October 21, 2016, by Tim Utton
Commons’ Speaker welcomes regional ‘take-over’ of Parliament
Commons Speaker John Bercow (pictured right) says Nottinghamshire should not be “shy and retiring” as he spoke out ahead of a regional ‘take-over’ of the Palace of Westminster by Nottingham, which is holding a day of events in Parliament on Tuesday 25th October.
Led by the University of Nottingham, the day begins with a debate about the Midlands Engine initiative and will also feature University events exploring the future of food, energy and justice.
Senior diplomats from China, the USA and 14 other nations are due to attend, Nottingham Forest and Notts County will be giving MPs “political football” masterclasses, while the city’s official Robin Hood will be taking part in some “Westminster Target Practice” on College Green.
The day will also feature a special edition of the University Challenge quiz show, with MPs taking on a team from the University of Nottingham – and The Speaker keeping order.
Mr Bercow, who sanctioned the initiative after discussions with Nottingham East MP Chris Leslie (pictured left), suggested the Nottingham in Parliament Day might be a model for both regional involvement in Parliament and greater public appreciation of what the House does.
“There is a lot of evidence that people have a low opinion of politics and politicians,” Mr Bercow said. “What I am hoping is that events like this may cause people to think again about us.
“This is a good idea and an interesting idea. The merit of closer engagement in an exercise like this is that it gives people from Nottinghamshire, the University, the city’s businesses and other institutions a chance to get to know us, and people in Parliament a chance to get to know Nottinghamshire a bit better.
“Might it set a precedent for other regions? Yes, I think so.”
Mr Bercow added: “I’m not pretending there will thereafter be some special relationship with Nottinghamshire that would be denied to others, but this has significant potential to interest parliamentarians in the ‘who we are, what we are and where we excel’ of Nottinghamshire.”
Mr Speaker is not unfamiliar with Nottingham: he has delivered lectures at the University, attended the Youth Parliament in the city, and returns to give a lecture next March.
Nevertheless, he hopes to learn more from the take-over: “I hope to learn something about what is being done in Nottinghamshire, not least on the University’s research on ending contemporary slavery, and the work being done by various agencies to tackle misogyny and discriminatory language.
“But I also want to see the lighter side – the football masterclasses with Notts County Ladies, the Forest Legends, the University Challenge between the Commons and the University of Nottingham.”
Mr Bercow says it will be up to the organisations taking part in Nottingham in Parliament Day to build upon the opportunity it represents, but paid tribute to the work of its MPs.
“I’m in no position to promise that this will yield resources for Nottinghamshire,” he said. “But I do think it is a great opportunity for the city and the county to put its best foot forwards and increase knowledge and respect. It has some good and extremely active MPs on both sides of the House.
Parliament may have to pull the shutters down for several years to enable large-scale repair and refurbishment of a landmark which is both working environment and World Heritage Site.
While Mr Bercow says he believes that moving the entire Parliamentary machine outside London is impractical, there could be opportunities to “showcase” Westminster in places like Nottinghamshire.
“I’m sceptical about the practicalities of the whole House sitting elsewhere,” he said. “But if there is an appetite for informal exchanges between party leaders in some of the great cities so that we could take the democratic process beyond London then I’d be perfectly happy to chair them.
“Parliamentary Select Committees already do some regional visits to take evidence, but could there be more? Yes – and I’m all in favour of us getting out from here more. Nottinghamshire should not be shy and retiring about suggestions for suitable locations!”
“I really do have a very high regard for Nottinghamshire members. I make no bones about the fact that Chris Leslie is a friend, I’ve known Ken Clark for more than 20 years, Graham Allen is an extremely principled backbencher, and though Lilian Greenwood has been in the House only since 2010 she has definitely made her mark.
“And Anna Soubry, of course, was until recently a Minister. She is a very bright individual who works prodigiously on behalf of her constituents.”
Mr Leslie has played a central role in turning the Nottingham in Parliament Day from an idea into a reality, and says it represents a new way for Westminster to bring in the outside world.
He said: “The House of Commons will, of course, have its normal legislative business to transact on October 25th. But with over 40 Nottingham-themed events in and around the Palace of Westminster, it’ll be hard to avoid the sense that we’ve taken over for the day!
“Mr Speaker has always been an incredible advocate of initiatives to fling open the doors of Parliament and let the outside world in. ‘Nottingham In Parliament’ day is a great way to bring in new people, new activities – and new ideas as well.”