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Today’s Business of the House

11.41 am

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Leader of the House to make a statement about the change in today’s business.

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): The reason for the additional business is to allow the House to reach a decision on procedural matters that relate to the opening days of business in a new Parliament and therefore merit a decision now. In each case, I have received representations either from the Procedure Committee or from Members around the House—[Interruption.] Including Members on the Opposition Benches. They would like to see these issues decided. Three factors prompted the Government to table these motions yesterday. One is the absence of Lords amendments to be considered, as provided for in the original business, freeing up parliamentary time today—[Interruption.] It has freed up parliamentary time today. If Opposition Members do not believe that there was ever going to be any Lords amendments, they have great insight into what the House of Lords would decide.

The second factor is last week’s Procedure Committee report, specifically requesting that one of the four issues, concerning the programming of Bills, be dealt with before Dissolution. The third is the view of Government business managers that if we were to do that, the other three outstanding matters relating to the beginning of a new Parliament should, if at all possible, be decided at the same time.

Tabling motions at short notice is not unusual in the closing days of a Parliament and is specifically provided for in the motion agreed on Tuesday—agreed by the Opposition.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this grubby decision is what he personally will be remembered for? After a distinguished career in the House of Commons, both as a leader of a party and as a senior Cabinet Minister, he has now descended to squalor in the final days of the Parliament. Without consultation, without consultation with the Opposition parties and without notifying the Procedure Committee, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) pointed out, the right hon. Gentleman wants to make a fundamental change in how this House proceeds—[Hon. Members: “Grubby!”] Grubby, squalid, nauseous: we can go through the catalogue of adjectives to describe what the Leader of the House has descended to being. In seeking to push this through, he has made sure that there is a large attendance of Conservative Members of Parliament at a whipped event in another building here, so his claim of a free vote is fraudulent: sad, sad, sad, Mr Hague—change your mind.

Mr Hague: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, as always, for his remarks. I do not mind any amount of personal abuse, because he cannot compete with the abuse I have received in previous years in the House; it is water off the back of this particular duck as I leave the House today. I make no apology for asking the House, on a day when the public are entitled to expect large numbers of Members to be here, to make a

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decision on its procedures for the day it returns after the general election. That is what Members should be able to do; that is what the public would expect us to do. I have received representations from Opposition Members who will not speak or ask questions today for fear of their formidable Chief Whip—I could say who they are but will not—and they are entitled to have matters debated, just as everyone else in this House is.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I would not put it quite the way the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) did, but the gist of what he said is correct. This House should not be asked without proper notice to decide on such an important thing. I think that the Leader of the House will live to regret this—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Mr Barker, calm yourself. Your hon. Friend is on his feet, and he is entitled to be heard with courtesy. [Interruption.] Order. It is better to remain silent and look a fool than to speak and remove any lingering doubt.

Mr Bone: This is a bad day for Parliament. Of course, if we had a business of the House committee, which the Leader of the House could have introduced today in this rash of measures, we would not be in this position.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend has been a long-standing champion of a business of the House committee, as I am sure he will be in the next Parliament, but that is when that will have to be decided. What we are proposing to bring to the House today are those issues that would affect the opening days of a new Parliament, which obviously cannot be decided with any usefulness or meaning any later than today.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): In my 23 years in Parliament I have never seen a Government behave in such a grubby and underhand way. In October 2011 the Procedure Committee published its report. At the express request of the Government, the Committee did not pursue bringing forward the necessary debate in that Session. In the following Session, in February 2013, the Committee looked again at its report and concluded that it did not feel that a change was necessary. However, it wrote to the Government to request a debate on a Monday or Tuesday to allow the House to consider the matter properly and to ensure that as many Members as possible were present. The Government refused. The Committee raised the matter again in the previous Session with both the current Leader of the House and his predecessor. On every occasion the Government refused to grant time. As recently as February, the Chair of the Committee wrote to the Leader of the House to ask for a debate, stating that it

“should not be tucked away on a Thursday afternoon”.

The Government again refused to grant that request.

What has changed over the past six weeks? Why did the Government, who had so resolutely refused to allow the debate for three and a half years, suddenly change their mind on Tuesday? Why did the Government decide that this motion was so sensitive that it would not and could not be discussed with Opposition Front Benchers,

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the Chair of the Committee or even the Speaker himself? Why did the Leader of the House wait until the last moment yesterday before tabling it, without any warning or notification to anyone? Why did he claim to me that the Government Chief Whip had spoken to the Procedure Committee Chair in the afternoon, when in fact no such conversation had taken place? Why is the motion before us today the complete opposite of the motion drafted by the Committee and given to the Government?

Is not the truth that this is nothing to do with the Procedure Committee’s report and everything to do with the character of the Prime Minister? It is a petty and spiteful act because he hates his Government being properly scrutinised, thanks to this reforming Speaker. The Leader of the House should be ashamed of himself for going along with it.

Mr Hague: The hon. Lady quotes the Procedure Committee, which said in 2011:

“We recommend that the House be invited to decide whether on the first day of a new Parliament, where the Presiding Member’s decision on the question that a former Speaker take the Chair is challenged, the question should be decided by secret ballot or by open division.”

The Committee asked for an opportunity for the House to decide, so Opposition Members cannot consistently complain that that has not been debated and that now it is going to be debated. The debate is not “tucked away”. It cannot possibly be described as being “tucked away” when there are hundreds of Members here on both sides of the House entirely able to make a decision, and they should be able to do so of their own volition on a free vote. They should be able to do so, and I hope Opposition Members will be able to have a free vote on this question.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): If the House passes the first motion today in the name of the Leader of the House, it will be to our credit that by extending the deadline for amendments on Report we will have more considered debates with time to consider the arguments, so how can it be that he considers it appropriate for Back Benchers to give the rest of the House more notice, yet in the very same set of motions he gives the House barely 12 hours’ notice of his motion on elections for positions in the House?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is right about the first of the motions, which implements the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, but on his second point the public would expect this House on its last day to be able to decide on any important question and to be here in order to do so. Indeed, hon. Members are here in order to do so.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Ind): The Leader of the House must know that there is always a reason for taking urgent action without giving notice to the Opposition. I hope he will acknowledge that the reasons in this case are partisan—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker will confirm this—it is a matter of public record: I did not support Mr Speaker in the election in 2009. I nominated the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), and I suspect the Leader of the House voted for him too. Will the Leader of the House accept from me, having supported a different candidate, that this is an underhand measure to try to

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undermine the incumbent of the Chair, and that I am surprised that someone—the Leader of the House—who has upheld the honour of this House should be party to manoeuvres by his own Whips Office?

Mr Hague: I have not spoken to Mr Speaker. I do not accept that. I do not think that the institution of a secret ballot that frees all Members from pressure from Whips on either side or from the Chair is an underhand thing to bring about. As I will explain in the debate, I think that would be an improvement in our procedures and would help Members on both sides of the House.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House for clarity in this debate? Following the progressive reforms that there have been, how many elected House positions are decided by secret ballot and how many simply on an open Division?

Mr Hague: The great majority of our positions are now elected by secret ballot, and that has been warmly welcomed across the House. It applies to the Chairs of Select Committees; only two weeks ago, we agreed the election of the Standards Committee Chair by secret ballot, with the support of the Opposition on that occasion. That has increasingly become our standard procedure, and the public would be surprised to hear that it was anything other than our standard procedure.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): May I tell the Leader of the House, for whom, as I think he knows, I have the highest respect, that his shabby manoeuvre demeans him and the office of Leader of the House, and shows contempt for Parliament? His successor should bring the matter back for a proper debate in the next Parliament.

Mr Hague: I think it is appropriate to decide the matter in this Parliament; that is what we are disagreeing about. All the motions that I am bringing forward are matters that, if not decided today, could not take effect in the next Parliament. That is their distinguishing characteristic.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): A case can be made for an open ballot and for a secret ballot; what there is no case for at all is the staging of a debate at the eleventh hour of the last day, when people have been sent away to get on with campaigning and when people on my side—[Interruption.] I should be grateful if my colleagues allowed me to speak. People on my side of the House were due to be campaigning for my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), a Minister in a critical marginal seat, but were unaccountably told that that had been postponed. Now I know the reason why.

