|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Modernisation has been talked about a lot in the current Parliament. I will match the hours that any hon. Member keeps in the House because, when hon. Members leave, the Deputy Speakers still have half an hour of Adjournment debate to go, but I am not proud of the fact that, when we go to New Palace yard, men and women who work for us in this building go to their homes and many of them as parents know that their sleep will be broken because they have to get their children out to school. Whenever we talk about hours, we must always consider the staff who work for us so well in the House.
There are new proposals from the Administration Committee to look at creche facilities. The Modernisation and Procedure Committees are looking at our voting system. Back Benchers should fight for these changes. I as Speaker will never interfere with those matters. I give the assurance that I will embrace the democratic decisions of the House. Change for the sake of change is no way in which to conduct our affairs, but, by the same token, to oppose change for the sake of tradition is equally wrong.
A Speaker has a clear duty to every section of the House, especially to Back Benchers, the minority parties and the Opposition parties. The House must hold the Executive to account. I am firmly of the view that the Speaker's duty is to serve the House, not the Executive power.
It says much for the House--and, indeed, for the political system to which we all belong--that someone from the poverty of Glasgow can stand before you seeking the great office of Speaker. My origins should be no reason for me being elected; nor should they be a reason to debar me. I submit myself to the House.
Let me make it clear that I do not disagree with a single word that was said about my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin); moreover, I, like the rest of the House, listened with much interest to what he said. My hon. Friend and I have known each other for 21 years, and I hope that our friendship will not be broken by the fact that I am not supporting him today. There is only one vacancy: no one--not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)--is suggesting that there should be a job share.
I do not wish to argue about whether we should continue the practice of the past 30 years of ensuring that the new Speaker is from a different party from that of the previous one. Although I realise that that practice dates back only 30 years and not to ancient times, I simply say to my right. hon. and hon. Friends that we should perhaps bear it in mind.
Why am I nominating the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst)? As hon. Members will know, he was first elected as an hon. Member in 1970. Although he lost his seat at the 1974 general election, he returned to the House faster than some of us retreads, being returned for Saffron Walden in 1977. I have seen in some press reports comments by one or two hon. Members suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman has been too strict an occupant of the Chair. Conversely, one leader--I think that it was in today's edition of The Independent--said that he had occasionally not shown sufficient force in that role. Although hon. Members can make their own judgment on the point, I believe that, occasionally, the occupant of the Chair has to show some strictness--and I say that as one who has occasionally been the subject of that strictness.
What basic qualities are required of a Speaker? I agree with the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) that decisions on the House and its future are not for the Speaker, but for hon. Members, and that it is for the House to decide our practices and policies. Therefore, we should not take the view that it is the occupant of the Chair who will decide how we conduct our business.
The first and foremost quality for a Speaker--hon. Members have said it before, but it should be said again--is absolute impartiality when occupying the Chair. At the same time, the Speaker must be in full control, even at times when the House is in a very bad mood, as sometimes happens. The Speaker must also be able to understand the changing mood of the House.
The Speaker must also defend the rights of Back Benchers. Although that point has been made many times before, I make it again because it is important. The Executive--whether this one or a previous one--are strong, and, as hon. Members know, the Executive can largely control the business of the House. Back Benchers need to be defended, and I hope that whoever occupies the Chair in this place will do just that.
Hon. Members can decide for themselves whether it is a virtue for a Speaker not to have held ministerial office. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn said that he has not held such office. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, too, has not held such office. Hon.
I believe that we need a Speaker who respects the history and traditions of this place. I am not one of those who believes that we can say that the House's traditions are not important and cast them aside. At the same time, however, we need a Speaker who appreciates the need for change. In the past few weeks, we have had many lectures from the media on that subject and on our business. Although the media never take the opportunity to lecture themselves, they have been lecturing us on all our weaknesses and blemishes. We should never forget, however, that the importance of this place cannot be underestimated, and that, if it did not exist, all our freedoms would not last for five minutes.
