The Scottish National party’s new MPs are in talks about replacing the Liberal Democrats as the third party in the House of Commons – including taking over the plush office used by Nick Clegg, chairmanships of select committees and opposition parliamentary time.
According to party insiders, the SNP is negotiating with the parliamentary authorities about what their greater status in Westminster will look like, but nothing is yet agreed.
The Lib Dems chair the justice and international development committees, but they cannot expect to hold on to these posts with just eight MPs in the Commons.
Before entering coalition, the Lib Dems were allotted parliamentary opposition time and questions to the prime minister. These rights are also likely to be handed to the SNP.
Stewart Hosie, who has been the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader and chief whip, told the Guardian: “We’re the third party by a mile, so we’d expect to undertake all of the roles, responsibilities and obligations of the third party. There will have to be discussions about precisely what we get.”
MPs are due to return to the House of Commons from Monday. The 182 new MPs will undergo induction sessions and spend time setting up their offices and hiring staff. There are 74 new Conservatives and 53 new Labour MPs.
But the biggest shakeup will be caused by the arrival of 50 new SNP MPs, adding to the six who were re-elected.
A source said the SNP wanted the main offices of the Lib Dems in the Commons, which is known as the Lib Dem corridor or the Irish corridor.
The party is pushing for the third main whip’s office on the same corridor as that of Labour and the Conservatives, which allows back-channel negotiations between whips from different parties.
It is understood that the SNP expects a place on every select committee and chairmanship of one or two committees.
The party also wants about four opposition supply days of parliamentary time for the third party, a question to the prime minister every week and questions at other departmental question times. They are modelling their demands on the role of the Lib Dems during the 2005 to 2010 parliament.
It would be near impossible for the Lib Dems to fill the obligations of the third party because of the small number of MPs they have.
On top of that, the party will be boosted by about £1m a year of public funding for opposition parties, called short money, which is meant to make up for the advantages enjoyed by the governing party of relying on Whitehall staff.
The Sunday Post reported over the weekend that the former SNP leader, Alex Salmond, was being lined up for a role on the sensitive intelligence and security committee, which scrutinises Britain’s spies. However, senior SNP sources downplayed this report.
Another possible major change in this parliament could be the holder of the Speaker’s job now that the Conservatives have a majority in the Commons.
Allies of the incumbent John Bercow saw off an attempt by the Tory leadership to have him re-elected by secret ballot on the last day of the last parliament. This could have made it easier for him to be replaced with another candidate.
However, it is possible his detractors could now seek to get rid of him openly. Although a Tory MP before becoming independent when he was made Speaker, Bercow is disliked by many in his own tribe over perceived bias towards the Labour party. The process for choosing the Speaker starts on 18 May, the day parliament first meets.
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