Will the Leader of the House answer me one question? When the notice was put around at 5.45 last evening saying that this would be a matter of debating the Procedure Committee’s reports and recommendations, why was it that the first that the Chair of the Procedure Committee heard of that was when I spoke to him at 6.30? Why was it concealed from the Chair of the Procedure Committee?

Mr Hague: I assure my right hon. Friend that all these issues arise, one way or another, from reports of the Procedure Committee. Last week’s Procedure

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Committee report called for one of these motions to be brought forward before Dissolution, and in 2011 the Procedure Committee recommended that this debate take place.

Mr Shaun Woodward (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): The office of Speaker in this House is the guardian of fairness. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how the reputation of Parliament and the fairness of this House is enhanced by his not sharing even at the beginning of this week his intention to bring about this debate today?

Across the country, people look at Parliament, whose reputation has not been enhanced by many of the actions taken in recent years. This, the last sitting day before the country goes to a general election, is an opportunity for the country to look at us and see that we behave fairly. In the next Parliament, if the Speaker is to be able to conduct business properly, all hon. Members must feel that his election is fair. Yet today, many hon. Members cannot be part of this debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman simply explain to us why it was not possible to inform all Members at the beginning of the week that this debate would take place today?

Mr Hague: I have already explained why there was a change in the business. However, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it is very important that people should have confidence that any future election, in this House or elsewhere, is fair. I have no doubt that when we come to the debate, that will be the case that Members wish to make in favour of a secret ballot in the particular election that we are discussing.

We would not ask voters to go to the polls on 7 May in anything other than a secret ballot, and there are long-established historical reasons for that. There has to be an opportunity for Members to put the case for a secret ballot in elections in this House.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): My right hon. Friend is one of the most revered and admired figures within the Conservative party. He is a figure who has made his reputation by being a great parliamentarian. Throughout the years when he was leader, we were all cheered by his success at the Dispatch Box against Mr Blair. Does he therefore appreciate the deep sadness that many of us feel that his career should end with his name being put to a bit of parliamentary jiggery-pokery that has come about, representing grudges that some people have against Mr Speaker, and that this is deeply unfortunate?

Mr Hague: I obviously disagree with the idea that it has come about from any grudges. Hon. Members on both sides of this House have asked for this debate to be held, and they are entitled to have a debate held. It is part of the job of the Leader of the House to do what is in the best interests of the House. I believe that the House resolving these issues before the end of the Parliament is in the interests of the House of Commons.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (UKIP): The coalition agreement promised:

“A House Business Committee, to consider government business, will be established by the third year of the Parliament.”

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Is the Leader of the House proud that instead of that, his legacy is continued Government control of the bulk of the parliamentary timetable to be exploited for partisan purposes as we see today?

Mr Hague: This Parliament has seen the greatest transfer of the parliamentary timetable from outside the Government’s control of any Parliament of modern times, with the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee as well as maintaining Opposition days. There has been historic reform, and I am sure that that trend will continue in the future. This Parliament has also seen the election of Select Committee Chairs by secret ballot, and that is now an important principle in this House. What we are discussing today is in line with that.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I started with the presumption that I would vote in favour of a secret ballot for the Speaker. However, this is a constitutional matter of some importance that also goes to the heart of the relationship between the Executive and this Parliament, and as such, it should have been heard on a prime-time day, with the whole House here, with plenty of time. Instead, if the House votes for this today, people will get the impression that what should have been a constitutional matter has been allowed to become an ad hominem matter, and a rather mean-spirited one at that, and that in future this House will tolerate the Executive taking action against an uncomfortable and difficult Speaker.

Mr Hague: It is for the House to decide on the merits of this. I do not think my right hon. Friend can argue that we are in anything other than prime time at the moment, since the House is well attended and this debate is receiving a great deal of attention. It is for the House to decide on the merits of the motions. If the motion on a secret ballot is carried, it will be for the House to make its own decisions in the future.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): May I say to my right hon. Friend—I call him my right hon. Friend having known him for 35 years and, as he knows, admired greatly his qualities, including his qualities of Churchillian speech-making—that I am afraid that today will not go down as his finest hour?

Mr Hague: I am always grateful to my hon. Friend, if I may call him that, for his observations, even if I do not agree with that particular one.

Mr Speaker: We all echo the comment about the Leader of the House’s Churchillian speech-making—a point that I have myself made several times.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): My right hon. Friend read out the words on page 11 of the report. May I take some words from the earlier report? It suggests that an

“open division for deciding the question can be seen as a deterrent to the House expressing its views honestly”,

wherein it is bound by the seven principles of public life to be honest. That seems to be a plus for the motion. It says:

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“A secret ballot…may…seem unnecessarily unwieldy.”

That seems a bit odd. Its reference to

“a more frequent turnover of Speakers”

makes me question whether you, Sir, have been asked whether you have a personal objection to the House considering this and whether you mind what decision we come to.

Mr Hague: I think it is for me, rather than you, Mr Speaker, to answer that, since the questions are to me. My hon. Friend correctly quotes other passages of the report. Those are indeed issues that can be discussed in the debate that we are about to hold, and in the considerations in favour of a secret ballot on these occasions.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Leader of the House makes great speeches, but he is also a streetwise Yorkshireman. He knows what is going on here. The fact of the matter is that this is an absolute challenge to our parliamentary democracy. This is a politicisation of the role of the Speaker, because this is a Speaker who has opened up this Chamber as never before, and what the Prime Minister cannot stand is that he has liberated Back Benchers in this place. Can anyone imagine the Prime Minister who is not here today, on Bosworth field? He would have been skulking in a hole in London rather than fighting.

Mr Hague: I think that was a bit of mock outrage from the hon. Gentleman, if I may say so. The question of whether a vote in Parliament should be held by secret ballot cannot possibly be an attack on parliamentary democracy. It would, of course, in the view of those in favour of it, be an affirmation of parliamentary democracy. I can understand some of the comments made by Opposition Members, but I think the hon. Gentleman is getting a little too excessively outraged on this occasion.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The office of Speaker is centuries old and it is absolutely essential for all of us and our democracy that it is seen to be above party politics. Therefore, I appeal for calm. We may or may not like Mr Speaker, and there may or may not be a case for a secret ballot. We all accept that. However, in order that we are not accused of making this about a particular individual, should we not do this on a consensual basis and come to an agreement when Mr Speaker has announced his retirement? There would then be no question that this is about the present Speaker, but about the House of Commons we love.

Mr Hague: The House can come to its own decision about that. It can accept or reject the motions before it. It is up to the House to make its decision later today.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It will be said of the present Leader of the House that nothing demeaned him as much as the manner of his leaving, with a mean, spiteful kick at the best reforming Speaker we have had for 30 years. The task of this Parliament after the nightmare of the expenses scandal was to restore the public’s faith, but we leave with a House that is unreformed. It is still possible to buy a peerage and to buy access to Ministers, and the revolving door is still spinning, making

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it possible for former Ministers to prostitute their insider knowledge for the best job. Is not the Leader of the House ashamed of himself?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman goes a little wide of the question. The obvious retort is that it is still possible to buy a party, which is what trade unions do with the Labour party. That is what really needs reform in our political system.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that there is no greater admirer of him than me, but even if I agreed with the motion—as it happens, I do not—it is unjustifiable to keep it secret until the last minute and to have just one hour to debate it. The tactic of keeping the parliamentary party here for a meeting so that as many people would be here as possible in the hope that the Opposition parties would have left so the motion could be sneaked through at the last minute is the kind of student union politics that has the fingerprints of the Whip’s Office all over it. I think the Leader of the House will regret that the greatest parliamentarian of his generation has gone along with that kind of tactic.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend continues his fruitful relationship with the Whip’s Office with that remark, which we all understand. He has views about the motion and he will be able to express them. Members should be able to vote freely on this question, which they certainly can do on this side of the House.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House not deserve better than to allow his political epitaph to be written by a lazy, cowardly, bullying, spiteful, vindictive Prime Minister, who is not fit to lace his shoes?

