Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 113)



Mr Stunell

  100. If we go for a ballot-based system, there seems the possibility of building in extra delay. Do you think it is acceptable if we have to have a day's suspension of Parliament while we get the ballot sorted out and in place?
  (Mr Ross) It would be an inevitable consequence, would it not?
  (Mr Soley) I would not worry about that because you could build it into the programme. It should not be a great problem.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) I do not think it would be a problem either. Under the back-bench elections to the Tory Party the name has to be in the day before by midday. That is not an insuperable problem; it is just so the ballot papers can be drawn up.
  (Mr Morgan) You exaggerate the problem that counting ballots may cause. After all, we spend at least a quarter of an hour in each division and for ballots under the AV system, or the exhaustive vote which is effectively almost the same thing, you only have one set of ballots to count and you can count that fairly quickly.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) Are you referring to having to draw up the ballot paper the day before?

  101. Yes.
  (Mr Morgan) In the Scottish Parliament where we have an exhaustive ballot for Deputy Presiding Officer where there were three candidates, we had to reprint the ballot papers first of all for the first Deputy Presiding Officer because who stood was dependent on who won the Presiding Officer's vote. Then there was a second vote, because there were three candidates and nobody got an absolute majority the first time round. We still finished all the elections within two hours including speeches. It does not necessarily mean things drag out for ever.

  Chairman: On the last occasion here, if you deduct the time taken for divisions, the actual speech time was very modest and that clearly is why we are looking at it and the House is very keen we should.

Mr Efford

  102. Is there a case for written manifestos or hustings? If so, do you feel that this is likely to encourage candidates to make promises which go beyond the remit of the Speaker and question the impartiality of the position?
  (Mr Ross) I would have thought that you could not actually stop people putting out different manifestos. They are certain to do it anyway. I would not worry about it if they did or indeed if they came to speak to people.
  (Mr Morgan) I think much the same.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) I am much more comfortable with a written manifesto on a sheet of paper than I am with the idea of hustings.
  (Mr Soley) It is quite an important point. I do not want to labour it. I would simply say that if you go down the road of a written statement, you almost inevitably end up with hustings, which I am not against in either case, but then there is no case really for speeches on the floor of the House. If you are having the speeches on the floor, then you would be less likely to have battles over hustings and the election address issue. You need to follow it in that way. The reason I quite like the speeches on the floor, is because I do think that if you look at the attendance at these, it is actually very good. I suspect it is better than you would get at hustings for many of the candidates. There is an argument there to look at. It is more important than we might give it credit for as an argument.

  103. Several of you have referred to speeches on the day of the election. Other than a written statement and a single speech on that particular day, what aspects should back benchers be taking into consideration when they are considering the person for the office of Speaker?
  (Mr Soley) They need to be able to command the respect of the House of Commons. That is the most important thing, that people have confidence and trust in them. If they have that, then frankly they are likely to be a good Speaker because people will have judged them on that. Incidentally this is why Sir Paul's point early on was quite important: Members do need to know what the candidates are like and they do not always know, particularly if they are new.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) I totally support that. What we are talking about is authority and sense of humour is important too. It can be used very effectively.


  104. Do our two other witnesses go along with those views?
  (Mr Morgan) There is some slight difficulty assessing how somebody will be in the Chair just from having seen them speak in debates unless they have also been Deputy Speaker. That could be a problem. The other thing the Speaker is in charge of is the administration of the House and all the other running matters. That is something which it is much more useful for a manifesto to address; things like modernisation of procedure which you can put over in the manifesto, where the other things you can only assess by seeing it.
  (Mr Ross) I would only say that we do need somebody who enjoys the confidence of the House and is able to do the job. That confidence does not just happen overnight, it builds up over a period of time. In my experience the House has been well served with the Speakers I have been under since I came and indeed the Deputy Speakers. Of course we always get mad at them whenever they are blind if we are standing up, but that goes with the job. We have been well served and everyone who is elected to that post has done their best to fulfil their role in a way which is satisfactory to all parties. If they did not, as we all know, there would very soon be a lot of complaints coming in through the various channels available to us.

