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1.42 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Briefly, I want to register my objection to the fact that we do not have an opportunity today to debate the proposal on election of the Speaker.

1.43 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We have an opportunity this afternoon to register the concern of many Members that it was perfectly fair for the Procedure Committee to assume that its whole package of motions would be voted on today, especially as the Leader of the House had put them all down on the Order Paper. At business questions, however, she said that she wanted to facilitate the proposals of the Wright Committee. She seemed to imply that she would allow us to vote on all aspects of the Wright Committee, whose Chairman is in his place now, which had specifically involved itself in the matter of the election of Deputy Speakers. As I understand it, that part of the Committee's work was passed to the Procedure Committee, which was a specific decision of the Wright Committee.

For many months, the Procedure Committee deliberated on how we should elect Deputy Speakers, and whether the Speaker should be re-elected in an open or secret ballot. In all good faith, the Procedure Committee, whose Chairman is also in his place this afternoon, brought the motions before us. The Leader of the House was therefore wrong to say at business questions that we should vote only on the measures arising from the Wright Committee, because the proposals on election of Deputy Speakers came from the Procedure Committee. Deliberately and, we believe, for cynical reasons-I hate to say that, but I think that she fears she may not win the vote-she has cherry-picked only those motions relating to a secret ballot for the election of a Deputy Speaker.

My understanding was that the Leader of the House-she can deny this-had tabled all the motions, and was intending to speak against her own motion. Until last night, she was acting in an entirely appropriate way. She was doing what she promised the House: that she would
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give it a choice. Therefore, she put down one motion that the Speaker should be re-elected on an open ballot, and one motion that it should be on a secret ballot. She is of the view that we should elect the Speaker on a secret ballot only once-at the beginning, as we did last June. It is not for me to speak for her, but as I will not have a vote, I have no choice-this procedure debate is the only opportunity. She, along with many in the House, believes that the Speaker should be elected on an open ballot after that. Others take a different view, because we believe in consistency.

Why should every other post-every Select Committee Chair and Deputy Speakers-be elected on a secret ballot and then re-elected on a secret ballot? Nobody suggests that if the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, say, is elected on a secret ballot at the beginning of the next Parliament, thereafter there will be no further secret ballot. Once someone became Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, therefore, I presume that they could remain Chairman not just for that Parliament, but for two. I refer deliberately to a Chairman-or Chairlady or Chair-of a Committee in the next Parliament, because in the Parliament after that nobody would want to vote in an open ballot-they would rather have a secret ballot, and we will be granted one.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): For clarity, may I make the point-I am sure my hon. Friend did not intend to mislead the House-that the Procedure Committee did not reach a judgment one way or the other on whether the Speaker in a new Parliament should be ratified by a secret ballot? It said that it ought to be a matter for the House to decide, and that is what the Leader of the House is denying us by not putting motions 69 and 72 above the line.

Mr. Leigh: My right hon. Friend is right. I am at a disadvantage because I am not a member of the Procedure Committee; I can only look at its report. However, it seems that the Procedure Committee did a service to the House. It said, "There are two opinions: some people believe that the Speaker should be re-elected in an open ballot, and others believe that he or she should be re-elected in a secret ballot. Let us give the House a chance to vote." The Leader of the House seemed to be going along with that entirely sensible procedure. What happened yesterday to convince her that she could not trust the House of Commons to vote on that most important measure? Why is it that all the other Chairmen of Select Committees, which are far less important than the office of Speaker, will be re-elected on a secret ballot, but the House will never be given an opportunity to vote on whether the Speaker should be re-elected in a secret ballot?

We simply ask for democracy. How can one talk about making the House more modern and accountable when such back-room gerrymandering still goes on? The Leader of the House-she and she alone, not the House of Commons-has decided that for the next 100 years, once a Speaker is elected on a secret ballot, it will be impossible to have a secret ballot, and virtually impossible to have any decent election.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I am a member of the Procedure Committee, and I am horrified that the Leader of the House is denying us an opportunity
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to vote on a matter that was the unanimous decision of the Select Committee. It is quite wrong. For consistency, I happen to be in favour of open ballots across the board-I would like none to be secret-but is it not even more bizarre that if the Speaker loses his seat at the next election, his successor will be elected by secret ballot, but if he retains his seat, and there is a vote, which there will be, it will be by open ballot? Where is the consistency?

Mr. Leigh: I think that we can prove, without a shadow of doubt, that there is absolutely no logical consistency in what the Leader of the House has done. This should not be seen in terms of an individual; it should be seen in terms of the rights of the House of Commons. So let us talk about some mythical future Speaker. The whole point of a secret ballot is to allow everyone to make a considered-

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some leeway, and it is perfectly in order for him to comment on what is not in the motion, but it is certainly not in order for him to go into such detail about the substance of the issue.

