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Local LibDems gain MPs' support in campaign to create new seat for Speaker.

September 30, 2009 9:05 PM
Buckingham Lib Dems constituency chairman Ian Metherell

Buckingham Lib Dems constituency chairman Ian Metherell

Liberal Democrats in the Buckingham constituency, where MP John Bercow was elected Speaker by MPs last summer, have won a victory in their campaign to overturn the convention which rules out normal Parliamentary elections in the Speaker's seat.

They were told at the party's annual conference in Bournemouth (September 23) that Lib Dem MPs will raise the issue in the House of Commons when Parliament resumes.

The party's Chief Whip Paul Burstow told the conference that he agreed that there is a case for sitting Speakers to vacate their constituency to let their constituents take part in a General Election in the normal way. The Buckingham Constituency Executive had called the current system, whereby the main parties do not field candidates against the Speaker, "outdated and undemocratic."

The Lib Dem MPs also agreed to the suggestion that some sort of honorary constituency - where the electorate are the MPs themselves - might be one way to then give local electors a proper choice at a by-election, while safeguarding the position of the Speaker.

The local Lib Dem party in the Buckingham constituency have called on the party's national leadership to allow an official Lib Dem candidate to contest the constituency at the coming General Election. They want this to happen if the reforms they are proposing to appoint the Speaker to an honorary seat are not put in place by then.

A question by local member Jonathan Marks QC, asking MPs to "promote an open, democratic election in the Buckingham constituency by proposing to establish an honorary constituency for the Speaker" brought a positive response from senior Lib Dem MPs.

Paul Burstow MP told Mr Marks:

"We strongly agree there is a case for a sitting Speaker to vacate their constituency so that their constituents can take part in a General Election in the normal way that every other constituency can do. And the idea of some sort of honorary constituency - St Stephens, perhaps, where the electorate are the members of Parliament themselves - might be one way that could be addressed.

"So we certainly will be raising the issue when the House of Commons comes back in a few weeks' time. But I equally don't wish to raise expectations that we can deliver this change this side of the General Election. I do understand the frustrations that may arise within the local party."

Mr Marks responded: "Given the very real strength of feeling in Buckingham at the prospect of being disenfranchised by avoiding a partisan election for the Speaker, can we now take steps to deal with this urgently? At least by instituting a Westminster Hall debate or an Early Day Motion; possibly indeed by an appeal to John Bercow himself, who may see some advantage in such a reform."

Mr Burstow responded: "We will look to table EDMs [early day motions]; and I, in my regular meetings with the Speaker, will certainly undertake to discuss it with him as well." The official transcript noted: "Applause from Conference."

Buckingham Lib Dems constituency chairman Ian Metherell said: "If the main parties follow the generally-held Parliamentary convention of not standing against the Speaker, thousands of voters who would have backed one of these parties will be denied their right to vote for the party of their choice. We believe this is fundamentally undemocratic. We want all electors in Buckingham to have a full and proper opportunity to express their preference for their MP."

He said: "Almost 50 years after a bill was first proposed in Parliament to give the Speaker an honorary constituency, electors are still being effectively disenfranchised by an outdated convention. And this is a state of affairs set to carry on as long as John Bercow remains Speaker of the House of Commons."