Mr Hague: Hon. Members have clearly had the thesaurus out this morning to find as many adjectives as possible, but I personally think that it is very important that this issue is decided.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) has just said about the Prime Minister—calling him “vindictive” etc.—cannot be within the bounds of parliamentary discourse. I really object most strongly. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just respond to the hon. Gentleman as follows? My strong sense, and I do take advice on these matters, is that what has been said is a matter of taste—[Interruption.] Order. If I felt the need of the advice of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley),I would seek it, but I am seeking to respond to the point of order. It is a matter of taste; it is not language that I would use, and it is certainly not language that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) would use. I have responded to him, and I think that we should leave it there.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): Progressives everywhere will surely welcome the possibility of a secret ballot throughout a Parliament, but is it not the case that this motion could not have

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been brought forward earlier without precisely a constraint on the potential freedom of Members to vote as they see fit?

Mr Hague: I agree with my hon. Friend that it can been seen in that light: the institution of a secret ballot would be an important strengthening—I will come on to this during the debate—of our parliamentary democracy. I noted earlier that there are Members, particularly Opposition Members, who feel constrained in expressing their views on this question, and indeed, have stayed silent during these exchanges. That is their right, but they do have a fear of expressing their views on this issue, as is very clear from this discussion.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): It pains me to say that the Leader of the House has today betrayed the House. May I simply ask him: when did he first make the decision to bring forward this matter for a vote today?

Mr Hague: The Government decided, when it became clear that there would be no further Lords amendments yesterday afternoon, to bring it before the House.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): There seems to be an assumption among some Members that Thursday is some kind of day off, but those of us who attend every Thursday see it as a day of work. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are entitled to table whatever business they like in their own time?

Mr Hague: The public would expect us to be here today to do our job, and that indeed is what we are here to do.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does it bother the right hon. Gentleman that his legacy will not be that of a parliamentary statesman, but of a grubby, cowardly assassin?

Mr Hague: I do not think that anything the hon. Gentleman said would ever bother me.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend remember that he and I were the only participants in the debate on the business motion on Tuesday? Will he explain why he did not take that opportunity to say that he would bring forward changes to Standing Orders, bearing in mind that, in the absence of a written constitution, our Standing Orders are effectively our freedom and democracy—our unwritten constitution. The proposals before the House today would effectively change that constitution without proper notice. Why is my right hon. Friend going along with that?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend and I did indeed debate that issue on Tuesday. As I have explained, the decision to table the motions was taken on Wednesday, so I would not have been able to explain it to him on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): May I quietly remind the Leader of the House that during the last Parliament, when he was on the Opposition side of the House and I sat on the Government, he

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spoke before me in a debate and I then paid him the compliment—some might say it was not a compliment—that in my view, he was quite frankly the best of a bad bunch on the Opposition Benches? I have to say to him that he has gone down seriously in my estimation today, and that will be shared by many across the country. As the shadow Leader of the House has said, this is a grubby piece of work. The hand and fingerprints of the Prime Minister are on this, and I just hope that the Leader of the House will seriously consider what he is doing.

Mr Hague: The House will be able to make its decision. Let me say that, despite what the hon. Gentleman said, I still regard him as one of the best of a bad bunch, and that will remain my opinion of him.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): My right hon. Friend has written eloquent books about the history of our country and about great parliamentarians. He grew up, as I did, with a great reverence for this institution of Parliament. Regardless of the merits of the motion on which we will vote, does he agree that on this, the last day of this Parliament, it is sad that the tone and atmosphere in the Chamber has been so partisan and so bitter?

Mr Hague: Yes, we often have cause to regret that, but it is also necessary—as all students of parliamentary history know—to be able to decide important issues freely and without favour, and that is the subject of our debate later.

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Point of Order

12.15 pm

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Canon Sir Tony Baldry): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a rather happier note, I hope it is in order to report to the House that earlier this morning the Queen appointed the Venerable Rachel Treweek, the Archdeacon of Hackney, to be the first woman diocesan bishop as the Bishop of Gloucester. That would not have been possible without the legislation passed through the House during this Session. Moreover, Royal Assent has today been given to the legislation to enable her to go into the Lords as a Lord Spiritual at the earliest possible moment, which would also not have been possible without the approval of this Session of Parliament.

Mr Speaker: I think the House appreciates what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Business of the House (24, 25 and 26 March) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question proposed forthwith (Order, 24 March),

That the Order of 24 March 2015 (Business of the House (24, 25 and 26 March)) be varied as follows:

In paragraph (9) (Thursday 26 March), before sub-paragraph (a) insert—

“(za) proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr William Hague relating to the deadline for tabling amendments and new Clauses and Schedules in Committee of the whole House and on report, to the pay for the Petitions Committee Chair, to elections for positions in the House and to Deputy Speakers shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the first of those Motions;”.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

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Procedure of the House

12.17 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): I beg to move

That this House takes note of paragraphs 21 to 28 of the Seventh Report of the Procedure Committee, Matters for the Procedure Committee in the 2015 Parliament, HC 1121, concerning the trial of a three day deadline for the tabling of amendments and new clauses/schedules at report stage of all programmed bills; and approves the Committee’s recommendation in paragraph 28 that the trial should be extended for the duration of the first session of the 2015 Parliament, and extended to amendments and new clauses/schedules in Committee of the whole House of all bills and at report stage of un-programmed bills.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to debate the following:

Motion on pay for Petitions Committee Chair—

That the Resolution of the House of 19 March 2013, relating to Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of Section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, be amended by inserting after “the Liaison Committee”, “the Petitions Committee,”.

Motion on elections for positions in the House—

That this House notes the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its Fifth Report of Session 2010-12, 2010 Elections for positions in the House, that the House should be invited to decide between a secret ballot or open division where the question at the start of a new Parliament that a former Speaker take the Chair is challenged, and accordingly makes the following change to Standing Orders, with effect from the beginning of the new Parliament:

Standing Order 1A (Re-election of former Speaker) Line 11, at end insert—

“(1A) If that question is contested, it shall be determined by secret ballot, to take place on the same day under arrangements made by the Member presiding, who shall announce the result of the ballot to the House as soon as is practicable.”

Motion on Deputy Speakers—

That, at the start of the 2015 Parliament, the Speaker may nominate no more than three Members as Deputy Speakers to serve until the House has elected Deputy Speakers in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 2A; and that the Members so nominated shall exercise all the powers vested in the Chairman of Ways and Means as Deputy Speaker.

Mr Hague: We have already anticipated some of this debate during the urgent question, but I rise to speak to the motions standing in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House.

The motions facilitate making decisions on areas which, to have any meaningful usefulness, need to be decided before the early days of the next Parliament. They include matters raised in the Procedure Committee’s latest report “Matters for the Procedure Committee in the 2015 Parliament”, published last week. The report specifically called for a decision of the House before the end of this Parliament on the issue of extending the trial of new arrangements for programming legislation. Let me deal with that motion first.

The House agreed on 8 May last year to the trial of new arrangements with regard to programming legislation, following the Procedure Committee report on the same subject, published in December 2013. The arrangements included bringing forward the deadline for tabling amendments, new clauses and schedules from two days

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to three days before the day on which the debate takes place. The Procedure Committee agreed to review the operation of the arrangements at the end of the current Session. That review, aided by a memorandum produced by the Public Bill Office, is summarised in last week’s Procedure Committee report. The report noted that the trial had not produced very much evidence on the impact of the change, and therefore recommended that the trial should be continued in the first Session of the next Parliament. The Procedure Committee also recommended that the deadline be extended to cover amendments in Committee of the whole House for all Bills, and on Report for unprogrammed bills.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): If we are having a secret ballot for the position of the Speaker of the House, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should have secret ballot for the position of the Leader of the House?

Mr Hague: I am talking about the programming of Bills, but I shall come on to the secret ballot issue in a moment.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): As the Leader of the House will recall, the purpose of changing the arrangements for timetabling amendments was to facilitate debate on non-Government amendments in order to democratise the Report stage and consideration of Lords amendments. Will he explain why he is continuing with only one part of the experiment, and—if I may say so—not going all the way to facilitate proper consideration on Report?

