Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 130 - 141)




  130. May I welcome Mr Paul Tyler, representing the Liberal Democrat Party, as the Shadow Leader of the House for the Liberal Democrat Party, to help us in the inquiry which we are undertaking into the procedure covering the election of Speaker of the House of Commons? You are well aware that in 1972 the House looked at it because they were concerned about the way that the Speaker was elected and it was thought even then that the system placed an unfair burden on the presiding officer, who is now the Father of the House, or for that matter the sitting Speaker and that that should be changed. No change was made and again in 1996 the Procedure Committee under my predecessor, Sir Peter Emery, looked at it and decided to make no recommendations for change on the grounds that "there is in our view no better system and many worse". What do you, as a representative of the Liberal Democrat Party, think of the strengths and weaknesses of our existing method of electing a Speaker? Do you want to see a change? I am giving you a real open question there. If so, what system do you prefer? Can you speak this afternoon on behalf of your Party collectively?
  (Mr Tyler) Thank you for the invitation to come to address you. I was actually a Member of that previous Committee in 1996 which took the view that at that stage it would be inappropriate to re-examine the rules. I cannot put my hand on my heart and say I thought at the time that everything was wonderful, but I think the time was thought to be unpropitious to re-examine the issue because we seemed to have got through the previous election without difficulty. There was also a general view that it would seem critical of the then Speaker if at that particular moment we insisted on re-examining the rules. I regret that decision. I cannot honestly say that at that stage I entered either formally or informally any discordant note to that collective view, but I think that many others would now accept that there is a need for change. My party accepts the need for your re-examination and hopefully, in the light of that re-examination, for some proposals for change. We believe that there is a general consensus in the House that change is necessary. In contrast to others who may have given evidence to you, I can speak collectively on behalf of my Parliamentary Party. The paper we sent to you, and also indeed to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, which was entitled A Voice for the Commons: Renewing the Role of the Speaker, represented the settled view of my colleagues. In the context of the response you have had on some of the questions, though not all of them, you can bump up the numbers that responded by some 42. I think you had five individual responses from Liberal Democrats; the other 42 can be said to be represented by me here this afternoon on some of the answers. We shall obviously come to those individual answers in a moment. It is our view that this is the right time to re-examine this; no disrespect whatsoever, we have made that clear, to the candidate who was eventually elected in October. We believe that the status and position of the Speaker would be enhanced by a review and by an acceptance that we can improve upon the present system.

Mr Illsley

  131. I was thinking about the 1996 Committee, on which I also served and I too did not enter a discordant note at the time. In our defence I think we can point to the fact that we were considering a report on procedures at the beginning of a Parliament and not simply the election of a Speaker. May I ask you for your views on manifestos or hustings? Do you see a case for that? Do you think the procedure of speeches in the House with a nominator and seconder is appropriate? Do you think we should actually reduce the number of candidates available to stand at any election for Speaker? Do you think there is a role for the "usual channels" or is that totally out of the question?
  (Mr Tyler) May I work backwards? I should certainly not see a role for the "usual channels". This is essentially a House of Commons matter, not a party matter and I would regret anything which moved it away from that. Therefore as far as I am concerned "usual channels" as part of that extraordinary organisation, no. On the subject of hustings and manifestos, I think it would be fair to say—others may take a different view within my party—that there is no settled view right across my Parliamentary Party. There are those who take the view which I share, that this particular decision should be concentrated in the Chamber of the House of Commons and that addresses by candidates and their nominators and seconders should be to the House, not to any other organisation outside the House. I do not think that is necessarily the view of everyone in my Parliamentary Party. There would be those who would certainly welcome something on paper from candidates, although I have already heard other misgivings expressed amongst the evidence which has been put to you and I can see the real difficulty. If I may say so, this is not the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue was a dissatisfaction with the voting procedure rather than the method by which candidates names were put to the House.

  132. You say in your evidence that you favour the alternative vote. Would that be the view of the majority of your party or are there some dissenters from that among the five who submitted individual responses?
  (Mr Tyler) No, that is the firm view of my colleagues.

