Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 30 JANUARY 2001
DL AND RT
180. The election of Speaker has quite a ceremony
attached to it, not least ultimately the dragging of the individual
who is chosen to the Chair to become Speaker elect, and the various
traditional procedures that are associated with the election of
Speaker, and I personally think, from the chair, is a fine part
of our historic tradition, but that is a personal view and not
the view of the Committee.
(Lady Boothroyd) I have no objection at all to whoever
is elected being dragged to the Chair. It is a very fine tradition.
It means a great deal in this country. You know the history of
it, or course, and why that is done? "No, no, not me"
because "Off with your head"nine speakers lost
their lives. So you fight like billy-o to get there and at the
eleventh hour you say you are very shy about it. It is part of
the tradition here and I would not object to that at all. I am
much more interested in the system of how you get there and I
have explained my position on that, I think.
(Lord Weatherill) I hope we will never, ever have
such an election as we had a few weeks ago. First of all, I think
that the present Speaker as a result of this had a very poor start.
I very much regret the press he got; I think it was absolutely
disgraceful. The role of the Speaker is a very important one and
a high parliamentary office and I think it is very bad luck for
a Speaker to have to start with the kind of press the present
Speaker has had. I wish him well with all my heart.
181. I think I can say from the chair that this
committee does likewise. We wish Speaker Michael Martin every
success and I wish to establish in front of you, as I have with
previous witnesses, that the reason we are undertaking the inquiry
is not in any way to put in any doubt the re-election of Michael
Martin, who is standing for the election of Speaker after the
next general election. I want to make that clear.
(Sir Edward Heath) I cannot see where a Speaker elect
would be fitted in, if I have understood what was said correctly,
because when electing a Speaker you have candidates and neither
of them is elect but then one of them is elected and you do not
want a Speaker elect, if I understand the argument correctly.
182. There is a procedure that they, of course,
then, I think, go to the House of Lords to present their credentials
and then come back to the Commons. Lady Boothroyd, Lord Weatherill,
you have both been through the procedure.
(Lady Boothroyd) I think that is relatively unimportant
in terms of electing a Speaker, quite frankly, with respect to
what you are dealing with. These matters have to be got through
and it is quite a simple procedure; it does not take up a great
deal of time of the House or the Speaker. I think the procedure
of getting there in the first place is rather more important,
and there is lots I would like to say to you that I have not been
asked as yet!
183. With that in mind, as a new member I was
quite surprised that our selection of Speaker had to be formally
reported to the House of Lords. I think that the selection of
the Speaker is the business of the House of Commons and nobody
else, and we should just report our decision and, if Speakers
want to pop along to the House of Lords to say, "Hello, I
am the Speaker", that is their affair. Could you comment
on that formal aspectthat we are expected to get approval
of our selection from the House of Lords, and is there a principle
involved there that we should stop?
(Lady Boothroyd) I do not feel very strongly on that.
I would not be at all worried or concerned if you stopped that
procedure. I can quite understand the Commons; it is a democratically
elected body and therefore it can keep it to itself; it does not
have to report what it does to the House of Lords, and it would
not worry me if you wanted to change that procedure at all. I
do not have any strong feelings about it. There are more important
matters in life than that, to me.
(Sir Edward Heath) I agree.
(Lord Weatherill) I am all for the ceremonial but,
as Lady Boothroyd has said, it does not matter. The House of Commons,
and we well know this in the House of Lords, takes precedence
over the House of Lords so, if that were to go, I do not think
it would matter two hoots.
(Sir Edward Heath) It does not worry me in the least.
I do not think we ought to have an inferiority complex. All I
want to do is get a decent House of Lords.
(Lady Boothroyd) Come and join us!
184. It is obvious that we are moving away from
having candidates fixed in one way or another and, therefore,
there is likely to be more multi-candidate elections in the future,
and it does seem to follow from that that we are likely to have
election campaigns. To what extent should we rely on the common
sense of members, both candidates and electors, to regulate that
and to what extent do you think we need to have procedures which
regulate, if possible, the campaigns which would follow from that
(Lady Boothroyd) I would not be at all in favour of
individual candidates campaigning and I do think this is where
colleagues have to, in a way, discipline or harness other colleagues
in running away with campaigningyou mean, around the tea-rooms,
around the House, writing letters. I think that is to be deprecated,
and I think the leader of any party, if their colleagues are campaigning
in that way, ought to be taken on one side and told, "This
is not the way you behave in this establishment".
(Sir Edward Heath) What can they campaign about? All
they can do is go around saying, "I shall carry out what
is laid down in the House as fairly as I can". That is all
they can say. They have got nothing else to campaign about.
(Lady Boothroyd) That is true.
185. Sir Edward, surely people can say, "I
am a damn good guy, I have done this, that, and the other; I have
served on this, that, and the other"i.e., they could
seek to persuade people that they were the right person.
(Lady Boothroyd) But it is known that they are a good
person because they have been here some years. This is where the
hustings and the manifesto come inin that you have worked
with these people, on committee, on select committee. You know
(Lord Weatherill) I think it is going to be inevitable.