Mr Hague: We have generally had a great number of days for Report, and we worked closely with the Opposition on that in the last Parliament. We are implementing the recommendations of the Procedure Committee—the part that the Committee recommended should be implemented before the end of the Parliament, which is today. That does not exclude further changes in the new Parliament, but if the motion is agreed to we will implement the urgent recommendation of the Procedure Committee. The Committee also recommended that the deadline be extended to cover amendments in Committee of the whole House for all Bills, and at Report for unprogrammed Bills. Those are further improvements to the procedures.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I understand that the delay in tabling these matters was that the Government needed to see whether any Lords amendments would be sent to the House today. What would have happened to this amendment to our Standing Orders if Lords amendments had been sent to this House? Would it have been held over until the next Parliament?

Mr Hague: It would certainly have been much more difficult to do it, so the absence of Lords amendments made a big change and allowed us to consider more motions than might otherwise have been the case. On that issue I am happy to facilitate bringing the motion to the House for decision before the end of this Parliament, as requested by the Procedure Committee. I hope the House will support the extension of the trial in the way outlined. It will then be for the Procedure Committee in

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the next Parliament to evaluate the trial further, before bringing it to the House for a decision on whether the changes should be made permanent.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Given that the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he tabled these motions on the basis of representations by anonymous Members of Parliament whom he was not prepared to name, is he proposing further changes so that in future amendments and resolutions can be tabled anonymously by Members of Parliament and considered by the House?

Mr Hague: I think that would be too much of a revolutionary change, but the particular change I am talking about was recommended before the end of the Parliament by the Procedure Committee.

The second issue, which I shall cover briefly, concerns the pay of the Petitions Committee Chair. On 24 February the House agreed the Standing Order changes necessary for the Petitions Committee, recommended by the Procedure Committee as part of a collaborative e-petition system to be established at the start of the next Parliament. It considered issues relating to the Chair of the new Committee. The motion before us adds the post of Chair of the Petitions Committee to the list of Select Committees that attract an additional salary. That principle is a matter for the House to decide, but in the light of the expected responsibility and work load of the Committee, I believe that a valid case has been made, and I hope the House will support it.

The final motion, which comes after the issue of the secret ballot, follows up one of the final acts of the Procedure Committee in this Parliament, which was to publish a report recommending a revision of the Standing Orders of this House. I shall respond immediately to one of the recommendations and bring forward a motion that facilitates the nomination by you, Mr Speaker, of three Members of the House to serve as Deputy Speakers at the start of the next Parliament and in advance of elections to those posts under Standing Order No. 2A. I hope that the next Parliament will get an early opportunity to consider the report of the Procedure Committee on Standing Order revisions in full, and that the motion to nominate Deputy Speakers at the start of a Parliament, as I have described, will be incorporated in the Standing Orders of this House on a permanent basis.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to Mr Speaker who, on 20 July 2000 and again on 23 April 2009, advocated the need for secret ballots to stop Government Whips “browbeating” honourable Members as to the way they might vote?

Mr Hague: That is an important consideration and it brings me to the fourth motion, on whether there should be a secret ballot or an open Division in a contested re-election of a former Speaker. In its latest report the Procedure Committee reminds us that the issue has not yet been addressed, and I believe—we discussed this during the urgent question—that it is in the interests of the House for the matter to be resolved before the start of a new Parliament. The Committee recommended in 2011 that the House be given the opportunity to determine whether, on the first day of a new Parliament if the

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decision on a former Speaker is challenged, the question should be decided by secret ballot or open Division. There are arguments both ways.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I very much support the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) who said that these matters ought to be determined when the current incumbent of the post of Speaker stands down. Otherwise, it looks precisely like what I fear it is: partisan behaviour on the part of the governing party.

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman can take his own view and is able to vote in the coming Division on whether we should make this change. If his view is that we should not, he can vote that way.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): If the Committee made this recommendation years ago, as has been said, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if proper time been allocated for it and people had had notice of the fact that it was to be discussed, he would not be facing the criticism he faces today, which is that this is very much a stitch-up by the Government?

Mr Hague: Of course the recommendation could have been considered earlier in the Parliament, but it was not. As it was not considered, it is important that before the new Parliament Members are able to express their views on it.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I think my right hon. Friend has inadvertently misled the House. The recommendation from the Procedure Committee in 2011 that we should visit this issue and vote on whether the election of the Speaker should be by secret ballot was a reiteration of an argument that that Committee first put forward in 2009, as it felt that the decision should have been made before the 2010 election.

Mr Hague: That is an important point. There was a clear view from the Procedure Committee in 2009, but it was not acted on at the end of the last Parliament. It is possible to go on for ever not acting on those recommendations and arguments in one Parliament after another.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Leader of the House confirm what would happen at the beginning of the next Parliament? As I understand it, the Father of the House—whoever that is—will take the Chair and will decide on the collection of voices whether there is a contest or not. It will be up to the Father of the House to decide whether there are enough voices

Mr Hague: That is absolutely true. All that we are discussing is whether that would be followed by an open Division or a secret ballot. My hon. Friend will be aware that we have already changed the procedure for the election of a new Speaker, so that that is by secret ballot. Indeed, most of the elections to offices in this House have been changed on that basis, and what remains—I will quickly cover the arguments now—is in my view an anomalous situation where an open Division remains in one part of those procedures.

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Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): May I suggest that we accept that, with the presence of the Speaker in the Chair now, it is a depersonalised issue and one for the House and the procedure it wants to follow, rather than a yes or no against a particular person?

Mr Hague: I think the House should treat this issue in that way because we are talking about procedures of the House that may stand for a long time. They may of course be changed by a subsequent Parliament, but it should be treated in that way.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hague: Before I give way again let me discuss some of the arguments because I want to leave time for the shadow Leader of the House and others.

The arguments in favour of the status quo are that it is a familiar procedure, that it is a quick procedure, and that the Speaker stands for election as the Speaker in his or her constituency in expectation of continuing in office and is therefore in a different situation from other officeholders. But obviously the arguments the other way are very strong. We conduct the great majority of elections in the House, and all elections out in the country, by secret ballot for reasons well understood and instantly appreciated. That has been a general principle of our democracy since the 19th century. Whenever voters elect someone to a position of power and authority over them, the principle is that they should be able to do so without fear or favour. It is how we elect our party leaders, it is how we elect our Select Committee Chairs—[Interruption.] It is certainly how we elect our party’s leader. It also frees MPs from pressure from the Chair or from their parties.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): This proposal, like the elections for Committee Chairs, goes against one of the major principles of standards in public life: transparency. Should we not bring Parliament into the 21st century and make all elections for everyone open, so that we and the electors can see exactly what we are doing in here? We have a bad enough reputation now; this motion sullies it further.

Mr Hague: I think it would be a minority view on both sides of the House that all elections should be by open Division or open voting. The right hon. Gentleman can make a case for that, but it is a minority case. Indeed, the Liaison Committee has said that the election of Chairs by the whole House gives those chosen a greater degree of authority in their role in the House, their relationship with Ministers and their standing in the wider community. The Standards Committee, which he chairs very capably, said:

“We recommend that the Chair of the Committee be elected by all MPs”—

which means in a secret ballot—

“as we believe this would enhance the confidence of the House in the Committee”,

so his Committee has made the case, as he will have to admit, for election by secret ballot.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I was elected Chair of the Education Committee under the new procedure in this Parliament by secret ballot of

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the whole House. If it had been up to the party Whips, I doubt I would ever have taken that position. How can a secret ballot be anything other than a protection of the voice of people in this Chamber so that they can speak up? For the Opposition to suggest otherwise can only be for partisan purposes.

Mr Hague: Personally, I come down on the same side of the question because I think that a secret ballot frees Members from pressure from their parties or from the Chair. It is the right thing to do in principle. Although the case can be made that those arguments do not apply when it comes to the election of the Speaker, it can also be argued that they apply particularly in that instance so that Members can vote without fear or favour.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Earlier the Leader of the House said that these proposals were coming forward today because we had no Lords amendments to consider and, as a result, there was time. If there had been some Lords amendments, would these proposals not have been brought forward today?