  133. On a secret ballot?
  (Mr Tyler) On a secret ballot; very important. They must go together, they do not make sense if they do not work together. May I just expand on that for a moment? I have had the benefit of some informal discussions with representatives of the Canadian Parliament and I think you too have had the opportunity to see something of what they have been through recently. We believe that the arguments they give for a completely secret ballot are overwhelming, but we also think we can improve upon their voting procedure in that it can be quite long winded—I think they said it took several hours last time they voted—because they do it on the knock-out basis which takes quite a long period. In practical terms the alternative vote allows you to bring the whole of that process together without any loss of choice on behalf of individuals. Clearly the alternative vote does knock out those who have comparatively little support. It has this negative advantage of speed and clarity but it also has the huge advantage in terms of the status and position of the eventually elected candidate that a blocking vote is impossible. As far as that candidate is concerned, he or she knows that they have the overwhelming support of Members of the House of Commons. Even with the recent election that was not absolutely clear and that we feel is an extremely important point to make. The eventual candidate with the alternative vote system is clearly someone the broad mass of the House of Commons would be very happy to see in the Chair. That is a huge advantage and gives extra status and authority to that Speaker.


  134. Do you not think that could be achieved by a final vote, that the name of the individual be put to the House for confirmation?
  (Mr Tyler) No, I do not think so. For example, if you have a report up front first time round in the first round, it could be that that candidate on the first round only gets 100 votes. So it would be apparent from the outset that he or she was only the first choice of 100 Members, which immediately weakens their position. It also means, even if you go through the process we experienced in October, that a large number of Members—I cannot remember the exact figures; no doubt you have that before you—did not vote for the confirmatory vote at the end for the Speaker. Again our system lends itself to that. On both counts I would say that is not nearly so effective as the alternative vote, where a clear position is achieved.

Mrs Fitzsimons

  135. On the idea of the threshold, currently you have a seconder and a nominator and we have discussed informally the idea of having a threshold, no more than maybe about 10 or 12. One proposal is that everybody would be able to have a speech on the floor House, but you would not have a proposer and a seconder. The way of keeping the cross-party benefit would be that if it were administered by the Clerks those people who were eligible would have about 10 or 12 nominators and they would have to be from more than one party, even if it were only one other person from another party. People were thinking that sometimes it is very nice to show that there is a broader church behind the nominator and that would not be published, so there would still be no seeking to influence by showing who your supporters were, but that it actually did try to keep the essence of the idea of a broader approach to the election of Speaker and selection of Speaker. Would you favour such an idea?
  (Mr Tyler) In all fairness, I must say that particular idea has not been put to my colleagues so in this particular answer I cannot, though I can in others, fairly represent their views. I personally would be very sympathetic to that. The one thing from the Canadian experience that some of us would be unhappy with was that they have a system that every single Member of the House who is eligible to be nominated for Speaker is thought to be nominated until they withdraw their nomination. Apparently a few people leave their name accidentally on the list just to see how well they can do and that clearly does lead to quite a large extra number of also-rans. That does not seem to me to be a very tidy way of approaching this. If somebody wishes to accept nomination for the Chair, they must be up front about it. It is obviously up to the Committee how they might recommend that particular formula would work but I would be sympathetic to the suggestion you make.

