Lord McFall tipped as leading contender to be next Speaker in House of Lords

Heading for the Woolsack? Labour peer McFall as Senior Deputy Speaker could be in pole position to succeed Lord Fowler in top job. Picture by Bill Heaney

This week, the current incumbent, Lord Fowler, 83, the former Conservative Health Secretary, who has served in the UK Parliament for more than 50 years as an MP and peer, announced he had decided to stand down to campaign on HIV/Aids and LGBT rights.

Until 2006, the role of presiding officer in the Lords was undertaken by the Lord Chancellor but it was decided a separate office of Lord Speaker would be created. Lord Fowler is the third peer to hold the office.

Unlike the Commons, the Lords is a more sedate arena with the Lord Speaker, sitting on the Woolsack, having less power than his or her equivalent in the lower chamber, and acting more as a genial referee than bellowing enforcer.

However, the post-holder has the compensation of a £104,000 salary. The elected role lasts for five years and up to two terms.

Bellsmyre brought up John McFall, 76, was the MP for Dumbarton from 1987 until 2005 and then for another five years when the seat became West Dunbartonshire.

His mother was a shopkeeper in College Street, Dumbarton, and his father, also John, was the janitor at Wee St Pat’s primary school in McLean Place. He is an only child.

A chemistry and maths teacher before he entered Parliament, Lord McFall became a whip in Tony Blair’s Government and served as a minister in the Education Department and in the Northern Ireland Office.

However, the father-of-four was best known during his time in the Commons as the Chairman of the Treasury Committee during the time of the 2008 financial crash.

After standing down as an MP at the 2010 General Election, he was later made a peer and serves as the Senior Deputy Speaker. He was most recently responsible for moving the continuing suspension of the much-mocked by-elections held to replace departed hereditary peers.

The Scot is Chairman of Westminster’s Scotch Whisky and Spirits All-Party Parliamentary Group.

As the current Lord Speaker is a Tory, convention dictates the next one should be from Labour or, possibly, the Liberal Democrats.

An expected rival to a McFall candidacy is Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, who is Labour’s deputy leader in the Lords.

Sacked by Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 for comparing his leadership to the “last days of Hitler,” supporters of Lady Hayter refer to how, afterwards, she received a muted cheer when she appeared in the upper chamber.

Other runners and riders could include Liberal Democrat peers Lords Beith, Newby and Alderdice, as well as Scottish Labour peer Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, another Deputy Speaker, who was Labour’s General Secretary from 2011 to 2018.

Next week, the Lords Procedure Committee will meet to decide on a timetable. Those peers wishing to stand will need to write a short manifesto and take part in virtual hustings.

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