Commons Speaker: Who is Sir Lindsay Hoyle?


Sir Lindsay Hoyle

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UK Parliament/ Jessica Taylor

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Labour MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle was regarded as the frontrunner for the role

“A kind of embodiment of the British constitution,” one Westminster savant told me, the sort of politician who has been marinated in parliamentary practice so long they have an instinctive feel for its unwritten rules and unspoken conventions.

To him, Lindsay Hoyle is a classic example of the political operator turned constitutional fixture.

His father was an MP (and is now a Labour Peer) and he served as a councillor in his home seat of Chorley in Lancashire, becoming deputy leader, before moving to Parliament in 1997.

This is a man steeped in politics.

And that shows through in other ways.

He is seen in the tea room as a strategic streetwise campaigner, who set his eyes on the prize he won today perhaps a decade ago, when he was one of the first three MPs to be elected as deputy Speaker.

“The by-ways of Lancashire are littered with the bodies of those who’ve underestimated Lindsay,” one former parliamentary neighbour told me.

There is steel under the cheerful surface.

The succession to John Bercow had been a Westminster talking point for at least 18 months, and it was striking how cautious potential competitors were about showing their hand too soon, with Lindsay already spoken of as the commanding frontrunner in that race.

When the election finally came, much later than many expected, he played a cautious hand – emphasising his record in the chair, for example during the terror attack on Westminster.

He has also been the point of contact for MPs concerned about security issues, for themselves, their staff and their families – a vital role in the current political climate.

His list of nominators was a careful cross-section of serious backbenchers – balanced on Brexit and on party factions, and on political generations.

Heading the list of nominators was Sir Charles Walker, vice chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, and one of those who dragged John Bercow to the chair (I’m told he won’t be doing any dragging this time, though).

Sir Charles was talked of as a potential candidate himself, so it was quite a coup to have him front and centre, signalling seriousness of purpose and a dash of reform-mindedness to MPs.

As chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee, Mr Walker has a shopping list of changes he wants to implement, but he has also shown his disquiet at some of Speaker Bercow’s recent rulings, so his support sends a nuanced message.

‘Traditional route’

What kind of Speaker will he be?

Sir Lindsay has taken the traditional route – serving since 2010 as a deputy, so MPs have had plenty of opportunities to observe his avuncular style, and, on occasion to contrast it favourably with Speaker Bercow’s.

And as the senior deputy, the Chairman of Ways and Means, he has a guaranteed spot in the limelight every year, chairing the Budget debates (this is a tradition going back to the Stuart kings, when the Speaker was seen as an agent of the Crown, while the deputy was chosen by MPs and therefore seen as more suited to chairing debates on taxation).

He also selects amendments to be considered when MPs sit as a Committee of the Whole House, as they did over the Early Election Bill, last week.

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His decision to rule out amendments not strictly within the compass of the Bill bolstered his reputation as a straight shooter who was not keen on Bercow-esque stretching of the rules.

If there is to be change, the likelihood is that it will be by consensus, and probably with the stamp of approval of Sir Charles’s committee.

But Mr Speaker Hoyle could find himself having to decide, in the heat of controversy, whether to allow some of his predecessor’s innovations to continue; extra amendments to the address of thanks for the Queen’s Speech (Speaker Bercow’s 2013 decision to allow an extra amendment ratcheted up the Commons pressure for an EU referendum), amendments to Business of the House Motions and substantive emergency motions.

These all sound like technical in-house issues, but their impact on the politics of the last few years has been enormous.

Some of these questions may not arise if there is a stable government majority to vote them down – but, especially if there is a hung Parliament, the new Speaker may have to decide whether to accept or reject some of the precedents that have been set in the last few years. And the consequences could be huge.

Even if the next House of Commons has a majority, the chances are that it will not default back to its 2005 factory settings – and MPs will still expect plenty of urgent questions, emergency debates and chances to put their questions at PMQs, and a Speaker who seeks to erase the practice of the last decade may get some pushback.

And MPs will also expect their Speaker to stand up to ministers where appropriate – which is a lot more difficult to do where the government has a majority.

In conducting debates, his put-downs and shuttings-up will be gentler, and the advice of the clerks – those priests of parliamentary practice – is more likely to be implemented.

With a demand for a kinder, gentler politics, this could help the Commons lead the way.


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