The worst-kept secret in Parliament is that the present Speaker, Dr Lockwood Smith, is retiring at the end of the year and heading to London to become our high commissioner there.
The assumption is that the new Speaker will be a National Party MP, because for some odd reason it has been an accepted convention that the Speaker should come from the ranks of the party that is in government.
It isn’t an odd reason. It is the norm in almost every country.
Why shouldn’t long-serving MPs with vast political experience who are not members of the Government, such as Annette King, Winston Peters and Phil Goff, be selected as the next Speaker?
I’m not against an opposition MP being Speaker. in fact in 2008 I suggested Michael Cullen would be an excellent Speaker. But Peters would be the worst Speaker ever, and you’d have to be demented to suggest him. Goff is far far too partisan to ever be accepted. I’d have no problem with Annette King as Speaker – she’d be pretty good.
But I expect the Government will vote for a National MP, because at the end of the day, why wouldn’t they?
In 1992, former Clerk of the House, Sir David McGee, recommended that, once selected, New Zealand Speakers should remain in office, regardless of any change in government, until they retired from Parliament.
That’s not a terrible idea, unless they are a terrible Speaker.
In 1999, three former Speakers recommended that Speakers should sever their connections with any political party, and remain in office, (usually unopposed in their electorate) as long as the House was satisfied with their performance. The Speakers also questioned the idea that the Speaker’s appointment should be seen to be at the disposal of the prime minister, and as serving the purposes of the government.
This is a more silly idea, as it means only electorate MPs could become Speaker.
Surely it’s time, in 2012, to take up these ideas, and stipulate that a Speaker, once appointed, should sever links with their political party and become an independent MP. Perhaps future Speakers should also be selected by secret ballot, and be required to give up their right to vote, other than to exercise a casting or a conscience vote.
I quite like the idea of a secret ballot, so that the vote is truly an independent one. The suggestion though that they give up their right to vote undermines MMP and proportional representation as it means the party they came from gets one less vote.