How should MPs address ‘dishonourable’ members?
There has been an attempt on the ‘Number 10’ website to create a petition to address the issue of having to refer to thieves and liars as ‘honourable’ members. It was worded: ‘We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to request Parliament to instruct The Speaker to stop referring to MPs as "The Honourable Member for" and start calling them "The Current Member for".
The reason, says the petitioner, is that: ‘The age old tradition of assuming all MPs to be "Honourable" is clearly outdated and incorrect. Calling them "The Current Member for" would remind them that their position is dependent on their electorate.’
But the petition has been rejected on the grounds that it is ‘outside the remit or power of the Prime Minister and Government.’
Cranmer is puzzled by this.
Surely it is within the power of the Prime Minister to ask Parliament to debate any matter. And, since the Speaker is a servant of the House, surely Parliament may instruct the Speaker to alter convention, otherwise the Speaker would be accountable to no-one. God knows, New Labour has meddled in far more serious traditions and conventions than the relatively trivial issue of how MPs address one another. This being the case, what is it which places Mr Webber’s petition ‘outside the remit or power of the Prime Minister’?
Over at Three Line Whip, James Kirkup draws our attention to a little recent history.
In 1947, one Garry Allighan MP was found guilty of breaking privilege, and the House debated his punishment. During the debate, Herbert Morrison (grandfather of Lord Mandelson) argued that Mr Allighan should be suspended for six months. But other members felt that this ‘would leave his constituents disenfranchised and they should be given the immediate right to chose another MP at a by-election’. An amendment demanding expulsion was moved by Quintin Hogg (father of Douglas Hogg).
Yet Douglas Hogg is one of those MPs now insisting on remaining an MP for the next 12 months despite accepting that public anger of his moat-cleaning claims is such that he must resign.
During the debate, Sir Winston Churchill argued that having been declared ‘dishonourable’, it would be impossible for Mr Allighan to resume his place as an ‘honourable’ member without being re-elected. The outcome was that the Commons passed a motion: ‘That Mr. Allighan, for his gross contempts of the House and for his misconduct, be expelled from this House.’
Mr Kirkup is right to ask: ‘Any resonance for current members, who have tacitly admitted unacceptable conduct but plan to remain in the House?’
Perhaps petitioners ought to petition Number 10 to admit Mr Webber's petition.