Following a review of the election process in 2001, MPs agreed that the procedure should be made more transparent and straightforward. The new process will take time but this reflects the importance of the role of Speaker to MPs and Parliament.
A secret ballot is used in similar elections in other Parliaments based on the Westminster tradition. The arguments given in the House in favour of secret ballots included:
- It is not right that any Speaker knows who votes for or against them.
- Influence which could be brought to bear in an open ballot could not be exerted in the same way in a secret ballot.
Exhaustive ballot system
Voters are given a list of candidates and place an "X" next to the candidate of their choice. If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, the Question is put to the House that he or she takes the Chair as Speaker. If no candidate does so, the candidate with the fewest votes, and those with less than 5 per cent of the vote, are eliminated. In addition, any candidate may withdraw within 10 minutes of the announcement of the result of a ballot. The House then votes again on the reduced slate of candidates and continues doing so until one candidate receives more than half the votes.
In memorandum to the Procedure Committee inquiry in 2000-01, the Electoral Reform Society set out four criteria for assessing the fairness of a Speakership election which it said was met by an exhaustive ballot system:
- The winning candidate should have the support of more than 50 per cent of those voting.
- Members should be able to vote for the candidate of their choice without fear of their vote being wasted.
- All candidates should be treated equally.
- The procedure should be transparent and efficient.
The Committee had looked into the issue because MPs had raised concerns about the previous system which had been adopted in 1972. This system had been designed with around two candidates in mind but in the election of October 2000 there were 12 candidates.
During the debate on the Procedure Committee report, the House had the opportunity to vote on whether the ballot should be secret or not. David Winnick MP moved an amendment "to leave out the word "secret". The amendment was rejected by 84 votes to 82. And the main question (to approve the Procedure Committee’s report and the new Standing Orders) was agreed to without a division.
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