Latest 6 month figures show small improvement in Speaker's bias index statistics
However, worries increase over use of Urgent Questions...
The latest six monthly round of statistics on House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, have been released today by Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East. Figures show that since the 2010 General Election - the start of the current Parliament - the Speaker has intervened 474 (59.7%) times against Conservatives MPs, 224 (28.2%) times against Labour MPs, 71 (8.9%) times against Liberal Democrats and 24 (2.95%) times against the smaller parties. This is despite political party representation in the House of Commons being Conservative 305 (47%), Labour 254 (39%), Liberal Democrat 57 (8.9%) and others 34 (5.2%).
Over the last six month period the Speaker intervened against Conservatives 99 times (52.65%), Labour 64 times (34.04%), Lib Dems 16 times (8.51%) and others 9 times (4.78%). The latest six month analysis for the Speaker shows improvement on anti-Conservative interventions since the beginning of the current Parliament with the six month figure of 54.7% down by 7.35% from 60%.
However, Mr Wilson’s research also shows that the number of Urgent Questions granted by the Speaker in the Commons is massively in Labour’s favour. Since becoming Speaker on 22nd June 2009, John Bercow has granted Labour 70 Urgent Questions and the Conservatives just 25. The Lib Dems have been granted 6 and the other parties 4. The comparison of Bercow’s Speakership before and after the General Election shows Conservatives, when in opposition, were granted 15 UQs 2009-10, whilst Labour since May 2010 has had 66 UQs – a significant increase.
Commenting on the findings, Mr Wilson said: “The last six months set of figures show us that things have improved slightly in terms of Commons interventions. Many have noticed the improvement that the statistics reflect, although still some way from being balanced in relation to levels of party representation. It is interesting that statistically interventions against Conservatives have reduced by about 5% on average whilst Labour's have risen. This is encouraging, as it appears holding the Speaker to account statistically may be helping debates in the Commons.
“However, I am concerned at how the number of UQs has ramped up since the General Election. Many MPs believe that UQs are important to hold the Government to account, but that they should be used sparingly so that their impact is widely felt. It is now believed that UQs have become an instrument for the opposition to bash the Government on the issue of the day. I’m not sure that this is their best use as the currency soon becomes debased, which would not be in the best interests of Parliament. ”
Recent examples of serious interventions on Conservative MPs include harsh treatment of Sir Peter Bottomley and the Speaker's handling of the motion against Jeremy Hunt on 13th June. The controversial debate culminated in Labour MP Chris Bryant saying the Culture Secretary had “lied to Parliament.” Despite Points of Order from Leader of the House Sir George Young and Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, plus efforts from Jeremy Hunt himself.
Since June 2011, Mr Wilson has conducted the research following concerns from colleagues that Speaker Bercow was not being even-handed in his chairmanship of the House of Commons Chamber. The Speaker was reputed by Members to have a "much shorter fuse" with Conservative MPs who felt he often lost his temper very quickly with them.
The research is updated every six months to see if the situation has changed. To date it has shown that the harshest of the Speaker’s rebukes and reprimands are reserved for Conservatives, both on the backbenches and in Government.
The research shows that the majority of Speaker Bercow’s interventions on MPs continue to be directed against Conservative MPs in contrast to Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. It demonstrates that over the three years of his Speakership 54.4% of all interventions have been directed against Conservatives – even though it has held a minority of the seats (until 2010 only 32%). In the current Parliament 59.7% of interventions are against Conservatives and 68.6% are interventions against Coalition MPs (including the Lib Dem MPs). Furthermore many of the Speaker’s harshest reprimands have been reserved for prominent members of the Government: whips, ministers, Secretaries of State and the Prime Minister. Those particularly in the firing line, include Education Secretary Michael Gove, Health Minister Simon Burns and David Cameron.
Rob concluded: “John Bercow remains a controversial Speaker and I think it important that MPs are able to see the statistics and draw their own conclusions; these figures are therefore useful in doing that. The explosion of Labour Urgent Questions has happened since the General Election and is an area of concern. Some colleagues feel that this is an example the Speaker making things more uncomfortable for one Government as opposed to another.
“I hope that the next time I publish figures further improvement will be made.”