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House of Commons

Monday 27 April 1992

The House being met ; and it being the first day of the meeting of this Parliament, pursuant to Proclamation, SIR CLIFFORD JOHN BOULTON, KCB, Clerk of the House of Commons, DONALD WILLIAM LIMON, ESQUIRE, Clerk Assistant, and CHARLES BONIFACE WINNIFRITH, ESQUIRE, Principal Clerk of the Table Office, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, THOMAS STUART LEGG, ESQUIRE, CB, QC, Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said SIR CLIFFORD JOHN BOULTON a book containing a list of the names of the Members returned to serve in this Parliament.

Several of the Members repaired to their seats.

THE RIGHT HON. SIR EDWARD HEATH took the Chair, pursuant to Standing Order No. 1 (Election of the Speaker).

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went ; and a Commission having been read for opening and holding the Parliament, the Lords Commissioners directed the House to proceed to the Election of a Speaker, and to present the Speaker-Elect tomorrow, in the House of Peers, for the Royal Approbation.

And the House having returned : --

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Election of Speaker

2.44 pm

Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : Before the House proceeds to the choice of a Speaker, it may be helpful for me to describe the procedure that is to be followed.

I shall first call for a candidate to be proposed and seconded, after which a debate may follow on that Question. At the end of the debate, the Member proposed may indicate his or her willingness to accept the office. At this point, an amendment may be proposed and seconded to leave out the first name and insert another name. A debate on that amendment may then follow, at the end of which the Member concerned may indicate his or her willingness to accept the office. The Question, That the amendment be made, will then be put. If the amendment is carried, I shall then put the main Question, as amended, on which also a Division may take place. If the amendment is defeated, it will be possible for further amendments to be moved in the same manner as I have described for the first ; or, if no amendment is forthcoming, the original Question will be put to the House. I call Sir Michael Neubert.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : On a point of order, Sir Edward. Could you explain in which order the candidates will be proposed to the House? Have you decided in which order the names will be chosen?

Sir Edward Heath : Sir Michael Neubert will propose the first candidate.

2.51 pm

Sir Michael Neubert (Romford) : I beg to move,

That Mr. Peter Brooke do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. No one recently elected or re-elected to this House and committed to parliamentary democracy, which has given freedom and stability to our country and so many countries around the world, will be likely to underestimate the importance of the purpose which brings us here to our first meeting of this new Parliament.

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Parliamentary democracy places a unique responsibility on the Speaker. I take this first opportunity to congratulate you, Sir Edward, on the signal honour conferred on you by Her Majesty in respect of your premiership and many other public services over so many years. I believe that it will not be the least important of your duties that today you preside as the new Father of the House over the election of our Speaker. This Parliament--if you will approve the metaphor, Sir Edward--will not be plain sailing.

Unusually, we have a choice of candidates. In particular, on the Conservative Benches, it seems that we have an embarrassment of riches. [Laughter.] Whatever the House eventually decides we are all obliged to choose between friends and Members, hon. and right hon. alike--an invidious start to the new Session. The office of Speaker, once secured, is all-powerful in this Chamber. It is the Speaker who holds the key to the opportunity of one's next brilliant speech or incisive question. Therefore, proposing who should be the next Speaker is a perilous enterprise. I am all too well aware that, if I get this wrong, I may never catch the Speaker's eye again, but a choice has to be made and my choice is my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke). Since my right hon. Friend's entry into the House 15 years ago as a Back Bencher in opposition, the Chamber has had an essential magnetism for him. Subsequently he has filled with distinction a number of ministerial offices, culminating with Cabinet responsibility for Northern Ireland, which is among the most onerous and difficult offices in the Government of the United Kingdom. Throughout that time he has always been ready to answer to the House--of the primacy of Parliament in his mind there can be no doubt.

As on earlier occasions, we would be enhancing the office of Speaker and the standing of the House by electing a Member who served as one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State. There have been Speakers of this House since 1258. It is a long line which encompasses much of our history. Since the second world war the Speaker has always come from the majority party in the House at the time.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Will the hon. Member give way?

Sir Michael Neubert : I make no special point about that. The House is free to establish its custom and practice in this matter as in others. However, in my experience during 18 years, it has worked well.

The independence of the Speaker has been conclusively demonstrated on several significant occasions. Governments have often been discomfited by the Speaker's ruling. There is no reason to believe that if my right hon. Friend were to take the Chair he would be any less forthright in defence of Back Benchers' rights or any less jealous of the Speaker's independence than his immediate predecessors have been.