Mr Hague: I have already answered that question. It would certainly have been much more difficult and I doubt whether we would have been able to do so, but we have been able to bring them forward, and we do have time.

The House can decide as it wishes, and it should decide on the basis put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), which is not on any individual case but on what it thinks is the best and right procedure. My opinion, as Leader of the House, is that a secret ballot would be right, fair and democratic in such circumstances, and thus completely justified. I hope therefore that the House will approve the motion.

12.35 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): It is with genuine sorrow and anger that I rise to oppose this motion today. I shall address only the real point at issue—the third motion, which seeks to change Standing Order No. 1A on the election of the Speaker. Despite the fact that the Procedure Committee asked for this not to be done in this way and for no changes to be made to this Standing Order, we are—in arguments rehearsed in the urgent question earlier—in this appalling situation with only one hour to discuss an issue that we could have discussed in great detail. It is a matter of great interest to all Members on both sides of the House.

There are arguments on both sides about the options that the Procedure Committee considered—

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Eagle: No.

The Leader of the House has taken nearly a third of the time that he has allocated for the entire debate in his opening speech. Every Member of the House has a direct interest in what he suddenly proposed out of the blue late last night. This is an appalling and shabby way to treat the House.

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The motion to make changes to Standing Order No. 1A would effectively create a motion of no confidence in the existing Speaker at the beginning of every Parliament and mandate that it should be held in secret. Let us stop and think about the meaning of that for future Parliaments. Let us try to get away from the partisan nature of what has been presented to us today and think about the principle that we have been given almost no time to think about or debate. Let us think about how it would affect the position of Speaker in the future. It opens up the possibility that any future Government will be able to threaten an existing Speaker in a way that undermines the independence of the House of Commons.

The motion before us was decided in underhand negotiations by the Government parties. It has been presented with no notice, no consultation with the Procedure Committee or the Opposition—a point I made extremely forcefully to the Leader of the House when I found out about it by accident late last night—and it is against the express wishes of the Procedure Committee. I refer the House to the minutes of the Procedure Committee from 6 February 2013 which, on this very issue, state that

“with reference to the recommendation on the re-election of a former Speaker, the Committee agreed that the motion to be put to the House should be ‘That no change be made to Standing Order 1A (Re-election of former Speaker).’”

An e-mail I have from the Clerk of the Procedure Committee to the office of the Leader of the House confirms this. In the list of proposed motions that the Clerk of the Committee sent for debate on House business, on the question of re-election of a former Speaker, it reads:

“That no change be made to Standing Order 1A”.

I also have letters from the Chair of the Procedure Committee to the Leader of the House stating that any debate on these matters should take place in the early part of the week and

“not tucked away on a Thursday afternoon”.

I doubt that even the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) could have anticipated that the Leader of the House would seek to spring this motion on us on the very last day of a five-year, fixed-term Parliament—the Leader of the House cannot argue that he did not know when it was all going to end, because we have known for five years—after all whipped business has been concluded and many MPs will have already returned to their constituencies. This is a matter for all of us. It is not, and should not be, a matter for this kind of ambush.

In our parliamentary system, the Leader of the House has two jobs. The first is to ensure that the Government of the day get their business by being the voice of the Government in this House. The second is to be the voice of this House in the Government, restraining the wilder excesses of a powerful Executive and ensuring that the House can do its job effectively. I am sorry to say that by supporting this grubby little plot against the Speaker on his last day as a parliamentarian, the Leader of the House has failed in his duty.

Gregory Barker: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Eagle: No. The Leader of the House has taken a long time and we have a very short time to debate these matters.

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The Leader of the House must know that it is improper to change the Standing Orders of this House with no notice on the last day of the Parliament. This is no way for the House to be asked to change the way it governs itself, and in such a crucial area.

We all know what is really going on here. In all the morass of procedure, this is really a spiteful attempt to get rid of a Speaker who has the temerity to stand up for this House. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] And it is a cynical attempt to bring the speakership into play and use it as a bargaining chip in coalition negotiations because the Tories have accepted that they cannot win a majority. I urge the House, for the future of our constitution, the way we do things and the freedoms we enjoy in the House, to vote the motion down.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. Given that many Members are standing and time is limited, will you be issuing guidance on time limits for speakers?

Mr Speaker: There is not a time limit and it is not that common to have a time limit on procedural matters. I would urge colleagues to have regard to each others’ interests, but there is no fixed time limit. That is the short answer to the hon. Gentleman.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that so many Members wish to speak on this very important constitutional matter, which we have been bounced into at the last minute with the last gasp of this dreadful Government, is there not a way in which more time could be allocated so that everyone can express themselves?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is no. The motion has been tabled by the Government for the debate to last for up to one hour. Colleagues can make their own assessment of whether they think that is a sufficiency of time for this matter, but I am not in a position to extend the time.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you make sure that the general public out there, who will look on in disbelief, have some understanding of the absolutely ridiculous way in which Parliament has now been forced to act?

Mr Speaker: Well, people can attend to our proceedings if they so wish. I imagine that some will and some won’t.

Gregory Barker: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the very sensitive nature of this discussion, have you taken advice on whether you, sir, should actually be in the Chair? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: I will respond to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment with pleasure.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just say that my right hon. Friend has just excelled himself in the atmosphere

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he has generated in this House, in precisely the way in which the Leader of the House has excelled himself in the atmosphere of the country?

Mr Speaker: I am very happy to respond to the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). The short answer is that I have not found it necessary to seek advice on this matter. It is commonplace for the Speaker to be in the Speaker’s Chair. I am genuinely sorry if that disquiets the right hon. Gentleman, but it has been my normal practice to do at least the expected number of hours of the Speaker in the Chair, and frequently rather more so. I have not generally found that that has met with disapproval in the House.

12.44 pm

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate this afternoon, Mr Speaker. I am not ashamed to say that I admire you. I am a friend of yours. I have not yet seen your kitchen, but I hope to one day. You have done an enormous amount for this House and you have done an enormous amount to empower this Chamber. Mr Speaker, we do share a weakness and we both know what that weakness is: we both have a temper, and we need to work together to better manage our tempers in the future. I was quite cross with a couple of very decent Whips yesterday and I apologise to them today, as I did yesterday.

The report should not be about you, Mr Speaker, and it is becoming about you. I fear that the Government have wanted it to become about you. It should be about the position of Speaker. On 6 February 2013, my Committee decided to bring forward this report. We were going to recommend a motion that the status quo be retained. This was an amendable motion, so those colleagues who disagreed could have amended the motion and a vote could have taken place. On 7 February, I wrote a letter to the then Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), notifying him of this matter and asking that our debates be taken in prime time, so the whole House could come to an informed decision.

At about that time, circumstances meant that the Government felt unable to bring forward the report. We agreed with the Government’s view on the matter. On 28 January 2015, we met the Leader of the House and had further discussions about various reports, including on the election of the Speaker. I sent a letter on 3 February confirming the Committee’s firm and unanimous view—the Committee is made up of all sorts of people from all sorts of parties—that any vote should take place in prime time so that the House could come to an informed decision.

I do say to the Government that this is not, I think, how they expected today to play out. The Government were hoping that the party would be kept here under a three-line Whip for a party meeting and that others would have gone home. This does not reflect well on the Government.

May I just say that how one treats people in this place is important? This week, I went to the leaving drinks for the Leader of the House. I spent 20 minutes saying goodbye to his special adviser yesterday. I went into his private office and was passed by the Deputy Leader of the House yesterday. All of them would have been aware of what they were proposing to do. I also had a

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number of friendly chats with our Chief Whip yesterday, yet I found out at 6.30 pm last night that the Leader of the House was bringing forward my report.

I have been played as a fool. When I go home tonight, I will look in the mirror and see an honourable fool looking back at me. I would much rather be an honourable fool, in this and any other matter, than a clever man. [Applause.]

