Ross Clark

Lindsay Hoyle’s biggest achievement? Making Parliament boring again

Lindsay Hoyle's biggest achievement? Making Parliament boring again
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The biggest news of the week, obviously, is the conclusion of the drama which has rocked Britain for the past 12 months: the moment the EU Withdrawal Bill finally made it through the Commons.

Blanket coverage of Thursday night’s vote may have led to some readers being unaware of some of the other news stories of the week, such as the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran and the announcement by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex that they no longer wish to work as full-time royals.

Or maybe not. How astonishing, given all those days of destiny that we had throughout 2019, that hardly anyone seems to have noticed the final act. That it was reduced to the ‘news in brief’ column is mostly down, of course, to the power of a comfortable Commons majority.

But it is also in part a tribute to the quiet skill and duty of the new Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. No longer do we have a jumped-up pipsqueak in the Speaker’s chair trying to make every Commons occasion about himself.

Take Prime Minister’s Questions this week. True, Labour MPs are still shell-shocked from their defeat and new MPs of all parties are still finding their feet, so are unlikely to be heckling to the rafters on their first appearance, but even so this week’s performance was a world away from the chaotic PMQs of Bercow’s day.

Where Mr John Bercow – if I can call him that, to rub in his non-appearance in the New Year’s honours list – would have risen to his feet at the first hint of rowdiness and given his standard headmasterly dressing-down, Hoyle didn’t even stand up when Tory MPs started to cheer an SNP member who mentioned Mrs Thatcher.

If ever there was a lesson in de-escalation, from which Trump and the Iranians might well take heed, this was it. Hoyle rightly judged that the Tory MPs would make their point and then fall silent and they did. Mr Bercow seems to have lacked the insight to see that his interventions were stirring up passions. If you start trying to put on a comedy performance from the chair you are going to whip-up an audience, not pacify it. Or maybe Mr Bercow did realise this but decided to carry on regardless.

Hoyle was in fact substituted by the deputy speaker for Thursday’s debate, but the real difference was made during the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill on 19 December.

Astonishingly, even after a general election victory which had been fought and won on the issue of ‘get Brexit done’, opposition parties were still tabling wrecking amendments right up until the last.

The SNP tabled one calling for the second reading to be abandoned on the grounds that it is not the will of Scottish voters (in which case, what bill would the Commons be allowed to pass unless the people of Scotland were fully behind it?).

The DUP tabled a similar amendment and the Lib Dems posted one calling for the second reading to be abandoned on the basis that it did not allow for the bill to be approved in another referendum.

It isn’t hard to imagine what Bercow would have done: to have selected at least one just in order to create a bit of political theatre in which he could play the starring role.

As for Hoyle, recognising that these were wrecking amendments with no chance of passing, he quietly told the Commons he hadn’t selected any of them and got on with the business.

Hoyle has made Parliament boring, but that is no bad thing.