As Speaker, I will ensure those working in Parliament do so without fear of bullying or harassment
Chris Bryant MP writes that if elected Speaker, he would never seek to belittle a colleague and would put in place a "proper" Human Resources department to give MPs and staff advice and support when they need it.
I was already giving Twitter a two-month break for September and October when John Bercow announced his departure and since then I have turned down every radio and television request outside Wales, for the simple reason that I don’t think it’s the Speaker’s job to be a media celebrity. Less is more should be my motto, because it’s more important than ever at this stage that the next Speaker is an umpire not a player. 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 they need enough common sense to know when to keep quiet. That means short answers to Points of Order, few interruptions from the Chair and minimal addresses to the gallery. 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 eighteen 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 basic things I want to do. I want to get PMQs back to thirty minutes, giving the lion’s share to backbenchers. I will publish a list of speakers so MPs know when they will be called and their constituents can follow them. 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 sometimes allowed three 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.
Yes, it’s vital that the next Speaker is 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 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. Above all, though, I want to 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 seek to belittle a colleague, but we also need to 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. To put it another way, like a good guitar amp, it’s all about the tone and volume settings – higher tone and lower volume. That’s what I’ll be aiming for.
Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda.
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