Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Questions put to witnesses on 23 January 2001

  1.  What do you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of the existing method of electing a Speaker? Do you personally wish to see a change to the system, and if so what system would you prefer? Does your party have a collective view on this?

  2.  To what extent were the political parties involved in the recent election for Speaker, or in previous elections? Did the "usual channels" carry out soundings within the parties and if so how? Should there be formal involvement by the parties, or by the "usual channels"? Would you agree that the "mood of the House" has changed in recent years, and that backbenchers are less willing to entrust decisions of this kind to the party machines than used to be the case?

  3.  What is your view on the question of whether the Speakership should alternate between the main two parties?

  4.  You have been supplied with a statistical breakdown of responses to the questionnaire that the Chairman sent to Members of the House. This shows an overwhelming majority of respondents 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 your party?

  5.  There appears to be widespread support in the House for a change to a ballot-based system, but rather less agreement as to whether that ballot should be secret or open. What are the arguments for and against each option? Which option do you think would command greater support?

    —  What are your views on whether there should be a run-off after the initial ballot, and, if so, whether this itself should be by ballot or should be held according to the existing rules by division in the Chamber, following speeches?

    —  The Electoral Reform Society has submitted evidence commenting on the various options for conducting a ballot. They reject the option of First Past the Post, and support either the Alternative Vote system or the Exhaustive Ballot system. Do you agree?

  6.  If a ballot-based system is adopted, how great an interval should there be between nomination of candidates and the election itself? Do you accept that this interval will inevitably led to a day or more's delay in the House proceeding with its business, eg at the start of a Parliament or after the death of a sitting Speaker?

  7.  Do you believe a new procedure for electing the Speaker should be put in place before the next General Election?

  8.  Where there is a sitting Speaker at the start of 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 is defeated?

  9.  The House would wish any change to the method of electing a Speaker to safeguard the principle of the complete political impartiality of the Chair, and to ensure that the successful candidate has the widest possible basis of support in the House. Is there a case for requiring candidates to have the support of a minimum number of Members to be eligible to enter the contest? Or to require that proposers and seconders should be from different parties?

  10.  Is there a case for written manifestos or hustings? Is there not a danger that this will encourage candidates to make promises and set out policies on matters which are not for the Speaker, as the impartial servant of the House, to decide?

  11.  Do you wish to see any changes to the ceremonial surrounding the election of a Speaker?

  12.  Do you have any views on how Deputy Speakers should be appointed?

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Prepared 15 February 2001