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I am sure that all the other candidates in the election today will agree with me, Mr Clarke, when I say that none of us can match the experience that you have in this place, or the esteem in which you are held. You are leaving us after half a century of service, and we thank you for that service, but others are leaving in part because of what our politics has become. As the House is the crucible of our politics, that should concern us all, which is why the role of Speaker matters so much.
I am putting myself forward after 22 years of diverse experience as a Back Bencher, a Minister, a shadow Leader of the House, a Chief Whip and a Deputy Speaker. Restoring public confidence in Parliament is all our responsibility, but the Speaker sets the tone. My view is that the Speaker’s job is not to dominate proceedings or speak for Parliament but to facilitate debate and allow Parliament to speak for itself, with all its different voices and in all its diverse voices.
During my time as Opposition Chief Whip, I worked with the majority and minority parties to build consensus where we could, and I made sure that we did not fall out when we could not agree. As Deputy Speaker, I have been struck by the fact that in so many of our debates there is consensus, with members of different parties working together to find common ground. Of course, there will always be times when the House is rumbustious; that is fine. What the public do not like is ill temper and intolerance. The turbulent time in our politics has put this institution, and all of us, under great strain. [Interruption.] Order! [Laughter.] The phone ringing was not a set-up, I promise you.
The Executive must be allowed to carry out their mandate when it is given by the people, but Members of Parliament must also be allowed to scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account. The Speaker has a crucial role in getting that balance right. If there is a logjam, the Speaker should help Parliament to find a way through—to bring parties together to solve the problem. In all the posts I have held, I have been a conciliator; as Speaker, I would douse the flames, not pour petrol on them—a stabilising, unifying Speaker, and a Speaker from the north so that the public see that Parliament is about the whole country, not just London. And the last woman from the north did a pretty good job.
To gain respect from the public, we must show each other respect. The next Speaker must lead by the example she sets, changing the tone and lowering the temperature when the House gets overheated. As Deputy Speaker I have tried to do that; I hope Members feel I have been impartial, not impatient.
As Deputy Speaker, I have seen tempers rise if there is too much disruption of business. Urgent questions are an important innovation of our last Speaker, but I have seen Members become frustrated, having worked hard on a speech only to end up being squeezed by a three-minute time limit. Urgent business must be debated when it is urgent, but UQs and statements should not take hours, neither should PMQs—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] If a Member does not get called, they should get priority next time, and newer Members should not always have to wait until last to be called. All our constituencies have the same right to be heard.
Parliament should be a workplace free from bullying and harassment. The Commission must be at the centre of changing the culture of Parliament. It should be accessible to Members and staff and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should stop getting in the way of Members doing their jobs. MPs who are parents or have caring responsibilities need proper support; we must become a modern, family-friendly workplace.
My dad was a headteacher in Doncaster and I bump into people he taught all the time. He is remembered not as a fierce disciplinarian, but as someone who was fair, encouraging and trusted—not a bad legacy. My ambition as Speaker would be to follow his example: not seek the limelight, but build trust.