Page last updated at 16:15 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 17:15 UK

Speaker hopefuls set out stalls


Highlights from the hustings

The MPs who would like to be the next Speaker of the House of Commons have put their cases at the first-ever election hustings for the post.

The eight male and two female MPs in the contest tried to win fellow members over by outlining their priorities.

Tory MP John Bercow, the bookmakers' favourite, said the next Speaker must be "an ambassador" for Parliament.

MPs vote in a secret ballot next Monday to choose a successor to Michael Martin who quit over the expenses scandal.

'Overdue change'

The hustings, organised by the political research charity the Hansard Society, took place in front of television cameras.

It is the first time the election of the Speaker has been subject to such a degree of public scrutiny and the first time the vote will be held in secret.

As well as the hustings, would-be Speakers are publishing manifestos and campaigning in the open.

John Bercow
The culture of Parliament is profoundly old-fashioned, male and frequently boorish
John Bercow

The candidates then answered questions from other MPs on their proposals for reform of Parliament including changes to Prime Minister's Questions and whether MPs needed such a long summer break.

Mr Bercow said he was the "clean-break" candidate as he had never stood for the office before or been a minister.

"We have to restore trust in politics," he said, adding that he would be an "agent of necessary and overdue change" for Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal.

MPs must accept all the recommendations of an independent review of their pay and expenses, he said, while Parliament was "profoundly old-fashioned and frequently boorish" and needed modernisation.

Many Labour MPs are said to recognise it is time for a Tory to take on the role after two Labour Speakers in succession and some see the liberal Mr Bercow as the best option.

'Well-known face'

Tory veteran Ann Widdecombe said the next Speaker had to be "known" to voters and said she had the "vulgar attributes" to help Parliament re-connect with the public.

She is probably the candidate who is best known to the public after appearing in TV programmes such as Celebrity Fit Club and Have I Got News For You.

The former minister has said she wants to step down at the next election and would be "sharply focused" on the role until then before handing over to somebody else.

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said she would be a "healing Speaker" and defended her impartiality after recently standing down as a minister.

She said the next Speaker would have to deal with "tremendous challenges", including the possibility of a hung Parliament, which would require "delicate" handling.

Other people who took part in the hustings were the Conservative chairman of the Commons standards and privileges committee Sir George Young and Liberal Democrat Sir Alan Beith.

Sir George said the Commons had been slow to respond to the expenses crisis and MPs from all parties must unite behind whoever is elected as the next Speaker.

Margaret Beckett (Lab)
Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem)
John Bercow (Con)
Sir Patrick Cormack (Con)
Parmjit Dhanda (Lab)
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con)
Sir Michael Lord (Con)
Richard Shepherd (Con)
Ann Widdecombe (Con)
Sir George Young (Con)

"We simply cannot afford any more divisions," he said.

Sir Alan called for changes to Prime Minister Questions, saying the weekly session too often resembled a "schoolyard" and could be more "effective".

Conservative MPs and existing deputy speakers Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord both argued their experience would stand them in good stead for the role.

Sir Alan said he would be an "experienced hand on the tiller" during a period of change for Parliament.

Parliament had a "golden opportunity" to reform itself, Sir Michael said, arguing that MPs should be able to put forward motions for debate at short notice.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack said the next Speaker should show "fearless impartiality" in standing up to the government and the opposition.

The next holder of the Office should "name and shame" ministers who leaked announcements to the media before they were made to Parliament, he argued.

Fellow Tory Richard Shepherd said the Speaker should help "reignite the central purpose" of Parliament to represent the public and defended PMQs as a "spirited occasion".

Greater diversity

Labour's Parmjit Dhanda, at 37 the youngest candidate in the race, said the next Speaker should be a "radical" champion of reform not just a "safe pair of hands".

He said he did not want to wait "another 100 years" for the Commons to become more diverse, adding he backed the case for ethnic minority shortlists for MP selection in some constituencies.

Mr Field withdrew from the contest on Monday. He has said he expects a Conservative to win.

Mr Martin's decision to stand down in May, after nearly nine years in the role, came at the height of public anger over claims made by MPs on second homes expenses.

Several MPs stood up to tell him he had to make way for a Speaker who could help the Commons reform itself.

Mr Martin will leave the post on 21 June and his successor will be chosen on the following day.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific