Should Lindsay Hoyle go? Two MPs give their verdict

Lindsay Hoyle faced growing decisions to stand down Thursday as Tory MPs remain divided
Lindsay Hoyle faced calls to stand down on Thursday as Tory MPs remain divided
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Sir Lindsay Hoyle faced growing calls to stand down on Thursday as Tory MPs split into two camps over whether to try and force him out.

A no-confidence motion in the Speaker was signed by 30 Conservative MPs, but others spoke up to defend him and insist he should stay in post.

With Sir Lindsay’s future hanging in the balance, here two of the party’s most senior MPs set out their thoughts on his disastrous decision and his future.

‘If someone makes a mistake, even a bad one, but genuinely apologises for it, then you should accept it’

By Mark Francois

Feb 21 2024 was not the House of Commons’ finest hour. After chaotic scenes in the Chamber, members of The Scottish Nationalist Party walked out, followed in turn by a large number of Conservatives.

The public, many of whom were expecting crucial votes at the end of a very important debate, on what some are now calling the “Second Yom Kippur War”, must have been looking on with a mixture of sheer bemusement and growing anger.

Following on from this, a number of MPs, including some of my fellow Conservatives, have signed an Early Day Motion expressing no confidence in Sir Lindsay Hoyle as Speaker and thus effectively seeking his removal. I understand why many of my fellow Conservatives were angry with him but, I would respectfully suggest, they are shooting at the wrong target (much to Labour’s relief).

Despite all of the confusion surrounding the events of Wednesday night there are at least two things we can be sure of. Firstly, the SNP only gets three “opposition days” a year on which they are allowed to pick the subject for debate, on a motion of their choosing. It is not unusual for the Government to also table and amendment – to give their side of the story – but to then allow an opposition amendment on top, was not only contrary to most precedents but also had the effect, in layman’s terms, of “stealing” the SNP’s debate, specifically in order to avoid a potentially massive Labour rebellion, of potentially over 100 MPs.

Having seen the SNP in action in the Commons for over two decades, they do have a reputation for confected anger (my old friend Pete Wishart is a past master at it) but, on this occasion, they had every right to be absolutely furious – and just in case you missed it, they were.

Secondly, as attested to by numerous MPs, shortly before announcing which amendments to select for debate (and to then potentially be voted upon) the Speaker and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, disappeared into the reasons room (a small room just behind the Speaker’s Chair) and were locked in conversation for some time.

Mark Francois, the Conservative MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, places importance on Sir Lindsay Hoyle's sincere apology
Mark Francois, the Conservative MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, places importance on Sir Lindsay Hoyle's sincere apology - MARTYN WHEATLEY/i-IMAGES

It seems this is when Sir Keir put his case for selecting Labour’s amendment. Hansard does not tell us what was said in that room – only the two of them will know – but if there is any suggestion that Sir Keir threatened the Speaker’s position in a new Parliament, were he not to do his bidding, then that would be extremely serious, especially for a former director of public prosecutions himself.

A (slightly) more benign suggestion seems to be that Sir Keir stressed to the Speaker the potential threat to Labour MPs and their families from Islamist extremists if they did not have the “safety valve” of being able to vote for Labour’s amendment. If true, this also raises the obvious question: well, what about all the other MPs and their families too?

In any event, the Speaker selected the Labour amendment, which led to uproar. By the end of the evening, the Speaker evidently realised that he had made a terrible mistake (compounded by the fact that Tom Goldsmith, the clerk of the House, had written him a note, warning of the potential consequences).

It is not easy to face the House of Commons at the best of times but especially when they are as angry as they were on Wednesday night. Nevertheless, Sir Lindsay came back to the House and apologised. It was clear to all that he was contrite – almost tearful in fact – and that his apology was palpably genuine.

In all the years I have known him he has a deep love of the Commons, as an institution, and seeing what had transpired obviously left him deeply upset.

As I said in the Commons on Thursday morning, if we were in the Chamber, we are expected to apologise to the Speaker and we expect him to take that apology at face value and forgive our mistake – we should offer him the same courtesy ourselves.

I also feel strongly about this for wholly personal reasons. My greatest friend in Parliament, Sir David Amess, was brutally murdered by an Islamist terrorist – I cannot bring myself even to mention his name – but who told his trial at the Old Bailey he had done it “because of the way he had voted”.