12.48 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): We talk a lot these days, in this House and elsewhere, about transparency. There is a more old-fashioned meaning of the word transparency, which was often used when I was growing up. It was that one could see the ulterior motives of the people who put things forward. In this occasion we can see some of the old-fashioned meaning of transparency on the Floor of the House today: a device so thin to have found an hour or so from amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill that did not come; a little bit of loose change behind the sofa. I agree with everything that has been said. My admiration for the Leader of the House is not dimmed in any way, but the way he has behaved, or allowed himself to be presented as he has today, is shameful. Fortunately, he is not writing another book on Churchill—that has been left to somebody else—but as a historian he should remember what was said in the 1940 Chamberlain debate when Winston Churchill stood up to defend his colleagues’ failures. The right hon. Gentleman should not allow himself to become an air-raid shelter for them. I am tempted here to quote Mark Antony:

“For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men”.

Let us ask ourselves just of what is the present Speaker supposed to be guilty? Is it that he has firmly enforced the reforms in the House giving all Members a fair deal? Is it that he has been strong with MPs on both sides, in Prime Minister’s Question Time and elsewhere, who yah-boo their way through events in a way many of our voters feel sick about? Is it that he has let daylight into the House by encouraging many people from outside—charity and educational groups and others—to have access to and use of the facilities in an unprecedented fashion? If there are those in the House who are not happy with the Speaker, they can stand in the next Parliament and say their piece. They can stand up themselves. They can put up or shut up.

What we have today is a grubby piece of schoolboy intriguing that Michael Dobbs would have been ashamed to have dreamt up for one of his novels. These are matters for the House to deliberate on properly and initiate, not the Executive. These are matters of due process and due thought. After the expenses scandal in 2008, we spent two traumatic years trying painstakingly to recover the House’s powers and reputation, including through the Backbench Business Committee and the Select Committee elections, and the present Speaker has faithfully defended that process. It will not do the Government any good having their voters turned off by the pocket Machiavellis behind today’s spectacle.

While we speak, Richard III is being interred in Leicester cathedral. He was the monarch who brought a new meaning to decisiveness by arresting one of his councillors, Hastings, at a Privy Council meeting, accusing

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him of treason without due process and having his head chopped off on Tower hill to secure his usurpation—all within the hour. I wonder that some of those behind the motion are not mourners at the service, since they seem initiators of the methods. This is the mother of Parliaments. Commonwealth countries and Parliaments all over the world come to see it and take example from it, and if we cede our right to decide thoughtfully and after due process to any Government, in this hole-in-the-wall vote, before Parliament prorogues, we will surrender the House’s self-respect and the respect of the voters. We will turn this House into a receptacle for Executive despotism and cronyism.

Those who are tempted to look over their shoulders for advancement at those pulling the strings on this grubby occasion should remember that there will come a day when each of them needs an independent Speaker to protect their rights and interests. Even if it were just on the basis of self-interest, do Members supporting the motion want to face their voters in six weeks’ time as accomplices to this chicanery—to a process that demeans this House and gives credence to what is peddled by cynics and stand-up comics about this House? Are we to dispense, after an hour, with a process that has stood the test of time in the House for six centuries? Previous Speakers have occasionally been beheaded, murdered or killed in battle, but as far as I am aware, none has ever been stabbed in the back on the Floor of the House. Do Members want to align themselves with proceedings more fit for a Soviet-era puppet Parliament rubber-stamping edicts from dictators?

Speaker Lenthall, when he faced up to Charles I, after he burst in to arrest the five Members, said:

“I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me”.

If Members cravenly cave in to this trumped-up device to attack an incumbent Speaker whose high crime has been to protect Members’ interests and to throw some daylight into a Parliament to redeem its reputation among a disillusioned public, they will not only dishonour the great struggle for independence from the Executive, over which a civil war was fought, but jeopardise the relevance of this great place to the people of this country, who will rightly say, six weeks from a general election, “All the problems and serious issues we face, and what on earth are these people playing at?”

12.55 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who delivered an extraordinarily moving and powerful speech, and I would like to put on the record my unbounded admiration for my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), who knows the high regard in which I hold him on a range of important issues. I am disappointed, however, that his last act appears, on the surface at the very least, to be underhand. I have to ask myself, “What is the point of having a Procedure Committee, when it is completely ignored on an issue of procedure?”

For my part, I am conflicted. I can see very strong arguments in favour of the motion, but I want to hear those arguments, and I want to hear them from members

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of the Committee, who have looked into this issue at great length. With just a few hours’ notice and just one hour of cramped debate, that simply will not be possible. So we have what looks like an ambush and the sense that we are not resolving a procedural issue of Parliament, but punishing the incumbent.

For the record, I fully understand the Government’s impulse. As a Back Bencher trying to hold the Government to account over the past four and a half years, the incumbent has made my job much easier. He is a reformer and a champion of Parliament. If a new Government form after 7 May, I suspect they will find the Speaker just as awkward as this Government have done, and that is as it should be. So Mr Speaker, in opposing the motion, I am opposing not the motion but the manner in which it has been brought to the House. I hope it will be returned after the election.

12.57 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): By definition, the Government of the day have a majority in the House and can remove a Speaker any day of the week. It is a tribute to our constitutional settlement that no Government have chosen even to attempt to do that since 1835. That is why the motion is so wrong. The Speaker used to be the appointee of the Crown, but today the Speaker is a servant of the House, not the poodle of the majority party. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is noise on both sides. We cannot have recurring noise when colleagues are speaking, from either side. Let us hear Mr Chris Bryant.

Chris Bryant: If the Speaker should have any bias at all, as has been the established practice for more than 150 years, it should be a bias in favour of allowing more debate and continuing discussion and enabling scrutiny. If, therefore, there is a bias at all, it must always be in favour of the Back Bencher, not the Government. For that reason, the Government are always tempted to get rid of a Speaker, but they have never chosen to do so until today. A Speaker should always be able to order proceedings without any fear or favour, in particular without any fear of the Government, the Executive or the Crown.

Kevin Brennan: Given that we have a constitutional convention that the Speaker is not opposed by the main parties and that the current Speaker will be standing on that basis, should the Conservative leadership want to get rid of him, should they not be putting up a candidate against him and allowing members of the public, in a secret ballot, to decide who they want to vote for?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Speaker does not stand on a party ticket, so if the good burghers of Buckingham decide that you, Mr Speaker, should be returned as Speaker, and then this House, because of a Conservative plot, decides to get rid of you, what is to become of you? Are you to return to the Back Benches? No Speaker has done that for more than 150 years. Every other candidate presented for Speaker will have stood on a party ticket. It would therefore be a profoundly irresponsible act for us suddenly to change the rules so that we end up with a party candidate rather than a non-party candidate as our next Speaker.

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Gregory Barker rose

Chris Bryant: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, because previously he exposed the whole rationale behind today’s debate, which is that he has a personal vendetta against Mr Speaker.

Gregory Barker: On the contrary, I have not made a single personal remark about the Speaker during my entire time in Parliament. The hon. Gentleman has wandered rather far from the motion. Will he address himself to it and tell us whether he is in favour of a secret ballot or against it? This is similar to when Labour consistently opposed secret ballots in the reform of the trade unions. It is their dirty little prejudice against real democracy.

Chris Bryant: If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, let me say this. If he has not worked out my views on this by now, he must be a little dim. My biggest fear is that the Conservatives are planning to hand out the speakership to somebody else as part of the coalition negotiations, because they know they will not get a majority in the next Parliament.

Several hon. Members rose

Chris Bryant: I am not giving way any more, as I ought to draw my remarks to a conclusion.

I say to Conservative Members that when our procedure was crafted in 2001, we took the view that the re-election of a Speaker at the beginning of a new Parliament was, in effect, a vote of confidence in the Speaker. The Leader of the House suggested that anybody elected to a position of power over the people should be elected by secret ballot. The Prime Minister will also depend on a vote of confidence or a vote of no confidence. If the Leader of the House is to continue with this, his argument must be that a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister should be a secret ballot. Of course it should not. If Conservative Members genuinely believe that hon. Members will be so frightened that they will not be able to own up to the public how they voted on such a motion of confidence or no confidence in the Speaker, frankly, they have no confidence in one another.

