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Mr. Speaker: Order. I have received no such request, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will have noted what the hon. Gentleman had to say.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation),

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Question agreed to.

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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Question agreed to.

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Sittings in Westminster Hall

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) rose--

Mr. Speaker: Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to object to the motion?

Mr. Forth: No, I would like a wee debate.

9.49 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): I beg to move,

I am delighted that the House is so enthusiastic to discuss the motion, and I know that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is keen to discuss these issues. They are important.

The House has had the opportunity to discuss the establishment of Westminster Hall. I know that there are different views in the House about its value, but this motion is not about Westminster Hall, but about the senior Members who should chair its proceedings. On 20 November, the House agreed that the Westminster Hall experiment should continue.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): It would greatly assist the House if the Minister could tell us how the names of the additional Deputy Speakers, who will be appointed if the motion is carried, were arrived at. I am not suggesting that they would be not be suitable, but I would like to know how the names were arrived at.

Mr. Tipping: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will contain himself for a moment, I will come to that point.

The motion will ensure that the three current Deputy Speakers are not overburdened and overworked. The Modernisation Committee considered the issue and it came to the conclusion that extra help and support was needed to chair the important sittings in Westminster Hall. The House is being asked to decide who the new Deputy Speakers should be, and the Modernisation Committee recommended--the House has endorsed this--that the four senior members of the Chairmen's Panel should be appointed. Those four members of the panel have given their consent and their names are set out in the motion that the House is being asked to approve.

I know that there is anxiety in the House about the term "Deputy Speaker". My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has raised the point before that there might be confusion between the traditional Deputy Speakers, who keep control in the Chamber, and the Deputy Speakers in Westminster Hall. It is an experimental matter and the House will wish to return to it when we have another opportunity to debate it and either extend the experiment or make it permanent. I commend the motion to the House. I am pleased to say that I believe that the four Members referred to in it will do an excellent job for us all.

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9.53 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Minister will know that I have only recently had the dubious pleasure of being seconded to the Modernisation Committee, so will he clarify one point? Of course, I have no objection to the four eminent names on the Order Paper and would not wish to challenge their suitability for the posts. However, all four of them already chair sittings in Westminster Hall, so what is the point of making them Deputy Speakers rather than Chairmen? I understand that they already discharge these duties.

9.54 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Given what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) has just said, it now appears that we are involved in a parliamentary mystery. The motion has been on the Order Paper for some time and the Government have not given the House an opportunity to debate it properly. The opportunity for debate has arisen only as a matter of happenstance; it was not the wish of the Government. As my hon. Friend asked, what is the point of the motion anyway? If these Members already chair the God-forsaken Westminster Hall, what is the point of the motion? That is the first little mystery for the Minister to clear up.

I am much more worried about political correctness which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, absorbs me for most of my waking hours. When I look at the motion, I am very worried about the image that Westminster Hall will have if its sittings are chaired by middle-aged white men who have spent a long, long time at Westminster. I suspect that you, Mr. Speaker, may have a little streak of political correctness, and no doubt would agree that, in this modern world, we expect gender balance, regional balance and, probably, a bit of ethnic balance.

Mr. Hogg: The complaint goes wider because the list comprises one Conservative Member, three Labour Members and no Liberal Democrat Member. Is that really the balance that we want to achieve?

Mr. Forth: I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has pressed me on the matter of balance, because that is the theme of my initial remarks. Let us consider the composition of the Chairmen's Panel, which provides the raw material--if I can put it like that--of those hon. Members who are condemned to serve in Westminster Hall. Out of 27 members of the Chairmen's Panel, 15 are Labour Members, 9 are Conservative Members, two are Liberal Democrats and one is from the Scottish National party. On the basis of that, one wonders whether the motion provides the right proportions. I query the party balance and I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats are not outraged at the fact that neither of their representatives is having a look in.

Mr. Hogg: Perhaps the Liberal Democrats are not outraged because they are, after all, but part of the Labour party and are quite happy to have their interests represented by the three Labour nominees.

Mr. Forth: I was just coming to that point, but let us leave the Liberal Democrats where they belong--

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in obscurity--and concentrate instead on gender and ethnicity. One looks at the motion in vain for any gender balance or ethnic representation.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We are appointing eminent people because of seniority. Are we moving to a congressional system, in which a person becomes a Deputy Speaker or a Chairman of a Committee just because of seniority? That would be an important and novel departure for the House. I am not opposed to the seniority rule because it makes Chairmen independent of the Executive. However, that serious issue needs to be addressed.

Mr. Forth: I must admit that I have a conflict of interest. As each general election rolls by and I am triumphantly re-elected, seniority starts to take on a certain appeal. Therefore, I am reluctant to comment on what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Why is neither my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) deemed suitable as nominees?

Mr. Forth: I do not know the answer to that. However, I can say with some confidence that the women of this country will be outraged at the motion. I can just imagine that when women up and down the country hear about it and reflect on all the claims that the Government make about gender this and inclusiveness that, they will realise that they have the gall to introduce--

Mr. Hogg: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Forth: I am in full flight, but I shall give way in a minute.

When women realise that the Government have introduced this motion, there will be a scandal throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Mr. Hogg: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an even greater scandal, because there are 100 female Members on the Labour Benches, any one of whom would be deemed suitable?

Mr. Forth: I doubt the latter part of what my right hon. and learned Friend says. However, we shall come on to that in a moment.

I want to put another worry on the record before I conclude my preliminary remarks. Three of the nominees are from English constituencies and one is from a Welsh constituency, but no one from north of the border is on the list. In spite of devolution, it is difficult to justify such a motion, in which the hon. Members mentioned come overwhelmingly--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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