UK MPs elect John Bercow as new Speaker of the House of Commons

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Following the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin, which took effect yesterday, members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Houses of Parliament, today elected John Bercow as the new Speaker of the House.

Voting

The three rounds of voting were held as a secret ballot of all Members of the Commons. Each round eliminated from subsequent rounds any candidates with less than 5% support, with the winner to be the candidate who, in any round, achieved a simple majority of the vote. This was a new system for electing the Speaker, and the first time that the Speaker has been elected by secret ballot.

In the first round of voting, there were 10 candidates: Margaret Beckett, Sir George Young, Ann Widdecombe, Sir Alan Beith, John Bercow, Richard Shepherd, Sir Michael Lord, Sir Patrick Cormack, Sir Alan Haselhurst, and Parmjit Dhanda. All candidates made brief speeches in the chamber at 13:30 UTC (14:30 BST) immediately before the vote.

Four candidates were eliminated by this round — Cormack, Dhanda, Lord, and Shepherd — leaving six candidates to go forward to the second round of voting.

Results of the first round
Candidate Votes
Beckett 74
Beith 55
Bercow 179
Cormack 13
Dhanda 26
Haselhurst 66
Lord 9
Sheperd 15
Widdecombe 44
Young 112

In the second round, Widdecombe was eliminated, leaving five candidates to go forward to the third. All candidates apart from Bercow and Young lost ground. Young gained more votes than Bercow, but Bercow remained in the lead.

Results of the second round
Candidate Votes Change from round 1
Beckett 70 -4
Beith 46 -9
Bercow 221 +42
Haselhurst 57 -9
Widdecombe 30 -14
Young 174 +62

In the third round, all remaining candidates except two, Bercow and Young, withdrew from the contest, after an appeal to do so from the Father of the House, Alan Williams. This appeal was motivated by the length of each round of voting, which required 600 ballot papers to be printed, marked, and counted.

Results of the second round
Candidate Votes Change from round 2
Bercow 322 +101
Young 271 +97

In both the first and second rounds of voting, one ballot was spoiled. Although the ballot was secret and the identity of the person whose ballot it was could thus not be confirmed, John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, claimed it was him. "None of them have got a strong reforming agenda," said Mann. "Some of the speeches were shocking, after what we have been through recently."

Election

After confirmation by a unanimous acclamation, with no "noes" voiced, John Bercow became the Speaker-elect for the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons. In accordance with tradition, he was physically dragged to the chair. At 19:31 UTC (20:31 BST) he delivered a 5 minute speech, paying tribute to the other candidates, before sitting in the chair itself. In that speech he paid tribute to his mother, pointing out that she had taken a keen interest in proceedings.

He also said: "I want just to say this about the responsibility of the office. The Speaker has the responsibility to immediately and permanently cast aside all his or her previous political views. I said it —". Here he was interrupted by members anticipating the end of his sentence, and calls to "come and join the Labour Party". He resumed "I said it and I meant it. My promise to this house is to be completely impartial, that is what it's about. I will do my best faithfully, honourably and respectfully to do my best in the months ahead."

His first three acts as Speaker-elect were to call upon the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg to speak. Brown and Cameron both commented upon Bercow's hobby of playing tennis, with Brown observing that Bercow had now permanently taken the position of umpire. The Prime Minister said that on the matter of Bercow's casting aside of his past political views, "some of us thought you had done that some time ago". Cameron also pointed out that Bercow was the first Jewish Speaker to be elected by the House in its history.

Cameron and Clegg both reminded Bercow of the comments made by Parmjit Dhanda, who had said in his candidacy speech earlier that afternoon: "All of the 10 (candidates) is capable of doing the job but … do we all really get it? Do we understand the level of crisis out there. Do we understand the level of public’s anger."

Royal Approbation

Bercow's election as Speaker elect remained subject to Royal Approbation. This was not given in person by the Queen.

At 20:51 UTC (21:51 BST), the Lords Commissioners assembled on the Woolsack in the House of Lords, and summoned the House of Commons via Black Rod, who in turn summoned the Commons at 20:54 UTC (21:54 BST). The clerk of the House of Lords read the Royal Commission, authorizing the Lords Commissioners to speak in the name of the Queen. At 21:01 UTC (22:01 BST) the Lord Chancellor Jack Straw, spoke for the Lords Commissioners and declared Bercow to be the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Bercow's first act as Speaker, after returning to the Commons and formally notifying it of events in the Lords, at 21:06 UTC (22:06 BST) was to call upon the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman. She proposed a motion, carried by acclamation without dissent, for the Commons to call upon the Queen to elevate the previous Speaker, Michael Martin, to the House of Lords. Bercow's second act was again to call upon Harman, who proposed a motion to adjourn, again carried by acclamation without dissent.

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