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9.34 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On behalf of my colleagues in the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I warmly congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your elevation. As I recall, our parliamentary paths first crossed when you reported me to the House for appearing in an education Committee that you were chairing. Unfortunately, the Committee of Selection had by some oversight omitted to make me a member of that Committee. You came to the House to ask for powers to deal with me--powers which, as Chairman of the Committee, you did not have. In your current, or soon-to-be-occupied, position, you will have such powers, so I might be more careful about which Committees I gatecrash in future. I am sure that you will use your powers wisely.

Like many of us, Mr. Speaker-Elect, you will have noted the seven hours that it has taken the House to reach such a decisive and successful conclusion. Perhaps you will look north and recall that, when only one day old, the Scottish Parliament, presided over in distinguished fashion by Donald Dewar, managed to elect its Presiding Officer in only half an hour. I am sure that the desirable outcome that we have achieved today would not have been different had we used different procedures, but I suspect that there is a more efficient system available. Perhaps a new legislature--the Scottish Parliament, in which your son serves--might hold some lessons that would inform the proceedings of this House.

I take issue with one comment you made when offering yourself to the House, Mr. Speaker-Elect. You said that your background should not be a reason for voting for you, or for voting against you, but I happen to think that your background is a substantial reason for electing you to the Chair that you now occupy. All your achievements in life, including the high office that you are now to hold, have been the result of your own efforts and those of your colleagues. I am sure that your background and the wisdom that you have gathered in your struggles through life will stand you in excellent stead to be a most distinguished occupant of the Chair.

9.36 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden): At the risk of testing the patience of the House by addressing it twice in one day, Mr. Speaker-Elect, I should like to offer you my personal congratulations on your election as Speaker. Having had the pleasure of working with you for the past three and a half years, I wish you well. I am sure that you will conduct your office in a most distinguished manner.

On the last occasion that a Speaker was chosen, there was one defeated candidate who felt, out of courtesy, that he should speak. On this occasion, you and the House will be aware that there are rather a lot of defeated candidates, but I think that I can say--at least on behalf of the many on this side of the House--that we shall not test the House's patience by contributing individually. Therefore, on behalf of my colleagues who have fallen before you in the course of today's proceedings, I salute your success

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and wish you well. You will have the support of the House and we trust that yours will be a happy and successful tenure in the office of Speaker.

9.37 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Mr. Speaker-Elect, today's events have worldwide significance: it has been announced on the nine o'clock news that Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq have adopted the system that we adopted today for the election of their leaders. I have no doubt that that is, in part, the result of the influence of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). Although, sadly, I failed to persuade him today, I believe that one good feature has emerged.

Every single speech by a candidate dealt with the same theme: the importance of the House of Commons. If every school studying citizenship received a copy of today's Hansard, students would have a better education in the way in which we perceive our work. Every speech made has been outstanding. I feel sure that, having gone through the problems associated with the selection, you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, will feel strengthened in reinforcing the power of the House in the months and years that lie ahead.

9.39 pm

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Mr. Speaker- Elect, as no party leader now speaks for me, I should like to add my words of congratulation to you on your election. It is a great honour for you personally, a great honour for Mary and your family, a great honour for your native city of Glasgow and a great honour for Scotland. Much has been said about the great responsibilities and onerous duties to the House that accompany your new position. I hope that you will work hard to protect the rights of Members of Parliament and to ensure that the Government are accountable to Parliament.

This may be my last opportunity to address this Parliament. You, Mr. Speaker-Elect, will be the fifth Speaker during my time in the House. When I was first elected in October 1974, Selwyn Lloyd was Speaker. Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, and I was a quarter of his majority. Gradually, through the loss of by-elections, that majority was eroded and eventually there was no majority. That Government were defeated on the Floor of the House by a vote.

That scenario is most unlikely to repeat itself during the lifetime of this Parliament because of the size of the Government's majority. However, a Government who have a majority that is perhaps too large are not necessarily a good thing for democracy. Sometimes Governments with very large majorities behave arrogantly and treat Parliament as a mere rubber stamp. I hope that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, will not allow that to happen. Parliament will not do its job unless Members are considered first and foremost as representatives of people rather than mere puppets of any party.

Members have a right and a duty to tell their party and their Government when they have it wrong. Should it be thought that this is becoming rather too political, I remind the House that I am only one of three Members of this Parliament who is not a member of any political party. I am unique in the Scottish Parliament in that I am the only Member who is not a member of any party. That is

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because last year I was given a free transfer from what used to be called the people's party. That was not exactly of my own volition.

I hope, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that you will ensure that Members of all parties and of none will have the opportunity to speak up for the people whom they represent. I place on record my thanks to all Members past and present whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with over the past 26 years. I have had the privilege of representing my constituents for more than a quarter of a century in this place, and I hope that I will have the privilege of continuing to represent them for many years in the Scottish Parliament.

9.42 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Here, there are 659 Members of many faiths and of none, and of many Christian denominations. I happen for the time being to be chair of the Christian fellowship. Your election, Mr. Speaker-Elect, is more momentous in one more respect than those that have been mentioned. I think that, for the first time since the Reformation, a Roman Catholic has been elected to chair the House. On behalf of other Christian denominations and of all other Members from different faith backgrounds, we welcome that. Another old tradition has been broken. We are now much more a representative House, where the highest offices can go to Members whatever their faith background, than we were before you were elected.

9.43 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I congratulate you on your successful election, Mr. Speaker-Elect. I say as chair of the all-party group on childcare that it has been gratifying to hear many Members on both sides of the House entering the election and saying that child care and family friendly policies can be part of the workings of the House. You said, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that you have met many members of the staff who have families to go to but who stay with us until the early hours of the morning.

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Scrutiny is part of Parliament's work, but so is a modern Parliament for modern families. It is great that that has been acknowledged by candidates from all parties.

The Prime Minister: I have to signify that it is Her Majesty's pleasure that this House should present their Speaker on this day at 11.15 pm in the House of Peers for Her Majesty's royal approbation.

9.44 pm

Sitting suspended.

11.18 pm

On resuming--

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went; and having returned:

Mr. Speaker: I have a script to read.

I have to report to the House that this House has been to the House of Peers, where Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to signify by her Lords Commissioners her approbation of the choice of myself as Speaker to this House.

My first duty in the House is to repeat my respectful acknowledgements of and my grateful thanks for the great honour it has done me and the confidence that it has conferred on me, and to renew the assurance of my entire devotion to the service of the House.



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