Examination of Witness (Questions 130
TUESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
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.
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 sayothers may take a different
view within my partythat 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 windedI think they
said it took several hours last time they votedbecause
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 MembersI
cannot remember the exact figures; no doubt you have that before
youdid 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.
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
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 paperand it is no more than that; we do not
pretend to have all the wisdomwill 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.
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 sheI am trying to make this as hypothetical
as I canfelt 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 thanI do not want to make
it sound too pejorativea 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