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22 Jun 2009 : Column 629

I want to feel that we can again become a beacon for those who are hungry for democracy. Yes, the iron curtain may have come down and, yes, many of the people for whom one worked in those days may now enjoy a degree of parliamentary democracy, but there is still a hunger out there. One has only to think of Zimbabwe or Iran to have that point underlined.

There is obviously a limitation to what any Speaker can do. I never forget the most immortal words that ever issued from the Chamber of the House of Commons, by Mr. Speaker Lenthall on that January day in 1642—

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): You were there.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes, I was there.

Speaker Lenthall said, “I have neither eyes to see, nor mouth to speak but as this House shall direct me, whose servant I am.” An inconspicuous man, a man who rose to the occasion and who underlines in those famous words both the duty and the limitations of the Speaker, because so many things can only be done as this House directs.

I would very much like to see the business of this House in the hands of a business Committee, with a majority from the Opposition Benches and with the Speaker presiding; but that can only happen if this House directs. I would like to see Select Committee Chairmen elected by the same system that we shall use later this afternoon; but that can only happen if this House directs.

There are certain things that a new Speaker can, and in my view should, do. First, I would like to take a tighter grip of parliamentary questions, particularly—if I may say so in the presence of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—Prime Minister’s questions. Too much of Prime Minister’s questions is taken up by the gladiatorial battle across the Dispatch Box. I would cut that down at a stroke.

I would like to feel that Members of Parliament had more opportunity to call the Government to account by giving them more opportunity for urgent questions and emergency debates. In that regard, I agree very much with many of the things said by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young).

I would like to be very tough with Ministers who spill the beans outside before coming to the Dispatch Box. I believe that if they do that they should be named. I believe that would quickly bring them to heel.

We need an Executive who are better balanced with the legislature than at the moment. Perhaps it is time for a new Dunning’s motion: “the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”—for “Crown” read “Executive”. We have to redress the balance and I believe that there are things that the Speaker can do, just as I believe that it is the duty of the Speaker to protect minority parties and minority interests.

The Speaker should have no political views, but he can adopt the stance of Voltaire: “I dislike what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” From my experience in the House, I know very well how much I depended on catching Mr. Speaker Wetherill’s eye when I was speaking against the hated poll tax and when I was moving amendments to try to preserve the Greater London council. I know how much I depended
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on Madam Speaker Boothroyd allowing me to catch her eye when I was conducting an often unpopular—on my own side—campaign against the then Government’s policy in Bosnia. I know what Back Benchers need from that Chair.

It has been very sad to see Parliament so vulnerable in recent weeks. There was a time when Members of Parliament eagerly scanned the press to see if their speeches were reported. Now they apprehensively scan the press to see if their expenses are commented on. We have to redress that balance.

I have a passionate belief in democracy. I have four grandchildren and I want them to feel that this place is indeed the ultimate defender of their liberties and the guardian of their hopes and future, because the real poor are those who have no hope. I hope that many young people from their generation will aspire to sit in this House, to serve the people of this country.

I submit myself to the will of the House.

3.25 pm

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Ind): Although it is a pleasure to follow the eight distinguished colleagues who have already addressed the House, I have the nasty feeling that there is a certain amount of print through in the remarks that have been made.

Undoubtedly, this election is taking place in extraordinary circumstances. With greater public interest aroused, I think that we as candidates should be thankful that only Members have the vote. To we who know what is and what is not possible, the media expectation for the new Speaker has got more unrealistic by the day. However, there can be no doubt that change is in the air. I welcome change; I have argued for change; and if chosen, I will work for change.

Although never having seen myself for one moment as part of the establishment, I do believe that I have the necessary experience to guide the House through the current changes and those that will arise in a new Parliament. But of course, some change will come with whoever is chosen—the style and the personality of the new Speaker will ensure that. Now, the House has seen me in action. I have shown that I can bring about more vitality and greater inclusivity in our proceedings. I have been known to favour brevity, and I would favour it even more from those on the Front Benches in the future. I have shown that it is possible to get to 20 questions. So I say to the House that I know the job; I believe that I could do it well; and I promise not to bark too much at the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope).

Without more ado, the authority of being Speaker would allow fuller use of discretion, over urgent questions, over emergency debates and over the timing and length of statements—the purpose being to achieve a better match between our proceedings and the issues of the day, which are often out of sync. The Speaker, nevertheless, as we have been reminded more than once, remains the servant of the House and not its master, but we have put our Speaker into a position of greater impartiality than any other Speaker in a Parliament in the world, and I believe that we should follow the logic of that and grant the Chair more discretion in the reform of procedures.

More extensive reform must have the agreement of the House. The party leaders are all talking reform. They would find me proactive in encouraging them
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towards consensus. If they falter, I certainly have plenty of ideas. Yes, a business Committee giving the House more say on the arrangement of business would help to achieve a better balance between Back Benchers as a whole and the elected majority. Select Committees have become, and are becoming, an ever more important part of the scrutiny function of the House, so, at the very least, the House should elect their Chairmen.

Private Members’ motions should be restored, thus allowing a Member to table a substantive motion with the expectation of a vote at the end of the debate. I believe that we could copy the example of the Finance Bill, by allowing the Opposition parties to select those parts of Bills that they believe should be considered in Committee of the whole House, leaving the rest to be dealt with upstairs in Committee. Fridays should be altered, with set slots to allow sensible debate on private Members’ Bills, with Divisions on a deferred basis the following week. Westminster Hall is now a fixture; we could use it much more imaginatively.

Heavy on our minds, however, is the subject of our allowances. I appreciate the hurt that many hon. Members feel, and it makes me all the more determined to ensure that we must get this right. I would engage with Sir Christopher Kelly to encourage an integrated approach to salary and allowances. The allowances problem—and, let us face it, the cost of administering it—shrinks if salary becomes a greater component of the remuneration package and the additional costs allowance a lesser one.

Now, without wanting to become a media turn, I believe that there is a role for the Speaker in speaking up for the House. It is important to accentuate the positive: independent research showing that, on average, Members regularly work 70 hours a week on behalf on their constituents. There is genuine public interest in what our role is and we should explain ourselves better. I will aim to be an accessible Speaker—accessible to all Members from any part of the House—and I will seek regular input from colleagues on a systematic basis.

Overall, my aim will be to help the House to up its game, not only through how we, as Members, present to the public, but through how we do our work on the people’s behalf and how we discharge our duties designed towards the better governance of our country.

For all that has been said of late, I firmly believe that the House remains the cradle of our democracy. This is the place to which so many people from overseas look for advice and inspiration. The outcome of today’s proceedings must carry with it a determination to renew this House’s reputation, and it is in that spirit, and with that resolve, that I submit myself to the will of the House.

3.31 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): Nearly there; this is the last one.

I have been in this race for 12 days. I have been playing catch-up, because others have probably been in it for 12 months or perhaps longer—who knows? The key thing that brought me into this in the first place was a sense of frustration.

I listened to all nine contributions. Actually, I passionately believe that any of the 10 of us is capable of doing the job of Speaker. However, I ask myself and colleagues in
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the House: do we all really get it? Do we understand the extent of crisis out there and the level of people’s anger? I am not sure that we do.

We have seen ourselves on the front pages of national and local newspapers day in, day out, and as the main item on news bulletins day in, day out. Then, two Sundays ago, we had the results of the European elections, which mean that two of our representatives in the European Parliament come from the British National party. That should send us a very strong message. The message is not that the British people are racists—I do not believe that they are—but they are telling us that they are thoroughly disengaged with us. They think that this place is remote and distant from them and that we are remote and distant from them as well.

So, what do we do now? That is the challenge and the question that we are being asked today. The easy and safe thing would be to retreat to someone who is a safe pair of hands—an establishment candidate. We have no end of quality candidates with great ideas, and we have heard from them today. We have half a dozen knights of the realm and Privy Counsellors—as I said the other day, there are probably more gongs than you will see at the Olympic games—but are they in touch and do they speak the language of modern Britain? Part of the question that we need to ask ourselves is whether we will be thanked tomorrow for our choice.

My proposals are quite different from what all the other candidates are talking about. We need to change the settlement between the citizen and Parliament. We need a more deferential Parliament and to give more power away to local people and communities—that is the way to re-engage with local people.

In this day and age, when the rest of the public—our constituents—are using Facebook, Twitter and the internet, why should our Front Benchers be dictating the topical issue for debate? We should be allowing the public to decide that through internet polls. If we did, the Chamber would be far fuller, because we would be discussing the desires of local people who have a direct input into their democracy.

Time and again, we have debates in Westminster Hall about local and regional issues, and issues that matter to us. I would want to move the apparatus of our Adjournment debates by taking them out of the capital to towns and cities throughout the country—whether Gloucester, Bristol, Birmingham or Manchester—and giving those areas a little prestige by being part of Parliament. Instead of Ministers responding to debates by reading out sides of A4, I think that you would find them responding to packed public galleries, rather than to one man and his dog, and maybe a Lobby correspondent. We would then also be able to re-engage local media. I think that it would be a good thing for those Ministers to feel the heat of local public opinion. That is likely to change the culture of decision making, and would, I think, lead to better decisions being taken in the first place.

At the current rate of change, we in this House will not be representative of modern Britain at any stage in the next 100 years. I do not want to be a dictator, I promise you—honestly, I do not—but the next Speaker of this House needs to be a driver for change, someone who will cajole and try to persuade our party leaders to make this House more representative of our different classes, genders and races much, much quicker. I cannot believe that in 2009 we are still talking about having a
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crèche that we Members can pay for in this House. If the next Speaker, whoever he or she is, does not implement that idea within the next 12 months, frankly, they will have failed. We need to make fundamental changes. We need a more deferential Parliament. We will be stronger, ultimately, and more respected as politicians, if we move the pendulum of power back to local communities.

In conclusion, my father always said to me, while bringing up my two older siblings and me, that nobody should put an artificial barrier between us and our hopes, our expectations and our ambitions. That would be a good motto for whoever is the next Speaker of this House, because I want people to aspire to be here. I want them to be ambitious, regardless of their background, to create a House that is more representative of modern Britain. If we are not brave enough to make changes here, in the mother of all Parliaments, then where? After the time that we have just had, if not now, then when? The rest is up to you.

Mr. Alan Williams (in the Chair): All the candidates have now addressed the House, and may I thank them on behalf of the House? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] There are so many of them, but they spoke with such brevity. In a moment, I will declare the ballot open. When I do so, Members with surnames beginning with the letters A to K should vote in the Aye Lobby. Members with surnames beginning with the letters L to Z should vote in the No Lobby. Please note that the side doors will be locked, so entrance to the Lobbies will be through the usual main entrance.

When you enter the Lobbies—much of this is obvious, but it has to be said—please give your name to the Clerk at the appropriate desk for your surname. Surnames have been divided into three streams in each Lobby. When you have passed the desks, you will be given a ballot paper. When you have completed it, please place it in one of the ballot boxes at the exit of the Lobby. I remind Members that they should vote for only one candidate. [Laughter.] It would be much preferred, anyhow. The ballot will be open for 30 minutes. I hope to announce the result about an hour after the closure of the ballot. Sorry that it will take so long, but it is a secret ballot, and it will take time to count the votes. The House will be alerted by the Annunciator before it is to resume. Division bells will also be rung.

I declare the ballot open.

3.39 pm

Sitting suspended.

5.7 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Alan Williams (in the Chair): Order. This is the result of the first ballot. Five-hundred and ninety-four ballots were cast. The numbers of votes cast for each candidate were as follows:

Margaret Beckett, 74 votes;

Sir Alan Beith, 55 votes;

John Bercow, 179 votes;

Sir Patrick Cormack, 13 votes;

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, 26 votes;

Sir Alan Haselhurst, 66 votes;

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Sir Michael Lord, 9 votes;

Mr. Richard Shepherd, 15 votes;

Miss Ann Widdecombe, 44 votes;

Sir George Young, 112 votes.

One ballot was spoiled. [ Laughter. ] [Hon. Members: “Name them.”]

No Member received more than 50 per cent. of the ballots cast. Sir Michael Lord received the fewest votes. Sir Patrick Cormack, Parmjit Dhanda and Richard Shepherd received fewer than 5 per cent. of the ballots cast.

Before I confirm the list of candidates for the next ballot, I now invite any candidate who, as a result of this round, has decided that they would like to withdraw from the next round, to come and inform me here in the Chamber within the next 10 minutes.

The next ballot will then be opened as soon as the ballot papers have been printed, checked and put in place, which is likely to be about 30 minutes from now. I will cause the bells to be rung as soon as the Lobbies are ready and the ballot will then start. As before, Members will have 30 minutes to vote.

5.9 pm

Proceedings suspended .

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