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Speakers in discord over Parliament invitation to Donald Trump

The Lord Speaker has clashed with his Commons counterpart and vowed to keep an "open mind" about any request by US President Donald Trump to address Parliament "if and when it is made".

In a brief statement to peers, Lord Fowler said he was not consulted by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who said on Monday he was "strongly opposed" to Mr Trump addressing both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.

Lord Fowler said there would be other "controversial" leaders coming to Britain in the future and suggested it was for Parliament to consider whether there was a better way to reach such decisions than the current procedure of "veto".

Earlier, Mr Bercow defended his comments that Mr Trump should not be allowed to address Parliament, telling MPs he was acting "honestly and honourably" in carrying out his responsibilities.

The Commons Speaker has faced calls to consider his position after he appeared to brand the US president a "racist" and said Mr Trump's travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries meant he was "even more strongly" opposed to an invitation.

In the Lords, Lord Fowler, a Tory former Cabinet minister, said the procedure by which permission was given to speak in Parliament was "long established".

When the Speakers received a request to invite a head of state to address Parliament they both had to agree to issue an invitation after consultation.

"The whole purpose is to seek consensus ensuring both Houses have the opportunity to consider a request."

He said Mr Bercow had said on Monday in the Commons that he opposed Mr Trump speaking. "I should make it clear I was not consulted on that decision or its timing.

"However, the Speaker contacted me this morning.

"He told me that while he maintained his view on the issue he was genuinely sorry for failing to consult with me.

"Obviously I accepted that apology."

Lord Fowler told peers: "My view is that I will keep an open mind and consider any request from Mr Trump to address Parliament if and when it is made."

In a thinly veiled rebuke to Mr Bercow, Lord Fowler said: "I don't intend to argue the case for or against Mr Trump's visit. That is not my role as Speaker.

"But allow me to say that I've spent the last 30 years campaigning against prejudice and discrimination, particularly for the rights of LGBT people and those with HIV/Aids."

He said there would be other leaders coming to Britain who may also be controversial.

The procedure for approving speeches to Parliament meant that either the Commons or Lord Speakers could "effectively veto any proposals for a visiting leader to address Parliament, at least as far as Westminster Hall is concerned".

It was for Parliament to consider whether there was a "better way in which such decisions can be made".

There could be a situation where one of the Speakers decided he could not agree to such a speech, Lord Fowler said.

"Before we reach this point there should be at the very least some effort to reach consensus and a serious discussion of what the decision should be. I hope we can now return to that previous practice."

The Speaker was applauded in the Commons on Monday after making his intervention, which reignited the controversy over the state visit granted to the US leader.

"I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons," Mr Bercow told MPs.

Video footage emerged of Mr Bercow publicly criticising the US President days ahead of his comments in the Commons.

Speaking to students at Reading University on February 3, Mr Bercow said: "I believe massively in equality before the law and am deeply intolerant of racial intolerance and bigotry.

"I profoundly disapprove of homophobia and I have no time for sexism and misogyny.

"Some of what I have just said you might think relevant and not unadjacent to the lack of enthusiasm I have thus far displayed for Mr Trump."

Praising Barack Obama as "a good man and a very, very great improvement on his predecessor as president", Mr Bercow added: "I don't think he will, but I hope that President Trump will study the principles of Barack Obama and learn the merits of the fight against racial injustice.

"If President Trump, over a period, came to think that some of the views that he has expressed and pledges he has made and audiences he has played to have been wrong, that would be a great advance not just for the United States but for humankind."


From Belfast Telegraph