Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence



  The process by which the House elected its new Speaker last month prompted considerable criticism and concern, both inside and outside the House. In the light of this, the Procedure Committee has decided to conduct an urgent inquiry into the rules governing the election of a Speaker. It is our intention to produce a report in time for any recommendations we may make to be debated and decided upon by the House before the end of this Parliament.

  The current system of election of Speaker dates from 1972, and was put in place following a review by the Procedure Committee. This considered radical changes such as election by secret ballot, but rejected them. In 1996 the Procedure Committee returned to the subject and in a brief report decided to recommend no further change to the rules.

  The current system is based on the assumption that the "usual channels" will take soundings within their respective parties and reach agreement on a single candidate for Speaker, or failing that will eliminate minor candidates and allow at most two names to be put before the House. The Procedure Committee's 1996 report underwrote this assumption when it stated that "the onus is plainly on the parties concerned to agree on their favoured candidate and failure to do so cannot be attributed to procedural obstacles".

  It is open to debate whether this traditional system of relying on the usual channels to produce one or at most two names is right in principle. What is clear is that, for whatever reason, the system did not operate effectively in the period preceding the election of Mr Speaker Martin on 23 October. For this reason we feel it is right to reopen the question of making a major change to the rules, especially as there appears to be significant support for such a change within the House.

  It is in order to gauge the extent of that support, and to canvass opinion on how a new system might operate, that I am now writing to all Members of the House. I and my colleagues on the Procedure Committee would be very grateful to receive your views in writing on this subject. In particular it would be helpful if you could supply responses to the questions below:

  1.  Do you support a change from the present system of electing a Speaker to one based on a ballot?

  2.  If the House were to adopt a ballot-based system—

    (a)  Should it be a secret ballot or an open one?

    (b)  Should there be a run-off between the candidates who secure the top positions in the ballot? And if so should this be by ballot, secret or open, or by division in the House?

    (c)  Should voting be on a first-past-the-post basis or using the alternative vote system?

    (d)  What type of majority, if any, should the successful candidate be required to achieve over and above a simple majority? Should the successful candidate be required to achieve that majority in relation to the total number of Members actually voting or of all those entitled to vote? Should the successful candidate be required to receive the support of a specified number, or percentage, of Members who do not belong to that candidate's party?

  3.  Should each candidate continue to require a mover and seconder, and should all three be entitled to address the House as at present? Could this be replaced—or supplemented—by a written manifesto to be published in advance by the candidate? Or by a "hustings" meeting of the kind informally arranged on 23 October? Should it be a requirement that candidates have the support of a minimum number of Members to be eligible to enter the contest?

  4.  Are there any other comments you wish to make about the electoral process or the practice of the House in relation to the election of a Speaker?

9 November 2000

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