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Mr. Bercow: The embodiment.

Mr. Hayes: The embodiment and the personification. I do not think that the two are mutually exclusive. The way in which we elect the Speaker is therefore critical to that legitimacy. The way in which we debate that election is itself of great importance. That is why it is not simply the debate that will take place in a week's time which will attract public scrutiny but tonight's debate on timetabling that important business.

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If the House ceases to take itself and the election of its Speaker seriously, I suspect that it will cease to be taken seriously. It is not too late to think again about this. We know that the motion as such has not been laid before the House so there is a certain amount of flexibility. It is not too late to think about the wider consultation and discussion that might take place on the Procedure Committee report before the House considers it.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary, given our long and friendly relationship, to consider the matter again, take on board the comments made from what are, as I think that he will agree, some of the rising stars on the Opposition Benches, and do what I am confident that he will feel to be right: allow the fullest and fairest discussion of the matter when it comes before the House by relaxing the restriction that he is seeking to impose on us this evening.

1.45 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I wish to argue one clear, simple case, which I was unable to get across to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), and to secure a concession from the Parliamentary Secretary on the timetable motion.

As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend, the timetable has two parts. The first relates to the debate on the mechanism by which we are to elect a new Speaker. The second protects debate on private business--not private Member's business--and relates to the Kent County Council and Medway Council Bills.

The two parts of the motion are worded differently. The first does not name the length of the debate, but merely states that proceedings shall be brought to a conclusion by 4 pm. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, if we have a business statement, a private notice question and another ministerial statement, we might have only one or one and a half hours in which to debate a matter that is critically important for the House--how it is to elect its next Speaker.

We do not know when those proceedings may be brought into effect--it might be in the next Parliament or the following Parliament. Nevertheless, these are critical and important matters for the House. To have them timetabled for only one and a half hours seems highly unsatisfactory. I wonder whether I can wring this concession from the Parliamentary Secretary: that we will not have any ministerial statements on that day. If he cannot give us an answer now, perhaps the business managers will consider it before 22 March. It is not within the Parliamentary Secretary's gift to control private notice questions, because those are in the gift of the Speaker, who will perhaps have heard what I have said.

It is wholly unsatisfactory that we should have such a short time in which to debate the first matter when the second part of the motion protects three extra hours of debate, over and above the time that is taken on any preceding votes. Often, timetable motions provide that time for debate should include the votes.

On the one hand, the Government and the business managers are being very generous to the private Bills, but on the other they are being very parsimonious about the amount of time that they are allowing for debate on this other important matter. The Parliamentary Secretary has

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been nodding. I hope that my proposals will be seriously considered and, on that basis, I need not detain the House any longer.

1.48 am

Mr. Tipping: We have had an interesting debate that has focused on time and the timetable, which have been high on the minds of Opposition Members. They are concerned about when the general election will be held. I do not blame them. When one looks at the opinion polls, the phrase, "Lord, make us chaste, but not yet", comes to mind. I hear the Opposition saying, "Lord, give us a general election, but not yet, because we face real difficulties."

I will not be drawn on those matters.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tipping: No. I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's question in a minute.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) was described, uncharitably, as being unsighted. Let me make it clear to hon. Members--I am unsighted as to the date of the general election.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield was not unsighted about the report of the Procedure Committee. He has clearly read it and knows that the election of a Speaker is an evolutionary matter. I noted his comment that the 1972 election was radically different from the current state of affairs. Hon. Members who have considered the report will realise that things have changed dramatically at various points over time.

The issue before us is clearly one of time and timetabling. Three substantive points were made. There has been some fair criticism that the motions were not laid before the House. I remind hon. Members of what I said in my opening remarks; the motions will be laid shortly. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) takes a close interest in when motions are laid, so I shall not make him a commitment that the motions will be laid today, tomorrow or the next day. They will, however, be laid shortly--certainly in good time for Members to consider them and to table amendments.

Mr. Blunt: The misfortune is that the motions were not available before this debate, because we are trying to make a judgment about the time for their debate. The substantive point is not about the motions, because I am sure that the Minister will put them before the House as soon as he can.

Mr. Tipping: I shall do so. There are motions in existence, but they need a little more polishing and refining. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is not a take-it-or-leave-it matter--there will be choices. As I said earlier, the only issue that divided the Committee was open and closed voting. An amendment will be tabled to enable the House to make a choice on that matter.

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That brings me to the central point. Hon. Members have noted the great variation of view on this matter. Certainly, there is some variation, but what struck me when I read the Committee's report was the degree of consensus that had emerged--it voted on only one matter. One of the Committee's members is in the Chamber--my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill).

The Committee has provided a firm framework within which the House can discuss the matter. The motions that we table will mirror as closely as possible the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. I make that point directly to address those hon. Members who challenged me on the matter.

In fairness to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, he is right to note that the time for debate will be limited. We heeded the advice of the Committee on that matter--especially the fact that its Chairman had asked for an early debate to be held on the election of a Speaker. Hon. Members referred to the various demands on the time of the House, so I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to arrange an early debate on the matter.

It is conceivable that the time for the debate could be restricted--hon. Members have said that it could be only an hour and a half. I got the point made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), although I did not understand some of his points--I think that some of his colleagues had difficulty in understanding them. He asked me to try to ensure that the time was not eroded by statements and private notice questions. Of course, private notice questions are a matter not for me but for the Chair. However, I heard what the hon. Gentleman said and we will do our best to protect the time available. That is not an absolute guarantee: we will do our best.

That desire to protect the time--

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is as mellifluous as ever.

Mr. Tipping: Emollient, I think--[Interruption.] Give me some more--I am on a roll. However, with a Whip and a former Whip sitting on the Treasury Bench beside me, I had better make some progress.

The Procedure Committee has given us a good basis to work from. It has provided a consensus. Every effort will be made to lay the motions as quickly as possible. They will mirror as closely as possible the Committee's report.

I have heard the plea of the hon. Members for Cotswold and for Beaconsfield that we try not further to erode the time available. I simply remind the House that, back in 1972, this debate was concluded in an hour and five minutes. Although we have not had the opportunity to discuss the substance of the report tonight, we have already spent a longer time examining these issues.

Question put:--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 14 March, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].

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