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Bercow back in Speaker's chair

Published 18/05/2015

David Cameron's party forms a majority Tory bloc on the green benches of the House of Commons for the first time since 1997
David Cameron's party forms a majority Tory bloc on the green benches of the House of Commons for the first time since 1997

John Bercow has retaken his seat as Speaker of the House of Commons, telling MPs he wanted his political epitaph to be "he was the backbenchers' champion".

In a traditional ceremony, Mr Bercow was dragged from his seat - between Tories Charles Walker and Julian Lewis, two key allies - to the Speaker's chair after the motion to reappoint him was passed unopposed.

The reappointment followed the pageantry of MPs being summoned to hear a Royal Commission in the House of Lords by Black Rod, Lieutenant General David Leakey.

In a brief speech, the sometimes contentious Mr Bercow said he was keen to continue his six-year career as Speaker for "a little longer".

Not a single MP spoke out against the appointment when Sir Gerald Kaufman, the new Father of the House, moved the motion for Mr Bercow to resume his seat.

Despite an unsuccessful but controversial bid by the Conservatives to make the Speaker easier to remove before the election, David Cameron welcomed Mr Bercow back as Speaker.

He joked the media had been confused if Mr Bercow was actually a Conservative, adding : "It's of course your second re-election this month and I noticed during the first there was some confusion in the media as to whether my party had won 330 or 331 seats in the general election.

"It seems the media were unsure as to whether or not you were a Conservative - but I'm sure you found this as baffling as I did."

Mr Cameron said this was a tribute to the inclusive approach adopted by the Speaker, particularly in allowing backbenchers to fulfil their duties.

Invited to confirm his continuation in the powerful role, Mr Bercow said: "It has been an honour to serve as Speaker for almost six years and I would be honoured to do so for a little longer if colleagues kindly agree.

"I will strive to ensure this House remains at the heart of our democratic system. All of its members, newcomers and veterans alike, should be part of the cast, not merely an audience.

"Finally, if there are five words I would like carved on my political tombstone - assuming such items are not now forever unfashionable - they are 'he was the backbenchers' champion'.

"On this basis, I submit myself to the House."

Interim Labour leader Harriet Harman said Mr Bercow would be a strong ally for the scores of new MPs elected to the Commons on May 7.

She said: "He may be small in stature, but make no mistake in this office he is a giant."

Ms Harman labelled him the best Speaker she had served with.

Angus Robertson, the leader of the 56-strong SNP delegation, made his first appearance as leader of the Commons third largest party.

He thanked Mr Bercow for treating the smaller parties fairly in the last Parliament when his party had just six MPs compared to the 56 today.

He said the SNP would "look forward to making Scotland's voice heard", adding: "We look forward to opposing austerity and we will resolutely oppose the renewal of Trident weapons of mass destruction."

Alistair Carmichael, speaking for the depleted Liberal Democrats, said: "On behalf of the elite cadre of Liberal Democrats who have have been returned, I should like to congratulate as others have done you on your re-election.

"I should confess that at the time I served as government deputy chief whip in the last Parliament the relationship with the Speaker obviously was not always an easy one. But it was always professional and it was courteous.

"If I may say so, I find as an opposition backbencher the qualities you exhibited which occasionally caused me difficulty on the Treasury bench to be much more attractive now."

Mr Bercow attracted controversy from some Tory MPs in the last Parliament who believed he was biased against them.

The Speaker also drew criticism over his failed attempt to appoint Carol Mills, an Australian official, to the historic and constitutionally key role of Commons clerk. The row led to a reorganisation of senior Commons posts and the eventual appointment of David Natzler, the deputy clerk, to the role.

In one of the final acts of the last parliament, a Conservative-driven attempt to change the rules so that the Speaker would face re-election by a secret ballot was defeated.

It ensured his appointment was tested by a normal division of the House and the Commons fell silent when Sir Gerald asked if anyone opposed the motion for Mr Bercow's return.

In 2010, Mr Bercow's reappointment had been greeted with some shouts of discontent, though too few to force a vote on the matter.

The Speaker's private life has also been in the headlines in recent days, with Sally Bercow admitting she had been a "terrible wife" amid reports of an affair with her husband's cousin.

Mrs Bercow said she and Alan Bercow "got on like a house on fire" but refused to comment on claims that she had a relationship with him.

She insisted she will not return to the Speaker's residence in the "goldfish bowl" of Parliament, saying she "hated" living there and it had been a "massive bone of contention" in her marriage.

The first gathering of MPs since the election saw the SNP take up seats on the front of the opposition benches - though Labour veteran Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) refused to relinquish his position on the front corner, spending much of the session chatting to Chris Law, the new SNP MP for Dundee West.

The handful of Liberal Democrats were pushed back several benches, while former leader Nick Clegg and one of his potential successors Tim Farron could not be spotted.

Mhairi Black, who defeated shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander in Paisley and Renfrewshire South, to become the youngest MP in centuries sat amongst Labour MPs behind the Opposition Despatch Box, rather than with her party grouping as is traditional.

The Commons will next meet at 2.40pm tomorrow to begin the process of swearing in MPs.

They will first be summoned to the Lords to confirm their choice of Speaker. Mr Bercow will be the first to affirm or take the oath, followed by Sir Gerald, the Cabinet, shadow cabinet, privy councillors and then remaining MPs based on length of service.

Wednesday's sitting of the House, from 11.30am, is likely to see the first newly-elected MPs taking the oath or affirming. The process will continue from 9.30am on Thursday and, if not complete, from 2.30pm on May 26.

New MPs have received training in the Commons chamber on proceedings of the House and how to conduct themselves since arriving in Parliament fresh from victory at the general election.

The state opening of Parliament will then take place on May 27. The Commons will meet at 11.25am to be summoned to the Lords to hear the speech, before adjourning until the debate begins at 2.30pm.

Debate on the speech, which will be opened by selected backbenchers, typically lasts for six days.

Leader of the Lords Baroness Stowell of Beeston delivered the royal commission on behalf of the Queen.

She told the gathered MPs: " We have it in command from Her Majesty to let you know that as soon as the members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of Her Majesty calling this parliament will be declared to you and it being necessary that a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen.

"It is Her Majesty's pleasure that you - members of the House of Commons - repair to the place where you are to sit and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker and that you present such person who you shall so choose here for Her Majesty's royal approbation."

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