Speaker Bercow calls on MPs to be ‘fearless champions’

October 8, 2009 at 4:32 pm Leave a comment

The Speaker of the House of Commons set out a ten-point plan for reform in a speech to the Hansard Society last month.

John Bercow, who was elected in June, argued for the collective rights and duties of MPs when they act in committee and the institutional rights and duties of the House of Commons as a whole.

“We need the backbencher to move from the parliamentary version of the stalls to centre stage,” he said.

“If there is any one measurement by which I would want my time as Speaker to be assessed it is that the backbench MP felt, and emphatically was, more significant in the House than he or she was before I had the incredible honour of being dragged to the chair.

“That is my personal agenda.”

One radical proposal concerned ministers sitting in the Lords, such as business secretary Lord Mandelson and transport secretary Lord Adonis.

“I find the fact that backbenchers have no means of directly questioning prominent Ministers of the Crown because they happen to sit in the House of Lords to be less than satisfactory,” Speaker Bercow said.

“That is even more true at a time when the Cabinet contains the esteemed Lord Mandelson, whose empire is of a scale not seen since the death of Alexander the Great, and the thoughtful Lord Adonis who presides over the country’s transportation network.

“I suspect that both of these individuals would concede that they should be responsible to backbench MPs and would be more than willing to participate in an experiment in which they were made available publicly through Westminster Hall, as one option, and I intend to consult on how we might take this forward.”

Speaker Bercow said that since he took office he has established a brisker style of dealing with Oral Questions, allowing more backbenchers to contribute.

“I wanted all backbenchers to know that if they had a sentiment they wanted to air in the chamber and were in their places at the appointed hour, they would have a decent chance of being called to speak,” he said.

“I have been ready to grant Urgent Questions much more frequently.

“These provide a real back-bench opportunity and they also demonstrate the House engaging with the most topical issues – and not at the behest of the Government of the day.

“I have announced the experiment of a tracking system for Written Questions, in due course to be made available on the Internet.

“I am also planning to preside at some Friday sittings.

“I want to show through having the Speaker in the chair that Private Members Bills are not a relic or a parliamentary appendix, but an integral aspect of the business of the House.”

The Speaker said the selection method for his deputies should be transferred from ‘the usual channels’ to a secret ballot of MPs.

Mr Bercow reflected on the life of a backbencher in his speech.

“I am the first Speaker for some time to have been neither a Deputy Speaker nor a Minister,” he said.

“I think I have a reasonable understanding of the backbencher’s lot in life and appreciate that, to borrow from Gilbert and Sullivan, it is often not a happy one.”

He added: “If any good is to come of the grim expenses affair, it must be that it serves as a vast electric shock which forces the House to look at itself and what it does across the field in a full and fresh fashion.”

Click here to read the full transcript of his speech.


Entry filed under: Committees, Commons, Procedure. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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