John Bercow has rebuked the Conservatives for their “very worrying” decision not to vote in Commons debates instigated by opposition parties.
The Commons Speaker hit out after Tory whips instructed their MPs to abstain on Labour motions on health service pay and university tuition fees.
“Parliamentary votes do matter. I think it would be a very worrying development if they were to be treated lightly or disregarded” John Bercow
Both were carried unanimously without being put to a vote, leading to Labour protests that the government was making a mockery of parliamentary democracy.
The Conservatives were forced into the move to avoid an embarrassing defeat on the floor of the Commons after learning that the DUP’s ten MPs were intending to vote with Labour.
The party has said it was not necessarily going to require its MPs to vote on such non-binding opposition motions.
But Mr Bercow backed the criticism of the government’s tactics and said he would be relaying his views to senior Tories.
“Parliamentary votes do matter. I think it would be a very worrying development if they were to be treated lightly or disregarded,” he told an event organised by the Institute for Government.
He said it would be a “matter of widespread concern” if such boycotts were to happen regularly, but added that he wanted to hear what ministers had to say on the subject.
The Speaker also indicated that he would not hesitate to trigger difficult votes for the government on Brexit-related issues such as citizens’ rights, trade deals and the use of so-called Henry VIII powers.
“I have not shown myself reluctant over the years to select amendments for debate and vote which may not be for the convenience of the executive,” he said. “Nothing is too toxic for Parliament to consider.”
In wide-ranging comments, Mr Bercow said it would be “a good thing” if an hour was set aside to Prime Minister’s Questions every week.
The session is currently scheduled to last 30 minutes, but the Speaker has regularly allowed it to overrun.
He suggested that he should given the power to eject rowdy MPs during overheated sessions.
Asked about the idea of a possible “yellow card” system to remove the worst offenders, he replied that he would“rather welcome” such a system.
Mr Bercow criticised the “patently absurd” size of the House of Lords.
“Should it consist of 800-plus members? Absolutely not. It could most definitely be halved in size and I think most fair-minded people would say that it should be,” he said.