There are some Members who might, with less than Christian charity and compassion, point to my right hon. Friend's time in the Whips Office, but I hope that any such doubts might have been put aside by the example of the previous Speaker, himself a former deputy Chief Whip. In

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the dying days of the last Parliament when he was accused of favouring his friends, he snapped back, "I have no friends." That is the truth of it. The office of Speaker is the loneliest job in Parliament. Its holder is required to sacrifice that camaraderie which means so much to the rest of us. Students of the Whips tend to concentrate on the darker, cloacal arts of the Whip's trade, forgetting that it gives essential understanding and training in the procedures and workings of the House, which will be a considerable asset to anyone in the Chair.

My right hon. Friend is steeped in the traditions of this place. Both his parents were parliamentarians. Parliament is in his blood. He has a grasp of history which would guide him if he were to take his place in that long line of Speakers. He would bring dignity, erudition and wit to the exercise of the office and the stature to ensure firm handling of our often stormy debates.

In personal terms my right hon. Friend has always been agreeable and affable in his dealings with Members in all parts of the House. He will be an admirable ambassador for us outside. Finally, he has the strength, stamina and family support needed for the task. In short, my right hon. Friend has, in good measure, all those qualities for which we look in a Speaker. I commend him to the House. 2.57 pm

Sir Thomas Arnold (Hazel Grove) : I rise to second the nomination of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke). He would make an admirable and excellent Speaker of the House of Commons.

The House has come to realise the pre-eminent value of fairness in Mr. Speaker, and my right hon. Friend, not least in the discharge of his duties in Northern Ireland, has shown himself to be fair and even handed. Those are qualities which the House of Commons rightly treasures.

Sooner or later in this Parliament, as I understand it, the Government will introduce proposals to change the Standing Orders, hours of sitting and other procedural matters of the House. It is perfectly true that when I used to work for my right hon. Friend he let me go home early, but I suspect that the changes that the Government have in mind will be judged not simply by whether they make our lives easier, but by whether they protect the rights of the House of Commons and of Members herein.

My right hon. Friend will be anxious to achieve that protection and would be impartial between the parties. As newcomers to the House will recognise quickly, the impartiality of Mr. Speaker is one of the essential ingredients and guarantees of our liberties.

On a personal note, and without wishing to sound impertinent, my right hon. Friend also looks the part. Indeed, he is famous for his bushy eyebrows, so much so that I have sometimes wondered what he is thinking. His qualities will stand him in good stead in dealing with over-enthusiastic Back Benchers and the over-mighty denizens of the Front Bench. I have great pleasure in supporting the motion. 3 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : As there is no other occasion in the parliamentary calendar when one can say anything sensible about the operation of the Chair without implying criticism of the occupant of the Chair, which, as

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we all know, means a substantive motion, and, as we are extremely reluctant to table substantive motions against the Speaker, is it appropriate to ask two questions?

First, what can we hope for from an incoming Speaker in terms of a far more lenient attitude towards private notice questions? The decision whether to accept a private notice question often can alter events outside the House. The taste and decision of the Speaker is all-important in that. Whoever the next Speaker is, may I ask him or her to take a more lenient view towards granting private notice questions to those on the Back Benches? There is a feeling among some of us that private notice questions on the very same subjects that are granted to the Front Bench are often not granted to the Back Benches. I am speaking up for the rights of Back Benchers and for the merits of what they are proposing at least to be entertained by the Speaker.

Secondly, I should like to ask about the Speaker's attitude through the usual channels--he or she plays a very important part in the usual channels --to whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who now speaks for science--a subject much under-represented in the House of Commons--is to get just 10 minutes spatchcocked into the middle of a Monday or whether science will be treated as a proper Department of State with a 40-minute slot at Question Time.

I have known every Speaker since Sir Harry Hylton-Foster. The personal qualities of a Speaker and his or her attitude towards Members are all important. That is why I hope that, when the choice comes, we will make the right choice for Back Benchers and dissenters in the House.

3.3 pm

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I hoped that the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) would give way to me, when I would have made my point concisely. I shall make it as briefly as I can now.

The hon. Member talked about the Speakership of this House going back to 1258. As he will find when the Official Report is published, this will be the 51st Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which goes back only to 1801. That is not only an important historical point ; it is also an important political point. If whoever occupies the Chair believes that this House is simply the continuation of the Parliament of England, he or she has another think coming.

It is important to recognise the important Scottish dimension when the Government, albeit having received some modest increase in support in Scotland, were rejected by 75 per cent. of the Scottish electorate. One would hope that, when the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) or anyone else who is proposed occupies the Speaker's Chair, he or she will be sensitive to the very different political situation that exists in Scotland. 3.4 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : You, Sir Edward, and I have sat in 13 Parliaments under seven Speakers, and I think that we are the last remaining Members of the House who saw Attlee and Churchill at the Dispatch Box and heard the last King's Speech from the throne. We were elected in the same year ; you are the Father of the House

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and I was then the baby of the House. I must now be the uncle of the House, and it is in that capacity that I want to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) introduced, in my opinion, the most important element into this debate--the Speakership itself. As a young Member I once moved a motion of censure on the Speaker-- a daring thing to do, for which I paid a heavy price. I did it because he refused me an emergency debate on the possibility of military action in Oman. Also, I was kept out by Harry Hylton-Foster on the ground that I was a peer, so I have had conflicts with one or two other Speakers as well.

Before we come to the names--there is a candidate whom I strongly wish to support--I wish to stress that this is a House of Commons matter. Previously, Speakers have been chosen by patronage, nudging and winks, through the usual channels, which are the most polluted waterways in the world. All the candidates who have been mentioned have exceptional qualities--I am not arguing about that--but the House should remember that the reason that we regard the Speaker as important is that in this Chamber- -or where it was 450 years ago this year--Mr. Speaker Lenthall refused to bow to the king when he wanted to arrest five Members. He said, using the famous phrase : "May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor Tongue to Speak in this Place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here".

Therefore, if we are talking about the Speakership, we must bring it up to date and ask where executive power lies now and how the House can be strong in defending it. We need a Speaker who will defend the legislature against the Executive, and defend the electors against those who abuse power, whether it be state power or private power.

The power of Charles I has long gone and his successors have no power left, but in that 450 years state power has grown enormously in many ways. For example--and I am looking at the Prime Minister--all the prerogatives that Charles had are now in the Prime Minister's hands. You, Sir Edward, know it yourself. The Prime Minister can take the country to war without consulting Parliament--he did. He can sign treaties and choose archbishops without consulting Parliament. He can create peers without consulting Parliament-- the previous 10 Prime Ministers have created almost 900 Members of the other place without doing so. The Prime Minister can, without consulting Parliament, agree to laws being made in secret in the Council of Ministers in Brussels that take precedence over our laws. He also has other powers. Therefore, the divine right of kings is alive and well in the person of the Prime Minister of the day.

Other powers have grown : the City of London votes every day, and so will the European central bank, to decide the policy of this Government and every other Government. We are no longer even the primary source of debate, as television has taken it over. Mr. Speaker Sissons and Mr. Speaker Paxman presumed to tell us what the nation should think. When I first came here the Division Lobbies and polling stations were supposed to be the places where the nation's will was expressed, but now the arrogant pollsters--the inaccurate pollsters--presume to tell us what the nation thinks. I say to whoever succeeds to the Chair that democracy is being bypassed, and the responsibility for that rests largely with the House of Commons and all the parties which have allowed it to happen.

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We have some powers : we can speak freely. Our speeches are printed in Hansard --the only newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdoch. We also have access to television, without being interrogated in the star chamber by David Dimbleby. But our most powerful weapon is Mr. Speaker, and I wish to speak about the Speakership.

Apart from keeping order, which is not as difficult as it might appear, the Speaker can allow or disallow parliamentary questions to Ministers, and thus expose or protect them ; accept or refuse closure motions, which can prolong or stop debates ; select or reject Back-Bench motions or amendments, and thus deny a minority view in the House from ever being put in the Lobbies ; permit or deny private notice questions or emergency debates ; call or not call individual Members ; and give or withhold precedence to Privy Councillors, which is the source of much anger. He can determine which Bills are hybrid and which are not ; use a casting vote if there is a tie ; recall the Commons in a recess--a formidable power--in the event of some international crisis ; certify a money Bill ; and rule on matters of privilege.

That is the office which we are discussing and, although the vote will resolve who occupies the Chair, we must pay attention to the office itself. Every Member present brings his or her own experience and convictions to the House. We were not elected to be robots, trembling before the party Whips. Ultimately, we are responsible to ourselves and our consciences. All party leaders get it wrong sometimes and, often, one lone voice may turn out to have got it right. We must speak out more plainly for the people we represent, many of whom have no confidence in the House. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) questioned whether this is a representative assembly. That is now on the agenda, whether we agree or not. Ethnic communities and those who poured into the polling stations but could not vote because they did not pay their poll tax do not feel represented in the House. Others can live abroad for 25 years and still have a vote without even being asked to pay poll tax.

