John Bercow speaks to Bristol students about bringing parliament into the 21st century

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By James Cleaver, Online News Editor

The Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, gave the first Richmond Lecture of 2018/19 at a packed Student Union.

Titled 'The Making of a Modern Parliament', Mr. Bercow reflected on his aims and achievements during his nine years as Speaker, which are reported to end in the summer of next year.

In addition to his most visible role as Chair of the Commons Chamber, a position he described as analogous to being a referee or head teacher, he spoke of the necessity of counteracting what he perceived as a 'deeper-seated and more endemic problem' of the growing influence of the government at the expense of Parliament in the years preceding his 2009 election to the speakership.

He claimed that the government had been made more accountable to the House of Commons, and by extension the British public, through changes he had helped to introduce. These changes included quicker and more questions at Question Time in the Commons, the increasing use of Urgent Questions to bring ministers before the House and the election by secret ballot of chairs of select committees.

Mr. Bercow stressed that bringing Parliament into the 21st century meant making it more inclusive. This involved allowing parents to take their young children into the division lobbies to vote, creating an on-site nursery and expanding BME representation, pointing to the case of Kamal El-Hajji, the first BME Sargeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons.

He spoke of the necessity of counteracting what he perceived as a 'deeper-seated and more endemic problem' of the growing influence of the government at the expense of Parliament

Mr. Bercow, who unsuccessfully stood for MP for Bristol South in the 1992 election, also articulated his hopes for future reforms. These encompassed preventing private members' bills from being filibustered, allowing easier means of recalling MPs on matters of urgency and creating an independent House Business Committee that would allocate time for government bills in order to prevent the selective introduction of key bills.

Dame Laura Cox's recent investigation into intimidation and bullying at Westminster has led to accusations of bullying against the Speaker. He admitted that politicians must establish an independent complaints process and 'embrace all sorts of cultural change, including training in how we manage our staff'.

After his talk, there was time for some questions, which revealed that the Speaker believed in politicians - himself included - being active ambassadors for Parliament by getting out of their constituencies, and that he now supported the full refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament, which would involve MPs having to relocate during building work.

The Richmond Lecture Committee co-hosted the event with the Politics Society.

Featured image: James Cleaver / Epigram

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