Hague defeated over Speaker bid

William Hague (left) and John Bercow
William Hague (left) and John Bercow
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William Hague has been accused of having failed in his role as Commons Leader on his last day in Parliament as the Government was defeated in its bid to force a secret ballot on the re-election of Commons Speaker John Bercow after May’s general election.

Maria Ms Eagle accused the Government of a “cynical attempt to bring the speakership into play to use it as a bargaining chip in coalition negotiations”.

She said the matter was fundamental to the workings of the parliamentary system and should not be the subject of an “ambush”.

The Labour frontbencher also said Mr Hague had failed in his duty as Commons Leader on his last day in Parliament.

Ms Eagle said: “In our parliamentary system the leader of the House has two jobs - the first is to ensure that the government of the day gets its business by being the voice of the Government in this House.

“The second is to be the voice of this House in the Government, restraining the wilder excesses of a powerful executive and ensuring that the House can do its job effectively.

I’m sorry to say that by supporting this grubby little plot against the Speaker on his last day as a parliamentarian the leader of the House has failed in his duty.”

“And I’m sorry to say that by supporting this grubby little plot against the Speaker on his last day as a parliamentarian the leader of the House has failed in his duty.”

Mr Hague was accused of “shabby” tactics in forcing the motion on to the order paper last night, widely viewed as a plot to remove Mr Bercow.

Mr Hague suffered a 26-vote defeat on his motion as the Government lost 228 to 202.

Mr Bercow appeared emotional as he called the tellers to reveal the result, which followed a free vote of MPs.

Before the result was announced Labour MPs loudly cheered, knowing they had won the vote.

When Mr Bercow shouted “order”, as is customary before the start of a vote, a shout could be heard from Tory benches: “You won’t be saying that in a month.”

Applause broke out in the chamber as the result was read out by teller David Hamilton, before Labour MPs began shouting “resign” at the Tory front bench, where Mr Hague, chief whip Michael Gove and deputy Commons leader Tom Brake were sitting.

Mr Hague faced condemnation from both sides of the Commons during an acrimonious urgent question on the late schedule change and in the debate on the motion itself.

Tory MP Charles Walker appeared on the brink of tears as he told the Commons he had been “played as a fool” by Mr Hague and his team.

The proposed change would have meant a secret ballot on Mr Bercow’s future if any MP had protested against his reappointment when Parliament reassembles after the general election.

He can still be opposed but the decision will be taken on a public division of MPs in the normal way.

Mr Hague, the Leader of the House, had defended the reform as “fair and democratic and thus completely justified”.

He said: “I think a secret ballot frees members of this House completely from pressure from their parties or from the chair.”

But Mr Walker, who chairs the procedure, condemned the Parliamentary chicanery.

He confirmed he had asked for a “primetime” debate on the committee’s report on a number of occasions, including a meeting with Mr Hague in January, and had sent a letter in February stating this.

In a highly emotional speech, Mr Walker said: “I do say to the Government this is not, I think, how they expected today to play out.

“The Government was hoping that the party would be kept here under a three-line whip for a party meeting and others would have gone home.

“This does not reflect well on the Government.”

Mr Walker said he attended Mr Hague’s leaving drinks earlier this week, spending 20 minutes with his special adviser and time with the Chief Whip, Michael Gove.

He said: “I have been played as a fool and when I go home tonight I will look in the mirror and see an honourable fool looking back at me and I would much rather be an honourable fool in this and any other matter than a clever man.”

The chaos in the Commons bore hallmarks of a similar debacle last year when Home Secretary Theresa May moved a motion she said was on the European Arrest Warrant but made no mention of the controversial EU measure.

Then, a series of unusual procedural manoeuvres culminated in Prime Minister David Cameron being forced to return early from the Lord Mayor’s Banquet to vote while dressed in white tie.

Labour forced a symbolic vote on the issue a week later after the Government narrowly won on that occasion.

MPs on both sides urged Mr Hague to drop his motion before pressing it to a vote and MPs roared uncontrollably as Mr Bercow appeared to take more of a back seat than is typical.

Labour’s shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle said it was an “appalling situation”.

She accused the Government of a “cynical attempt to bring the speakership into play to use it as a bargaining chip in coalition negotiations”.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis quoted Liberal Democrat Andrew George (St Ives) who was not able to attend the debate due to the death of his father.

Mr George’s email said: “I feel very frustrated and annoyed by this. In addition I can’t be there. My father died last night and as you might expect I have other priorities today that I cannot alter.

“Had I been able to attend, I would object in the strongest terms to the way this is being done. I don’t mind a motion being brought forward in an open and honest manner, but not in this underhand way.”

Liberal Democrat Duncan Hames (Chippenham) said imposing a secret ballot at re-election would be a motion of no confidence in a speaker at the start of a parliament.

Its unforeseen consequence could be to potentially “fatally wound” the speaker even if that speaker were to win such a vote, he said.

He added: “That, I think, is the gravest danger to members of this House, to have a weakened speaker, whoever that may be some time in the future.”

He asked Mr Hague to do the “gracious” thing and withdraw the motion.

Raising a point of order, Tory Jesse Norman asked why the Speaker had not called any more speeches in support of the motion.

Mr Bercow said it was the Government who had determined the time allocated for the debate.

Tory former minister Greg Barker sparked uproar in the Commons when he questioned Mr Bercow’s suitability to chair the debate.

Raising a point of order, Mr Barker said: “Given the very sensitive nature of this discussion, have you taken advice as to whether or not you, sir, should be in the chair for this debate?”

Mr Bercow replied: “I have not found it necessary to seek advice on this matter. It is commonplace for the speaker to be in the speaker’s chair.

“I’m genuinely sorry if that disquiets you but it has been normal practice to do at least the expected number of hours of the speaker in the chair and frequently rather more so.

“I’ve not generally found that that’s met with disapproval in the House.”