Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence


  I am responding to the questionnaire on the election of a new Speaker. First of all I would challenge the assertion in the fourth paragraph of the letter that "the system did not operate effectively in the period preceding the election of Michael Martin." If you mean the system whereby we ended up with only one candidate or at most two then this is not a fault of the system. One candidate withdrew but other colleagues decided to persist. In these circumstances were the "usual channels" supposed to put pressure on some other colleagues to withdraw so that we were left with only one or two candidates? Who would they pressure to withdraw? We had so many candidates not because of a failure of the "system" but because of a failure of colleagues. With all due respect the onus was on colleagues to withdraw themselves from the race once they had taken their own soundings of the strength of their support.

  To take your questions in order:

    1.  Absolutely not. The system worked perfectly and was not a shambles contrary to media opinion. Are we saying that one whole day every 10 years is too long to take to elect a Speaker? Of course, if there were only three or four candidates it would not have looked, or felt, so tedious but in the end of the day the system worked. Would there have been any different result if we had a multi-choice ballot paper or the Wedgie Benn approach? I am certain we would not.

    2.  (a)  There should never be any secret ballots in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

      (b)  If we move on to this ludicrous system then I still favour the top candidates being proposed and seconded in the House and a Division on them.

      (c)  God preserve us! Should we not have Monsieur d'Hondt's system as well? First past the post is the only fair and British way to do it.

      (d)  There is no need for this potential mess. A majority of one is sufficient so long as the House gets a chance to vote on the main motion. I presume that when the result is announced from this crazy ballot procedure there will then be a substantive motion "that x be the Speaker of the House". Those of us who disagree can shout "No" and there can then follow a vote which will probably be fairly decisive. I forced the vote on Michael Martin and was a teller for that Division. That gave the whole House a chance to vote on him and that was decisive. That is the solution rather than working out complex formulae whereby a Speaker could be elected with only 25 per cent of the vote.

  3.  A mover and seconder is vital. The concept of a minimum number signing the nomination paper is interesting but that requires either the candidate or his supporters to tout for votes. Since that was happening last time it is perhaps one of those sordid things with which we will have to live.

  I am utterly opposed to "manifestos" and "hustings". These are not strangers we are electing. If MPs have been so idle, or so seldom here, that they have not come across the candidates chairing committees, or as Deputy Speakers, but need to have a special meeting to see what they are like then this place has no future and there is no hope. I know that candidates felt pressured into attending these meetings and they all did very well but they did not change a single vote. Everyone knew exactly who they were going to vote for in advance and it is demeaning to the office of Speaker that every candidate had to come along to a meeting of colleagues and make promises about "family friendly hours" and other titbits for the mob.

21 November 2000

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