The point is that we must not have another cosy little election for a Speaker without recognising that these are difficult times. I believe--I have been here for a long time--that we need a reforming Speaker. We modernise everything but the Speakership goes on. We need a Speaker to call more Members from minority parties and more minority Members from other parties. We need more debates on emergency matters--why should the television channels cover matters that we cannot discuss even when the business of the House is only a trifling amendment on a Government Bill? I want a Speaker who will demand better conditions for the staff who work in the Palace of Westminster, including comprehensive and complete child care for the many parents who have come to the House : I should like a Speaker who will allow Westminster Hall to be used so that we do not leave pensioners freezing outside in the winter when they come to lobby their Members of Parliament. I should like the Strangers Gallery to be renamed the "Electors Gallery". We have never caught up with 1832 when this place was done out.

I should also like a Speaker who does not wear a wig every day, because it is so intimidating-- [Interruption.] I know that Mr. Speaker Weatherill was popular on

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television, but many people watching thought that he was appearing in the High Court. We need a Speaker who will defend the rights of those represented here.

Although I am not speaking for my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), whom I support, I hope that she and the other candidates are listening. If Parliament is to survive, it must be a workshop, not a museum. For one reason or another, the years ahead will be very troubled. There will not only be difficulties in the House, but social unrest-- [Interruption.] I am giving my opinion to the House I thought that that was what the House was famous for. I do not believe that democracy can be taken for granted anywhere. We would do well to elect a Speaker who will help to do the difficult task that falls to those of us who have the honour to serve in this House.

3.14 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : I shall address myself entirely to the House of Commons and not to anything outside. It is vital that the House should elect as Speaker somebody who believes in the integrity of the House of Commons and is prepared to safeguard the ability of the House to monitor the Executive. Year by year, the House's ability to monitor the Executive has been increasingly eroded. We want a Speaker who is committed to the House and to its ability to hold Governments to account.

We want a Minister-- [Interruption.] We want a Speaker who is prepared to stand up for the rights of the only organisation within the House that can effectively monitor the Government, and that is the Select Committee system. [Interruption.] Remarks that are not unexpected are being made by Conservative Back Benchers. Perhaps too many people come to the House merely seeking ministerial office. [Interruption.] Some of us never anticipate the call. We do not sit by telephones waiting for the call to ministerial office, but we believe in the integrity of the House. The speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) reflected a deep concern, which is felt by the people of this country, that Back Benchers are not adequately safeguarded in this place and that the ability of this place to monitor the Executive is not powerful enough.

In considering the nominations for Speaker, I hope that the House will be proud of its power, authority and integrity and will elect a Speaker who will honour, cherish and safeguard the authority of the House of Commons itself.

Sir Edward Heath : Mr. Peter Brooke has been proposed and seconded, and I give him the opportunity to submit himself to the House if he so wishes.

3.16 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South) : I am grateful to my hon. Friends who have proposed and seconded me in terms much more generous than I warrant. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) in congratulating you, Sir Edward, not only on the office you now hold in the House, but on being elevated to the Order of the Garter.

Once upon a time, I was the first ever headhunter in the United Kingdom and widely condemned as an interfering reformer of ancient and traditional practices. Now, 30 years on, I am content in the knowledge that a commercial

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acorn has become a respectable forest of oaks. A characteristic of a headhunter is a preoccupation with the specifications of a job. One such specification for the task of Speaker was written by the great Delane, the 19th century editor of The Times when it was called "The Thunderer". It began :

"Imperturbable good temper, tact, patience and urbanity and an absence of bitter partisanship in his previous career."

Confronted by such a litany of perfection, any candidate must be cowed into instant humility. I shall essay, but not achieve, the standard of humility set by King Lobengula of the Matabele whose first loyal address to Queen Victoria began with the words : "We who are but as the lice on the edge of Your Majesty's blanket "

These remarks will be brief but they cannot help being personal. I shall try to avoid the example of the peer at the turn of the century whose memoirs were held up for three weeks because the printers had run out of the capital I. I cannot, however, promise entire abstinence.

My father entered Parliament when I was four years of age ; he sat in both Houses of it. Both my parents sat in the Upper House. My first visit here, at the age of nine, occurred, lugubriously to report, on the day that the then Mr. Speaker FitzRoy died, which I suppose constitutes a thread of continuity.

