Leading Article: Needed: A Strong and Independent Voice

Article excerpt

THE BLUNKETT judgment highlights - yet again - the need for a stout defender of Parliament's rights. The surprise vacancy for the Speakership provides such an opportunity. Betty Boothroyd's tenure has in many ways been a successful one. As the first woman Speaker, she has had to preside over that testosterone-driven Commons "club" under two of the most difficult parliamentary arithmetics imaginable - a government under John Major with a tiny majority, followed by the Blair administration with a vast one. Madam Speaker faced considerable challenges. Both Mr Major and Mr Blair have used every trick in Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice to sideline Parliament. Guillotines to shorten debate have become commonplace, statements by ministers are all too frequently made to Today listeners rather than to MPs, and tricky questions are routinely taken by junior ministers rather than by their cabinet bosses.

To that extent, Miss Boothroyd was a disappointment. It is the Speaker's duty to enforce the rights of backbenchers over the wishes of the Government. In her time, the number of emergency debates and private notice questions dwindled alarmingly. These are the "surprise" debates which force ministers to scurry to the House to explain themselves to MPs, and the most powerful weapons in the backbench armoury. …