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Election of Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 4th November 2019.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee 2:52 pm, 4th November 2019

I think we all know there is a lack of trust in Parliament and politics right now, with everything from the behaviour in the Chamber to the allegations of bullying and sexual assault—we have had three such allegations since this race for the speakership began just six weeks ago—and the general state of politics out there in the nation. So the next Speaker has a key role in setting the tone, yes, in the Chamber but also with colleagues in this place who support us in our work and in the country.

I would be a Speaker who speaks less, but when I speak it will be with the clear intent of standing up for MPs. The House has heard from other candidates today and at the hustings that we are in broad agreement on how to manage the Chamber. We want to be champions—I certainly would be—of better conduct. I would be an impartial Speaker, a director rather than an actor. We also want better time keeping. Urgent questions and statements are going on too long, and that greater discipline would give greater certainty on timings so we can plan the rest of our lives. We need an end to short time limits.

I have a track record of fairness and of delivering what I promise. I have chaired the Public Accounts Committee for the last four and a half years, and I have introduced a new way of working on the Select Committee Corridor. As a Minister, I dealt fairly with all MPs, whatever their party, because, let us not forget, we are all here only because our constituents elect us. We respect each other, we respect our constituents—it is as simple as that. Some time ago, I was mayor of a hung council in London, where I had the casting vote, while also being the first citizen, so I had to handle some pretty difficult situations in a fraught council chamber. But I am not a grandstanding politician. I would speak little, and, as many of you know, I am incredibly discreet when you come to see me about matters in your constituency. I would not seek self-publicity, but would speak up only for MPs, and for Parliament and our democracy.

We need better support for MPs. There is too little personal development and careers advice, and that shows up starkly when so many Members are leaving with short notice and we have Members losing seats. Of course, on restoration and renewal, it was my amendment that moved us forward, so we will be leaving the building. We need to tackle that, and I am already working up plans on how we monitor the cost—of course that is important—but this is also an opportunity to rekindle trust in our politics and our democracy, to rekindle how we do things and how we change the culture of this place. As Speaker, I would have your back—on unfair publicity, on expenses. More than that, I would work to educate the public about what great work MPs do in this place, and I would step up the approach to personal security and online bullying, which is leading to too many colleagues leaving this place because it is intolerable.

However, the main thrust of why I am standing is about the bullying and harassment that is still too rife in this building. It is just over a year since Dame Laura Cox reported and, yes, we need an independent process in place, but we need more than that. Gemma White’s report earlier this year highlighted problems in our own offices. There is a good list of MPs to work for and a bad list of MPs to work for—staff know this, we know this. It may be an uncomfortable message. It may not be a vote-winner today, but we should not be complacent even if we are on that good list. We should not rest while young staff in this building are fearful and tearful and afraid to raise concerns about how they have been treated. We need better HR, and supported and trained senior office managers; and we need to tackle this now. It has to stop; it is going to be the next expenses scandal, colleagues, if we do not tackle this. We have to lead by example. We have to put our own house in order and call out bad behaviour where necessary—but we need to prevent it before it gets to that point. We do that externally and we need to do that here. I would be utterly committed to this. I have worked up plans, and I have talked to staff and unions about how to deliver on this. We need to work with staff. We cannot talk about them without them. We need a culture shift. We have to lead by example. Don’t let this moment pass.