Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 14:53 UK

Bercow proposes deputies election

Speaker Bercow
John Bercow has vowed to make changes to the traditional role

Commons Speaker John Bercow has said he wants MPs to vote in elections to choose his deputy speakers.

In a statement to MPs he said he wanted two deputy speakers from the government side and one from the opposition side.

He said his election proved MPs were "ready for change" and "in a modern democracy" such important positions such as his deputies should be elected.

Mr Bercow indicated he had consulted party whips, who normally appoint the deputy speakers, about the plan.

Reeta Chakrabarti
BBC political correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti says:

John Bercow became Speaker off the back of the expenses crisis and, having campaigned for the post as a moderniser, he's not being slow to show he means business. The election rather than appointment of the three Deputies may not seem like a great step for democracy.

But if that is what is to happen, it would take away an element of patronage enjoyed for centuries by the party whips, who have traditionally decided between them names broadly acceptable across the House.

There will be obstacles. The whips are unlikely to view this with much enthusiasm. And the question arises of how you maintain political balance if all four - Speaker and three deputies - are elected.

Traditionally they've been drawn in equal proportion from the government and Opposition, although at the moment the tally is three Tory, one Labour. Such will be the issues raised - but Speaker Bercow is clearly determined to make his mark early on.

He said he was looking to implement the changes after the summer recess.

He said his election was a sign that MPs were "ready to accept change".

"In a modern democracy which puts Parliament first, I am convinced that the choice of such office holders should be determined, not by consultation, but by the process of election," he told MPs.

BBC 'concern'

Mr Bercow was later urged to investigate how his proposals came to be reported by the BBC before he made his statement - since being elected he has stressed the need for Parliament to be informed of major policy announcements before the media.

Conservative whip Simon Burns said: "I am sure the Speaker is as concerned as I am that the statement he made today was actually a significant story on the BBC News website half an hour before he made the statement, which suggests that it was leaked to the BBC.

"I was wondering if Mr Speaker would like to carry out an inquiry to try and find out how it was leaked to the BBC and was given to them prior to this House?"

Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst told Mr Burns: "You couldn't possibly expect me to comment.

"Mr Speaker will take note of what you have put on the record but it is not a matter on which I could possibly begin to opine as to what may have occurred."

He added that the fact that Mr Bercow was due to make a statement was displayed on TV screens in the Commons - but Mr Burns said there was no indication of the contents of the statement.

Sir Alan said he could not speculate about what happened.

Written answers

In his statement, Mr Bercow also said he wanted to speed up the response of ministers to written Parliamentary questions from MPs - a common cause of complaint from backbenchers.

He said: "Such questions, and timely answers to them, are an important means by which this House calls the government of the day to account.

"I will today be writing to all ministers in this House to ask them to ensure that the backlog of written questions which remain unanswered is cleared before the recess."

He said he would also set up a system to "track the timeliness of answers so that information will be available to ministers, members and those outside this place whom we serve on which questions remain unanswered and the delay in each case".

Electing the deputy speakers could raise a question of political balance - traditionally the Speaker and his three deputies have been chosen to reflect the strength of the various parties in the Commons.

The three current deputy speakers are Conservative MPs Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Michael Lord, who were both among the MPs defeated by Mr Bercow in the contest to be Speaker, and Labour's Sylvia Heal, who did not stand.

Mr Bercow, who got 322 votes to fellow Tory MP Sir George Young's 271, was the first Commons Speaker to be elected by a secret ballot of MPs.

He was elected on a reforming platform after his predecessor Michael Martin became the first Speaker to be forced to quit in 300 years, over his handling of the expenses scandal.

The Speaker of the House of Commons chairs debates in the Commons chamber. As well as keeping order, he chooses which MPs to call to speak, has a say over whether or not a government minister has to make a statement about an issue and decides whether or not particular amendments are to be debated.

Deputy Speakers share between them the role of chairing debates when the Speaker is not in the chair.

The Speaker role can be traced back to Sir Thomas Hungerford's appointment in 1377 and has the constitutionally important role of representing the Commons to the monarchy, Lords and others.

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