  105. A final question from me and I hope our witnesses will think it an appropriate question. Where there is a sitting Speaker at the start of a Parliament, would it be sensible for the House to decide first on a Motion that he or she do take the Chair and for a ballot to follow only if that Motion were defeated?
  (Mr Soley) I feel deeply worried about anything which brings into question the existing Speaker, particularly if there is a dramatic change in the electoral outcome.

  106. Is that not the purpose of my question?
  (Mr Soley) It is obviously, but I am not sure I fully understand you.

  107. Let me clarify. What I am saying is that if there is a Speaker in place at the end of a Parliament, is it necessary at the beginning of the next Parliament, where that Speaker is clearly interested in continuing, for the election process to be introduced? Would it not be better for the House merely to decide on a Motion that he or she doth take the Chair?
  (Mr Soley) Yes, that it continues automatically. Is that what you are saying?

  108. Yes.
  (Mr Soley) Yes, I should be happy with that.
  (Mr Ross) Yes, I agree.
  (Mr Morgan) No, having decided on elections then, the same as in the Scottish Parliament, we have an election after every General Scottish Election. The other problem you have if you go down that road is that you have to look at how the Speaker is elected in his or her constituency. If the Speaker has a chance of not being elected as Speaker, then presumably that person has to stand on a party ticket, or at least there would be an argument for that to happen. If the Speaker stands unopposed and then does not become Speaker, who are they representing? It is something else we would have to change, other than simply having an election after each General Election.

  Chairman: I am slightly confused by your response there. I am saying that if there is a Speaker in position and that person stands as Mr or Madam Speaker seeking re-election and they are re-elected for their constituency, instead of initiating the election procedure in the House of Commons at the beginning of the new Parliament the House, obviously by agreement, would introduce a Motion that he or she doth take the Chair without going through the full election process. Is that what you are saying?

  Mr Illsley: The last Speaker was unopposed at the General Election so came into the House as an unopposed candidate.


  109. In that situation do you agree with what I have said that the House should have a motion before it?
  (Mr Morgan) No, I still think we should have a regular election after each General Election.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) I would support that too. It is academic. The Speaker is Speaker at the time of the election, when he or she stands in their constituency, therefore I am quite calm about that. If subsequently the House when it re-meets decides that this is not a good Speaker, they might think they should have the opportunity to express that opinion. They may have come to the conclusion from the previous Parliament that the Speaker was not actually very good. To deny the House the opportunity to get rid of a bad one is not a good idea.

  110. I have to say to you that this to us is a very critical issue and that is why I am trying to clarify the responses I am getting to the question I put. Let me make it perfectly clear. Even in the way I have put it, that a Motion is put to the House that a particular Member, he or she, doth take the Chair, if people are unhappy of course they can vote down that Motion.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) As long as there is the opportunity to vote and there is not a presumption that the Speaker goes unchallenged.

  111. No, there will be a substantive motion to the House that a particular individual, the Speaker in the last Parliament, doth take the Chair again in the new Parliament.
  (Mr Morgan) There would be the added complication that if you had to decide under a normal method of election which involved a secret ballot then that resolution you are talking about is effectively a ballot and therefore by logic the vote on that should also be secret rather than going through the lobbies.

  Chairman: The view you express will be taken note of.

Mr Efford

  112. Is Sir Archie happy for the sitting Speaker to stand at the election unopposed if the outcome of a ballot as to whether that person should continue as Speaker could result in them sitting as an MP having been elected unopposed.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) Yes, this is the point, is it not? At the time when they stand, that person would be Speaker and should be unopposed. If subsequently they cease to be Speaker then that is a subsequent act. At the time when they stood, they stood as Speaker and should be unopposed.


  113. May I say to our witnesses that we are, as a Committee, very grateful to you for coming to give evidence to us, for dealing very fully and directly with the questions which we have put to you? Because of what happened on the floor of the House in the divisions a number of other matters have not been fully explored with you. If I arrange for our Clerk to send a copy of the full list of questions, if there are any questions to which you would like to make a response or an additional response because of the lack of time today, would you be happy with that?
  (Mr Soley) Yes.
  (Mr Ross) Yes.
  (Mr Morgan) Yes.
  (Sir Archie Hamilton) Yes.

  Chairman: We are very grateful to you. May I thank you very much for coming before us this afternoon?

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