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Sir Edward Heath: I call the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) to move the amendment in favour of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young).

4.55 pm

Mr. John MacGregor (South Norfolk): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. Michael J. Martin" and insert thereof "Sir George Young".

23 Oct 2000 : Column 39

One of the difficulties in a contested election such as this one, when there are so many candidates, is that all hon. Members have many friends among the candidates, the proposers and the seconders on both sides of the House. We also recognise that all the candidates have particular claims and merits. However, although many of us are torn one way or the other by that, we have finally and invidiously to name one choice as our preferred candidate.

I am proposing my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) simply because I believe that he has the widest experience for the job. At the start of this Parliament, I had the great privilege of seconding Speaker Boothroyd, and she has indeed proved to be an outstanding Speaker. I am now proposing my right hon. Friend because the qualities that he has demonstrated in plenty over the years in the House would, I am sure, make him an equally outstanding, although different candidate.

I should like very briefly to make four points, the first of which is on my right hon. Friend's personal qualities. Anyone who has had any dealings with him, in public or in private, will testify to his approachability, his fairness, his ability to get on with everyone and his delightful sense of humour, which would stand him in good stead when, in difficult moments, the temperature and the temper of the House require it. However, he has also frequently demonstrated his firmness in seeing issues through. That quality will ensure his authority and his ability, when necessary, to command the House.

Throughout all the party battles in which my right hon. Friend has been engaged in the House, he has fought his case not only vigorously, but always courteously and in a manner that has won him respect and friends across party boundaries. He has also shown his independence of mind and his willingness to detach himself from the party line, as in his opposition as a Back Bencher to--dare I say it--the community charge. It is those qualities that have brought my right hon. Friend support from both sides of the House in this election.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend has wide experience of all the various roles in the House. I heard what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said on that matter--that hon. Members can have differing views on it. I believe that it is very valuable to have a Speaker who has wide experience of all the various roles.

My right hon. Friend has shown his independence of the Executive. However, among the candidates, because of his ministerial jobs, he has unrivalled knowledge of how the Executive work. I think that that matters, because knowledge of how the Executive work enables someone who is championing the House to deal with them better. Indeed, all four Speakers in my time in the House, since 1974, have had Front-Bench experience. My right hon. Friend knows the ropes and will not let the Executive get away with anything. I am certain that he will always put the House first.

My right hon. Friend's experience in the Whips Office is equally relevant.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): It disqualifies him.

Mr. MacGregor: Then it also disqualified Speaker Boothroyd, who occasionally was heard to observe to Whips, "I know what you're up to, because I was in the Whips Office once."

23 Oct 2000 : Column 40

My right hon. Friend also knows the frustrations of opposition, on both the Front and the Back Benches. He has considerable experience of being a Back Bencher. Indeed, hon. Members who have recently been elected to the House may not know that, in 1989, he was The Spectator's Back Bencher of the year. It could be said of him, therefore, that he has made a successful transition from Government to Opposition, and from Government to Back Bencher.

Thirdly, and crucially, I share the concerns about the perceived decline in the standing and importance of this House, particularly the democratic dangers of being sidelined by the Executive, and hence the need to strengthen the House's control over the Executive. This has been commented on so widely that I do not think that I need to elaborate further, except to say that my right hon. Friend's credentials in this respect are clear from the contributions that he has made in various ways as shadow Leader of the House, and in his lectures outside the House, such as that given to the Hansard Society earlier this year. He will give high priority to strengthening the powers of Parliament and, within that, the role and career of the Back Bencher.

Finally, it was a 16th-century Speaker, Speaker Yelverton, who said that one of the qualities required of the Speaker was "a carriage majestical". I do not know whether a bicycle qualifies, but in every other way my right hon. Friend has a carriage majestical. The role of the Speaker as ambassador for the House, here and abroad, and increasingly in the media, at conferences and in meeting delegations has greatly increased, and my right hon. Friend has the stature to be a worthy successor to Speaker Boothroyd in that respect.

My right hon. Friend is not one to blow his own trumpet. Indeed, his modesty is such that he has probably been listening rather blushingly to what I have been saying about him. However, these are the qualities and qualifications that have led me to believe that he is the right choice for Speaker. Above all, he is a House of Commons person through and through.

We are engaged in a byzantine process this afternoon. I fully recognise the difficulties that you face, Sir Edward, but I have much sympathy with the proposal of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). In this process, we face complex decisions. I am simply voting for the person whom I think will make the best Speaker, and that is why I am delighted to propose my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire.

Sir Edward Heath: I call on Mrs. Helen Jackson to second.

5.1 pm

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I did not really ever expect to be in this position, and I am vaguely looking for Betty to give me some moral support. However, she is not here, but you are instead, Sir Edward.

I was going to start by suggesting that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) stands head and shoulders above any other candidate, but then thought that that would be a bit corny. That is something that he cannot help, any more than he can help which school his parents sent him to which was, I understand, quite expensive, so we have to consider his other attributes.

23 Oct 2000 : Column 41

To Labour Members, the right hon. Gentleman is, first and foremost, a Tory. I have heard many people over the past few days say that to all intents and purposes, that disqualifies him from even putting his name forward for Speaker of this House. I think that that is wrong. Labour Members are dead proud of our thumping majority, and we can do whatever we like if it comes to a vote. We will do so tomorrow, and I hope that we will continue to do so for many years. However, I believe that this is not the day to thump our thumping majority, but to think about who we want sitting in the Speaker's Chair for the foreseeable future.

Betty was an Opposition Member when she was elected on my first day in Parliament. Whoever is elected today--and there have been some powerful speeches--should have clear support across the Chamber. It relieves us all a little from the dominance of the party machine. Each one of us comes here as a representative of all our constituents, however they vote. Although we get tied down in the party machine, as Members of this Parliament we represent everyone.

Apart from that, the right hon. Gentleman has some endearing parliamentary experiences. It must have been interesting to have been sacked by Margaret Thatcher because of his views on the poll tax. It was a great shame that he could not take the rest of his party with him, but we are living to pick up the pieces.

The right hon. Gentleman believes in winning arguments through debate, not shenanigans or silly behaviour. He has even been known to hold up the progress of a debate until someone appropriate could appear on our side of the Dispatch Box to let it continue. He does what he believes in, and he acts on what he says. That is partly why he founded the bicycle club, and we should have to be careful to watch the bicycling mileage allowance if he became Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman also has a sense of humour.

My support for the right hon. Gentleman arises mainly as a result of my work with him on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. I would describe him as a rebel--a skilful, Front-Bench rebel. He has not had the majority support of his own side for his role on the Committee, but, partly because of his work, that Committee has ensured that the House has made some progress on Westminster Hall and Thursday evening sittings--both of which he supports--and on our appalling and unsocial hours.

It has been fascinating and good to hear supporting statements by the other candidates today in favour of modernising the House. I feel like suggesting to some Members on my own side of the House that we little babes have clearly had some impact. The time for words or for good intentions has passed. I do not want to spend any more time in Parliament asking futile questions every month of the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission, which, because of its archaic and inane Committees, has to run this place as if it were a sort of ex-military machine.

Only one candidate knows not what he will say about modernising the House and bringing it into the 21st century but what he will do, and that candidate is the right hon. Gentleman. On that basis, I second his nomination.

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