LONDON — The Speaker of the House of Commons has spoken out against the government after they boycotted two opposition votes on tuition fees and public sector pay.
Government whips told Conservative MPs not to take part in the votes this week, after the Democratic Unionist Party, indicated that they would vote with Labour against the government.
The decision meant the opposition motions, which are non-binding, went through unchallenged, without any vote.
John Bercow said the decision by government whips was “very worrying”.
“Parliamentary votes do matter and I think it would be a very worrying development if they were to be treated lightly or disregarded,” he said at an Institute for Government event on Thursday.
Conservative MPs did not vote on Labour’s motions to end the 1% public sector pay cap and to stop the planned rise in tuition fees on Wednesday, therefore avoiding probable defeat.
Bercow said he would speak with government ministers and the Tory chief whip privately before condemning the alleged move.
When questioned why the government did not vote, Conservative Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom told MPs on Thursday: “We won’t always take part in the political point scoring that was the objective of [Labour’s] particular subjects yesterday.”
Bercow’s comments follow criticism from Labour of the government’s successful attempt to take control of all bill committees in the Commons. The move means that the government now has a narrow majority in the committees despite failing to win a majority in the general election.
Despite describing Parliament as being in “rude health” Bercow said that there were two improvements he would like to see made.
He said he thought there should be a House Business Committee to decide what occurred in the Commons, rather than the government controlling the running order. “Parliament must take control of these matters,” he said.
He also suggested that private members bills should be dealt with in a dedicated midweek slot, as the way they are debated and often blocked on Fridays was “bad for the reputation of Parliament.”
He also supported the idea of an hour long Prime Minister’s Questions slot, saying “I would very much favour that,” and “what’s the hurry.”
The weekly sessions, where the prime minister answers questions on any topic from MPs, now regularly extends well beyond the alloted 30 minutes slot, due to Bercow’s determination to allow questions from backbenchers.
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