Like it or not it is going to happen, but it should not happen
in a formal sense. That is important. Above all, there should
never, ever be a situationwhich we have had in the pastwhere
there is a cosy relationship between the government and the Chair.
186. The situation we have to consider as a
Committee is whether we introduce formal restrictions or whether
we leave it to members' good sense.
(Lord Weatherill) You will have to leave it to members'
good sense because it is going to happen, whatever.
(Sir Edward Heath) One other point I would like to
make is about fairness because, when we have been in office for
eighteen years, many of our people thought it was wrong that the
Speaker should always come from us and, with great respect to
the Speaker whom I always respected, the support which she got
came in its leadership from our side of the House and the proposal
was made by a Tory member, and that was the sense of fairness
in the House itself. We could not go on taking speakers from one
side and they also thought that the other side at that moment
had the best possible Speaker, so they stepped out and voted for
her. Now there were, I know, one or two possible candidates on
our side who were upset by this, and it had to be explained to
them. There was nothing I could do in the Chair to change that
if I had wanted toand I did not. I wanted them to vote
for the person they most wanted. So the House has got a sense
of fairness which rectifies itself if matters get out of proportion.
Chairman: I think the House too, I hope I am
speaking on behalf of the Committee as a whole, felt that the
way you conducted the election in October produced the best possible
result and was extremely fair to every single candidate who put
himself or herself forward, so I think we have little to complain
about although the media may not have liked it. One day in eight
or nine years does not seem excessive to deal with a matter of
such importance as the election of Speaker.
187. I was just going to talk about the idea
of the threshold. Currently we have a nominator and seconder and
one of the matters that has been talked about, if we have a secret
ballot, is that we still need to have the embarrassment factor,
saving people from themselves. The idea is that we would possibly,
say, have a threshold of ten members but one would be from an
alternative party so that we would still maintain what we have
with a nominator and seconder, which is usually that you try and
show that you have a broad church approach, further afield that
your own party. If we have a secret system, however, you would
just give that to the clerk to show that you would be eligible
to go on a ballot paper, rather than on an open system.
(Lady Boothroyd) Yes. That sounds rather a good idea.
What you are saying is that you have a broader church of support
there, but why could that not be published?
188. The idea is that, if we are trying to make
surealong the lines of a secret ballotthat, by having
certain people on your team, etc, etc, which is exactly the same
as going around and saying the tea-room saying "These are
my mates", there is no possible implication that, because
certain people supported your campaign, if you did not or were
not seen to, you were not in the right camp. If you are going
to go along the road of the secret ballot, keeping the nominators
secret and making them part of the eligibility to get on to the
ballot paper would also follow.
(Lord Weatherill) I think you need more than just
one opposition member. I would like to see the other parties involved
189. I do not mean "opposition" in
that way; I mean it as in another party.
(Lady Boothroyd) Parties, in the plural. Yes.
190. Do you think, Sir Edward, that we should
have a greater involvement of supporters and sponsors when somebody
puts themselves forward, or do you just agree with a proposer
and seconder, as is the current situation?
(Sir Edward Heath) The current situation. Is the proposal
to extend them greatly?
Mrs Fitzsimons: My suggestion was that, if we
are going maybe just to have a speech on the floor of the House
from the candidate rather than the proposer and seconder, as a
way of perhaps saving colleagues from themselves, if you cannot
get more than ten of your own colleagues, amongst whom there would
have to be members from different parties to nominate you to get
past "Go" stage to get you on the ballot paper, it could
be done as a nominal nomination process, so that some colleagues
who perhaps get carried away might think twice if they cannot
get ten of their colleagues to back them. That was the idea.
191. Our witnesses are very quiet about this!
(Sir Edward Heath) My feeling is, from everything
which has been said to me by people, when the next occasion comeswhich
may not be for some timethere will not be probably more
than two candidates and there may only be one, because people
will say, "Look, we have to sort this out between ourselves
and our parties", and they will then get on with it, and
to have this as an opportunity for everybody to try and claim
votes and positions in the House of Commons is not on. So I would
not go for that at all.
(Lady Boothroyd) Could I take up one of the points
that Mrs Fitzsimons made? I think there is some merit in what
she said but, in terms of your sponsor and speaking in the House,
I think that is totally unnecessary. I want to see the speeches
of the candidates recorded in HansardI think that is crucialbut
we learn nothing from those very nice members who get up and say
lovely things about us. It is just a waste of time, and what you
want to hear is the candidates. That is my view.
(Lord Weatherill) Simply in reply to Sir Edward, we
cannot be absolutely certain that it will not happen again, therefore
I think the Committee is quite right to inquire and introduce
new rules, taking into account that we have television here to
192. Where you have a sitting Speaker after
a general election, should the procedure be simpler? What I have
in mind is that at that point you could simply have a motion that
X do assume the Chair, being the sitting Speaker, and if that
is carried you do not proceed any further, and a ballot would
only arise if that motion was defeatedwhich seems pretty
unlikely. Would that commend itself to our witnesses?
