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Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): If there were ever a sitting of this place that needed prayers before it, this is surely it. I hope to have an opportunity to propose the name of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). As he is 12th in the batting order, I fear that it is unlikely that I shall be able to do so. As we should be a model of democracy, can we not now choose a democratic procedure for the election of Speaker?
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Sir Edward. It strikes me that anyone who comes through the process this afternoon under our current rules will have the support of the House. The problem is that with a plethora of candidates it is extremely likely that we shall arrive at a point when there are no more amendments to be made, and the main motion may be lost. That may be the situation, given the number of candidates. If at that stage it was clear that we could then re-examine the rules, the House could then adjourn. Is that a potential way forward?
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) had the courtesy to telephone to discuss his proposal with me, and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. The only problem that occurs to me--from a dispassionate point of view, as I now have--is that under his proposal, the two leading candidates could, even together, receive only minority support in the House. We might have two significant minority candidates going forward to the final selection. That does not seem a suitable solution, so we may have to consider a system of additional vote, which I would not normally support, but it seems that even the proposition of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is flawed.
Sir Edward Heath: Some of the complications of the proposed system are now emerging clearly. For us to go over to a new system will take considerable time and a great deal of investigation. What has been proposed so far as a simple solution is not simple at all. On the other hand, providing the names of those who wish to be considered and their proposers and seconders, as I have done, gives the House far more information than it has ever had in the past and provides a foundation for taking decisions today. Therefore, I cannot accept the proposals that have been made from various quarters. We should get on with our business, and I call Mr. Snape to propose Mr. Martin.
Many of us on both sides recognise that the power and status of the House have diminished considerably over the years. That process did not start in 1997 or even in 1974, when I was first elected. It has been going on for many years. All of us are aware of the feeling often expressed by our constituents that we are somehow out of touch and have no real knowledge of society's problem. To refute that premise is one of reasons that I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to support my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) today, for understanding the problems of poverty and deprivation perhaps comes easier to my hon. Friend than to others.
My hon. Friend was born at the end of the second world war in a Glasgow tenement as one of the five children of a mother who faced life as a single parent after the break-up of the marriage, and following the awful experiences of a father who was three times torpedoed
My hon. Friend was elected to the old Glasgow corporation in 1973. It is understandable, given his own experiences, that the provision of decent housing was his major political passion. My hon. Friend helped to form a housing association in the city that is one of the biggest community-based associations in Glasgow today.
Since being elected to the House in 1979, my hon. Friend has served on many of the House's Committees. All hon. Members know that much of the work of those Committees is unreported, unheralded and unobserved by a media obsessed with plots, counter-plots, trivia and tittle-tattle. As Chairman of the Administration Committee in the last Parliament, my hon. Friend knows that the duties and responsibilities of the Chairman lie outside as well as inside the Chamber.
My hon. Friend insisted that proper child care facilities were provided in the building for the many members of our staff who have child care responsibilities. Some hon. Members may believe that that is not the main or even a primary responsibility of the Speaker. [Interruption.] "Hear, hear" say some of the chauvinists opposite. Many Labour Members believe that the provision of proper child care for the staff of the House is no less a responsibility of the Speaker than any other. [Interruption.] Well, Opposition Members need not listen if they do not want to, but they will have to hear me in the end. Thanks largely to my hon. Friend's efforts, the Parliamentary Commissioner approved a voucher scheme to provide child care in the House.
Hon. Members who have come to the House comparatively recently know how confusing it all too often is. Although we talk about training and modernisation, we leave many new Members to find out what goes on for themselves. My hon. Friend's consideration for others, his fairness when occupying the Chair as Deputy Speaker and his willingness to assist us all with advice and guidance have convinced me and many of my colleagues of his attributes.
There has been much press comment on our procedures today. Doubtless there will be even more tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has already given his view of our proceedings. It sometimes seems that no proceedings are complete without a dissenting view from my right hon. Friend. As one of his great admirers for all the years that I have been here, I tell him that he has had almost 50 years as a Member of Parliament to change some of those procedures. I concede that he has been distracted by his membership of many Labour Governments during that time, but it seems that every time a procedural matter arises, my right hon. Friend, albeit adroitly and lucidly, finds some reason for us not to proceed.
My hon. Friend would agree that, while preserving the best of our traditions, we need to modernise some of our procedures. The sight and sound of the occupants of the Chair announcing at 11.30 pm, "the Ayes to the right: 245; the Noes to the left: 3," convinces many people outside that we need our heads examining for behaving in such a manner. Such behaviour does nothing to convince the people of this country that we are a 21st century Administration, and that the House is capable of updating its procedures. No one wishes to stifle debate; indeed, it is usually the only weapon available to Back Benchers. However, we need a Speaker who will confront and change some of our more absurd practices.
My hon. Friend continually demonstrates his even temper, calmness and gentle humour. Occasionally, when hon. Members get carried away, his oft-used phrases, such as "The hon. Gentleman should know better" or even "It's no' nice", have calmed hon. Members, as well as bringing smiles all round. My hon. Friend is held in respect and affection on both sides of the House. His apprenticeship as Deputy Speaker has demonstrated his skill and ability. I commend his candidature to the House.
Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): Since my election in 1997, I have always regarded it as an honour to address the House, but today it is even more so, as I rise to second my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). It is easy for new Members to be over-awed by the House, and I am only one of many hon. Members elected at that time who were made to feel more at ease and valued because of my hon. Friend's patience, understanding and, of course, knowledge.
One of the first things that I did when asked to second my hon. Friend's nomination was to read the report of the election that took place in 1992. There are few with greater experience and knowledge of parliamentary procedures than my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). That has most certainly been demonstrated today. I hope that he does not mind that I shall refer to the contribution that he made at the election of the Speaker in 1992. He said that it was the first task of the new Parliament to elect a Speaker. The disadvantage at that time was that the large number of new Members had not been able to enjoy the experience of judging the contenders' ability for that post.
Today, however, every Member has been able to witness the ability of my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn to calm the House, which frequently needs that ability, and to do so in such a way that helps all Members in difficulty rather than putting them down. He has always shown fairness to those holding different political views. He has also shown his loyalty to Parliament. That is why he has such large support today.
In 1992, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield rightly asked for a Speaker who would not only chair proceedings in the Chamber, but look after the interests of the staff who work in the House and on whom we rely so heavily. Many of the staff, in more than one discipline, say that if they could do so they would support my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn. I believe that that is because they know that he respects them. He listens to them and they have confidence in him. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to the introduction of child care vouchers. They are very important, and are appreciated by the staff of the House, but there is much more to do.
Finally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said in 1992 that he wanted Parliament to be a workshop, not a museum. I put it to the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn fits that bill completely. He has served an apprenticeship as an engineer, a trade union official and, finally--most certainly--as a Deputy Speaker. He will ensure that the House is efficient. He will ensure that Back Benchers, the Opposition and minority parties are given their deserved rights in this workshop. He will ensure that this workshop is modernised. My hon. Friend has a record of representing the underprivileged. He has always had to work hard for improvement and change, and he will not stop doing so now. I am proud to second his nomination.