Yesterday, and for the second time in two days, the Government lost a vote. Yet this defeat was was directly attributable to the decision by the Speaker to allow an amendment to be tabled and voted on, contrary to the existing ‘rule book’ of the Commons. This article looks at what the Speaker’s decision means for the Commons, what it means for Brexit, and what it means for the Speaker himself.
What does it mean for the Commons?
The Grieve amendment and the subsequent vote was about process – how the next five days of debate will happen, what the rules are for that debate, and what happens if the Government loses the meaningful vote next Tuesday.
As the Government had delayed the vote from before Christmas, a new Business Motion was needed. The Government tabled its motion, which was to be taken ‘forthwith’, and this is the word which the whole row hinges on. For non-procedural people, this means in Parliamentary terms that a motion must be put for a decision by the Commons ‘without debate or amendment’, and its usage is common practice.
Erskine May, the authoritative work on parliamentary procedure, states that questions forthwith “must be put without any possibility of amendment.”