Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence


  While I welcome the Procedure Committee's inquiry, I have to express my disappointment that it was not undertaken over the summer months so that the House could have avoided the administrative shambles which the election of the current Speaker undoubtedly was.

  More important still, the proceedings on 23 October hardly represented an advertisement for parliamentary democracy to those members of the public who may have read about them or, indeed, watched in bewilderment as the events unfolded in the Chamber itself.

  The reform of these rules is an urgent necessity in order both to replace the current system with one which is democratic and comprehensible and to begin the process of rehabilitating the House of Commons in the eyes of the electorate who send us there.

  Indeed, many will have been asking themselves, if we cannot conduct our own affairs sensibly, efficiently and democratically, how can we be trusted to administer theirs?


  The restoration of the House's credibility and authority is of crucial importance. However, I hope that no one either assumes or pretends that that process can be achieved simply by amending the rules governing the election of a Speaker.

  Indeed, I hope that this inquiry will be the first of a comprehensive review of the conventions and procedures of the House and their appropriateness to a modern parliament in a modern democracy.


  I would not be in favour of candidatures being decided through "the usual channels" as has been past practice. Each Member should be free to seek election, with or without patronage.

  I argued in advance of the most recent election that each candidate should produce and circulate to Members a manifesto based on the principles and priorities which would guide him or her in their occupancy of the chair. I was also a supporter of and attended the hustings which took place immediately prior to the election proceedings and proved very helpful, I believe, to candidates and electors alike.

  I am firmly of the view that, in future, candidates for Speaker should be required to produce a manifesto and attend hustings. It is preposterous that democratic elections can take place in which the electors do not know who the candidates are or what they stand for and have not had the opportunity to cross-examine them.

  Moreover, candidates should have the right to canvass support not so much on the basis of personal or Party loyalties, as is currently the case, but on the commitments which they are prepared to make as to their priorities and conduct as Speaker.


  In order to avoid frivolous candidatures, I believe that each candidate, in order to qualify for election, must be able to secure nomination from at least ten other Members.

  I would dispense with the speeches of each candidate's nominator and seconder which, frankly, sounded on 23 October more like obituaries than endorsements for higher office. In their place, the candidate's own speech of no more than ten minutes should take centre stage and he or she should be allowed up to three speeches in support of no more than five minutes each.

  In circumstances where there are more than two candidates, I would favour a secret ballot in which the two leading candidates can be identified.

  They would then be subject to a run-off in order that the winning candidate could be seen to command support from a majority of Members participating in the ballot.

  I believe that the ballot itself should be secret in order to avoid any suspicion that the new Speaker may favour his or her supporters in subsequent proceedings in the Chamber.

  I hope that the above is helpful. May I, however, reiterate the point I have made above: these reforms should not be regarded as an end in themselves but simply the first in the series required to modernise the proceedings of the House and make them intelligible and credible to Members and the public alike.

21 November 2000

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