The proceedings of this House were secret for centuries. John Wilkes campaigned to be allowed to reveal to the public what went on in this place. What did the majority Government do at the time? They used their majority to chuck him out of Parliament, and what did the voters do? They put him back in. What did the Government then do? They chucked him out. What did the voters do? They chucked him back in. They believed that this House’s proceedings should be in public and should be known to all so that voters could make their decisions.

The Leader of the House has done himself no favours; he has betrayed the confidence of the House today. He tabled his motion at some time about 7.30 last night. He did not notify the Opposition, but let us get over that. He is arguing that we should have a secret ballot for the election of the Chair of the Procedure Committee, yet he has deliberately gone behind the back of the very person who was elected by the whole House in a secret ballot. His argument bears no weight. Moreover, he constructed today’s one-hour debate in such a way as to make it impossible to table an amendment for consideration.

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It is completely impossible for us to consider a single amendment today. That is not the action of a Leader of the House who respects Parliament. That is why I say to him: in the name of God, go—and I think the people of this country will say the same.

Pete Wishart: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the great unhappiness about this process and the way this House has been bounced into considering it, is there any way that this question could not now be put?

Mr Speaker: There is, of course, a device of moving the previous question, but it would affect only the first of the motions, which is not the one that has excited the debate. It could be done, but I rather suspect that it would not be effective.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Before I take more points of order, let me explain that I would like to call a couple more colleagues in the very short time available and that I hope colleagues will be considerate of each other.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. There is, of course, another way. The Leader of the House could withdraw the motion—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw, withdraw.”] I have to say that although I would always support a secret ballot, I very much dislike the way in which this matter has been brought before the House today.

Hon. Members: Withdraw, withdraw!

Mr Speaker: The Leader of the House can respond to the point of order if he so wishes, but he does not wish to do so. [Interruption.] Order. Reference was made to tabling at 7.30 pm. In the interests of proper transparency, it is only fair to say—I want accurate information to be before the House—that the Leader of the House notified me of his intentions on this matter at 5.30 pm.

1.5 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I am going to break the habit of a lifetime and say nothing myself, quoting instead a Liberal Democrat colleague with approval. Following some discussion of this matter on a programme this morning, I received the following message from the hon. Member—and he is honourable—for St Ives (Andrew George). He said:

“I feel very frustrated and annoyed by this. In addition, I cannot be there. My father died last night and, as you might expect, I have other priorities today which I cannot alter. Had I been able to attend, I would object in the strongest terms to THE WAY THIS IS BEING DONE—

the emphasis is his. He continued:

“I don’t mind a motion being brought forward in an open and honest manner, but not in this underhand way. If it helps, I’d be happy for you to make reference to any of this message in your remarks.”

I need add nothing further other than to endorse those sentiments.

Several hon. Members rose

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1625

Mr Speaker: Order. In calling the next Member, let me say that I intend to call a Liberal Democrat Member, and I want to accommodate as many Members as possible. Great brevity will be appreciated.

1.7 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I believe that the Leader of the House has a choice in front him: withdrawal of this motion or humiliation in the Division Lobbies. It is clear from all those hon. Members who have spoken from all corners of the House that what is happening is entirely unacceptable to us.

When hon. Members left in 2010, we did so at the worst time for Parliament. We were being pilloried in the press—sometimes fairly, sometimes grossly unfairly, and I wrote a book about an hon. Member who I believe died prematurely because he was unfairly accused in the expenses scandal. This was the then hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, David Taylor. Much of what happened then—the great screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal—was unjustified, but sadly a lot of it was justified and our reputation was in the gutter. Our main task in this Parliament was to restore confidence in this House and in democracy. The person who has done most to achieve that is Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker has stood up to the Government in a better way than any of the previous Speakers over the last 30 years. To the best of my knowledge, all were bullied at some time by the Government. Mr Speaker never has been. He has liberated Back Benchers and given us the time to name our debates at peak time when maximum attendance by Members is evident and the attention of the country is focused on us. He is the great success of this Parliament.

If we are looking to reform our Parliament—we remain greatly unreformed—there are at least a dozen other issues to take into account. If some Members have this latter-day devotion to democracy, why can we not do something about the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments when Members retire? This is a shameful institution—not the rottweiler it should be in controlling Members and stopping them using their insider knowledge to sell to the highest bidder. It should be stopping the corruption of Members in office, Ministers, civil servants, generals and so forth; it should prevent them from being tempted in their deliberations as they look for retirement jobs. We have done nothing about the scandal of the buying of peerages, and nothing about the buying of access to Ministers. All those scandals should have been addressed, but we have addressed none of them.

I believe that the Government will stand demeaned and shamed by this final act. They will be exposed as the nasty party, devoted not to the honour of the House—which has served us well down the centuries—but to spite and malice.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House has listened to the views of the House, and I believe that he has a pretty good understanding of the feelings of the House. Would it not be appropriate for him to stand up now and withdraw the motion? [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”]

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1626

Mr Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair. The Leader of the House can respond if he wishes, but he is not obliged to.

Mr Hague indicated dissent.

Mr Speaker: The Leader of the House does not wish to respond.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am keen to accommodate more colleagues, but great brevity is required. There are seven minutes to go.

1.10 pm

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I am very grateful to you for calling me, Mr Speaker, not just as a Liberal Democrat but as a Member who had the privilege of joining the House in the most recent intake, in 2010. Since then I have sought to learn a great deal from my colleagues, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who has been an inspiration to me in respect of the way I have performed my role.

However, the lesson that I want to share with colleagues today is one that I learned from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who told the House on another occasion that it owed a great deal to the authority of the Speaker. “The House” means each and every one of us—the legislature that stands up to the Executive—and none more than those of us who may expect to find ourselves from time to time, or even frequently, in a minority, and thus unable to rely on the force of numbers in a majority of Members to get our way. That is a lesson to which I urge my colleagues to pay particular attention.

I am not against secret ballots when choosing someone in an election. Indeed, we have used them many times over the last five years, during the current Parliament. However, the motion refers not to circumstances in which a Speaker has retired, resigned or even died in office, and in which we might choose between candidates—I believe that, in those circumstances, there should be a secret ballot—but to the imposition of a secret ballot when the question under consideration is

“that a former Speaker take the Chair”.

I think that the shadow Leader of the House was right to describe that as a motion of no confidence in the Speaker at the start of a Parliament.

An unforeseen—I think, and hope—potential consequence of the motion would be the fatal wounding of a Speaker, even if that Speaker were to win such a vote of confidence and continue in the Chair. That, I believe, is the gravest danger to Members of this House: to have a weakened Speaker, whoever that might be, at some time in the future. There may come a time, Mr Speaker, when you, or indeed your successors, will need to call it a day. If the House were to decide as much, and if there were to be a kill, let it be a clean kill. We would all regret a fatal wounding of the Speaker that left ordinary Back Benchers vulnerable to the power of the Executive.

As Members well know, Mr Speaker, you have not always had your way during this Parliament, particularly in relation to the question of the future of the Clerk of the House; but when you did not have your way—when

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1627

you did not have the support of the House—you were very gracious in recognising that, and accepting the will of the House. I urge the Leader of the House today to show an equally gracious attitude to the will of the House, and to withdraw the motion.

Hon. Members: Withdraw!

1.14 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I am surprised that we are having this debate at this time, and I think that it does us no good.

The Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), spoke with great eloquence about the fact that the Committee had not been treated seriously in relation to this matter. The Leader of the House himself said that the motion could have been presented to the House in 2011, four years ago. In 2013, an exchange of information between the Procedure Committee and the then Leader of the House established that if it were to be presented, it should be presented on a Monday, a Tuesday or a Wednesday. In 2015, the Leader of the House approached us and we had a convivial discussion about what should happen. We went away from that meeting with the understanding that the Leader of the House was working with the Chair of the Procedure Committee to ensure that no such motion would be moved other than at an appropriate time. I would say, Mr Speaker, that the last gasp of this Parliament is not an appropriate time to make a decision of this sort, and I hope that Members of Parliament recognise that.