Mr. Leigh: This motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, concerns the way in which we are to conduct our affairs this afternoon. Let me end with a plea to the Leader of the House, who presumably, like me, loves this House of Commons and wants it to act in a democratic way. Why are we voting for a business committee this afternoon? Because we do not want the Government-and it may be a Conservative Government-to decide on the business of the House. We do not want the Government alone to decide what we can vote for.

It is within the power of the Leader of the House to stand up in the next few minutes and say, "I have listened to the House of Commons. Next week I will allow the House of Commons to vote." I am not making any plea for either a secret or an open ballot; I am merely asking the Leader of the House to facilitate that vote. If people have confidence in her arguments, they will vote for her. That is all she has to do.

1.51 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Let me, as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, join my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) in saying how disappointed I am that the whole of our report is not to be debated under this motion. Motion 8, relating to the election of the Deputy Speakers, specifically states:

The rest of the report and its recommendations, however, are not the subject of a debate, and there is no opportunity for a resolution to be made.

I hope that in responding to what will be quite a short debate, the Leader of the House will repeat in an open forum what she said to me just now behind the Speaker's Chair. She seems to be under the misapprehension that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House cannot be trusted to make decisions themselves, and that she should somehow second-guess those decisions and prevent us from proceeding with motions when she thinks that that might produce the wrong result. If I
4 Mar 2010 : Column 1055
may say so, the right hon. and learned Lady is confusing her position as a partisan member of the Government with her position as Leader of the House.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Perhaps the Leader of the House is simply trying to reinforce the case for a business committee, thus encouraging the House to vote for it later.

Mr. Chope: That is a good point. The same point was made powerfully by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) during business questions earlier today. The rather glib response of the Leader of the House was that of course she was in favour of a business committee; but why do we have to set up a business committee in order to be able to put on the agenda for debate and resolution in the House the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, which have already been presented? Members of the Committee were strongly pressured to produce our report in timely fashion so that there would be an opportunity for the full report, and the recommendations, to be considered by the House before the end of this Parliament.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that 2010 will feature in the great and long history of the House of Commons as the year that gave us the opportunity to reform this place as it has never been reformed before? Unfortunately, as a result of today's antics the reforms will be half-baked, and the public will not like that at all.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend has made an important point, which speaks for itself.

What we have now is a lacuna. Earlier, the Leader of the House was not prepared to tell us when motions 69 and 72-which are on the Order Paper in her name but will not be debated today, and which arise directly from the first report of the Procedure Committee-would be tabled in a way that would allow us to debate and vote on them. Despite repeated questioning, the Leader of the House refused to answer. She even refused to confirm or deny my suggestion that she would be intent on withdrawing those two motions, thereby, having led us up the hill, before taking us down again.

I regard the way in which this procedure is being conducted as intolerable. It obviously reinforces the case for a business committee, but until that committee is up and running, we shall remain in our present position. What has happened today has raised a great many suspicions about whether, as a result of the motions with which we will be dealing, we shall be able to wrest control over the proceedings of the House away from the Executive and the shadow Executive and give it to the legislature. That is certainly what I want to happen.

Mr. Greg Knight: The motion provides for two hours of debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that we would need no more than two hours in which to debate motions 69 and 72? It cannot be a question of time.

Mr. Chope: I do agree, but, in fairness to the Leader of the House, she has not put forward that explanation. Indeed, she has not put forward any explanation for not tabling the motions for debate today. When we are considering whether or not we wish to support the
4 Mar 2010 : Column 1056
business motion, it would be very helpful for us to know the intentions of the Leader of the House in relation to motions 69 and 72. Perhaps because she did not think that there was enough time during business questions, she declined to answer specific questions on the subject, one of which was asked by the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). I hope that she will respond to them now.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman a little. If the House were to approve the motion on the House business committee, we would no longer be forced to be a supplicant of Government in order to ensure that our own business is discussed. Surely that it is the issue that we need to nail down today.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman has made a point that has been made already by both the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, and I agree with him; but what he is talking about is something for the future. What he is not talking about is how to deal with the issue raised by the Procedure Committee, which met on more occasions that it would have normally, specifically in order to be able to present its recommendations to the House in good time before the Dissolution of the present Parliament. Even if all the hon. Gentleman's recommendations are passed today, that will not enable the House, of its own volition, to deal with motions 69 and 72 before the end of the present Session, thus enabling resolutions to be in place at the beginning of the next Parliament in time for the re-election of the Speaker.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): As I said during our last debate on this subject, last week or the week before, the root cause of the problems is the fact that the Executive control the Standing Orders of the House. We must address that as part of the issue to which my hon. Friend is referring, and the issue of the House business committee, because it runs very deep. It has often been said that the moment when Front Benchers are seen to be agreeing with each other is the moment at which to look for the problem that is being generated.

