|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The remarks made by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) hark back to a Procedure Committee report that was published when I was the Chairman and the hon. Member for Walsall, North was a member of that Committee. In that report, we stated specifically that the first thing that a Parliament should do on assembling is elect a Speaker. That is not meant as any criticism of the monarch--no one is a greater royalist than I. However, one can, while remaining a royalist, want the House to be what it is: the independent voice of the people, who have a right to elect who will be their Chairman or their Speaker.
Once we have done that, I do not mind traipsing down to the other place to tell them what we have done. That is fine--it is announcing what we have done, not asking permission to do it. I urge the current Leader of the House to point out to her successor, whoever that may be, that in future we must take the role of the Speaker into our own hands: it must be we who elect the Speaker, without needing any permission so to do.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I read in the newspapers that it is quite likely that a few weeks from now we shall be campaigning in a general election. I look forward to doing so. When we campaign, we tell all the voters whom we encounter, whether by canvassing or in other ways, that they are sovereign, that they are wise and that their decision will determine the future of the country; yet in the report and in the debate, the electorate have no place. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said that the debate was about how we want this place to be run. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said that we are debating an internal matter. That, in my view, is precisely what is wrong with the debate.
I have been a Member of Parliament for almost 31 years and I hope to continue for a good deal longer, but if there is anything that I dislike about the House, it is the smug club atmosphere that is cultivated here--the notion that this place is a gentleman's club and that debates such as this one, as distinct from party political debates, are conducted within some sort of cosy consensus. So far today, we have heard a very cosy debate--even when people have disagreed with each other, they have done so on a cosy basis. If this were not a Chamber televised throughout the nation for those who want to watch it, we might well this afternoon not be discussing how a great Parliament--the second oldest Parliament in the world--should be presided over. We might as well be discussing how a private club elects its president, because it is all about what goes on in this club. That is what the debate has been about so far.
I disagree strongly with the tenor of the report and its proposals. Most of all, I disagree with the motivations that lie behind it. Some members of the Procedure Committee have been in this place for a long time. They have been sucked into the club atmosphere, which can smother the place. I thought that many of the new members of the Committee had come to the House because they wanted to change things a great deal and make them absolutely different. I am dismayed that somehow they have been sucked into the vacuum of smug consensus. As I have said, that is one of the things that I dislike intensely about this place.
I do not mean that we cannot have good personal relationships with one another across the Floor and even, on occasions, within our parties. However, that is different from believing that we must not speak up and that we must not in any way disrupt the atmosphere when the House is at its best--which I suppose is what the debate so far will be described as--and on display. For me, it is not the House at its best; it is the House at its most deterring.
If there were two reasons why I would not seek re-election to this place, the first would be Virgin trains, which make my travelling to and from Manchester such an utter nightmare. The second would be the idea that the House is still some sort of gentlemen's organisation which reluctantly had to admit women and was smothered when a sixth of Members were part of the majority within the electorate.
I shall say why I do not like the report and why I wish that the Government were not presenting it to the House for adoption. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North declares himself with pride as a socialist. I, too, declare myself as a socialist. However, that does not mean that we change things for the sake of changing them. As a socialist, I want to change things where they matter. I want to change things so that my constituents have a greater voice in the way their lives go. However, when things are working perfectly well in the House, I do not see why we should have a huge disruption of the sort that is proposed.
The report states that if the system that is proposed for adoption had existed earlier, our present Speaker would still have been Speaker. That is despite the fact that what might be called the establishment did not want the present Speaker to be elected. Newspapers jeered, and continued jeering a good deal after his election. There was the uncouthness of the fact that he had a Scottish accent. There was the fact that he came from the working class. Even my good friends on the Government Front Bench were reluctant to see him adopted. That was because of the inferiority complex that had grown in the Labour party that somehow Labour Governments should not allow a Labour Member to be elected when a Labour Government were in power.
With great respect to my right hon. Friend, who is advancing a legitimate argument, there was no Front- Bench view. There was no cosy conspiracy on the Front Benches. I began rather to regret that there had not been a conspiracy. I took the view, which I think others took--although obviously not in sufficient numbers--that the speakership should alternate between the two sides of the House. I have held that view for about 20 years. I held it especially strongly when the Conservative Government tried to breach what I thought was an important principle. That was the basis on which I made my decision.
Mr. Kaufman: I always accept what my right hon. Friend says. However, I felt obliged to write what I regarded as a decisive letter to The Times to point out that the principle of alternation was bogus and had never been observed when Conservative Governments had been in power. I made the point in all friendliness to the principal candidate who emerged from the Conservative party that he had not accepted any such system of alternation, as he voted against Betty Boothroyd and for the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) when Speaker Weatherill went on his way.
The report says that although matters turned out all right in the case of Speaker Martin, in other circumstances that might not have been the case, depending on who was proposed first. However, in the only other contested election under the system that is now being got rid of, the person who was proposed first--the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster--was decisively defeated. The House knows what it is doing. It may make stupid decisions from time to time, but that is done on the basis of rationality. Stupidity can be based on rationality. Good decisions can be based on rationality, too.
I concur with what my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North says about the secret ballot. This is a House where we are rightly held to account by our constituents. We cannot deceive our constituents about how we vote. My hon. Friend is old-fashioned and says that they can go to a library to see how we have voted, but now they can use the internet as well to obtain the information speedily. If the amendment is carried, that will alleviate the situation to some extent, but not entirely. Those who nominate the candidates for Speaker will be part of a secret cabal, and I do not see why they should be.
It is not as though crossing the Speaker is the end of the world. When I was elected in 1970, there was an election for Speaker Selwyn Lloyd. I voted against him because I did not believe that an ex-Cabinet Minister should be Speaker. Not too long afterwards he threw me out of the Chamber. I am convinced that he did so because