On all sides of the House and across the country it is accepted that, whoever fills the Speaker’s Chair, he or she needs to be a reformer .One area in which there is huge scope for reform is that of the complex, pompous, and in many instances outdated, protocols of the House.
A case in point is the way in which Members are called to speak in debates. Constituents might reasonably expect those contributing to have a profound interest in the subject of discussion, be an expert in the field, or be representing some of them personally.
But, alas, this is not the case. Backbench Members speak in order of seniority. It is the old grandees and old timers that are always called on to contribute first.
And yet, it is a fundamental principle of our democracy, that all people are created equal. All constituents are equal. But not all Members are equal before the Chair. This fundamentally undermines democratic representation. If a constituent’s Member is a ‘grandee’, he or she can raise their case on the floor of the House with ease. If their Member is new or relatively new, their voice will often go unheard.
I like to think that being Chair of the 150-strong All Party Parliamentary Group promoting First Past the Post (FPTP), I have an interest, even passion, in preventing electoral reform. At Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday I wanted to challenge the Prime Minister on this topic when he was speaking about it. I was not called. Neither was I called during the questions on his statement immediately afterwards, which was specifically on matters of constitutional changes to our voting system!!
A new Speaker has tremendous sway over the way in which business is conducted in the House. A fresh Speaker with an agenda of reform will have a mandate from all Members, and the British people as a whole when finally an election is called, to make the Commons more democratic, more transparent and more effective at holding the executive to account.
To be called first in a debate simply because you have been there longer is a massive blow to democracy and to how constituents are treated. I would like whoever is elected Speaker next week to change the system to ensure that those from the 2010 intake will be treated in the same way as those elected ten, twenty or thirty years ago. The constituents we all represent are of equal value so there must be no differentiation between their MPs and their ability to be called to ask a question.