Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 120 - 129)



Mr Drew

  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.

Mr Stunell

  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 one party.
  (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 House—and the Speaker has to command support across the House—would 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.

Mr Darvill

  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 Party?
  (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 600—because some perhaps are not permitted to respond because of offices which they hold—have 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.

Mr Efford

  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 supporters.


  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.

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