(Lord Weatherill) I think I would be unhappy for a
Speaker seeking a second term not to be elected to the Chair.
It would be a pretty savage blow, and I hope that would never
happen, so I think there is some merit in what you suggest.
(Lady Boothroyd) I would agree.
(Sir Edward Heath) I agree.
193. This is perhaps particularly to you, Sir
Edward. Having chaired twice the election of Speakers, do you
think there is any scope for considering any change in the role
of the Father of the House in conducting those elections? Were
there any issues you learnt from or messages you would want to
give this Committee about a future occasion?
(Sir Edward Heath) I do not see any particular reason
for a change, but it is up to the House again. We always had a
clerk for most of my time at the House, and then they switched
over to the Father of the House and they may want to switch back.
I do not think they will, in fact. I think they felt that putting
that responsibility on the clerk was not entirely fair on the
clerk. I had a large number of discussion with the clerks in between
the Speaker's announcement about her retirement and the time we
had the actual vote, because they have the law at their fingertips
and if one did want to change it at all they could say, "Well,
there you are changing the law". When I suspended the sitting
of the House for natural reasons, it was because the clerks insisted
upon it. They said that I could not just nip out for two or three
(Lady Boothroyd) Of course not!
194. Sir Edward, how did you formulate within
your own mind that you would call Michael Martin as first candidate
during that election? Did you seek advice from the clerks, soundings
from groups of members or usual channels, or were you simply aware
of the feeling of the House that Michael Martin had the majority?
(Sir Edward Heath) You mean how did I put them in
the order in which I did?
195. Yes. The argument is that, in the past,
the first nominee was actually voted on first until the procedure
was changed and there was some argument that perhaps the first
candidate nominated, who was not voted on until the very end of
the procedure, perhaps is in a stronger position than those members
who are nominated as amendments to the substantive motion.
(Sir Edward Heath) I do not think that applies. I
do not think that, if a member nominated was in a stronger position
and was not put in first place, he will get through. It will not
be the first place that affects it, if that is the point you are
getting at, which I think it is. Looking at it, however, to me
it was very clear that the one I put first was the strongest.
Here was a party with a majority of 173, and you could not expect
them to do anything other than go for the one which they wanted.
Now, there was a great mistake in our people thinking that there
ought be a change from the Labour side to the Tory side. You cannot
expect a party which has just got that majority to come in and
say, "Yes, of course we want this small minority to have
the Speakership"it is just not practical politicsbut
the time will come when they say, "This has been long enough
now", but that will be some time yet. That was my judgment
about it. To be perfectly honest, however, I wanted to get all
the nominations to give them the opportunity of standing up and
facing the voters so, when I worked out the order, it was an order
of parties but also an order of individuals. I was rather surprised,
as the election went on, that some of them still stayed in but
one or two said to me afterwards, "Well, it was an experience
we could not get any other time anywhere else, and we shall never
try and get it again; we are glad to have had one chance".
(Lady Boothroyd) May I make a comment on that? I cannot
obviously answer for Sir Edward as to why he chose to put one
particular candidate first but let me say that I think, whichever
candidate he put first or last, the result would have been no
different than it was on 23 October, quite frankly.
196. Sir Edward, given your last answer, do
you still feel there is a role for the Father of the House in
terms of the procedure determining the order in which people speak
in the House? Even if we were to go for a ballot of people speaking
in the House, there still would be an order of play. Would there
be a role for the Father of the House in that or should we move
to some other system such as drawing lots?
(Sir Edward Heath) As far as the election is concerned?
197. Yes, and the order of the election.
(Sir Edward Heath) No. I think it is perfectly clear.
As I say, I took the liberty of putting the candidates in that
order. Somebody has to do it and you cannot spend a lot of time
casting lots as to the order they are going to be in before you
then cast lots for them to be Speaker. Time is limited; we took
up over seven hours as it was. No, I think you can leave calling
people to the Father of the House and I think, if he is wise,
he will try to make sure that everybody stands a chance of coming
in. As I said, however, I do not think this is going to happen
for some time to come. There will be very many fewer people who
will want to go into this contest and, if the people inside the
parties are sensible, they will get hold of their own people and
say, "Look, we cannot have all of you standing in. Let's
work out whom we really do want".
198. If there is a ballot, surely it is likely
that on the ballot people will be entered in alphabetical order
and, if there then is a speech from each candidatehowever
many there arethey would be taken, I presume, in alphabetical
order, rather than on this occasion when you had a much more difficult
(Sir Edward Heath) Then they will all become hyphenated.
(Lady Boothroyd) I think Sir Edward had a very difficult
task to perform which he did tremendously well on the 23rd, but
I think what you are saying, Chairman, is that there would be
a ballot paperand let me give my view, if I maywith
the surname in alphabetical order and that is how it would be
done. Then I would like to see all candidates speak perhaps one
after the other and the vote taken, with no sponsors in between
saying what good chaps they are and what wonderful spouses they
199. Is this agreed by your colleagues?
(Lord Weatherill) Yes.
(Sir Edward Heath) No.