to the Speaker to ask for a debate; the Speaker disagreed.
“He did not ask for a Division before the report was published; he did not vote against it; he did not publish a dissenting opinion.”
Instead, Nicolson took to Twitter to give “a partial and biased account” of his exchanges with the Speaker and in the subsequent pile-on, retweeted a post accusing the Speaker of “Ermine-pursuing theatrics” and that he had placed his “integrity above that of Parliament”. The integrity of the Speaker is a cause which unites MPs across the House. A Motion was put, to see whether Nicolson would be referred to the Privileges committee (sharp intake of breath)…
A vintage Commons dust-up today, as a furious Speaker Hoyle demanded a public apology from the SNP’s John Nicolson for leaking correspondence between the pair earlier this week.
Nicolson had written to Hoyle demanding he take action against Nadine Dorries for “misleading” the Culture select committee over the sale of Channel 4, with Hoyle ultimately deciding not do so, partly on the grounds that she was no longer a member of the government. Of course, Nicolson skipped that crucial detail when he revealed parts of Hoyle’s response on social media…
Hoyle insisted Nicolson stand up and apologise there and then for giving a “partial and biased account” of the letter… only for Nicholson to claim that while he deplored social media “pile-ons“, he wasn’t going to give in. Instead, he started banging on about “integrity“. Hoyle wasn’t happy:
“Printing the letter, but only half the letter is not integrity. In fact, far from it. It misled the people of this country, it certainly put me in a bad light by the people of this country, and I don’t expect that to happen as an impartial speaker. So if that was an apology, I don’t think it was very good”.
Proper parliamentary box office viewing…
With impeccable timing, Sir Lindsay has just emailed MPs to warn of the real threat posed by Iran to England. While the Lions are currently hammering Iran in Qatar, the Supreme Leader’s intelligence services have been booked by the Commons speaker, who warns parliamentarians that they should remain vigilant as Iran sanctions a number of their ranks. He also warns MPs to shore up mobile phone and email security:
You will be aware from the recent speech by the head of MI5, and press reporting over the weekend, that the Iranian state is becoming increasingly aggressive to those it sees as its enemies – including in the UK. This includes ambitions to pressure or even kidnap or kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime, notably a number of journalists reporting on Iranian issues living in the UK. You may also be aware that the Iranian state has imposed sanctions on a number of people and organisations, including UK-based Persian language media, British intelligence and military figures. The police are speaking to some of those individuals, as well as others who have expressed criticism of the Iranian regime.
Iran has also sanctioned a number of Parliamentarians and the Security Department is in touch with them individually. We should stress that the police and intelligence agencies are not seeing any hostile Iranian activity specifically focused on Parliamentarians. However, this is a good opportunity to remind you all to remain vigilant to this and any other threat. Please report any concerns about your safety or suspicious approaches (online or in person) to your local Bridger SPOC and the Met’s Parliament Liaison and Investigations Team”
‘Remain vigilant against Iran’. If only this ref would heed that advice…
Chris Bryant is the chair of the Commons Committee on Standards. It is his job to uphold standards in the House and oversee investigations into other members for breaking rules. While confronting Boris at the Liaison Committee in 2021, Bryant slammed the then-PM for failing to correct the record:
“When a minister lies, they should correct the record, I presume you agree… It seems that you very rarely correct the record. Why is that?”
On the evening of Wednesday 19 October, Chris Bryant stood up in the Commons and told MPs the following as a matter of fact:
“As you know, Members are expected to be able to vote without fear or favour and the behaviour code, which is agreed by the whole House, says that there shall never be bullying or harassment of Members. I saw Members being physically manhandled into another Lobby and being bullied.”
On the BBC later that night he ramped up this rhetoric, saying what he saw was “clear bullying”.
Today’s report by the Speaker, summarising the testimony of those involved and with a good vantage point, rejects this claim entirely.
Lindsay Hoyle says, “While there was some physical contact between Members, there is no evidence from our investigation that this was any more than a gesture of comfort”.
Will the ever-virtuous Bryant follow his own advice and correct the record forthwith?
Co-conspirators will know that the Commons was suspended for an hour this morning, and that when the sitting resumed at midday, we were none the wiser as to why.
The Leader of the House had had an appointment at the Palace. Old procedural hands will know about the King “swearing in” a new prime minister (different from being “invited to form a government”) but even older hands will know that the Commons is never adjourned because a minister has a diary clash.
Not only would no minister stand in for the Leader, the Deputy Chief Whip was unavailable as a last resort. No wonder Penny Mordaunt had lost something of her twinkle.
A senior source told Guido that the timing of this “swearing-in” business was known on Monday and yet the person responsible for the smooth running of House business (the Leader of the House, herself) only became aware of it this morning.
Clearly, senior Tories have been otherwise occupied, and it would be unkind to say that the Whips’ operation hasn’t improved since the previous regime – but this is starting to look endemic.
Does the Tory Quarterdeck, its High Command, fear putting someone of talent, presence, capacity, personal force and experience in as Chief Whip?
Do they not realise that the Labour Whips are a lethal force? That they are wily with every sort of procedural innovation? That they operate a disciplinary regime that would have been illegal in Nelson’s navy? That their motto is, “We can make you want to be dead”? Do they not know what they are up against?
It’s safe to say that they very soon will
Lindsay Hoyle has announced Parliamentary security will be tightened following Extinction Rebellion’s protest in the Commons last week:
“Given the number of protests and campaigns planned over the coming fortnight, and drawing on the events of Friday, the parliamentary security and MPS have adjusted their posture accordingly. You will all understand why I cannot go into what details and what processes are being put in place […]The right of protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, however, the rights to peaceful protest do not extend to unlawful activity.”
The loons somehow peeled away from an official tour last Friday and superglued themselves to the Speaker’s chair. How they managed to smuggle glue and protest banners through the airport security scanners without detection remains to be answered. Hoyle doing his best to fix a sticky situation…