More germanely perhaps, my forebear, Mr. Speaker Brooke, was the first Member for the City of London, which is part of my constituency, to be Speaker while the City's Member. He lasted five weeks in the summer of 1554 before deciding in the reign of Bloody Mary, and in an office which then often led to summary execution, that discretion was the better part of valour. I risk not following his example in saying to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the events he described of Mr. Speaker Lenthall occurred 350 years ago rather than 450.

Delane's specifications apart, no one should be a candidate for Speakership unless he admires and reveres this ancient House, and that I can plead to do. A candidate must also be confident that his spouse understands what will be involved in the roles that both will need to play. My wife has experienced the representational life of a Minister's wife and has a vivid and willing understanding of the role that falls to a Speaker's wife.

I had recent grateful occasion to know the temper of the House towards me in a personal capacity. That event occurred, however, while I was a Minister. I have had, therefore, to ask myself whether it was appropriate for someone to allow his name to be proposed for this high office so soon after leaving government. That will be for others to decide. For myself, the last such case was that in 1959 of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, then the Solicitor-General, who was the most recent Member for my constituency to be Speaker. His being a Law Officer was regarded as being unpartisan and therefore to admit of the transition. The Northern Ireland Office is similarly unpartisan, at least between the two main parties. As I say, it will be for others to decide what is proper. I can only say on a personal note that, as when I started that lonely and innovative business 30 years ago, I shall be my own man.

I hold all the other candidates whose names I have heard in the highest regard. Some feel that competition for the office is in some sense improper. For myself I count it as an index of the importance that the House attaches to

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the Speakership, and I count it as an honour to have been considered at least worthy of nomination. I am grateful to all those who have encouraged me to stand.

3.22 pm

Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North) : I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. Peter Brooke" and insert instead thereof "Miss Betty Boothroyd".

I wish to associate myself with those who have congratulated you, Sir Edward, most warmly on the award of Knight of the Garter and also becoming Father of the House. In the capacity of Father, you will recall the occasion in 1951 when there was a contested election between Mr. Morrison and Major Milner. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), when he talked about the contest leading to an invidious start to this occasion, was right in identifying the degree of ambience that there is on such an occasion. I believe that the House has reacted far more robustly and in a far more adult fashion to the matter today than it did in the embarrassment of some 40 years ago. That is a tribute not only to the House but to those who are offering their names for the great post of Speakership.

I say only this in respect of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), whom I am seeking to exclude by means of the amendment. It has been a privilege to serve as a supporter of a Minister who has shown such courage and courtesy in one of the most testing offices of state. I know that similar qualities could be secured for each and every candidate. So we proceed to the business of deciding on the Speakership in, I believe, a healthy rather than an embarrassed atmosphere. I think that we can echo the words that were spoken in 1951 by Clement Attlee. After the decision had been made, he said :

"We have had a vote, and although the House has the right to exercise its choice, when its choice has been made that choice becomes Speaker of the whole House."--[ Official Report, 31 October 1951 ; Vol. 493, c. 22.]

That spirit will guide us today.

I intend to say a few words about the office of Speaker and the tasks that are required of him. As has been said by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), this is one of the few occasions when one can, in a reasonably free atmosphere, talk about the office of Speaker. By far the most important aspect of it is contained in what has almost become a theme remark in today's wider publicity--"Order, order"--for it is order, the securing of the framework of debate, which is absolutely essential for the freedom and the effective running of this House of Commons : not just to provide the circumstances for agreement between the exalted.

Harsh words about "the usual channels" were offered,

characteristically, by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I regard "the usual channels" as almost an art form. Without their effective operation this place would be in a complete shambles within a very short time indeed.

The task of the Speaker is to require balance and, above all, to see that dissent is not the prerogative of the lilac establishment in the Reform club or of those who try to essay a permissible range of opinions. Dissent is very often the individual attitude, the pioneering determination, of Members of this House. Every time that we come to decide who is to be the Speaker there should be the spectral

