House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle takes a break from berating MPs to speak to Punching Up about his work, punishing badly-behaved politicians, and some of the wackiest traditions in Parliament.
Sir Lindsay WHO?
Perhaps best known as the man who shouts “ORDER!” at out-of-line MPs in Parliament, Sir Lindsay Hoyle has pretty much seen it all in his quarter of a century in British politics.
As Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay (AKA Mr Speaker) is a very powerful man. He gets to choose who speaks and when in debates, and punish those who misbehave. Plus, he’s the only one who can address MPs by their names and tell them to ‘shut up’ if they get too rowdy.
The son of another famous Labour politician Doug Hoyle, now Lord Hoyle, Sir Lindsay was elected as a Labour MP for Chorley in Lancashire in 1997. Since then, he worked under the former Speaker John Bercow as principal Deputy Speaker, and was elected Speaker of the House following Bercow’s resignation in 2019.
10 Questions for Mr Speaker
Why do MPs groan in Parliament? Why don’t they just clap like normal people?
“We don’t allow clapping because we’re not a debating society – we’re not at university!
“If we spent all our time clapping every person that speaks, each party would clap for much longer [for their own members], saying ‘Well, that was a much better speech’.
“We’d never get on. This is about debate, formal business – this is about moving the business through and trying to get as many people to contribute.”
Why do the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition talk to the Speaker instead of directly to each other?
“It’s to take some of the sting out of it and to try and stop [the debate] being personalised.
“I’m the mediator – the third party that everything goes through – and I think that’s always the key.
“By speaking through me, we take out that personality or personalising what the question is. That way – hopefully – works most of the time.”
In Parliament, why do people say “my right honourable friend for X”, rather than the person’s name?
“That is a good question. I suppose you could have some people with the same name, but you only ever have one constituency. That would be my general view.
“I think it’s also about taking [the personality] away, because you’re talking to that person via their constituency, rather than directly.”
Why is the Speaker dragged to their chair when they’re appointed?
“I’m not sure they are really dragged, but they’re meant to be.
“The history behind it is we know numerous speakers were beheaded and murdered in office. It’s not been a happy relationship when you’ve taken the chair historically.
“So why would you want to take on something where the consequences weren’t very good? The outcomes were never worth it!
What kind of bad behaviour have you experienced in Parliament?
“I suppose the shouting down of the Prime Minister by two MPs, who decided to not let him speak ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions, was really disruptive, disrespectful and not acceptable.”
That was in July last year when two MPs, from Scottish pro-independence party Alba, were ejected from the House and suspended for bad behaviour after refusing to sit down during a debate.
At the time, Sir Lindsay told them he wouldn’t tolerate their behaviour, so they should make their minds up or… “shut up and get out!”
Do you have to know Erskine May – the Parliamentary rulebook – inside and out? How do you know which rules to enforce?
“The good thing [about being Speaker] is that you do pick up the history and you do get to know quite a lot of Erskine May. But because there are so many technical views or ways to interpret it, you’ve got a clerk sitting in front of you to check.
“They are the experts. They turn around and give you advice if you’re unsure.”
How can we help those without a political connection, or from disadvantaged backgrounds, get involved in politics?
“What bothers me is the future of politics – and the future of democracy in this country.
“There should be no barriers to representing people, and the encouragement of the democratic process is part of what I wish to base my speakership on.
“We recently had ‘Chorley Day’ in Parliament, with about 30 schools from my constituency. Those young people are the future. We need to get them involved in the democratic process as soon as we can.
“We’ve also got the Youth Parliament, where young people sit in the Chamber, act as the MPs, and debate their subjects.
“It’s about inspiring people to realise they can be part of the solution, they can be there to speak up. I’m also patron of Patchwork, a foundation which encourages young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to speak out and be part of their communities.
“We are a great advocate of democracy in Westminster, but we’re also respected throughout the world. People replicate the Westminster model.”
What are your thoughts on reforming or even abolishing the House of Lords?
“Being Speaker, I don’t have a political view as such.
“But I think to have a second – elected – chamber would be unhelpful to our chamber [the House of Commons]. Everything starts here and finishes here, so we ultimately decide what goes through, in legislative terms.
“As the elected house, we are the senior house. Therefore, if you were to have an elected second chamber, you’d then question who had supremacy. Who takes the lead?
“If you’re both elected by the electorate, you really would be challenging each other when you had differing views.
“Reform the House of Lords by all means, but think long and hard before you would even consider a second elected chamber.
“It might be that you don’t have a House of Lords. That would be for others to decide – not for me. My [focus] is about protecting the supremacy of the senior chamber.”
You previously said the country was “struggling to recover” after the turmoil of the last few years. What do you think needs to happen before we can have political stability?
“I think the answer lies in having political stability. Recovery will come by stable leadership.
“Three Prime Ministers in three months is turmoil. The public, quite rightly, is looking for leadership.
“It’s been difficult for everybody. Until the election is called, we need the opposition to hold the government to account and the government to respect the House by making statements here first.”
Will you be standing at the next general election?
“My intention is absolutely to stand again. I’m as excited now as when I was first elected in ’97. I’ve still got the same energy, and the same belief in delivering for the people I represent – that’s the good people of Chorley.
“So yes, I will be standing as an MP and hopefully I intend to stand as Speaker again as well.”