LETTER FROM THE RIGHT HONOURABLE DAVID
MACLEAN MP TO THE CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE
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