As Speaker, I will restore the many years of eroded trust in Parliament
Meg Hillier MP praises Speaker John Bercow for making Parliament "more welcoming and accessible", but writes as his successor, she would restore the broken trust and challenge the bullying behaviour in Parliament.
The public has been left bewildered and frustrated at goings-on in Westminster in recent months. A new Speaker has a big job to restore trust in Parliament.
As I write, the relationship between Parliament and the Executive has been contested in the Supreme Court, a sign of the tension at the heart of our system.
There has been a steady erosion of trust in Parliament over many years but I get the sense that the past three years have made things worse. And yet Parliament is our greatest institution, embodying our ancient liberties and modern democracy, and should be held in as much esteem as the NHS.
One of the main priorities for the new Speaker should be to repair the reputational damage to Parliament, with the same boldness and scale as we are repairing the physical fabric of the buildings. As Speaker, I will accentuate the role of Parliament as the chief means of scrutinising the Government and holding the Queen’s Ministers to account for their decisions. We are judged on Twitter but too little recognition is given to long, hard work on committees and I will champion and highlight the hard work of colleagues on the select committee corridor.
Of course, as chair of Parliament’s most senior select committee, the Public Accounts Committee, I have seen how important it is to shine a light into dark corners of powerful institutions. Our select committee system is a powerful democratic tool, not just challenging the powerful, but changing behaviours. We have exposed waste, inefficiency and foolishness, on behalf of our citizens. I will protect and enhance this scrutiny role, not just through select committees, but through urgent questions, departmental questions, and by extending Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) to a full hour once a week to allow backbenchers to represent their constituents.
I have served on the frontbench and on the backbench, and as Speaker I will ensure that all voices are heard, and all Members get their say, especially new members and backbenchers. As the first minister to have a formal maternity cover I know there is still more to do to support parents – staff and members. One way we reconnect the public and Parliament is by showcasing the diligence and dogged determinism of Members, taking up great causes and representing individual constituents.
As the chair of the spending watchdog, I have seen how government projects can spiral out of control. As we embark on the eye-wateringly expensive refurbishment of Parliament, we must keep costs under control. As Speaker, I will endeavour to bring the public on our journey, being open about what we’re doing and why, and honest if things go wrong. It’s their money we’re spending, after all.
I want to praise Speaker Bercow for making Parliament more welcoming and accessible, and as his successor I want to carry on that work. The Speaker’s Rooms must be available for receptions, visits and events. We need to ensure that school pupils continue to benefit from the excellent work of the education centre. The Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme has been a great success in getting people into work in Parliament who do not have family here, or who belong to existing networks. As speaker, I will expand the scheme beyond the current 13 places and watch to ensure that it is true to its original purpose of providing access to young people who would otherwise not be working in Parliament.
I was thrilled when Betty Boothroyd became the first woman Speaker in 1992. We should all be encouraged that three women are standing to be Speaker this time around. It shows that the glacially slow progress towards equality is worth the fight.
Lastly, it is up to all of us to challenge bullying and harassment in Parliament. I will lead the effort to ensure a zero-tolerance environment. Not only should Parliament be a safe place to work, it should also be an enjoyable, stimulating, rewarding place to work. We need to be an exemplar and we still lag too far behind best practice. Everyone should feel a sense of joy about working in Parliament. And for MPs, when the work is done and retirement beckons (whether planned or forced upon us by the electorate) there should be a soft landing with advice, support and counselling, not just a plastic packing crate.
Meg Hillier is Labour and Co-operative MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch.
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