Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lockwood Smith: Freedom of speech for some but not for others

One of the core principles of Parliament is freedom of speech. Parliament is meant to be a place of open debate, where all views can be expressed.

Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith does not agree with this principle. Today, he ruled that labour MPs must remove signs calling for fair pay for Parliamentary Services workers (IIRC, he has previously asked them to remove badges). Meanwhile, he does not consider badges in support of breast cancer research to be disruptive of order. When pressed on his ruling, he claimed that Labour MPs should be able to tell the difference between one cause and the other. In other words, he thinks causes he thinks are important should be allowed, while causes he does not think are important - such as worker's rights - should not be.

This is a clear content-based restriction on freedom of speech. And its worth pointing out here that the Speaker has an interest: as de facto Minister for the Parliamentary Service, he is responsible for the wage dispute. So, he is effectively abusing Standing Orders to prevent criticism of his own position.

This stinks. It is dictatorial and authoritarian. But exactly what I've come to expect from National's "feudal overlord" style of government.