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The House of Commons has agreed to establish a Speaker’s Conference to consider the employment conditions of Members’ staff. Library briefing (CBP 9572), Speaker’s Conference on the employment of Members’ staff, summarises the background to the current conference.

Speakers’ Conferences have been used in the past to find cross-party agreement on a subject. Most were on electoral reform and the Speaker’s Conference was a way of upholding the constitutional convention that changes to the electoral system should be agreed as far as possible on an all-party basis. The advent of the Electoral Commission in 2001 created a permanent mechanism for providing independent advice to the Government on electoral reform.

Procedures

There are no fixed or statutory rules governing the creation or operation of a Speaker’s Conference. Previous conferences have generally been established at the request of the Prime Minister with the Speaker’s chairmanship seen as a model of impartiality.

Meetings were generally in private and reports were issued as letters to the Prime Minister from the Speaker, which have been presented to Parliament as Command Papers.

The most recent Speakers’ Conferences, in 2008-10 and the Conference announced in June of 2022, have been established on agreement of resolution of the House of Commons, with powers similar to select committees to send for persons, papers and records (the power to require documents to be sent to them or summon people to give oral evidence). They have had the power to deviate from select committee procedures as they see fit under the direction of the Speaker.

The reports of the Conference of 2008-10, appointed to consider the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons, including interim reports, were published as House of Commons papers on the Parliamentary website.

Previous Conferences

Speakers’ Conferences have only been used rarely. There have been seven previous conferences.

The first was established in 1916 to find a solution to the problems of war time electoral registration and the franchise, particularly the question of women’s suffrage.

Conferences have had mixed success. The original Conference of 1916 led to the Representation of the People Act 1918, a significant piece of electoral reform covering the franchise, registration, administration of general elections and the redistribution of seats. The next two conferences, on voting methods for the House of Commons and on devolution in the UK, reported but little came of their deliberations.

The next, in 1944, was more successful and led to cross-party agreement on legislation creating a permanent machinery for the redistribution of seats. Other measures of electoral reform were agreed but legislation brought forward in 1947-8 led to partisan disagreements, as the detail differed from those agreed by the Conference.

Subsequent conferences have led to fewer wholesale reforms, although some have nonetheless been significant, such as the reduction of the voting age in 1969, and the increase of the number of MPs representing Northern Ireland in the 1970s.

The table below summarises the subject matter of conferences held. Membership of each conference is included in the appendix to this briefing.

 Summary of previous Conferences


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