Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
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
(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
(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
(Sir Archie Hamilton) Are you referring to having
to draw up the ballot paper the day before?
(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.
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
(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
(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
(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
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?
(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
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
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?