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Sat, 30 May 2020

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The new Speaker should be truly independent, neutral at all times, and command respect

The new Speaker should be truly independent, neutral at all times, and command respect
4 min read

Parliament is in crisis. As Speaker I will restore confidence and trust, writes Sir Henry Bellingham MP ahead of The House's Speaker hustings

First of all, I would like to say Speaker Bercow has been a great Backbench champion, and I salute and applaud the way he has extended the UQ system to help hold the Executive to account. I also applaud many of his reforms including the Education Centre which has transformed Parliament’s outreach to younger generations.

This is undoubtedly one of the most important Speakership elections of recent times, so why have I decided to enter the contest?

Back in 2013 I entered the Deputy Speakership election, and finished close behind Eleanor Laing. Since then I have joined the Panel of Chairs, and worked hard to become more expert on procedure and recognising colleagues across the House. Hopefully my experience of 32 years in the House, split equally between the Frontbench/PPS roles/Whips Office, and the Backbenches will stand me in good stead.

Everyone agrees we are facing a number of crises in Parliament at the moment; in order to overcome this, it will require a new Speaker who is truly independent, neutral at all times, and who can command respect across the House. Much of this stems from Brexit, which has inevitably led to strains in the relationship between MPs and the current Speaker. This alone requires an experienced individual to “reset the dial” so confidence and trust can be restored.

If elected, I also plan to fully implement the Dame Laura Cox QC report into bullying. In particular, we must get into place a truly independent oversight body. This culture of bullying can only be fully resolved if the person at the very top is someone who shows courtesy and respect to everyone across the entire Parliamentary Estate. This why the Speaker should never be “the story”, and whilst he or she must be firm when necessary, rudeness to colleagues is never acceptable.

Also, it is no historical accident that the Speaker and Senior Clerks wear ceremonial uniforms, because this sends a strong signal that their roles are not about them, but about the office and all it represents. This is why if elected it would very much be my intention to restore some of these Parliamentary traditions.

Part of the latter also involved the position of Sergeant at Arms. This position was originally very much at the heart of Parliament’s management structure, because the Sergeant was always ranked in a very senior position under the Speaker, and had control of much of the day to day management. However, in recent years the role has been degraded and is largely ceremonial – sadly as a consequence I do believe there is insufficient coordination across different departments.

If elected I would attempt to bring in some further reforms to IPSA. I can quite understand why the House voted to set up IPSA in the first place, and this was the right thing to do at the time – but there is a major flaw at the heart of this organisation as it is both the regulator and service provider. I know that it has improved in the latter role in recent years, but it is still too expensive and bureaucratic. I would try to reform it by having a small authority based outside the House who would regulate the system and call MP’s to account when necessary. I would then move the service provider part back into Parliament, and in order to deliver significant savings to the taxpayer I would combine it with the House of Lords Finance Department.

Finally, in this day of evermore intrusive social media, and at a time when MP’s workloads are more onerous than ever, they will need a Speaker who will always be a shoulder to lean on and whose door is always open.

Sir Henry Bellingham is Conservative MP for North West Norfolk

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