Author visits ‘grandmother’ of parliaments

Author Matthew Laban meets Speaker of the House of Keys Steve Rodan

Author Matthew Laban meets Speaker of the House of Keys Steve Rodan

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An author who takes a keen interest in parliamentary affairs has visited the world’s oldest continuous parliament.

Matthew Laban, who has written Mr Speaker: The Office and the Individuals Since 1945, was welcomed by the current Speaker of the House of Keys, Steve Rodan.

Mr Laban, who had visited the parliaments of a number of Commonwealth countries in the course of his research, toured the three chambers of Tynwald and attended a sitting of the House of Keys during which he was able to see the Hansard voice recognition system in operation.

He said he viewed Tynwald as ‘a proper parliament’ that retained its pageantry and formality and added: ‘For a small jurisdiction Tynwald punches far above its weight and, as the oldest continuous parliament in the world, clearly has no need to follow other, later parliamentary models.’

He said it had been interesting to note how the role of Speaker in the House of Keys differed from that adopted in the House of Commons, where the televising of proceedings had led to a shift in emphasis from the office to the individual.

Referring to changing practices regarding the wearing of formal regalia, Mr Laban said: ‘When Betty Boothroyd took over as Speaker from Bernard Weatherill she dispensed with the full-bottomed wig, while John Bercow has chosen not to re-introduce the wig and wears a simple academic gown.’

In his book Mr Laban writes: ‘The Speaker of the House of Keys on the Isle of Man, Stephen Rodan, however, wears the wig and gown all the time in the chamber.

‘Speaker Rodan has explained why he still wears the traditional regalia: “I wear the full-bottomed wig both to emphasis the historic nature of the office of Speaker and to draw attention that it is the office and not the identity of the individual which is important. Individuals come and go, but the office continues.”’

The wearing of formal regalia aside, Mr Laban is confident the role of Speaker will endure: ‘There will always be a need for a presiding officer who can chair debates, understands the “nuts and bolts” of the office and can act as a neutral umpire.’

For Mr Laban, headteacher of a north London primary school, the book was eight years in the making. He now plans to write a study of Crown Dependencies.

Mr Rodan said: ‘Mr Laban’s book is an absorbing and scholarly analysis of the history and role of the Speaker to which I was proud to be invited to contribute. I was also pleased to afford him the opportunity to attend a sitting of the House of Keys where he was able to witness both the traditional and technological components that distinguish Manx parliamentary proceedings. I wish him every success with the book and look forward to reading his next work.’

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