My focus is on repairing Parliament’s external reputation and its internal processes
Ahead of The House magazine's Speaker Hustings, Meg Hillier MP says she will accentuate the role of Parliament as the chief means of scrutinising the government
There has been a steady erosion of trust in Parliament 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 repairs to 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 ministers to account for their decisions.
We are judged on Twitter but too little recognition is given to work on committees and I will champion and highlight the hard work of colleagues on the select committee corridor.
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.
The Speaker is MPs’ shop steward and I would speak up for MPs – dispelling the myth that staff salaries are expenses. MPs need better support when they are here and when they leave. This is something I would deliver straight away.
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. I have spoken to the trade unions and staff bodies, and many individual staff who have shared their experiences. 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. MPs need proper HR advice to nip bad practice in the bud.
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.
I will protect and enhance this scrutiny role, not just through championing select committees, but through urgent questions, departmental questions, and by extending prime minister’s questions to a full hour once a week to allow backbenchers to represent their constituents. But urgent questions and statements will be limited to a maximum of one hour which will help to sharpen questioning.
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. Managing the chamber timetable more effectively will avoid some of the later nights at short notice that can mean MPs can’t travel home or don’t see their families.
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. We can also use the opportunity to open up Parliament and explain its procedures to the country.
We need to ensure that school pupils continue to benefit from the excellent work of the Education Centre and outreach team. The Speaker’s Parliamentary placement scheme has been a great success in getting people into work in Parliament who do not have connections here. As speaker, I will expand this and ensure that it is true to its original purpose, giving access to young people who would otherwise not be 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 packing crate.
Meg Hillier is Labour MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch