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Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central): I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument with great care. What is it about us as hon. Members that means that we do not

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need the protection, in respect of the vote for an individual, that we give our electors when they choose whether to send us here?

Mr. Bercow: I shall answer the hon. Gentleman, because he has raised an important point. When the electorate vote they are deciding who they want to represent them. They are not the custodians of public office, so their entitlement to vote in secret, and not to be obliged to reveal their decision or to defend it, should be absolute. In that respect, we are in a different position: we are custodians of public office.

Mr. Kaufman rose--

Mr. Bercow: I shall not give way, simply because the Front Benchers are about to respond to the debate. I mean no disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman.

We do not have the right to protect ourselves in that way. I go for an open vote. We should explain our decisions and defend them, and then be prepared to be judged by them.

3.48 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): This has been a fascinating debate, and I found myself quite troubled by it. I certainly found myself disagreeing with what my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) said about the authority of the House being supreme--a matter that I hope to be able to pursue in the Tea Room.

Also rather dangerously, I found myself agreeing with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) when he said that what we were called upon to decide today was not a private matter. I entirely agree with him about that; this goes well beyond the bounds of this House, and beyond questions about being clubbable.

We have had a varied debate, and in the time available it would be difficult to do justice to all the contributors. In response to what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said about the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I may add that it has been customary in this House to say that the right hon. Gentleman has usually been wrong about some of the great issues facing the country. That is a bit unfair to him, and I hope that on this occasion he was wrong when he said that this was likely to be the last time that he would speak in the House. His contributions will be greatly missed.

There are several small points and several themes that can be picked out of the debate. The themes have crossed parties. Anybody coming into the House and listening to the debate would find it impossible to see a particular line, or a majority view, emerging in any part of the House--except, perhaps, on the Liberal Benches, where the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) has, I think, been the only representative of his party to speak.

I have a few small points to make. The key issue is about simplifying the procedures by which the Speaker is chosen. In that respect, I find a great deal to commend in the report presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), as the procedures used in your election, Mr. Speaker, were unnecessarily ponderous

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and did the House little credit. I wish to draw attention to some of the elements in the motion that caused me concern.

First, there is the question of nominations. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield made the powerful point that the selection of the Speaker is, in part, a matter of democracy in action. However, although the intention that Speakers should be elected with a consensus of support across the House is entirely commendable, the requirement that there be a cross-party nomination procedure before a candidate can stand introduces a fetter on democracy.

I hope that any hon. Member putting his or her name forward--or who is asked to do so--would command cross-party support, but what would happen if 450 members of a party with a huge majority in the House wanted a specific person as Speaker, and the other parties did not? Would those 450 hon. Members be prevented from having that choice? That is the potential effect of the relevant provision in the motion.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield accepts that I fully understand the intention behind the report, but I find the conclusion slightly strange. I draw attention to it, as I think that it may cause problems in the future, and that the House may need to look at it again at some time in the future.

It is notable that the procedure is not used in the re-election of a former Speaker. I have no difficulty with that, but I am worried that the nomination proposals would be a fetter on the democratic procedures of the House.

The other matter that has exercised the House is whether the ballot should be secret. I have discussed the matter with some of my hon. Friends, and I have been impressed by the Canadian system. There, the ballot is secret, and the voting numbers in each vote while the decision is being reached are not revealed. That has the advantage that it prevents tactical voting, as it invites people to make a choice and stick to it. It also means that people do not run around between ballots trying to decide who has the advantage.

Without such a provision, I find it difficult to see the advantage of secrecy. I shall therefore vote against the proposal for holding secret ballots, as I believe that the people who vote for me would be entitled to know what I decided to do. If they asked me, I would feel constrained to tell them.

I end on the question of flummery: we are lucky that we have not had to discuss that today, as I am sure that hon. Members would have differing views. Some of the ceremonial in the House is very important, and if we ever came to consider it, I hope that the views of all hon. Members would be heard.

With that caveat, I welcome the report. I shall be interested to discover what the House decides.

3.54 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The clearest thing to have emerged from the debate is that the Committee and its members have done the House a great service in providing a very thorough, thoughtful and excellent report. It has given the House a good framework for discussion.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who chairs the Committee, spoke of the support given by his team, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member

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for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) will win many more elections and be in the House for many years to come. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) has been very involved in the Committee's work, although he did not have the opportunity to speak today.

When I first read the report, I was struck by the questionnaire in appendix 1. There were 130 responses to the Committee's canvass of opinion, and they differed greatly. However, despite a very tight schedule, the report has provided an excellent framework for discussion.

The tone of the debate, which involved hon. Members of all parties, has been that change is necessary and that there is broad support for the report. Two caveats need to be entered, however. The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) warned us to take change cautiously and slowly, and said that we should not rush into it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the report was clubbish and cosy. However, I think that my right hon. Friend realised that his objections were shared by too few hon. Members to warrant pressing the matter to a vote.

A number of small questions were posed. The right hon. Member for East Devon asked who would chair the election proceedings. I can tell him that the existing Standing Orders specify the Father of the House.

A number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), pointed out the importance of paragraph 86 of the report, which is headed "Future Inquiries". In that paragraph, the Committee recommends that the role of the Speaker, and of the Deputy Speakers, should be examined at some point in the future.

A number of hon. Members said that the rights of the House against the legislature were being eroded. I have read the history books, and I know that that is a persistent argument that has run throughout the ages. However, the report makes it clear that a subsequent Committee may well revisit the matter.

I remind the House of the importance of the Speaker, and of what the Duke of Wellington said about the fear inspired by his men--that they may not have frightened the enemy but that, by God, they frightened him. As a member of the Government Front Bench, I can tell the House that my colleagues and I are frightened of the Speaker, and that we take what he says very seriously indeed. A good deal of discussion takes place to ensure that the procedures of the House are followed properly.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) talked about flummery, and I confess that, like the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), I am a reluctant moderniser. I, too, would be sad to see some of our ceremonies go.

Two major issues came before the House today, and the first was the question of exhaustive as opposed to alternative voting. The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), on behalf of his party colleagues, argued the point strongly. The matter was discussed in Committee, and was voted on. I am in favour of an exhaustive ballot, and I think that that was the tone of the debate today.

The second major issue had to do with open as opposed to secret ballots. The hon. Member for North Cornwall chided me that my amendment was not in order. I think

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that it is, as it is the first appearance of the word "secret" in the text of the Standing Order which the amendment would change. If the amendment is agreed, the titles would change automatically.

However, the substance of the argument is the question whether the ballot should be open or secret. Again, the Committee considered the matter and it has asked the House as a whole to do the same. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I take a very principled position on the matter. I do not want us to go down what has been described as a slippery slope, and I hope that my hon. Friend presses the matter to a vote, as I believe that the House will give good support to the proposal for open ballots.

It is possible that two farewell speeches have been made this afternoon. The right hon. Member for East Devon did not call his contribution that, but he is nonpareil in the work that he has done with regard to the procedures of the House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has got himself a good redundancy deal. He is going outside the House to take part in active politics, because that is where the real change occurs. Along with my right hon. Friend, I know that the green movement is stronger outside the House. However, he told us that he is coming back to use the Library, so he has got the best of both worlds.

This report is the best of both worlds. Its recommendations ensure that our long tradition of independent Speakers will continue.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 82, Noes 84.

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