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6.33 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. Michael J. Martin" and insert instead thereof "Mr. Nicholas Winterton".

We all know my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). More important, the country knows him as a man of courage and integrity. When I take schoolchildren around the House and we go to the Queen's Robing room, I point out that two frescoes are missing. Two of King Arthur's knightly virtues are not portrayed on the walls. I jokingly say to the constituents that it is no surprise because they are the two virtues that are the rarest among politicians--fidelity and courage.

My hon. Friend has both in abundance. Above all, he has shown through a long and distinguished career a total devotion to his constituents, a fidelity to Parliament and the courage at all times and in all circumstances to fight for them, to put them first and to put their interests before his own.

You will remember, Sir Edward, when my hon. Friend was elected to the House in September 1971. I remember thinking then that he had a great future and I think it still. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and it is the hour when Parliament must choose an individual who will be respected throughout the country for his devotion to Parliament.

My hon. Friend has had a long apprenticeship and in any normal walk of life that would be an advantage. It should be here. After all, he showed when he took Sir Arthur Vere Harvey's seat at the by-election a professionalism that is the hallmark of politics today. Not for nothing did he win his seat in the 1967 Warwickshire county council election. Not for nothing did he fight two losing campaigns in Newcastle-under-Lyme and then come to a by-election, which is the crucible of politics, in Macclesfield and win. He fought and he won.

My hon. Friend was of the generation that you will understand, Sir Edward: those of us who had their formative experiences in the armed forces of the Crown. You were a gunner, I flew aeroplanes, and my hon. Friend was in tanks. There is no more demanding environment than to be in a tank and to learn to get on with all sorts of conditions and people. It has been my hon. Friend's characteristic throughout his career.

There have been differences with those who set the Government's agenda; there have been differences of opinion with respected colleagues; but always my hon. Friend has fought with integrity for his point of view and above all for the interests of his constituents. When he came to the hustings, and I think that those who came to the hustings should have priority in our attentions, he twice used an important word: "integrity". That is what we demand of the Speaker.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) pointed out the challenges that Parliament faces. It is a fact that the integrity of Parliament is coming increasingly into question. No one has ever impugned my hon. Friend's integrity. He has shown, for example, on the Select Committee on Health, which he chaired, a total devotion to getting the health service right, even if that was unpopular in Government circles.

My hon. Friend has also been notable as senior member of the Speaker's Panel. I served with him briefly when he chaired the Committee considering the Greater London

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Authority Act 1999. There could have been no other measure harder to chair in the previous Session, but he did it with fairness, good humour and great wisdom.

Last but not least, my hon. Friend has an interest in international affairs. He has championed the democratic rights of the Falkland islanders. He was formerly the chairman of the Falkland Islands all-party group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and a member of the CPA executive. It is symbolic. Although the Falkland Islands has perhaps the smallest legislature of the member countries of the Commonwealth, my hon. Friend took on the challenge and supported it.

Not only does our Speaker have to be a household word in the land, and have a voice that will carry with conviction--as my hon. Friend's will--to all the corners of the country, but he must have the personality to represent the United Kingdom around the globe. Speaker Boothroyd's last activity as Speaker was to go to Ukraine and to the Baltic states, and what better ambassadress could we have had? I doubt that we could possibly have had a better one. However, if my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield goes to such places, he will take not only a different style, but my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton)--who, as the lady of integrity that she is, undoubtedly will pay her own way.

I warmly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield to the House and ask the House to support the amendment.

Sir Edward Heath: I call Mr. Stephen Pound to second the amendment.

6.41 pm

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Of all the speeches that we have heard in this long and winding day, as we meander with a mazy motion through this labyrinth of protocol and procedure, the one that seemed to find most favour with the House was that of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), who stood up and said that he was not standing. Although I have been tempted by the throne myself--any job that involves an element of hair covering has its attractions to me--I should like to rule myself out for all time. Nevertheless, I am honoured to second the nomination of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

There are those who--unkindly, unfairly and outrageously--say that the only ground for nominating the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the Speaker's Chair is to shut him up. I will have no truck with that--although I have heard more than I wish to know about the Congleton to Macclesfield bypass. The House would be deprived of an original, fresh and idiosyncratic voice were the hon. and gallant Gentleman to become Speaker, but that is no reason not to support him.

Today, the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with the individualism that characterises his every word, described himself as a "traditionalist-progressive". I took that not as an oxymoron, to mean a revolutionary reactionary or something like that, but as an expression of his wish to combine the best of both worlds. He is a traditionalist, in that he undoubtedly reveres and respects the great traditions of this great House, but he is also sufficiently progressive to realise that nothing stands still, that nothing must stand still, and that even an institution such as this one can and--dare I say it--must improve.

23 Oct 2000 : Column 63

Can there be a finer example of that combination of qualities than the hon. and gallant Gentleman's chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health, when--in an alliance almost as unlikely as that between the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and me--with the late and greatly missed Audrey Wise, the Committee produced the report on maternity services? It was one of the most ground-breaking and revolutionary reports that the House has ever seen, taking the interests of the woman to be paramount.

It is no secret--even to hon. Members who have been elected to the House recently and have no glorious tradition of coming in and out of the House or various by-elections to refer to--that the forces of the then Government were not pleased with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. They even--I do not know whether this is unparliamentary language--manoeuvred him from the chairmanship of that Committee.

While the hon. and gallant Gentleman chaired that Committee, he sought neither to find favour with the Government nor to curry favour with the Opposition. However, he represented the voices of women and of ordinary Back Benchers. That particular example shows how the man can go beyond what some unfairly see as his stereotypic presentation.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood referred to the hon. and gallant Gentleman as a household name. As is well known, I am not even a household name in my own household. Nevertheless, I can offer a view on the hon. and gallant Gentleman from the perspective of the most lowly worm.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood also mentioned the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which had more than 1,000 amendments and clauses. That legislation was steered through by the hon. and gallant Gentleman not only with great good humour, but, above all, with an unfailing and irrefragable respect for the lowliest Back Bencher. Even the most newly arrived Back Benchers had their chance to speak on that Committee. Although, in my case, that fact was regretted as soon as I had spoken, he thought sufficiently of us and our rights to ensure that we were able to do that.

Although I would not claim to be as one with the hon. and gallant Gentleman politically--he is a tad liberal for my taste--as the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood said, in his every action, both within and outside this place, there has been an unbroken line of integrity and of unflinching and unchanging morality. That is precisely the type of quality that one looks for in the Speaker of this place.

It has also been said, somewhat ungraciously, that if we were to elect the hon. and gallant Gentleman as Speaker, we would have a Bill and Hillary scenario in which we would be getting two for the price of one. I would not in any way compare the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) with the President and the First Lady of the United States of America.

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