Sir Lindsay wants Parliament 'back to normal' when possible, as he reflects on a year in the Speaker's chair
It is safe to say that Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s first year as Commons Speaker did not turn out to be what he - or anybody else - could reasonably have predicted.
When he was dragged to the chair - as custom dictates - twelve months ago, the country was heading into its first winter election campaign since the 1930s and was yet to strike a withdrawal agreement for leaving the European Union.
The outcome of the election - and its impact on that Brexit deal - looked set to dominate the political landscape and there appeared to be little else on the horizon that could compete for the nation's attention.
“Nobody could have envisaged that something would have overshadowed Brexit,” says the Chorley MP, reflecting on what has so far been a turbulent time in the top job.
In the end, a comfortable government majority enabled the Brexit legislation to pass without the rancour of recent years.
There then came a brief window of calm for the veteran politician to establish himself in his new role before he was thrust into overseeing some of the biggest ever changes to the way Parliament operates, as a result of the pandemic.
Centuries of tradition were torn up almost overnight, as social distancing saw MPs appearing on screens in the chamber, direct from their own constituencies and even - for a brief period - voting remotely as well.
“I’m proud of the way Parliament has handled the pandemic and the fact that we have been able to keep it open - the fantastic staff worked overtime to make it happen.
“I’d like to get the House back to normality when we can, but some of these changes have been good and I’d like to reflect on some of the benefits they have brought.
“You can now vote using your House of Commons pass at four different points - and, of course, that means you can get results quicker,” Sir Lindsay explains.
The system has temporarily replaced the age-old method of MPs filing through one of two different “division” lobbies - at what would currently be alarmingly close quarters - to register their vote.
However, even the alternative system has attracted criticism for some MPs for not always guaranteeing social distancing as lengthy queues snake through the building - and Sir Lindsay says that he would have been willing to explore whether Parliament's brief flirtation with virtual voting could have been extended.
“That’s one of the areas I don’t cover, it’s a government decision,” he says, but stresses that proxy voting has recently been extended to address some of the issues.
One tradition which Sir Lindsay is not willing to jettison is political jousting in the chamber, which he wants to see restored as soon as circumstances allow. Currently, only 50 MPs are allowed in the chamber at any one time.
“It is about face-to-face debate and exchanging views and opinions. And I think it’s so important that happens within the chamber, so we will go back to that.”
The former Labour politician - who had to renounce his party political persuasion upon being elected speaker - has hit the headlines both for holding Boris Johnson to account during Prime Minister’s Questions, and also the government as a whole for its attitude to Parliament.
In September, he slammed the “total disregard” in which he said Parliament had been held during the pandemic by the way in which some Covid-related measures had come into effect before they had been “laid before this House”.
Commenting on his candid assessment, Sir Lindsay said: “I think it’s right to speak up - I don’t want to be the centre of attention on the floor of the House, but I’ve got to be firm with the government to make sure the House has the time and the right to debate and not hear things second hand.”
During this busiest of years, Sir Lindsay was also diagnosed with type one diabetes - a condition which now requires him to have four injections of insulin a day and a secretary on standby with Jelly Babies should his sugar levels ever drop while he is in the Speaker’s chair.
However, he considers himself “fortunate” that it has not prevented him from doing a job which he clearly loves in spite of the unparalleled circumstances in which he has so far been forced to undertake it.
Sir Lindsay also claims that he has honoured a pledge to his constituents of the past 23 years that his new role would not divert him from dealing with their concerns - and could, in fact, heighten the profile of the county which he is proud to call home.
“I had to attend the Cenotaph on Sunday, but I’m usually back in Chorley every weekend and doing my surgeries - so nothing has changed.
“We all have different styles and ways of doing the Speaker’s job - but I think it’s good for Chorley and for Lancashire to have a different accent in that chair.”
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