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The culture of bullying and bad behaviour in Parliament must stop, if elected Speaker I would lead by example

The culture of bullying and bad behaviour in Parliament must stop, if elected Speaker I would lead by example
3 min read

The next Speaker faces an urgent challenge to restore confidence and respect in our system of law-making, in our democracy and in our Parliament, writes Eleanor Laing MP. 


The next Speaker faces an urgent challenge to restore confidence and respect in our parliamentary system.

The Speaker is the servant of the House, not the master. His or her actual powers are quite limited. But their influence is significant. I passionately believe that Parliament works best when its proceedings are seen to be dignified, reasonable and fair. But faith in our democratic system has been badly rattled in recent times.

Never underestimate how important it is that we respect our rules and conventions. The way in which our laws are made is just as important as what they say. Law-making must not only be fair, it must be seen to be fair. If the way in which a law is made is thought to be unfair, people will not respect that law and will be reluctant to obey it. That way lies anarchy. So we must restore faith in our system of law-making, in our democracy and in our Parliament.

I love lively, witty, vigorous debate. But I deplore discourtesy and arrogance. Having sat in the Speaker’s Chair for the last six years I have managed to keep order without being rude or demeaning to any of my colleagues. I respect every Member of Parliament and I would encourage all my colleagues to show respect for one another. The Speaker cannot impose a behaviour code upon MPs – but can lead by example. I exert authority with kindness.

People talk about the importance of exercising impartiality. I don’t just talk about it. I do it every day as Deputy Speaker. It is not actually terribly difficult to be fair and impartial when you are in the Chair presiding over the Chamber - that is just a matter of decency and common sense. What is rather more difficult is to put aside your own views and put your duty to the Chair and to the House first and foremost in absolutely everything you do. I know what a challenge that is because I have done it for six years.

We all agree that the culture of Parliament has to change. There is an element of bullying and bad behaviour. It must stop. Not only do we need to be ‘family friendly’, we also have to make it easier for people from all parts of the country, all ages, all backgrounds and all walks of life to serve their communities by representing them in the Commons. I have worked in and around Parliament for thirty years. I have been the young staffer, afraid of overbearing old men. I have been the new mother feeding her baby between divisions. I have sat patiently on the opposition benches knowing we would never win a vote. I have loyally served on the Government benches – and sometimes rebelled! I have had the great privilege of sitting in the Speaker’s Chair. I love the House of Commons with all my heart. I want to see its reputation restored. I long to see its place as the central forum for national debate respected.

For that to happen, we need to do things a bit differently. It’s time for a change. Time for a breath of fresh air.

 

Eleanor Laing is Deputy Speaker and Conservative MP for Epping Forest.

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Read the most recent article written by Eleanor Laing MP - I will work to restore trust in our democracy during these turbulent times

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