|Sir George speaks at Hustings
15 Jun 2009
Along with the nine other declared candidates for the Speakership, Sir George addressed a meeting organised by the Hansard Society. This was held in the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House, and chaired by Peter Riddell, Chairman of the Hansard Society.
Below is the text of what he said
It is great that the Hansard Society is doing this event, helping to bridge the gap between parliament and the outside world. I say to those watching that the reason why we are not always in the Chamber is that we attend meetings like this in Portcullis House and the Commons that take place when the House is sitting and are every bit as important.
Three quick points. Out there, the Prime Minister is moving the debate on from personalities to policies. But this debate is as much about personalities as policies. Yes, policies are important and a word on that later. But the job is as much if not more about personal qualities. I make no exclusive claim to any of them Ė my colleagues possess them in great abundance. List some of them. Impartiality, authority, judgement, patience, humour; acquaintance with the rules however arcane; and an ability to read the mood of the House. I also believe it is easier to do the job if you have built up a broad base of support on all sides of the House. And at times you need to exercise the quality of leadership. That provides the context for what we are about.
Second, I would like to see a more confident, self-assertive, independent, relevant and accessible House of Commons. Govt has nothing to fear from this. If we raise our game they will raise theirs and the country will benefit. Let me explain what I mean tackling expenses.
The expenses row was essentially a House of Commons problem. All parties were affected by it and we have all been damaged by it. It called for a firm and prompt House of Commons solution. But there wasnít one. Into the vacuum piled the leaders of the political parties, who launched a bidding war to see who could be toughest on their members. And then the House came up with its own rather ponderous answer.
Of course, if there has been fraud the Metropolitan Police should intervene; and if colleagues have made serious mistakes we should hold them to account. But what is happening at the moment, with various rules being applied by party machines behind closed doors; and some colleagues being hung out to dry is the wrong solution, with real risks of injustice to colleagues. MPís are entitled to due process like anyone else.
I donít blame anyone in particular, but the slow response to the Telegraph was symptomatic of a House that has become too dependent on others to sort out its problems and lacked the leadership to get a grip.
Likewise the Prime Minister announced last week a new Commission under Tony Wright on how we hold the government to account. I welcome that. Why did we have to wait for the Government to tell us how to hold them to account? Why didnít we do it ourselves. So I want a more self confident and assertive House where Govt not always taking initiative.
Third and finally, what is the role of the Speaker in all of this? On the reform agenda, I think colleagues are entitled to know where the candidates are coming from. My views are on this Democracy Task Force Paper, Power to the People accessible via my website. Written as a political animal. The Speaker is more referee than player. But he can act as a catalyst in the reform process; he can take ownership of problems that are House of Commons problems. and he has discretion on a number of issues Ė speech length, frequency of statements, language Ė where he can help shape the tone of the House.
Yes he or she should also be a strong pro-active advocate for Parliament, or a Czar (or Czarina) and raise our profile. But actually we should all be doing that job, building on the credibility and good reputation that local MPís have. I would hope to provide the right balance between neutrality when that is required, influence when that is appropriate and leadership when that is needed,
Final word. This time, the House has got to unite behind the Speaker. We cannot afford more divisions. In that spirit I will give my whole-hearted support to whichever candidate wins if, despite my long legs, I donít cross the winning line first.