Examination of Witness (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
MR W R MCKAY
240. It does not automatically alternate?
(Mr McKay) Not automatically, but it does move across
the House. Nearly all the 19th century Speakers were Liberals;
the balance in the 20th century was not precise but the Speakership
did move. I think the key to hold on to surely is not that there
should be a regular movement of the Speakership either after (say)
two Parliaments or when the government party changes but, importantly,
that a Speaker from whatever party, once elected, should not be
turfed out just because another party has been returned. That
seems to me to be a more basic aim. I do not know what members'
experience is but mine is that, if you talk about Westminster
and these matters in a Commonwealth or any other context, that
is what people see as distinctive here.
241. You have suggested, Mr McKay, the importance
of ensuring that a Speaker is supported by as high a proportion
of the membership of the House as possible, ie, he is held in
high esteemor she isand clearly can be considered
impartial. In your view, would this requirement be best satisfied
by a run-off, by a division in the House between the final two
candidates emerging from a secret ballot or an open one, or by
a final division on the question that a particular candidate who
is successful in the ballot "do take the Chair as Speaker"?
(Mr McKay) I would not like to hazard an opinion which
is preferable but I would draw your attention to a difficulty
which you would have to solve if you decide to recommend that
the two top candidates in any ballot should go forward to the
House. What procedure are you going to apply? Would you apply
the old, pre-1972 consecutive motions, where the name of the man
or woman who came out first in the ballot was put first to the
House as the motion? Or are you going to say that the man or woman
who comes out top in the ballot shall be the motion, and the man
or woman who comes out second in the ballot shall be the amendment
and so shall be voted on first? There are all sorts of significances
which can be drawn from the procedure adopted.
242. Are you suggesting, therefore, that if
we selected a ballot by the alternative vote the person who produced
the best result in the alternative vote should then be put forward
as the substantive motion that "he or she doth take the Chair
as Speaker", or would you go along on a first-past-the-post
situation that the person who had the highest number of votes,
first past the post should be the substantive motion?
(Mr McKay) I think the Committee would have to ask
itself what was the purpose of this proceeding in the House other
than to garner final stage support for the candidate who had led
the field, whatever voting system you have in the ballot. If it
is simply to gather the support together, to present to the Houseand
to anyone outsidethe fact that this is a Speaker with,
at the end of the day, overwhelming support in the House, then
you are probably better just to go for the confirmation of the
winner in the ballot, that "X, having won the ballot, take
the Chair as Speaker".
243. Do you have any particular views on the
exhaustive ballot or the alternative vote?
(Mr McKay) For us as officials counting the alternative
vote would be difficultof course it would because we would
have to do more redistributions. I can remember an election on
that system, admittedly a national election in Dublin, going on
for about four days. Of course, there were many more votes but
there were many more people counting too, so it would be difficult
for us. On the other hand, the exhaustive ballot would require
the House coming backmaybe five times, as the Canadians
did on Monday.
244. What about a ballot first past the post?
The person with the highest number of votes?
(Mr McKay) It is certainly the easiest to organise.
245. That is a political answer, Mr McKay!
(Mr McKay) No, no. It is only an official answer,
246. It is an official, political answer. You
have advised the Committee that the Committee should consider
recommendations restricting canvassing on the part of candidates
for the Speakership. How restrictive do you believe any such recommendations
should be and how, in practice, would they be achieved? Ought
this Committee to consider restricting candidates' expenditure,
for example? What else should it restrict and what force would
it be appropriate to give to such recommendations? Approval by
the House of a Procedure Committee's report, resolution of the
House, or formal incorporation into Standing Orders?
(Mr McKay) I think what is essential here is the creation
of a climate. If you want to put this genie back in the bottle
and think you can do it then the best way is to say, "We
do not think canvassing is in the best traditions of the House",
and leave it there, relying also on the speechesif that
is what you also want to recommendmade by the two most
successful candidates, or the successful candidate, or all candidates
in the House. I do not think, however, that expenditure or even
the details of any manifesto or answers given in response to questions
can be prescribed by the House in advance saying, "You must
not do this". If you want to take this route, it is better
to establish a climate and say, "We do not think this is
right", and Members then will not do it.