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presence of those like Alan Herbert or Eleanor Rathbone to remind us that when individual Members use this place for the pursuit of social or other objectives the Speaker has an absolutely crucial role to play. When we make the choice I am sure that we shall have to resolve--I do not say this in the ringing tones of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield--the dilemma that dissent, like truth, is many sided and, in my view, is often many splendoured. That is a very important consideration for the Speaker in fulfilling his task. Mention has been made of Speaker Lenthall. I suppose that that was fairly predictable : it is almost the clause four of Speakership. I have always been much fascinated by the eyesight problems that plagued Speaker Lenthall. It clearly has engaged the affection of successive Parliaments. Indeed, we have a Westminster doctrine--the doctrine of constructive myopia : whenever it becomes more suitable not to see rather than to see things, there is great merit in not seeing them. I commend that view to the House about the choice of Speaker--that when we consider whoever is the candidate for Speaker we have total myopia about party affiliation, about whether he belongs to the party that has won an election, about whether he is of a party that did not have the Speakership in the preceding Parliament. If we have as our overwhelming consideration the test of merit, we shall not merely have made a valuable step forward but be vindicating the Back-Bench role in the House of Commons at a time when it is most valuable.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), whom I am most happy to commend to the House, has been here for nearly 20 years. Most of that time was spent on the Back Benches, learning the endless frustrations of that kind of life. Those of us who are looking for fraternity in suffering will therefore well consider her merits. Also, and providentially, the hon. Lady's innocence was tempered by service in the Fagin's den known as the Labour Whips' Office. As it now seems that service in the Whips' Office is almost a sine qua non of consideration for the Speakership, that tells us something about either the Whips' Office or the modern Speakership. I commend to the House the fact that, since 1987, the hon. Lady has been Deputy Speaker. During that time she has excercised the role, often in difficult circumstances, with authority and with courtesy. If I wanted to make the recommendation, I should say merely, "Look at the record ; look at the experience." Alas, that is known to only part of the House this afternoon because many Members are here for the first time today. They must take it on recommendation and not on experience. Either way, the hon. Lady's service as Deputy Speaker was an apprenticeship carried out with great skill, and it is a recommendation for the Speakership.

3.30 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : I support the amendment most warmly. I begin by saying how delighted I am to see you, Sir Edward, in your new role as Father of the House. I am not sure whether that word encompasses the Mother of the House. Whatever your status, Sir Edward, you are most warmly welcomed.

We have heard today of many of the important things which people consider that the role of Speaker represents.

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I have no difficulty in speaking of the warmth, intelligence and wit of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), who has been known to us for some time as our Deputy Speaker. It is important when we decide such an important question that we remember that her apprenticeship has been long.

I have known the hon. Lady since she began working--dare I say it--for a certain political office then not far away, in Smith square. She worked for one of the most illustrious general secretaries, who happened to be my father. She was highly thought of, not least because my father was known to say that if they were any damned good they went and, if they were no damned good, one could not get rid of them. The hon. Lady, of course, was one of those who moved on. Like many women, she had to fight hard to get into the House. Hers has not been an easy apprenticeship. She fought a number of parliamentary seats. She worked very hard, not only for other members of the Labour party, but for elected representatives generally. During her time as a Member of the House she has represented the House in NATO and in the non-elected European Parliament. Indeed, she has served her apprenticeship in the Labour Whips' Office. That combination is extremely difficult to beat.

Everything that the usual channels think of such a Speaker would have heard of already. Those who think more often in committee than in European terms or in the rather robust way in which our Parliament behaves will find themselves dealing with a lady who understands only too well that the protection of the rights of the United Kingdom--and this Parliament is a Parliament of the United Kingdom--resides here in a Parliament that has had time enough to make excuses, to learn new ways, and to develop slowly over the centuries.

Only one group have found it very difficult to be fully represented here in the numbers in which they should be represented. That group is, of course, women. It is time that we had in the Chair someone for whom we shall vote not just because she is a woman, but because she is a woman parliamentarian whose intelligence and ability have proved themselves time and again in the protection of all Members of Parliament of all parties.

The House of Commons is at its most endangered when those on either Front Bench seek unduly to influence the Speaker. That is not unknown. From time to time those on the Opposition Benches have wanted to persuade a Speaker of the importance of particular aspects of the way in which debates are handled. It is therefore essential that we elect a woman who comes from one of the tribes of the United Kingdom that is well known for its ability to speak its mind plainly and with wit. I refer, of course, to the people of west Yorkshire. Above all, I most strongly believe that this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to demonstrate its commitment to the interests of every one of our electors--not seeking only to consider the interests or rights of those who have come through the establishment, however strong may be their commitment to the interests of the House of Commons, but putting first and foremost the candidature of someone whom we regard with affection and respect, secure in the knowledge that it will be the House of Commons that she protects, that the House of Commons is her priority, and that it is for the House of Commons that she will speak with great force and great clarity.

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