SPEAKER AND RITUALCategory: Politics
The focus of ritual is the Speaker, and the day begins at 2.30 p. m. with the words “Speaker in the Chair” being shouted through the lobbies; whereupon the Speaker walks in wearing a full-bottomed wig and sits down on the throne (made in Australia) He is the symbol of parliament’s independence since 1694, when members were first able to elect their own Speaker, and since 1839 he has been aloof from any political involvement. He is chosen primarily as a man trusted and liked by his colleagues: “All Speakers are highly successful’’, wrote Lord Rosebery; “All Speakers are deeply regretted and are generally announced to be irreplaceable. But a Speaker is soon found, and found, almost invariably, among the mediocrities of the House.” Having been chosen, he is carefully segregated: he lives in a big gothic house inside the Palace of Westminster, earns 8,500 a year, and retires with a peerage and a pension. He is the “first Commoner”, the only subject who can hold his own levees, and can insist on court dress. It is a job which requires a special temperament — phlegmatic but firm. [...]
It is the Speaker’s main job to keep fair play between the parties and between backbenches and frontbenches, and to protect the house from outside influences: and this can justify much of the pomp. He insists that MPs call each other “honourable members” (Any accomplished parliamentarian knows that the word “honourable” can add edge to insults, as in Aneurin Bevan’s remark about Neville Chamberlain: “The worst thing I can say about democracy is that it has tolerated the right honourable gentleman for four and a half years.” (D. Sampson)), bow to him on entering and leaving, and address all their speeches to him. But all too often.the Speaker’s role degenerates into having to control childish squabbles. The House of Commons is always more likely to become passionate and overexcited when discussing its own rules and behaviour. The question of parliamentary language can waste a great deal of time. The Speaker has to forbid “grossly insulting language”. The current record-holder for parliamentary misbehaviours is Andrew Fauls, the Labour member for Smethwick. In 1968 he was ordered to contain himself six times, to control himself three times, to learn to behave twice, to allow others to express opinions once.
(From The New Anatomy of Britain by A. Sampson)