Mr Darvill

  136. Your paper is helpful to our Committee and in many ways it answers some of the questions I was going to ask. I have read it with interest. There appears to be an indication in one or two of the points made that our report should be linked with consideration of the future role of the Speaker. Am I right in saying that the Liberal Democrats do not see this as being linked, for the purposes of the report, bearing in mind the need to get our report out quickly, and that you are seeing these submissions on the other matters more as a long-term consideration?
  (Mr Tyler) In an ideal world, naturally one would try to take a comprehensive view. Having been in this place on and off for quite a long time, I am struck with the simple fact of the politics of this place that there is never an ideal world and there is never an ideal time. I entirely endorse the thrust of the question that really we must get on with the specific question of how the Speaker is elected. I would just enter this caveat. It is illogical, and it is not something we would do in normal life, to decide who you want before you decide the job you want them for. We normally write a job specification first and then conduct the interviews, rather than do interviews first and then decide on the job. I do think that we have reached a point, and this is critical to the whole issue, where we should be thinking quite carefully about the role of the Speaker. I hope that our discussion paper—and it is no more than that; we do not pretend to have all the wisdom—will be considered in due course by the appropriate committee. I recognise that this Committee has a very specific task and it would look like an ever shortening timescale in which to achieve it.

  137. If we were to recommend in our report, for example, that consideration be given in the future to the role of the Speaker, you would welcome that recommendation.
  (Mr Tyler) Absolutely.

Mr Illsley

  138. Does the Liberal Democrat Party have a view on the trigger mechanism for a sitting Speaker? In other words, rather than go into the full procedure for a Speaker in office, would the Liberal Democrat Party agree to a Motion that the existing Speaker be re-appointed?
  (Mr Tyler) The problem is where to start from. We start from a widely accepted unsatisfactory situation, this is why this Committee is taking this particular view. It would normally be the case that after the dissolution and a new Parliament, the Speaker would presumably be re-elected without any division, without any opposition. It would be rather odd if, having decided that the previous arrangement was not really most appropriate to the task, and if indeed that the Speaker, as might be the case, felt that he or she—I am trying to make this as hypothetical as I can—felt that the new system was actually better and gave new authority to the Chair, it would be rather odd then if we automatically reverted to the person who happened to have been elected by the previous method. To recommend an improvement and then not to use it at the first opportunity would seem to be illogical. I have been long enough in this place to know we sometimes do illogical things, but I would hope we would not do that.


  139. This is very important to this Committee. Do you not think that if those like Mr Soley, currently the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, yourself as a leading member of the Liberal Democrat Party, felt that there was no purpose in invoking any election procedure and that a Motion that the existing Speaker, he or she, should take the Chair, that such a Motion could be tabled without invoking any form of new election procedure would be desirable. Mr Martin, let us be quite specific, has served as Speaker only for a limited period of time, he will be standing at the next election as Mr Speaker seeking re-election, and really if there was the feeling in the House that the House overwhelmingly was in support of him being re-appointed Speaker, what is the point of invoking any, even new, election procedure?
  (Mr Tyler) There are two points there and I entirely understand the force of your question and it might well be that in this particular case the outcome would be identical. I feel this is a matter for the House and I feel, for reasons I was giving earlier, that any attempt by anybody, however senior, however representative of the parties in the House, which appeared to pre-judge the views of the whole House, would be invidious. We have perhaps already slipped too far in that direction in recent years. I would hope that the House would be given an opportunity to take that decision, as it were unprompted by anybody, however senior and distinguished. That is point number one. Point number two is if the circumstances arose in the way you describe, then I would anticipate that what would happen is that there would be a call for the new procedure to be put in place, but only one candidate would be put forward. If the House as a whole took that view, I would rather they took the decision and only one candidate came forward, suitably nominated and suitably seconded, so there would not then be a ballot. That would demonstrate the confidence of the House in that incumbent Speaker and that would give the Speaker far greater authority than—I do not want to make it sound too pejorative—a carve by on the "usual channels".

  140. A question which requires a single word answer. Do you believe, representing yourself and the Liberal Democrat Party, that the new procedure for the election of the Speaker should be put in place before the next General Election?
  (Mr Tyler) Yes.

  141. May I thank you very much indeed on behalf of all the Committee for coming here, giving us such full and succinct replies to our questions? We should have liked to ask more questions. I shall send a full list of those questions to you and if you care to respond to any of them or even to build on what you have said in answer to those which have been put to you, we should be very grateful. I hope that is acceptable?
  (Mr Tyler) Indeed it is.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming before us.

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