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The Committee's report contains a persuasive argument for a secret ballot. The only possible argument against it--I have already referred to it--is that of precedent. However, this place is evolutionary and it would be a useful precedent to establish that there may, in exceptional circumstance, be a good case for a secret ballot--the exception proving the rule.
The point is not that the Speaker will examine the Division lists and think, "Ah, well, the hon. Member for Bolsover did not vote for me, so I'll make sure that he does not get in at business questions again." That is not the issue. I have complete faith in the integrity of the Chair; the problem is perception.
The point that I was about to make is not that the Speaker might examine the Division list, but that the Whips might. I am a member of the usual channels club, so I think that, on a matter of such importance, we should not know whether our colleagues have voted in one way or another. It might be very damaging to publish the list.
On the electoral system, the Chairman of the Committee very fairly set out the arguments for and against exhaustive ballots and the alternative vote. I regret that it is not been possible to put that choice before the House today. As the Chairman said, there was a balanced argument in Committee.
It is true that the Committee tended to dilute the argument that one disadvantage of the exhaustive ballot is that it takes a long time. I accept that. I do not think that it is necessarily a disadvantage that the House should take its time in reaching a conclusion. Therefore, I take the Committee Chairman's advice on that.
2. No candidate can 'split' a vote, or come under pressure not to stand because he or she might do so;
3. It does not matter if several candidates of the same view or outlook stand;
4. There is no possibility or need of the compromise known as 'tactical' voting;
5. It is possible to express all sorts of different kinds of preference within the preferential voting--e.g. party political ones, gender ones, geographical ones, individual personality ones;
6. No recrimination of any sort is possible afterwards as justice has been done and has been seen to be done, and can be checked out in the various stages of the counting."
Mr. Tyler: That is a fair point. I stand reprimanded by the hon. Gentleman. I felt that it was important this afternoon to deal with the big issue of the secret ballot. I did not want to complicate matters by tabling an amendment. However, I draw the House's attention to the figures on page xxvii of the report, which show how many Members support the different types of voting. When I gave evidence to the Committee, I said that all Liberal Democrat Members should be included in the figures, but they have not been. Therefore the figures and the percentages in the report are wrong.
I am determined--I hope that the House will be--to get away from first past the post. It clearly is totally inadequate for the decision that we had to take last October and that we might need to take in future.
Page 34 of the report refers to Deputy Speakers. I hope that the Committee will move on to consider that issue, because the present arrangement is not satisfactory. It is no reflection on the current occupants of the post of Deputy Speaker--no complaint has been made against them--but the arrangement by which they emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis without anyone knowing why, how or who made the decision is unsatisfactory. Not even a motion that is amendable or debatable is put before the House. I hope that that will change.
I return to the eloquent speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. The flummery that follows the election of Speaker gives the impression that the decision is conditional on approval from up there in the other place or up there at the other end of the Mall. That must go; it is not right. It is proper for us to ask the other parts of the tripartite constitutional arrangement to acknowledge that we have taken a decision, but we do not want their approval. After the last election of Speaker, I was dumbfounded by the extraordinary way in which the British constitution finds it difficult to catch up.
On a personal note, I have no problem with the hustings and manifestos. I recognise that they have a purpose, but I have a substantial plea. It is in this Chamber that we make the decision: candidates make their case by addressing Members on equal terms. I hope that we will not move the centre of gravity to another part of the Palace where the manifesto is published or issued, or where people make hustings speeches. I have great pleasure in supporting the report's main recommendations because it brings the centre of gravity back to this place, where it belongs.
May I say a word or two about the fine speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? I hope that it was not his last. As on so many occasions, he dwelt on the way in which democracy evolved in this country. Some illusions can be held about the fact that we lacked freedom and democracy for centuries. I have two responses to that. First, with all its imperfections, our democracy and House of Commons survived when many Parliaments in the last century did not because they gave up to fascism and tyranny.
Secondly, my right hon. Friend mentioned his family's long tradition of serving as Members of Parliament, and I am glad that his son will continue that for many years. However, those of us who come from a different background also recognise that this democracy attracted many people, including my ancestors. In the early years of the 20th century, when my grandparents wanted to live in a country where they could have security and safety, it was to this island that they came. Perhaps they did not see the imperfections in the same light as I did, because many years later I began to have left-wing views and have held them since. We need to make it clear that often over the centuries, long before my grandparents came here, this island provided safety and security for those who wanted to live their lives without tyranny.
I, too, congratulate the Procedure Committee on its inquiry, which was held after the election of the Speaker. It was conducted promptly and efficiently. I am glad that paragraph 42 rightly states that the criticism about the proceedings on 23 October was not justified. We did take seven hours, but that probably displeased the sketch writers because they like to be in the Gallery for only half an hour on a Wednesday. I see no reason why we should apologise for taking our time in doing the important job of electing a Speaker. There is no reason why anyone who stood for the job, including the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, should apologise. It is an honour to be in the Chair, as you have explained several times, Mr. Speaker, and we hold those hon. Members who wanted to occupy that position in no less respect.
I accept the thrust of the report. Even though I do not believe that the procedure was especially defective on 23 October, I have no illusions about the fact that the majority of hon. Members want to adopt a different system, much along the lines recommended by the Committee. On ballots, I am usually in favour of first past the post, but I accept that some processes, including the selection of Labour candidates, use other forms of balloting. Given the two choices, I believe that the exhaustive ballot should be used even though it will take more time. I do not think that we need to hurry things up unnecessarily.
I oppose, however, a secret ballot, but I do not want to exaggerate the problems associated with it. One Conservative Member who gave evidence to the Committee argued that if we have a secret ballot for the election of Speaker--which may well be the wish of the House--we might end up having them for other purposes. I do not accept that a secret ballot means that one, two or three years down the road we would be arguing for a secret ballot on policy matters.
I object to the principle of secret ballots, even for the election of the Speaker. Like other hon. Members, I take school parties around the House. In the No Lobby, I point out what was said in 1642 by the Speaker to the King. I also show them copies of Hansard and tell them that every word we utter in the House and every vote we cast is duly recorded. If they are primary school children, I usually get them to go through the procedure of voting. I also explain that if their parents write to me to ask how I voted and I want to mislead them for opportunistic reasons--which I would not dream of doing--all they need to do is go to the local library and check. We carry out our business in public.
I do not accept that a Speaker calls people on the basis of who voted for him or her. If the Speaker decides that that is a criterion for calling Members at Question Time or in debates, we have chosen the wrong person. In giving evidence, Lady Boothroyd said that she did not look at the voting list for her election for a year. Had she been so biased, I would have been safe because I voted for her in 1992.