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Mr. Bercow: I, for one, am enjoying the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I note what he says about being strongly opposed as a matter of principle to a former Cabinet Minister becoming Speaker. I agree with him on that. Does his opposition to such a person becoming Speaker extend to opposition to his or her not being nominated?
Mr. Kaufman: No. I believe that every Member has the right to put herself or himself forward. Who is chosen depends on the wisdom of the House. On the whole, the House makes quite wise decisions. If we look back, many Speakers in the post-war period emerged from the Front Benches rather than the Back Benches. That is one of the reasons why I believe it is a good thing that we have a Speaker who has never been a Front Bencher of any sort or for any party.
I believe that the method of election that we use has worked perfectly well. I am always suspicious of any system proposed by the Electoral Reform Society; I am surprised that Charter 88 did not poke its nose into this, as it does into everything that it possibly can. We are all hon. Members--although no doubt some will try to change that before long and we shall have to call one another by name--and I wish that we were not taking this decision in an atmosphere of cosy mutual self- congratulation. I wish that there had been a bit of nastiness in our debate.
If I felt that I had sufficient support, I would divide the House on the adoption of the report and the Government motion. Since that is not so, the least that I can do is vote against the secret ballot, which I shall do.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), although I do not agree with what he said about our debate or the report. We have had a serious, high-quality debate on a serious, high-quality report, marked by what may turn out to be swan songs from two distinguished parliamentarians: my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), whose work on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons has made him an outstanding servant of the House, and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). There is simply no other right hon. Member like him. I have never heard him make a bad speech, and this afternoon he made a
I want to make a brief contribution, and shall begin by complimenting the Select Committee, which made a thorough analysis of the problem, saw a wide range of witnesses, many of whom are in the Chamber, and produced a well-argued report. As Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has done a service to the House. I compliment him on performing a post mortem on his own candidacy as well as that of many others.
I agree with the Committee that change is necessary; the previous system was simply not designed for the circumstances that confronted us five months ago. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield said, it ran the risk of placing premiums on tactical voting and the order in which candidates were presented. What happened in October was not a shambles. In some ways, it was no more unusual than other quaint procedures in the House, but it was certainly not ideal and the system needs an overhaul.
I agree that the outcome would have been the same regardless. There was a certain inevitability as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) dragged the tumbrels to the guillotine and candidate after candidate was dismissed. However, the conclusion that the outcome would have been the same sits uneasily with the report's subsequent recommendation of a secret vote in future. I shall return to that in a moment. Personally, I am against the hustings for the reasons set out in your memorandum, Mr. Deputy Speaker; it runs the risk of an auction for the speakership.
I am sure that all those who stood were grateful to their proposers and seconders, but I do not think that they influenced the outcome. I do not think that the candidates' speeches influenced the outcome either. Again, that is not unprecedented in the Chamber. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon that all candidates should speak and formally present themselves to the House; that is important and symbolic.
The controversy is about the proposition that there should be a secret vote in future which, if I may use an economist's phrase, hits me right on my indifference curve. I do not go along with the argument that Speakers will discriminate against those who do not vote for them. The risk that the opposite will happen is more likely. Speakers will over-compensate, as home referees often do regarding the other side. I understand the arguments for a secret vote, but my view is that while a secret vote is as valid as an open vote, it is not as valuable. The argument for a secret ballot rests on the proposition that people will vote differently in secret from how they vote in public. It may make life more difficult for the Speaker if there is subsequently a perceived loss of confidence in him. Support for the Speaker and his authority may be greater if the ballot is open, not closed.
If there are valid arguments for a secret ballot, why is the Division to re-elect the Speaker at the beginning of a Parliament--when a Division can be called--open and not secret? Exactly the same arguments could be applied to that. What is to happen if there is a censure motion? I assume that there will be an open vote, as there is at the moment. Having conceded the argument on electing the Speaker in private in the report, the Committee may not
I hope that we can dispense with delay after the election, and therefore agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). I am not sure why we had to hang around for three hours while the Great Seal was dusted down. I hope that we can streamline that process and make it clearer that the authority of the House is supreme.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield about continuity of office and having a different procedure for re-electing a sitting Speaker. It is not right that the Speaker's position should be put into play every time that there is a general election. I therefore accept the argument for a different, streamlined procedure when a sitting Speaker is re-elected.
Mr. Bercow: At the beginning of his speech, my right hon. Friend said how strongly he approved of the speech of our right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery). Did he agree with our right hon. Friend, as I did, that it is one thing to notify the sovereign of our decision, but another to seek approval for it?
The House may be aware that the Hansard Society will soon produce a report on parliamentary scrutiny. There is widespread concern on both sides of the House about the role of the House. Indeed, that was part of the context in which the debate on the speakership took place last year. I understand all the difficulties involved in an inquiry into the role and functions of the Speaker, who is both the servant of the House and, in many ways, its master. As several hon. Members have said, if the terms of trade are to tilt back to Parliament from the Executive--as many of us believe they should--the Speaker is going to be involved. I am sure that the Speaker would want to be assisted by an inquiry by the House into that important subject.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for referring to paragraph 86, which deals with future inquiries. May I repeat the Committee's strong view that, had there been time in this Parliament, we would have undertaken an inquiry into the Speaker's role and functions? However, it was clear that the House wished us to reach a decision on the procedure governing the election, which is why we have a rather short-circuited inquiry. We cannot bind our successors, but we hope that they will take that up.
