Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 259)



  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 esteem—or she is—and 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 House—and to anyone outside—the 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 difficult—of 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 back—maybe 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, Mr Chairman.

  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 speeches—if that is what you also want to recommend—made 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.

Mr Darvill

  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 discussing—cross-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 is possible.

  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 came—that 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.

Mr Darvill

  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 provisions—just 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.

Mr Efford

  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 Speaker?
  (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 forth?
  (Mr McKay) Yes.

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