Simon Carr: A week to decide the BSkyB deal and a lot depends on the Speaker


It may mean a proper, hot war between the Tories and the Speaker – but the opening battle is surely the Speaker's to win.

He allowed Chris Bryant to apply for an "SO24" – a three-minute pitch for an emergency three-hour debate on News of the World phone hacking.

Bryant went through the details of Milly Dowler's voicemail (murmurs of "Shame! Disgusting!" And some actual tch-ing.) He urged his colleagues not to be "spineless" and a well-whipped Labour presence showed their spinefulness by rising to support the application.

No Lib Dems did. Very few Tories did because very few Tories were there. Maybe they saw the massed ranks of Labour standing and thought they shouldn't do anything their opponents were doing.

"I am satisfied," the Speaker said with particular emphasis on himself, "it is proper to be debated". And he allowed three hours for it to happen forthwith (today, that is).

Having sat through a number of select committees listening to their editors and executives talking about hacking allegations I can say it's like swimming in the Sea of Unknowingness.

Rebekah Wade – now Brooks – had made the mistake of once saying something (that her paper routinely paid police officers for stories). Her senior colleagues never said anything again. She now says words to the effect of "I make me sick!"

If MPs want to have an effect on the BSkyB takeover they need to establish as a parliamentary fact that a "fit and proper person test" can be applied to the deal. At the moment, the minister is fortified behind his claim that he isn't allowed by law to apply such a test.

The Tory whips are cool enough in public, but they must be spitting cats. The Government's legislative programme looks like me in the shirts I was wearing last week (two collar sizes ago). They've had to cut out tomorrow's backbench debate to make room for a Bill they have to get through. So to lose three hours of time this close to the recess is both painful and humiliating.

The Speaker has urgency on his side. It's a political decision – dangerously political for a Speaker – but timely. Jeremy Hunt extended the consultation for his BSkyB decision for an extra week to this Friday.

Speaker Bercow may thus play an active part in a) halting the BSkyB deal and b) throwing a spanner into the government machinery. Imagine the Prime Minister's feelings. Imagine the Chief Whip's. You wouldn't want to listen to the voice messages they're leaving each other.