Why I want to be elected as Deputy Speaker – Streeter
Gary Streeter, Tory MP for South West Devon, delivers his pitch to be Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
We all know that being a Member of Parliament is a job for which there is no job description. We come in all shapes and sizes, from a multitude of backgrounds and more often than not reflect the seat in which we are elected. This makes the selection process a daunting one as getting the match right when there is no clear written framework is all important. We all do the job differently and the electors decide every five years whether we should carry on. No job description.
Not so with the position of Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. In 2002 the cross-party procedure committee of the House did a careful analysis of what qualities a Deputy Speaker might need and produced a thorough report. A summary of its conclusions is as follows.
A Deputy Speaker must:
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Have the ability to swiftly command the respect of the House;
Possess a thorough knowledge of procedure and the wider workings of the House;
Be a good team player and possess a sense of humour and proportion;
Be a serving member of the Chairmen's Panel;
Have the ability to chair the most challenging debates with fairness and authority.
That's all there is to it! My pitch in the current elections for Deputy Speaker is simply this: I would like to think that if parliamentary head-hunters were engaged to identify a member matching this profile, they might find their way quickly to my door. I believe, rather immodestly perhaps, that I fit the profile well, although that is really for others to judge.
I have served in the House for over twenty years in a variety of roles: on the backbenches, in the Government Whips' Office, as a minister under John Major, in the Shadow Cabinet for three years followed by a lengthy stretch on the Home Affairs select committee. For the past five years I have served as a member of the Chairmen's Panel and my skills as a chairman have been honed and tested not least in including chairing the EU Referendum Bill and the Same Sex Marriage Act.
This role used to be one of appointment. The Speaker would be chosen and then three deputies would be announced, as if by magic, through unknown and arcane practices. As part of the modernisation of the House, this is now an elected position, part of a new transparency that is sweeping through the Mother of Parliaments. The current vacancy can be filled by a government back-bencher only, but it will be a vote of the whole House. Labour members will therefore probably determine the outcome of this vote.
Why does it matter that our Parliament works well? To answer that question fully we need to consider what happens when the democratic machinery breaks down. Look at some examples around the world: Italy, where they lurch from one ham-fisted coalition to another; the USA, where they are now in spending grid-lock; and maybe half the countries in the world where people would give their back teeth to live in a free and liberal democracy with a system that actually works. Our Parliament is the vital centre-piece of our democracy and for all its faults – it works. But this does not happen by accident – skilful procedures and practices are in place to keep the show on the road, to ensure that the smooth running of our debates, the passing of laws and the holding of the executive to account should continue. I know many like to moan about it, but our Parliament works very effectively compared to most.
The role would not impact on constituency work, although, like ministers and whips, raising issues on the floor of the House would be a thing of the past. The compensation is that every constituency letter sent to ministers is answered by a cabinet minister and gets priority.
I see the role of Speaker and Deputy Speaker rather like a football or rugby referee. If the ref has a good game you do not notice him, because it is about the match, not the whistle. If the ref has a poor game, then he becomes the story. We do not want the refereeing of the Commons to become the story – it is the laws we pass and the questions and speeches made that should be the story.
There are seven Conservative candidates for the current vacancy and it is impossible to predict the outcome. The next few days will be a roller-coaster ride, but at least by tea time Wednesday it will be all over.
Parliament has been battered in recent years and is slowly recovering. I would like to support that recovery process by adding my experience and skill-set to our distinguished proceedings.