This is the text of the speech Sir George made in his unsuccessful bid to become the next Speaker. The photo shows the candidates, without John Bercow who was unable to make the photocall; and of Sir George in the House.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett).
Mr. Williams, it is good to see you presiding over this new procedure for electing a Speaker—a procedure introduced because the last one took too long. [Laughter.]
Being Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee for eight years, a job that Robin Cook asked me to do, may not be the platform of choice from which to launch a bid for the support of one’s colleagues, but perhaps more than almost any other job in the House, it calls for total impartiality and an imperative to be fair.
On impartiality, I have always been in the Conservative party, not run by the Conservative party. [Laughter.] On fairness, one of my concerns about recent events, with the anger about a failed expenses system exposed by the media, has been the emergence of a bidding war to be tough that risks losing sight of the basic principles of justice that this House has always defended. I want to see a House of Commons that regains its self-confidence. I want a more independent House of Commons, a more effective House of Commons, a more relevant House of Commons and a more accessible House of Commons. I want to see the terms of trade tilted away from the Executive and back to Parliament. Government have nothing to fear from that at all. If we raise our game, they will have to raise theirs, and the country will benefit.
So what might be different? I hope our proceedings might be brisker—shorter questions, shorter answers, shorter speeches. The heart of the Chamber might beat a little faster. I believe that we can use the time of the Chamber, and our own time, more effectively. We could trade those thinly attended Opposition day debates, when the Whips come into the Tea Room and tell us about speaking opportunities, for more topical statements, enabling us better to hold the Government to account and reconnect with the public.
We could build time in the Chamber around time in Select Committees, instead of the other way around. The time of colleagues is precious. I would pilot indicative speaking lists, where relevance would have the same importance as seniority. I would like to see some Select Committee Chairmen present their reports here in the Chamber of the House of Commons, and so challenge the Government monopoly on statements. That would be hugely symbolic of a Chamber in which we should be joint landlords with the Government and not tenants.
To some of those ideas terms and conditions apply. The Speaker is more referee than player. The House must decide whether it wants to shift the balance of power. I believe that there is a window of opportunity in the remaining months of this Parliament, and in that debate the Speaker can act as a catalyst. The Speaker should be neutral when neutrality is required; he should exercise influence when influence is required; and he should show leadership when leadership is required. The Speaker should look outwards as well as inwards. He should speak about the House of Commons, rather than for the House of Commons, and be much less detached than tradition has required. After listening to the tributes to Michael Martin on Wednesday, I would add another quality: at times, the Speaker should be a friend.
Last year, there was a run on the banks, which lie at the heart of our prosperity. This year, there has been a run on the Commons, which lies at the heart of our democracy. In both cases, imprudent behaviour by a few, loose regulation and inadequate supervision led to a loss of public confidence and an anger at those in charge. There was systemic failure, and those who did no wrong were caught in the backlash of a loss of institutional reputation. In both cases, we need to address that anger and restore that confidence by changes at the top, better regulation, transparency and a change of culture. We have recapitalised the banks; we now need to recapitalise the House of Commons. We have left behind the age of deference; we need to arrive at the age of earned respect.
None of us can do what is needed on our own. In his resignation speech, Michael Martin said that we are at our best when we are united. I hope that I could achieve that unity, build on the resilience of the House and help win back the confidence and trust of those we represent.