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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
MPs' anger over Speaker vote

Sir Edward Heath presided over the vote
Widespread calls from MPs to reform the arcane system for electing a new Speaker have fallen on deaf ears, provoking anger in the Commons.

As MPs gathered on Monday to elect the 156th Speaker, appeals to overturn the antiquated balloting system were rejected by Father of the House Sir Edward Heath, who as the longest serving MP presided over the controversial vote.

The traditional system had been designed to only deal with two candidates and was made a nonsense by the decision of 12 MPs to stand for the key - and well-paid - job.

The House must have the Speaker it wants

Tony Benn
Under the traditional rules MPs could only vote on two candidates at a time, making Sir Edward's selection of who to put before the House, and in what order, crucial to the result.

Leading the calls for modernisation was veteran parliamentarian and constitutional expert Tony Benn MP. The Labour former cabinet minister asked Sir Edward to allow him to put forward a motion to bring in a system whereby the whole field could be voted on at once.

'Sympathy' for reform

But the former Conservative prime minister told a disgruntled House he believed he did not have the power to change the rules.

He said he had "considerable sympathy" for reform but believed it would be unwise to change procedure part-way through an election.

To cries of "hear hear", Mr Benn told Sir Edward: "You have absolute power, as the Speaker has, to accept an amendment if you chose to do so.

"Sir Edward, I am not asking you to support that amendment but the House should have that opportunity."

He added: "The House must have the Speaker it wants."

But the former Tory leader was unmoved and after nearly half an hour of debate, Sir Edward said: "I can't accept the proposals that are being made."


The angry mood of the House was then clear as MPs asked by what power Sir Edward had chosen the order of the candidates being voted on.

It had been down to his "discretion", he told them.

And right-wing Conservative David Davis, backing Mr Benn, said: "This is the most important vote that this House faces in this Parliament.

"It is more important that this House can choose by a transparent and visibly fair procedure that it supports overwhelmingly than we stick with an antiquated procedure that would bring this House into disrepute."

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See also:

20 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Late bid to change Speaker contest
06 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Benn calls for ballot over Speaker
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