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A good Speaker should be an umpire, not a player

A good Speaker should be an umpire, not a player
4 min read

Writing ahead of The House magazine’s Speaker Hustings this week, Chris Bryant MP says as Speaker he would tackle bullying and harassment, simplify the parliamentary day and put backbenchers first 


I’m standing for Speaker because I believe in parliamentary democracy and I want to do things properly. That means being an umpire, not a player, which is why, in addition to giving up Twitter since the start of September, I have turned down every radio and television request outside Wales.

Of course, we need someone with enough of a sense of humour to defuse tensions, and enough of a sense of occasion to keep good order, but above all the next Speaker needs enough common sense to know when to keep quiet. That means as few interruptions from the Chair as possible, so – apart from ceremonial occasions when the Speaker speaks for the whole House – I will only speak from the chair when it is strictly necessary.

I say that because I’ve been a backbencher most of my 18 years as an MP and a full minister for all of 337 days (I know because it says so on my pension slip). So, although I believe all MPs should get an equal crack of the whip, my primary concern as Speaker would be for backbenchers.

There are some things I want to do. I will publish a list of speakers, so MPs know when they will be called, and their constituents can follow them. I want to get PMQs back to 30 minutes, giving the lion’s share to backbenchers. I will call people according to their relevance to the subject rather than their seniority and I will have no favourites. I will strike a balance between Michael Martin who allowed three Urgent Questions a year and John Bercow who recently allowed five in a day.

I will try to make the parliamentary day more predictable so MPs can meet their family and personal commitments. I want to explore how we can make deferred divisions simpler and ordinary divisions quicker (not least by putting the tellers in quicker). I will ensure (finally) that there is a decent WiFi and mobile signal across the parliamentary estate.

All colleagues want to elect the person they think will do the very best job, so of course it’s vital that the next Speaker is knowledgeable and authoritative in the chair. They have to know the rules and historic precedents inside out – I hope my two-volume history of parliament will stand me in good stead here – and they must be beholden to no one in exercising their judgement.

But I also want to make the Speaker and three deputies work more as a team, not least because there is another aspect to the job outside the Chamber, namely the efficient and responsible management of the Palace. I will keep an eagle eye on IPSA and on the Restoration and Renewal of the Palace, so that we get the very best value for the taxpayer, so that every constituency benefits from the contracts and so that when we leave the building in 2026 we can be certain we will return.

I also want to put in place a proper Human Resources department that can help MPs follow the very best HR practice – and give staff advice and support when they need it. We must ensure that everyone who works in and for Parliament is able to do so without fear of bullying, abuse or harassment. The Speaker must take a lead in this, so I guarantee I will never hector a colleague and I will ensure we implement the Cox report in full.

The Victorians used to say that children should be seen and not heard – and the best rugby referees use gentle humour and empathy to manage and defuse situations and keep the game flowing. That’s the kind of Speaker I want to be.

Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda

 

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