Mr. Chope: I agree absolutely, which is why I tabled an amendment to a motion that suggests that if x, y or z were done, there will be various consequences, but does not answer the question as to what would happen if the Government did not do what we would normally expect; namely to act quickly after the Queen's Speech in a new Parliament. I remember being a Member when it took six or nine months to get the Select Committees set up, because the then Conservative Government were reluctant to appoint them. They thought it would suit their own purposes not to have those Committees set up to scrutinise the Government's activities. The motions should ensure that Select Committees are set up very early.

The behaviour of the Leader of the House in not putting forward motions 69 and 72 means that we would be well advised to look at the small print in the motions before the House. If the Government can give themselves some wriggle room, they certainly will. We have seen the Government wriggling in a most unparliamentary fashion today.

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1057
2 pm

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me one last time to speak on an issue that I feel I have been living and breathing since the end of last summer. I spoke early in the debate last week and I will try not to cover some of the- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry. I have made a mistake; I thought this was the main debate.

2.1 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am very sorry that the Leader of the House has not indicated that she wishes to respond to the points that have been made by my hon. Friends. I speak totally dispassionately and objectively-I shall not be in the next House-but the very first business to be taken by the newly elected House of Commons, be it in April, May or June, is the election of the Speaker. I do not know how the House will vote on these motions; I am not even sure how I would vote myself. But whether it is to vote for an open or a secret ballot, it is not for the Leader of the House to deny the House the opportunity to make that choice.

I am sure that this must be deeply embarrassing to you, Mr. Speaker. You have been such a champion of democracy, making it plain throughout your time here-long before you stood for the Speakership-that you were first, second and last a democrat. You would not wish to be given some extraordinary artificial protection by the Leader of the House from a secret ballot if you were fortunate enough to be returned as a Member of this House at the next election and then seek the Speakership. It is terribly important that the Leader of the House gives the House the opportunity described by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight).

The report from the Procedure Committee is part of the package of papers that we were all given at the Vote Office for today's debate. The motion on the election of Deputy Speakers has been tabled by the Leader of the House. As my right hon. Friend has also made plain, his Committee did not come to a conclusion on whether the Speaker should be elected by secret or open ballot. He has made plain his own detachment or agnosticism, if I can put it that way, on the issue. That is a position that I share. All that he and his Committee colleagues have asked is that the House be given the opportunity for which the Committee asked. It is as simple as that. The Leader of the House should speak for us all and it is not for her to trust us only selectively. It is terribly important that every one of these substantive recommendations in the Wright report and in the Procedure Committee report be voted on before the end of this Parliament so that the new Parliament begins with new rules and a clean slate and knows what it is doing. If it is that the Speaker should be elected by open ballot, God bless the Speaker and God bless the House. If the House takes a different decision, equally God bless the Speaker and God bless the House.

I urge the Leader of the House to give an undertaking-she cannot do it this afternoon-that in the next two or three weeks there will be a brief opportunity of an hour or an hour and a half for my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire to present his recommendation and for the House to vote upon it.

4 Mar 2010 : Column 1058
2.5 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I agree with everything that has been said, most particularly the point that this underlines the need for a House business committee to take control of these events and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said before leaving the Chamber, the issue of control of Standing Orders needs to be addressed.

I shall be brief, but I wish to ask about the reference in the motion to the suspension of Standing Order No. 41A. How does the Leader of the House decide which Divisions should be taken on the day and which should be deferred? My understanding is that deferred Divisions were introduced to make it easier for large numbers of right hon. and hon. Members to participate in Divisions. To that extent, it has made it easier for the Government to get some of their business through as it means that they do not have to keep people here on Thursdays. In my rather naive way, this seems to me to be a very good example of where we could give all right hon. and hon. Members an opportunity to vote on these extremely important motions.

It is understandable that this sort of House business comes up on a Thursday, but why was Standing Order No. 41A suspended? I would be grateful if the Leader of the House gave her view. I rather look forward to a House business committee being able to decide when there should and should not be deferred Divisions as that would be an improvement on the present situation, in which the responsibility rests on her shoulders.

2.7 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I am dismayed-I trust that you will be, too, Mr. Speaker-at the manner in which the House is being treated this afternoon. You were kind enough to give evidence to the Procedure Committee, as did the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and a number of experts. The Procedure Committee went to a great deal of time and trouble to produce the report in short order, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, to enable it to be debated and voted on before Dissolution.

The motion indicates a time limit of two hours. By my miserable reckoning, and even allowing for my continuing for a couple of minutes, that takes us up to about 4.15 pm. [Hon. Members: "No."] Whenever it is, the House could sit until 6 o'clock, so where is the rush? Why is not possible for us to debate properly and thoroughly the recommendations of the Procedure Committee this afternoon? It is not now possible because the motions are not above the line on the Order Paper. But the Leader of the House must stand at the Dispatch Box in a minute and give the House a good and clear reason why the Procedure Committee's report has been cherry-picked, why matters are not being debated properly, and why she is seeking to deny the House the opportunity to vote on the unanimous recommendation of the Committee.

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