247. You think that would be enough?
(Mr McKay) It has always been enough in the past.
Chairman: But the past is the past and the future
is the future.
248. In dealing with the impartiality of the
Chair, you have suggested that the Committee consider that any
new procedure should guarantee its political impartiality. How
might this be done?
(Mr McKay) I think by some of the matters we have
already been discussingcross-party nominations; maybe secret
ballots, if that is what the Committee wanted; maybe also some
understanding of the tradition of the House that, for 170 years,
Speakers returning to the House after a general election have
been likely, very likely, to be returned to the Chair.
249. Can we get a direct answer on that from
you, because I think this is important and the Committee feels
it is important: do you think, Mr McKay, that there should be
any particular provision made for the re-election to the Chair
of a sitting Speaker returning to the new Parliament and, if there
should be such a provision, and I think the Committee feels there
should, what should that provision be?
(Mr McKay) I do refer to this towards the end of my
paper, Mr Chairman. The House has been content to do this since
the 1830s. I think it is a principle enunciated with great clarity
by Peel in 1841 and the way of doing it, it would seem to me,
is to allow the House the opportunity of voting against a Speaker
but not to require that Speaker to enter a head-to-head contest
with others. So the question before the House is that Mr X "do
take the Chair of this House as Speaker", and no amendment
250. Who puts that forward?
(Mr McKay) I suppose Mr X, having been Speaker, had
better find someone in the House to do it.
251. Would it, therefore, be done by the Father
of the House presiding, or who, and would it need to be proposed
and supported, as it were?
(Mr McKay) I think it would be best if this question
was not distinguished from any other. That means it has to be
moved by somebody from the floor of the House.
252. It could not be moved by the Father of
the House, could it?
(Mr McKay) Well, there are no other questions which
the Chair, of its own motion, makes in the House.
253. So somebody would catch the Father of the
House's eye and they would propose that the Speaker, Mr So-and-so
or Mrs So-and-so, should take the Chair?
(Mr McKay) Yes.
254. Without entering any election procedures?
(Mr McKay) Yes, though you need to have a fallback,
at least notionally, in case that is defeated. Indeed there are
all sorts of other curlicues in a ballot standing order which
you might want to think about, such as what you do if, as it were,
you threw a party and no one camethat is, you have a ballot
and there are only one or two nominations. I dare say, however,
if you went down that line, we could assist in drafting appropriately.
255. We have been mainly considering the election
of the Speaker on the experiences of the last resignation of Lady
Boothroyd but do we need to make any special consideration in
the case of a Speaker dying suddenly, or being incapacitated and
not being able to take the Chair?
(Mr McKay) I think a Speaker incapacitated is already
catered for. The Clerk of the House announces the unavoidable
absence and all the powers of the Speaker devolve at once on the
Deputy Speaker; that is all right. In the case of a resignation
I do not think you need any particular provisionsjust that,
in drafting a Standing Order for the Committee, we would need
to be always looking over our shoulder to make sure it fitted
that situation; that the principles that you enunciated for an
election at the beginning of a Parliament would work on a resignation.
256. Is a resignation or a death the same?
(Mr McKay) Yes.
257. I would like to return to this bone I am
chewing concerning the reporting of the election of our Speaker.
This goes into a whole part of Parliamentary procedure that I
know nothing about and do not understand entirely. Can you take
me through the procedure? What happens once we have selected our
(Mr McKay) The House goes up and presents the Speaker
Elect to the Lords Commissioners at a new Parliament.
258. Where does that take place?
(Mr McKay) In the Lords.
259. They sit there with their hats on and so
(Mr McKay) Yes.