Telegraph Opinion: Powers of Speaker could be curbed in Prime Minister’s post-election reforms

This article was written by Edward Malnick and originally published in The Telegraph.

The Parliamentary rules that led to MPs seizing control of the Commons agenda could be overhauled if Boris Johnson wins a majority in an election.

Senior Conservatives expect the Prime Minister to change the parliamentary procedures that allowed backbenchers to introduce their own legislation aimed at forcing Mr Johnson to delay Brexit if he is unable to secure an exit agreement.

One Cabinet minister said that if the Conservatives won a majority, “the Speaker won’t be able to sneeze without the permission of the Government”, after John Bercow, the incumbent, helped facilitate a “coup”. The minister predicted that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn would take a similar approach out of fear the Conservatives could use a similar device to derail reforms such as nationalisation.

Senior Tories also expect Mr Johnson to scrap the legislation currently preventing him from triggering an election, if one is called and he wins a Commons majority.

John Penrose, the new chairman of the Conservative Policy Forum, which liaises between party grassroots and Downing Street on policy issues, says the Government should “stop future Speakers from making up new rules whenever they feel like it, as Bercow has done.”

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Penrose, a former constitution minister who is now helping to form the Conservatives’ election manifesto, says future Speakers who want to “re-interpret” the rules should have to put their changes to a vote.

He remarks came after Mr Bercow, who is due to step down at the end of this month, was criticised for a series of rulings this year which allowed backbenchers to force the Government’s hand on Brexit, under Theresa May and Mr Johnson.

In the most significant case, pro-EU backbenchers were able to seize control of the Commons order paper using the House’s standing order number 24 to drive through legislation requiring the Prime Minister to seek a delay to Brexit if he had not secured a deal by October 19. Ministers said Mr Bercow should not have allowed MPs to use the standing order to usurp the Government’s control of the Commons order paper. Mr Johnson has insisted the move undermined his efforts to secure concessions from the EU, warning that Brussels believed that the UK could simply remain in the bloc if it failed to negotiate an agreement that could be approved by MPs.

Mr Penrose also calls for axing of the mandatory five year fixed term for parliaments, in order to return power to prime ministers to call an election. Under the  Fixed-term Parliaments Act introduced by the Conservative- Liberal Democrat coalition in 2011, Mr Johnson is unable to trigger a general election without securing the support of two thirds of MPs, leaving him currently trapped in Downing Street because Mr Corbyn is refusing to allow a poll.

“We should either repeal the act completely or, if that hands too much power back to prime ministers, make calling an election a normal vote in parliament rather than the two-thirds majority that’s currently needed, so oppositions that can’t form a government aren’t able to block an election too,” Mr Penrose states.

He adds: “Secondly, we should stop future Speakers from making up new rules whenever they feel like it, as Bercow has done. It’s an unaccountable power that is easily misused. If they want to re-interpret the rules which govern how Parliament works, then Parliament should have a say first; they should put it to a vote of all MPs before the change can take effect.”

Mr Penrose also calls for any changes to parliamentary rules to be subject to a two-thirds majority of MPs, “so no Government can change them to suit itself unless the Opposition agrees too.”