Examination of Witness (Questions 120
TUESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
120. May I take us back to the recent election?
I would welcome your views on the participation of your party
or other parties in what happened. Secondly, was there a role
at all for the "usual channels"? Was there any discussion
to look at ways in which maybe certain preferred candidates could
be arrived at? Thirdly and finally, based on your experiences
then, do you think that the mood in the House is for change? Is
that desirable and deliverable?
(Mrs Browning) It is both desirable and deliverable.
I must say this is not a role for "usual channels" at
all. This is a House of Commons matter. It should be as transparent
and democratic as possible to allow every Member of the House
to exercise their judgement and their vote or votes according
to what they as individual Members think is the right thing for
the House of Commons. I would emphasise that when I talk about
the change needing to be without any influence or patronage from
the executive, I certainly include usual channels on all sides
of the House in that statement.
121. Views have been put that we should be looking
for an alternating Speakership from one side of the House to the
other. Is that a view you would support or do you think we should
take our chance?
(Mrs Browning) No, I do not because that brings us
back into a party political emphasis. This is genuinely above
party politics. I say that with all due respect to your eminent
Chairman as somebody who voted on the first ballot for somebody
I fought in the 1987 election. I genuinely believe that the role
of the Speaker is above party politics and the moment you get
"Buggin's turn", one side after the other, you start
to bring party political emphasis back into it.
122. What about Opposition and Government? On
the Opposition side of the House there is of course more than
(Mrs Browning) Indeed, but if it then genuinely is
a matter for the individual Members to exercise their vote, I
honestly do not think that party politics come into it. If there
is somebody whom the Houseand the Speaker has to command
support across the Housewould want as their Speaker, then
I do not think it should matter whether it happens to be three
Conservatives in succession or three Labour Members in succession.
Once they take on the role of Speaker, they are above party politics.
The Committee suspended from 5.26 p.m. to
5.36 p.m. for a division in the House.
123. You have been supplied with a statistical
breakdown of the responses to the questionnaire which the Chairman
sent to Members. This shows an overwhelming majority in favour
of changing to a ballot-based system, with a smaller majority
in favour of that ballot being secret. However, the 130 Members
who replied amount to just under a quarter of the House. In your
view are the views expressed in these replies broadly representative
of Members' views across the House, and in particular in the Conservative
(Mrs Browning) I believe they are but what would be
very helpful, and I am not sure if this is how this Committee
intends to proceed, is that when you have specific recommendations
to put forward as a result of these deliberations, at that point
a consultation with Members of the House and their response to
that specific proposal you are going to put forward or possibly
even if you are going to put forward options and choices, having
carried out this inquiry, will give you a more accurate view.
I spoke at the beginning of my evidence about general themes which
come through when talking to members of the Conservative Party.
I have not undertaken a written consultation of all members of
the Parliamentary Party. It would certainly be my wish to do so
once we have the specific proposals in front of us as to how it
was being recommended the House should proceed. That would give
a more accurate answer to the question you have just asked.
124. Basically you do not have any particular
feedback on the questions which we asked in our questionnaire.
(Mrs Browning) No, not in any exact science that I
would wish to say to the Committee that this is the view.
125. Are you disappointed that only 130 Members
of the House out of perhaps 600because some perhaps are
not permitted to respond because of offices which they holdhave
actually responded or do you think that is a reasonable sample
of the House?
(Mrs Browning) I suspect it is disappointing in comparison
with the number of people who anecdotally state they think something
should be done to change the rules as they stand at the moment,
which is why I suspect many may well respond more favourably,
certainly in terms of numbers, once there is a specific proposal
in front of them.
126. Do you think that proposal should be subject
to consultation or do you think, bearing in mind the time limits
on what this Committee is seeking to do to meet the request of
the House to have a report to debate on the floor of the House
before the end of this Parliament so a decision can be taken,
a debate on the floor of the House is the best way of carrying
out that consultation?
(Mrs Browning) Yes, I do, but I would also, prior
to that debate, once we had specific proposals or options in front
of us, wish then to take a more formal view from the Parliamentary
Party. It is a procedure I followed with the Senior Salaries Review
Body. It is very difficult just anecdotally to say this is the
view of the Parliamentary Party unless you have done that.
127. Is there a case for a written manifesto
or for hustings? Is there not a danger that giving written promises
to Members could take a candidate beyond the remit of the Speaker
and encourage them to make promises perhaps which might call into
question the impartiality of the position?
(Mrs Browning) It would depend on the nature. I do
believe a written manifesto would be very helpful, particularly
for new Members in a new Parliament. But one could judge the Speaker
or the candidate for Speaker by what they wrote in that. Anybody
who was really making themselves a hostage to fortune in what
they wrote would in itself be something which I would have thought
Members would wish to take into account. We are looking for a
person who is not going to put forward something they cannot deliver,
but we do want to know how they see their position as Speaker
in terms of the executive and the needs of the Members of the
House in order to protect the rights of individual Members and
the House itself. Something in writing would be helpful, but how
they phrase that would be quite helpful if it went over the top
in terms of what it promised.
128. And the issue of hustings?
(Mrs Browning) I am not so sure about that. I have
a feeling against hustings in the sense that we as parliamentarians
might understand it, where somebody stands up, speaks for ten
minutes and then people ask questions. I would have thought if
the written manifesto were going to be combined with an opportunity
to speak on the floor of the House, that would be the right combination.
I am not sure about hustings because it could be orchestrated,
not necessarily by the person who was the candidate but possible
129. May I thank you very much on behalf of
the Procedure Committee for coming before us this afternoon to
deal with a wide range of questions on this important subject?
May I say to you that we would have liked a greater time to put
other questions? If on behalf of the Committee I will arrange
for our Clerk to send you a copy of all the questions, if there
are any to which you would like to make an additional response
if you have already replied, or others you have not dealt with,
would that be agreeable and acceptable to you?
(Mrs Browning) Yes; thank you very much.
Chairman: Thank you for coming before us. Thank
you very much indeed.