Finally, it has been suggested that the House of Commons requires a figure of glamour--someone with tremendous charisma. I have looked back at previous Speakers over the past 30 years. Betty Boothroyd is indeed a hard act to follow: she was an outstanding Speaker. However, if I were asked who were the other two best Speakers in the past 30 years--who best defended the right of Back Benchers and showed the greatest impartiality between Back Benchers and the Executive--my reply would be Selwyn Lloyd and Lord Weatherill. Before they were elected, would the press have said that Selwyn Lloyd and Lord Weatherill were glamorous figures of great charisma? Probably not. They would have been written off, like a number of today's nominees. Yet in the Chair, they demonstrated impartiality. Moreover, like Betty Boothroyd--and this is not to criticise any of the other Speakers of the past 30 years--Selwyn Lloyd and Lord Weatherill showed how to defend the House of Commons from the Speaker's Chair.
It is my view that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden is in the same tradition. He has all the necessary qualities as Speaker, and I believe that he would serve the House without fear or favour. I therefore have much pleasure in putting his name before the House for consideration as Speaker.
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): You, Sir Edward, will be pleased to hear that the last time I followed the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in this Chamber, it was on Second Reading of an ageism Bill. It is an equal pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman's eloquence today.
There is a sentence in "The Wrong Box" by Robert Louis Stevenson, to the effect that "it was a bottle of the worst whisky in Hampshire"--and only those familiar with that county could recognise the full force of that superlative. Whatever our opinions, this election is the greatest event to occur in this constituency today--and only those familiar with this constituency can recognise the full force of that superlative.
I read in the public prints that the principle of the office passing evenly from party to party is now enshrined in our constitution. If it is, it clearly stands to the advantage of my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst). However, if the principle had been so enshrined eight years ago, I wonder why we held an election then. Surely no one would wish to sit as Speaker in this House unless they were the best man or woman to do so, which, over the past eight years, Speaker Boothroyd pre-eminently turned out to be.
So it is by the test of excellence and appositeness that our candidates must be measured, not by the more usual coinage of party label. By these nobler tests, my right hon. Friend starts with the considerable advantage of having been already long tested in the Chair. The opportunity afforded to us by Speaker Boothroyd of holding this election in this Parliament was specifically intended for an informed electorate to use its knowledge of already familiar candidates. Unlike that moment in 1972 when The Wall Street Journal reported that the recession was now so bad that the Mafia had had to lay off two judges in New Jersey, a deputy speakership of this House is no sinecure.
Because I have been taking a controversial private Bill through the House, I can testify that my right hon. Friend yields to no prior holder of his office in upholding by a robust and upstanding firmness the principle of the rules of order and the embargo on repetition. Yet I can also testify that he strains the cricketing principle of the benefit of the doubt to the extremities of scepticism before he intervenes on a fellow Back Bencher. He owes those qualities to his long Back-Bench experience and, appropriately, to his enjoyment of the confidence of colleagues who retained him as secretary of the all-party cricket group, even after his ascent to the Deputy Speaker's Chair.
My right hon. Friend and I share the coincidence of having been elected to the House in 1977 for our present seats, in seats in which there had also been by-elections in 1965, although my right hon. Friend had also served in the 1970 Parliament, when you, Sir Edward, were Prime Minister.
When we choose a Chairman of Ways and Means, beyond the acceptability of the candidate must lie the desirability of that candidate's being a foil to the Speaker. Not for nothing did our last two Speakers proceed to the Chair from a deputy's role. In all human affairs, there is virtue in a successor's not being a precise simulacrum of the predecessor whom he or she follows. In such variety do institutions breathe, live and grow. To borrow an analogy from cricket, our most recent Speaker was, mutatis mutandis, an Ian Botham--colourful, and an all-rounder with a perpetual capacity to surprise. My right hon. Friend, however, is a Leonard Hutton--neat, tidy, solid, classical and a central figure of immense reliability.
We must come to the point of making up our own minds. When Professor Joad--as he then was not--sat his scholarship exam at Oxford, he was asked to write for three hours on the question, "Can a good man be happy on the rack?". He wrote a single sentence in a minute and a half: "If he were a very good man and it were a very