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5 November 2019updated 23 Jul 2021 9:24am

The daunting task facing Lindsay Hoyle as Speaker of the Commons

The former Labour MP must restore faith in parliament and in the neutrality of the office he holds.  

By Ailbhe Rea

Congratulations to Lindsay Hoyle, who was elected as Speaker of the Commons last night after four rounds of voting. The bookies’ favourite since the start of the contest, the kind, warm and universally popular northern Labour MP now faces the task of creating a House of Commons “fit for the 21st century”. 

The race has given everyone in parliament – not just MPs – the chance to think seriously about its current state and what could, or should, be changed. Throughout various hustings, op-eds, private discussions and interviews, the original nine candidates have led an effective consultation on the current state of our democracy and the day-to-day running of parliament.

The candidates were united in their conviction that the next Speaker needs to, um, speak less: to be less of a personality, restoring faith in the Speaker as an utterly impartial umpire, and mending the fractured relations between MPs, and between them and the public. There have been lengthy discussions about process, with calls for more speaking time for minority parties and for MPs with obvious relevance to debates to be called first. The process also revealed the scope for Commons timings to be made more family-friendly, possibly by finishing earlier, or through the “smarter” scheduling of debates such that they don’t go on late into the evening. PMQs could also be shorter, many suggested. 

More broadly, however, there has been a strong sense that the culture in parliament is in urgent need of reform. Meg Hillier, a Labour MP and the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, ran a powerful campaign (which she knew wasn’t a “popular pitch”) about the need for a complete overhaul of parliament’s outdated HR practices to crack down on the ongoing problem of bullying and harassment in Westminster. She warned colleagues that it will be “the next expenses scandal” if unaddressed. All of the candidates, meanwhile, fully committed to implementing the recommendations of the Cox report into bullying, which were not brought in under the previous Speaker. 

The Speaker himself is set to be more accountable under reforms promised by Hoyle, as most of his rivals demanded. Harriet Harman described the Speakership as one “of the last unreformed areas of power” during her campaign: under Hoyle, there will be a maximum term of office for the Speaker, and a new committee to hold him to account. 

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There are many other areas discussed during the race that Hoyle will want to explore: greater parliamentary outreach, to improve the socio-economic diversity of parliament (this was a key tenet of his pitch); improved training for MPs when they enter parliament and support when they leave; reform of IPSA, the independent body that oversees expenses; measures to tackle online harassment of MPs; greater mental health support in the House; improved security provision in parliament in response to the heightened threats against MPs.

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It has been an important discussion and a thoughtful, civilised race. There is a huge task ahead for Lindsay Hoyle, and we wish him all the best.