At the time, I cannot tell you how supportive and sympathetic Sir Lindsay was, not just to me but also to Sir David’s family, his staff and many other MPs, who were also grieving terribly. He did everything he possibly could to help the House cope with a terrible loss.

Those were the actions of a decent, honest, honourable man of character and one we would, in my humble opinion, be very unwise to turf out, in anger, because he made a genuine, though admittedly important, mistake.

The SNP had no monopoly on fury on Wednesday night and so I can well understand, with tempers obviously running high, why some of my colleagues, including some personal friends, subsequently put their names to a no-confidence motion. However, I would respectfully ask them to reflect before going any further.

As a number of MPs, on all sides, suggested at Business Questions on Thursday morning, we should atone for what happened on Wednesday by rescheduling the debate, if necessary, in Government time, so that we can debate these important issues in a calmer atmosphere and with genuine votes at the end – and with the Speaker in the chair.

In summary, my father who was a D-Day veteran but who died when I was still a boy, taught me that if someone makes a mistake, even a bad one, but genuinely apologises for it, then you should accept it.

If anyone was really at fault, it seems to have been Sir Keir for placing the Speaker in such an invidious position in the first place. We could ask Sue Gray to conduct an inquiry into what was really said in that room but she is now otherwise engaged.

So, I simply say to my colleagues, be careful what you wish for: Sir Lindsay is really not the villain here. We all know who is and we should concentrate on them instead.

‘He altered the procedures and made a mockery of the Parliament and the people he serves’

By Sir Geoffrey Cox

By deciding that Labour should be able to present its amendment, and that its amendment should be voted upon first, Labour was allowed to take over the opposition day debate allocated to the Scottish National Party and effectively set aside the SNP motion demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

There are two possible explanations for Mr Speaker’s decision to abandon the long-standing convention that only the Government should be able to move an amendment to an opposition day motion.

This convention ensures the party moving the motion of its choice on opposition day (which each opposition party is allocated), is guaranteed to have it voted upon, unless the Government carries its amendment, thus expressing the will of the House.

First, he did it to assist his former party leader get out of a bind. It is said that around 100 Labour MPs might have voted in favour of the SNP motion. Secondly, he did it, as he himself says, in a misguided attempt to protect certain mainly Labour MPs from the intimidation that they said would otherwise have followed if they had voted against the SNP motion.

Either reason is unacceptable. If the former, it is an abuse of his office. If the latter, it is an abject surrender to intolerance and tyranny; it meekly offers up the House of Commons as able to be influenced by external threats.

The Speaker has accepted he made a serious error of judgment but the real question is, who induced him into this error? Who persuaded Mr Speaker that he should change the procedures of the House of Commons and permit those mainly Labour MPs to avoid the question the SNP, subject only to the Government’s amendment, was entitled on that day to ask MPs to decide. He says to protect them from intimidation and violence?

Sir Geoffrey Cox does not think Sir Lindsay Hoyle should go but says both potential motives were 'unacceptable'
Sir Geoffrey Cox does not think Sir Lindsay Hoyle should go but says both potential motives were 'unacceptable' - DAVID ROSE/FOR THE TELEGRAPH

We know that shortly before the decision was taken, the Leader of the Opposition met him in his rooms. There, he pressed the case on the Speaker. We can imagine how the arguments went.

MPs should be allowed to vote for a range of views and not be artificially confined to binary formulations that did not accord with their sense of the issues; feelings were running high out there; MPs (the Speaker’s old colleagues) were being regularly threatened in the constituencies outside the House of Commons. The long-standing convention was outdated and needed to be changed. The Speaker had a duty to protect them.

Thus, insidiously, poison was administered. A speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom weakly capitulated before the spectre of intimidation of MPs made fearful by external threats and apparently too afraid to vote with their consciences. He altered the procedures to save them from it, at the expense of another party’s right, and made a mockery of the Parliament and the people he serves.

What message does it send to the enemies of democracy around the world, if they see that the very seat of democracy in the United Kingdom can be so easily moved by such threats?

I am not calling for Lindsay Hoyle to go. He is mortified and realises he got this judgment wrong. But the one who urged the ignominious surrender, for no doubt purely coincidental party advantage, and was seen to have mouthed, “thank you”, as he passed the Speaker’s chair a few minutes later, was none other than Sir Keir, who in less than a year will ask that same people and Parliament to entrust him with the security of the nation.

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