Benn proposes Speaker as new head of state

Are we looking at the future King John II?
Are we looking at the future King John II?

By Alex Stevenson

The Queen could be replaced by the House of Commons' Speaker in a republican Britain which maintains a titular head of state, Tony Benn has suggested to MPs.

The veteran left-winger made the proposal in an evidence session to the political and constitutional reform committee, which is investigating the case for a written constitution.

"The problem of a directly elected head of state is you get a conflict between two sources of authority," Mr Benn told MPs, explaining that both the president and the prime minister would have democratic legitimacy.


A better option might be to maintain the symbolism of an unelected head of state without keeping the monarchy, he said.

"If you're looking for a titular head of state I think the Speaker of the House of Commons would be perfect - he's respected, he understands the constitution," Mr Benn added.

Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrat MP on the committee, observed: "Mr Bercow would be very pleased by that statement."

Mr Benn originally proposed a titular head of state appointed from within the House of Commons in his 1991 proposal for a written constitution contained in the Commonwealth of Britain bill.

He attacked the government's retention of powers historically held by the monarch and warned that MPs should ensure what they end up proposing protects "the rights of ordinary people".

"What we have is defective," Mr Benn said.

"We live in a modern parliamentary democracy, but the crown powers have been retained. Not one of them are actually exercised by the crown... the prime minister is now in effect the unelected king." 

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