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7.37 pm

Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. Michael. J. Martin" and insert instead thereof "Mr. Michael Lord".

I have pleasure in moving the amendment proposing that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North (Mr. Lord) should occupy the position of Speaker in this House. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who, as we approach the end of this marathon performance, is unhappy about the procedure used and the manner in which it is evolving, and uneasy about the way in which we have moved through the various stages. With great respect to my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), as well as other hon. Members in favour of whom an amendment may be moved, we are now moving into a possible contest between two current Deputy Speakers.

This electorate has been described as sophisticated. The House will be pleased to know that that certainly shortens my speech, as no one has any excuse for not knowing the qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North, having been able to observe him in the Chair--that is the fairest judgment that the House can make. I have great admiration for Betty Boothroyd, but in a sense she did the House a disservice, as she may have concealed from it the difficulties involved in the role of Speaker, which she carried off with considerable aplomb and skill. I have had the privilege of serving in the House for more than 30 years, and have seen six Speakers in the Chair, three from the Conservative party and three from the Labour party.

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I observed their characters and the different and considerable qualities that they brought to the position of Speaker. At one time or another, I witnessed each Speaker risk losing both the confidence of the House and control of it. Hon. Members who have seen only Betty Boothroyd in the Chair may not appreciate how fragile order is in the House, and may not realise how challenging and difficult the job of Speaker is.

Most of the early comments in the debate were rather inaccurate, but our remarks are becoming more accurate as we become better informed. For instance, hon. Members have referred to the tradition of alternating between the parties. That is not correct. The reality is that the Government party has tended to nominate the Speaker, and that rule was broken only in the case of Betty Boothroyd.

Speakers have sometimes come in in the mid-term of a Parliament and sometimes at a new Parliament. I have not found a case where a Speaker has come in in the last year of a Parliament. Every Member knows that this will be a difficult, contentious, argumentative and lively Session--possibly the last of this Parliament. It will be exceptionally challenging for the occupant of the Chair. Good humour, common sense and basic courage will be needed, as well as the qualities for which everyone has called: impartiality, fairness, integrity and respect for the traditions of the House. Those will be needed in full measure. It is the most daunting time at which to take over the responsibility of the Chair and the good name of this Parliament.

I am concerned about how this Parliament will proceed because our democracy depends ultimately on the willingness of this House to accept order and the authority of the Chair. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) is to second the motion. I understand that the fact that he sports a black eye at the moment has nothing to do with the tensions of this contest; he may have some more to say about how he incurred that injury.

I make no personal criticism of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), who has occupied the Chair. However, it is interesting that he and the last candidate were the only two whose proposer and seconder came exclusively from the Labour side. On earlier occasions, the importance of a candidate having bipartisan support has been clear. The way in which the election may go is no secret, and I worry as to whether the integrity of the bipartisan approach can be sustained. That is no criticism of individuals or of their impartiality; it is an unfortunate feature of the present situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North will speak for himself; I will not detain the House by discussing his qualities. I would not be standing here if I did not have a high regard for his abilities. However, I did not know whether he would be any good as a Deputy Speaker. I was pleased when he was proposed to be a Deputy Speaker because he had been a Back Bencher, served on Select Committees and been on the Chairman's Panel. In my humble experience in life, I have found that one does not really know how people will perform in a particular role--whatever their qualifications, hopes and ambitions, or the enthusiasm of their supporters--until one actually sees them doing it.

Every single Member has seen my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North in the Chair. If they consider him to be a candidate,

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his qualification is that he has been able to show how he would discharge that responsibility in the Chair. In the present circumstances, I happen to believe that he is the best candidate to occupy the Chair. I have the greatest pleasure in proposing him.

Sir Edward Heath: I call on the seconder, Mr. Andrew Reed.

7.45 pm

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough): It is always humbling to speak in this House, and I feel honoured to take part on a day such as today. However, as a new Member, I would like to think that I can read the mood of the House and I will therefore keep my comments extremely short.

I am appalled at the way in which we have conducted our business today. This is a House matter and one on which we thought that, at last, the House could have its say. The way in which we have conducted our business has made the Football Association look competent in finding an England manager. With a new Speaker and a new House, there will be an opportunity to make sure that, in future, we do not have to go through this ridiculous and ludicrous process again.

I agreed to second the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North (Mr. Lord) and I was told that it would be a good clean fight. That has been the case and everyone who has spoken today is to be congratulated on the way in which they have conducted themselves.

In a sense, I should be grateful to the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North for not recognising me very early in my time in the House. Fortunately, it was not in this Chamber that our paths first crossed. I play rugby, which is the explanation for the black eye that I am sporting today. I played on Saturday and came a bit of a cropper with my opposite fly-half, who had absolutely not a scratch to show for the elbow that he managed to put in my eye. [Interruption.] No, it was not my wife, who I hope is watching.

I first met the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North at a game between the parliamentary rugby team from this House and our colleagues from New Zealand, held at Salford rugby league ground. On the previous evening, we had used the Granada studios to hold a mock debate with our New Zealand compatriots to show what things were really like. I was the only Member of Parliament from our House; the rest were others from the parliamentary team. Unfortunately, I was the only person on our team whom the hon. Gentleman did not recognise that evening.

The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North has made amends for that in the time that we have spent since in building our friendship through the all-party rugby union group, of which he is president and I am secretary, and--just as important for both of us in terms of the way in which we share our faith--the parliamentary Christian fellowship.

There are some great strengths to be brought to the post of Speaker. Like most Back Benchers, I have spent my time trying to catch the Speaker's eye well past prime time--as this evening, in the seven to nine o'clock slot. It is at that stage that we appreciate the work of all the Deputy Speakers, who keep us in order. More important for those of us who feel that we have a contribution to

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make, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North--and the other Deputy Speakers, to be fair--have always made sure that we have had a fair hearing and a chance to get our point of view across.

The skills that are required for the job include integrity, honesty and the need to make sure that Back Benchers' views are heard. Those of who us intend to stay on the Back Benches a little longer would want those to continue. The Speaker's is an extremely difficult job, particularly--as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said--at this time in a Parliament. It will not be easy for someone to slot into the position as we go into a general election, when the heated debates that we see at Prime Minister's Questions are carried over into other debates in the House.

I hear that the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North has been described as "solid". I am not sure whether some of those who have said that have meant it negatively or positively. However, at this crucial stage in the Parliament, that quality will make a positive contribution to the way in which the House is run. The hon. Gentleman's integrity, and the trust that people have in him, mean that he will be able to conduct the business of the House efficiently. He will make sure that every one of us has a role to play in bringing the Executive to account.

There has been a lot of talk today about modernisation. With a young son aged 18 months, I would be one of the first to say that the hours of the House need to be organised so that we can at least see our families more often and in a better way than we do currently. That would also allow us to serve our constituents much better. We could spend time learning about things in our constituencies, and could bring them to the House when scrutinising Bills. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North has made clear his support for modernisation, but every candidate has done so. It is down to us as a House at last to grasp the issue. We failed to do so earlier today when we were not even able to secure a vote on the way in which we have treated ourselves today.

I hope that the new Speaker will allow the House to take the matter by the neck and to sort it out over the next six months. I hope that, following the general election, we return to a House of which the British people can be proud, and which they can understand--for at the moment, they do not. Watching today's debate, they will be horrified that we are spending such a long time going round in circles yet again. I hope that this election will be the catalyst for such changes. I believe that the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and Ipswich, North has the skills to steer the House through a very difficult period and I recommend him to the House.

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