Greg Mulholland’s row with the Speaker – the obvious solution

Yesterday, Leeds MP Greg Mulholland tried to ask a question about the availability of a drug to treat a constituent’s rare disease – and was prevented from doing so by the Speaker for being “long-winded.”  ITV News has the story:

Speaker John Bercow had warned Mr Mulholland to be quick in his statement but after referring to missed decision dates given to families by health authorities, the Lib Dem was told to resume his seat.

Six-year-old Sam Brown from Otley. Sam, who has Morquio syndrome needs Vimazim treatment, mentioned by Mr Mulholland, but NHS England deferred a decision over whether to provide the drug, then last week announced it would wait for guidance from NICE, the health body consulting on the drug.

There is a video of the exchange on the ITV site and, to be honest, I’m quite annoyed with John Bercow. Greg was no more long-winded than many of the other questions that day – Hansard has the details so you can see for yourself. All Greg had said before he was interrupted was this:

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On 22 June, the Life Sciences Minister said in a written answer:

The decision on the interim funding of Vimizim…will be made by NHS England by the end of June 2015. The families involved, and also families affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy and tuberous sclerosis, were then told that there would be a decision on 30 June and 1 July—

The Speaker then just jumped down his throat and said things like “Don’t shake your head, mate.” What’s ironic is that Greg’s question had just 24 words to go. The Speaker’s tirade was almost 90 words long.

Greg was less than impressed and wrote about the incident on his website later. He explained that he’d been trying to get an Urgent Question on the subject:

Called near the end of topical questions, I was cut off, abruptly – which as well as leading to a tirade from the Speaker (which lasted considerably longer that my question and an answer would have taken…) – this sadly means that Health Ministers have not been held to account at the Health Questions immediately following the announcement last Thursday. That is a failure of parliamentary democracy.

Well let me make it clear, I will put my role in holding to Ministers to account and my campaign to end discrimination against those with ultra-rare conditions before worrying about “discourtesy” to members if the subject matter necessitates saying a little more than some more simple issues.

So let me now ask the question I was prevented from doing so. Alas now I will have to ask it in different ways – but I will ask it and try to get an answer. My question was to be:

On 22nd June in a written PQ, the Life Sciences Minister said “The decision on the interim funding of Vimizim…will be made by NHS England by the end of June 2015”. Families living with Morquio Disease and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy were then told the decision would be 30th June, then 1st July; then on 2nd July NHS England announced they weren’t going to make a decision. How long is the Minister going to ignore this fiasco?

If the problem is that there is insufficient time to ask all the questions needed at Health Questions, and that’s happening on a regular basis, the obvious solution is to extend the time available, not to get in the way of a conscientious MP serving his very worried constituents who at the moment are not getting the vital medication they need for their little boy. That’s a terrifying situation for them and they can see the physical effects of this further delay on their son.

I think John Bercow got this one very badly wrong yesterday and I hope that on reflection he will realise this and make amends to Greg.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Rob Gilliam 8th Jul '15 - 10:19pm

    I’m not sure of the precedent or parliamentary-ness of it, but could an EDM (or similar) be submitted calling on the speaker to apologise to sufferers of the affected conditions for cutting Mr Mullholland short?

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Jul '15 - 10:32pm

    Mulholland – that question didn’t seem unreasonable. But….

    Looking at that Hansard link the subsequent question was, ‘Does the Secretary of State agree that hospital parking charges are unfair?’

    This winds me up. Drivers seem to have their own all-powerful lobby group whilst those of us not rich enough to drive and who struggle seem to be told we can swivel and have bus cuts while we are at it. Why exactly can people rich enough to drive not pony up for parking? The NHS is not a car-parking service.

  • Ryan McAlister 8th Jul '15 - 10:34pm

    Driving is a rich person’s game?

    The things you learn.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Jul '15 - 10:52pm

    Ryan McAlister – OK then, you try and live without a car smart-aleck.

    If you want to have a go at explaining why you think that the NHS should prioritise car-parking over clinical provision then I’d be interested to hear it.

    If you have the money to drive then you are in a decent financial position and you can pay for parking. It is that simple.

  • Ryan McAlister 8th Jul '15 - 10:59pm

    I didn’t suggest the NHS should prioritize car parking.

    I just responded to the nonsense idea that anyone who drives is “rich”.

  • Little Jackie P there is no need to call Ryan a “smart Alec”. He made a perfectly valid point, much as you may disagree with it.

    Now can we please get back to the topic of John Berstow’s wholly unacceptable behaviour?

  • Has Greg upset or annoyed Bercow for some reason?

  • Richard Underhill 9th Jul '15 - 9:27am

    Please also see what david Cameron said at PMQ.

  • James Moore 9th Jul '15 - 9:30am

    Bercow was disgraceful, this just shows when a good MP like Greg tries to give a voice to the voiceless that the farce of the Commons gets in the way.

  • John Tilley 9th Jul '15 - 10:25am

    I listened to this on Today in Parliament on the radio last night. As Liberal Democrat MPs seldom get any sort of mention nowadays it was good to hear Greg Mulholland being reported.
    The Speaker may have done Greg a favour by drawing additional attention to what otherwise might have been a routine question and answer.

    With only 8 Liberal Democrat MPs this might be worth keeping in mind for the future.

  • nvelope2003 9th Jul '15 - 12:11pm

    Those who rightly complain about Speaker Bercow’s disgraceful conduct seem to be the same ones who objected to the proposal that the Speaker should be elected by secret ballot. While he has done some good things – who has not ? – he has been a divisive figure in a post whose holder was traditionally supposed to be a non controversial umpire, normally at the end of a distinguished political career. It is time to revert to that tradition.

    When Mulholland got up to leave the Chamber Bercow petulantly shouted that the House did not need him. We need a secret ballot quickly. There is no excuse for that sort of behaviour.

  • David Blake 9th Jul '15 - 1:43pm

    I know that the number of words used in a question isn’t the only way to look at this, but if Greg’s question had just 24 words to go, the total number was 88. For other questioners in the same session, the total number of words was:

    Vicky Foxcroft – 10, with a further 62 in a supplementary
    Maria Caulfield – 74
    Andrew Gwynne – 138
    Christopher Chope – 55
    Paul Blomfield – 110
    John Glen – 66
    Douglas Carswell – 29
    Heidi Allen – 78
    Richard Burgon – 82
    Julian Sturdy – 65
    Natalie McGarry – 38
    Huw Merriman – 90
    Jim Shannon – 27
    Rishi Sunak – 42
    Paula Sherriff – 52
    Helen Whately – 43
    Peter Bone – 12
    Margaret Ritchie – 26
    Jason McCartney – 23
    Barry Sheerman – 15

    So there were three MPs who used many more words than Greg did, but didn’t get the same response from the Speaker. Bercow’s behaviour was inexcusable.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 9:42am

    The UK lacks not just a fair election system, it also lacks a constitution.
    If Conservatives and conservatives chatter about “The Constitution” please ask them for a copy.
    Several pieces of constitutional legislation predate the realities of the world today, useful in part. but incomplete.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '16 - 9:52pm

    After the 2015 general election SNP MPs clapped. Speaker Bercow stopped them saying clapping is not customary in the Commons, takes up time, etc.
    When David Cameron resigned Speaker Bercow was amongst those clapping.

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