Learn what fundamental principles guide a Chair when called on to make a difficult ruling and what happens if the Council doesn’t like a President’s ruling.

As we said in our last post, the rules of the House have one fundamental purpose – the orderly conduct of business. And we noted it is sometimes difficult for the President to navigate the tricky balance between enforcing the rules and allowing the will of the majority.

Every sitting day the President rules on “points of order”. Mostly these rulings are inconsequential, and merely serve to keep proceedings ticking along. But sometimes they are significant, interpreting rules or clarifying future practice.

Very rarely, the House objects to a ruling made by the President and seeks to overturn it.

So how does the House overturn a President’s ruling?

A member must first move immediately on the ruling being made: “That the House dissent from the ruling of the President”. The motion can be debated instantly or adjourned until a later time and members may speak for as long as they wish on the motion. A dissent moved in committee of the whole must be in writing and is reported to the House for a decision.

So when has the House dissented from a President’s ruling?

The last time the House overturned a ruling of the President was in 1991. The then Acting Deputy President upheld a point of order that it was inappropriate for a member to read lengthy excerpts from a published court judgement. The member was directed to summarise the judgement rather than read extensively from it. The House successfully overturned the ruling by 19 votes to 16.

And the consequence?

If the dissent motion is not agreed to, the President’s ruling stands. But if it is agreed to, like the example above, the President’s ruling is overturned.

A dissent by the House has no immediate or material effect on the authority or position of the President, but could potentially lead to the House losing confidence in the President, weakening his or her authority, if the number of dissent motions carried increased.

So, getting back to the issue of Speaker Bercow in the House of Commons… the reintroduction of the withdrawal agreement from the European Union in the same terms as that previously voted on (twice), could technically be a breach of the same question rule and be out of order. But would the Speaker want to prevent such an important debate by enforcing a rule against the will of the House and risking the displeasure of the House? We’ll have to wait and see – the stakes could be high.