westminster

The Curious Case of The Speaker

In recent times, we have heard a lot about EVEL creating 2 classes of MPs in the House of Commons.

Whilst the logic is correct, it would actually create a fourth class of MP. For we already have three:-

  1. Ordinary MP
  2. Speaker of the House
  3. Chairman & Deputies of the Ways and Means Committee

In practice this causes little problems within the House, as there are at most 4, non-ordinary MPs.

However, it does cause problems for democracy. For example, the sitting speaker is currently contesting a general election. He is barred from having any ties to political parties, with the only concession being he may appear on the ballot as “Speaker seeking re-election”. No swathes of activists, leaflets or billboards, no Ministers or Party Leaders arriving with platoons of press to help. Only an unwritten convention (Yes, everything in UK politics seems to be convention that no-one bothered to formalise) that major parties do not stand against them.

An entire constituency disenfranchised from politics for as long as the speaker remains in post. They can do little to oust him or her, and stand no chance of constituency issues being raised as motions, or voiced in debates. The argument goes that the constituents are better of because the Speaker has more access to Ministers and is able to raise issues in private. Once again, ‘democracy’ behind closed doors.

The Speaker has special privilege in the Commons. His own seat, keeping the House in Order, calling on members to speak. This is the primary reason the Speaker must sever all Party ties, to remain impartial. He or She also has the casting vote in any tied division, though, through a convention, the Speaker would usually vote in a pre-determined way. The Speaker would not speak in debates, and only in rare occasions make statements at all.

It is clear that this is no Ordinary MP. Which brings me on to Deputy Speakers, or the Chairman of Ways and Means and his or her deputies. The Speaker has various roles outside the chamber, including replying to Constituency correspondence, and so Deputies preside over the commons in his absence. Also, due to historical inconvenience, the Speaker does not chair budget debates, the Chairman of Ways and Means does. All well and good, except all the deputy speakers remain members of their Party. The current Chairman of Ways and Means, Lindsay Hoyle, is seeking re-election in Chorley as the Labour Party candidate, with full party backing. During his most high profile time in the Commons, he presides of the budget debate. He has the same powers and responsibilities over and to the House whilst in the chair. It seems curious that The Speaker has to renounce his Party to seem impartial, yet his deputy, with the same power, especially over a key debate, simply has to seem impartial.

I am not for one second saying Lindsay Hoyle has acted partially, I am speaking about the post he holds more generally. If an MP in the position of Speaker must be neutral, then I cannot understand why a deputy with the same power, does not have to be.

Its all very well highlighting this one small area where democracy does not really work, but what can, or should be done about it? At some point in recent history, a committee was convened to discuss moving the speaker to a special constituency. It was decided that returning an MP to the House in such a way was undemocratic. It seems, standing for election virtually unopposed, giving a whole constituency less voice, was deemed more democratic than simply returning the speaker unopposed in a special constituency.

Unless you take the drastic step of adding speaker nominees to every ballot paper, a special constituency seems to be a plausible way of doing things. There may be an inconvenient case of a Speaker stepping down before a GE and so when the new Parliament is convened, it moves a newly elected MP to the Speaker Constituency and triggers a by-election in their old constituency, but it is more democratic.

This also brings us on to the case of deputies. It seems ridiculous that they also would not leave their parties for special constituencies, unless you allow the Speaker to appoint non-MPs as his deputies. Any appointments should be voted on by the House, but I see no value in deputies being MPs and remaining in Parties.

In any case, when English Votes for English Laws appears in the next Parliament, remember they are seeking to create a fourth category of MP.

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