Sir George Young: On a consensual note, I conclude by expressing the strong hope that that will be the first task of a new Parliament. It could set the context for the on-going debate about the terms of trade.
Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): I rise as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure to speak in support of the motion. I have been a member of the Committee throughout the current Parliament. In my view, the report to which the motion relates is the most memorable that it has published during that time. That is not to say that the Committee has not conducted a number of other important inquiries. Indeed, it has done very good work, but the second report is memorable for a number of reasons not least of which are the evidence taken from hon. Members and the depth in which we investigated the subject.
I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for the way in which he has chaired the Committee during this Parliament and while the report was being produced. Furthermore, it is a privilege to speak in this debate while standing next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), whose speeches in the House I have always admired. His words just now recalled to my mind a visit that he made some 30 years ago--he will probably not remember it--to a Labour party function in my constituency. When we spoke after the event, I could not have imagined standing beside him now, and I shall remember today if for no other reason than that.
I am convinced of the need for change, which is clearly set out in the report. To that extent, I disagree with the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). The investigation was thorough, and the written and oral evidence submitted to us reflected the different views expressed in the House--not only during the inquiry itself, but as points of order and during our discussions following Madam Speaker's announcement.
What struck me most clearly while those views were being expressed was that the election of the Speaker had become more important to Back Benchers during the past 30 years. That is a sound reason for us to examine the procedure that it involves. Notwithstanding the contribution made by the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) and others, the need for us to do so emerges clearly from detailed analysis of the report. In my view, the proposed changes will strengthen the role of Speaker, as its authority will derive from Members of Parliament. I believe that there is little support for returning to the system that prevailed early last century, when the influence of the usual channels and the political parties manifested itself in the way in which candidates were dealt with. I would be surprised if Back Benchers ever wanted to return to that position. It is a good thing that that important view is entrenched in the Procedure Committee's proposals.
Two controversial matters have been dwelt on this afternoon. First, many important issues were raised about nominations and the way in which the debate on the candidates should be conducted in the House. The views that were expressed will help to develop a procedure that ensures that the election will be a little more streamlined. I am not suggesting that we should cut short the time spent on the election, but I hope that the debate about it will be focused and that all candidates will be able to speak. Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of the occasion, but the fact remains that last time the House was not as packed at the end of the debate as it was at the beginning. I believe that there should be
The question that was going through my mind was whether the ballot should be secret or open. The issue is finely balanced and there are good reasons both for and against. That became clear during the Procedure Committee's deliberations, in which two arguments were advanced in favour of keeping the open ballot. The slippery slope argument was advanced in the evidence given by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who suggested that there would be pressure for other matters to be dealt with secretly once the principle of a secret ballot had been conceded. I reject that argument, as I do not think that hon. Members would want to extend such secrecy. Indeed, there would rightly be an outcry outside this place if we ever did so. Little evidence was given in support of that argument, other than that of the right hon. Gentleman.
Another argument was advanced on the basis of historical convention. As Members of Parliament are representatives of constituents and constituencies, any decision that we take should be recorded so that those who elect us can see how we vote. I believe that that is a stronger argument. If we are to move away from that principle, there must be strong arguments for doing so. That is why I should like to summarise the arguments that were advanced in favour of a secret ballot. The decision on electing a Speaker is unique because the role does not relate to any particular policy decisions that will affect our constituents. It has been argued that the choice of Speaker is therefore a decision that relates only to how we organise our affairs.
It has also been suggested that the current system allows hon. Members to be pressurised. There are arguments for and against that view, with regard to which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) gave some interesting evidence. He said that he was in favour of a secret ballot because he did not want to vote against anybody. In other words, he said that we are all friends in the House and that he voted for individuals on that basis. Of course, there might be pressures in both directions, which is why I believe that there is a sound argument for adopting the principle of a secret ballot in this particular case, although I appreciate that the matter is finely balanced. Indeed, the Committee recognised that, which is why it said in its report that the matter should be one for the House.
The second controversial issue that has been dealt with relates to the voting system and the question whether to introduce an alternative system or to conduct an exhaustive ballot. The Committee favoured two particular views about the exhaustive ballot. First, it accepted that such a ballot would enable candidates who obtained a small number of votes to exit the process at the first stage. Although candidates can take soundings, they will not necessarily be aware of how much support they have until the first round is completed. An exhaustive ballot would ensure that such candidates could withdraw their nominations immediately. Secondly, an exhaustive ballot would enable hon. Members to assess support for candidates and adjust their preferences accordingly in the second round. I believe that that would be of some help, although I acknowledge that the two views are finely balanced. The Electoral Reform Society gave evidence in
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) spoke about the need for deep consideration of the future role of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers. The evidence given by Liberal Democrats supported that view, for which there was much backing in the Committee. I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield that the Committee should consider the matter, and the suggestion that it should be a future priority has my full support.