1.15 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am not opposed in principle to the idea of a secret ballot, and I very much regret, Mr Speaker, that this debate has become centred on you personally. I have to say that I did not vote for you, and you and I have crossed swords many times over a wide range of issues, but I want to put on record that you have shown me, and many of my colleagues in all parts of the House, a most courteous approach and a most courteous attitude, and I appreciate that very much—although you are not, of course, without your faults. [Laughter.]

Mr Speaker: Who is?

Sir Gerald Howarth: Indeed—who is?

I must say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—whom I revere as well—that I feel very uncomfortable about the procedure that the Government have adopted, which has allowed only an hour for debate. I think that that is unfortunate, given that we are debating a House of Commons matter. However, I cannot vote with the Opposition, because, unlike my right hon. and hon. Friends, they have displayed a monolithic, partisan approach to this issue, which has demeaned them and, I am afraid, has done no credit to the House either.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I express my sadness and regret that you have not seen fit to call any other Members to speak in support of the motion? [Interruption.]

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1628

Mr Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman’s complaint is that there is inadequate time for right hon. and hon. Members to be called in this debate, let me say, with a clarity that is beyond peradventure, that I would be happy to sit here all day and all night for right hon. and hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman is a constitutionalist, and I think that he prides himself on understanding Parliament. The motion was tabled by the Government, and the time for it was determined by the Government. I think that that is clear.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As there is such widespread demand for an increase in the time available, would it be permissible to suggest, under Standing Order 24, an emergency debate on the subject?

Mr Speaker: The answer to that, I fear—as far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned—is that the Government tabled the motion earlier in the week, which removed any possibility of Standing Order 24 debates today. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order is that there cannot be such a debate, but that is the reason. It has nothing to do with a decision by the Chair; it has to do with a judgment that the Government have made.

I must now put the Question.

Hon. Members: Withdraw!

1.18 pm

One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the first motion, the Speaker put the Question (Order, this day).

Question agreed to.


That this House takes note of paragraphs 21 to 28 of the Seventh Report of the Procedure Committee, Matters for the Procedure Committee in the 2015 Parliament, HC 1121, concerning the trial of a three day deadline for the tabling of amendments and new clauses/schedules at report stage of all programmed bills; and approves the Committee’s recommendation in paragraph 28 that the trial should be extended for the duration of the first session of the 2015 Parliament, and extended to amendments and new clauses/schedules in Committee of the whole House of all Bills and at report stage of un-programmed Bills.

Pay for Petitions committee Chair


That the Resolution of the House of 19 March 2013, relating to Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of Section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, be amended by inserting after “the Liaison Committee”, “the Petitions Committee,”.—(Mr Hague).

Elections for Positions in the House

Motion made, and Question put,

That this House notes the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its Fifth Report of Session 2010-12, 2010 Elections for positions in the House, that the House should be invited to decide between a secret ballot or open division where the question at the start of a new Parliament that a former Speaker take the Chair is challenged, and accordingly makes the following change to Standing Orders, with effect from the beginning of the new Parliament:

Standing Order 1A (Re-election of former Speaker) Line 11, at end insert—

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1629

“(1A) If that question is contested, it shall be determined by secret ballot, to take place on the same day under arrangements made by the Member presiding, who shall announce the result of the ballot to the House as soon as is practicable.”—(Mr Hague).

The House divided:

Ayes 202, Noes 228.

Division No. 188]





Adams, Nigel

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Barwell, Gavin

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Carmichael, Neil

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Collins, Damian

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, rh Stephen

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Dinenage, Caroline

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Sir Oliver

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, rh Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Howell, John

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, rh Sajid

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Sir Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Milton, rh Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Randall, rh Sir John

Reevell, Simon

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rudd, Amber

Rutley, David

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, rh Mark

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thurso, rh John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittingdale, Mr John

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, rh Jeremy

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Harriett Baldwin


Dr Thérèse Coffey


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Sir David

Anderson, Mr David

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Sir Hugh

Begg, Dame Anne

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman, Bob

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brady, Mr Graham

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Burns, Conor

Burt, Lorely

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Carswell, Douglas

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Docherty, Thomas

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodman, Helen

Gray, Mr James

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hames, Duncan

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Heath, rh Mr David

Hendrick, Mark

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jarvis, Dan

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Lopresti, Jack

Mactaggart, rh Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Dame Anne

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reckless, Mark

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Russell, Sir Bob

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swinson, Jo

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Simon

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr David Hamilton


Heidi Alexander

Question accordingly negatived.

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1630

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1631

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1632

Deputy Speakers


That, at the start of the 2015 Parliament, the Speaker may nominate no more than three Members as Deputy Speakers to serve until the House has elected Deputy Speakers in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 2A; and that the Members so nominated shall exercise all the powers vested in the Chairman of Ways and Means as Deputy Speaker.—(Mr Hague.)

Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) raised points of order yesterday on my Prime Minister’s question about the Health Committee—I was not given prior warning of that. Can you confirm that it was in order for me to raise the issue of the Health Committee’s publicly minuted decision—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must be heard.

Charlotte Leslie: It was a publicly minuted decision not to prepare a report on NHS public expenditure. Secondly, I have not, as was claimed last night, been referred for any investigation. Can you advise me on how I might put this false information straight?

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I will come to other points of order, but first may I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me notice of her intention to raise this point of order and for what she has said? I know she will not take it amiss if I say that although her point of order contained an inquiry as to how she could put the matter straight, I think that she has found her own salvation. What I do want to say is that it is one of the courtesies expected of hon. Members that they should give notice—I make this statement on advice; I do take advice on these matters, as the House would expect—to another Member if they intend to make personal criticism of them in the House. I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said in her question to the Prime Minister yesterday. I took the view that it was not evidently out of order. Whether it was wise or appropriate to raise matters relating to the internal working of a Select

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1633

Committee in Prime Minister’s questions is a different matter, on which Members will doubtless have different views. The hon. Lady says that she has not been referred for any investigation. In this respect, I understand that she is correct. The Health Committee has not, at this stage, made any report on the matter. She has put her view on the record.

I think we should leave this matter there. I would simply add my view that mutual trust between members of Select Committees and confidence that the confidentiality of private discussions in Committee will be respected are important to the effectiveness of Select Committees.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is about more grubby business. On 4 November, I tabled a question asking how much money was spent on social housing in each of the past 15 years. It was answered today, nearly five months late, and the answer showed that there had been a 75% decrease in the spending on social housing over the past five years. Was this a good day to bury bad news? Can you investigate why it has taken five months to answer my question?

Mr Speaker: I am very taken aback by the idea that any question should be unanswered for so long. Members will have heard me many times say, on behalf of the House, that Ministers should answer questions speedily and as comprehensively as they can. The Leader of the House has noted that. Probably a nod of assent from the Government Chief Whip will suffice to acknowledge the point on his part.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Michael Gove) indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: I thank him for that. We will hope to secure an improvement in the next Parliament.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is in fact further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). Could we have your guidance on whether or not a referral relates to a letter that has gone to the Standards Committee or a letter to you? Should the hon. Lady not have given us a courtesy when she released informal notes of conversations in meetings of a Select Committee to the media and in Prime Minister’s questions?

Mr Speaker: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. She is, of course, a member of the Committee in question and therefore has a very direct interest. I hope she will not take it amiss if I say that I think my fairly comprehensive response to the point of order from the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) treated of those matters. I acknowledged the veracity of what she had said, but I also made the point about courtesies and confidentiality and, by implication, the inappropriateness of breaching such conventions. I hope colleagues will feel that there is nothing that now needs usefully to be added.

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1634

Backbench Business

Valedictory Debate

Mr Speaker: Before I call the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), may I just explain to the House that a very large number of colleagues wish to speak and I have decided that the first two speakers should have eight minutes each? I hope that that is considered acceptable by the House, and of course there is scope for interventions, which would add to that eight minutes. Thereafter the limit will have to be tighter. I would happily sit here until midnight listening to the speeches, but, unfortunately again, I am subject to the timetabling, which is not determined by me. The first speaker in the debate will be the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire. I call Sir George Young.

1.39 pm

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for this debate. It is appropriate that this Parliament should end with a procedural innovation—a valedictory debate—having begun with so many other such innovations.

The sponsors thought that this would be a quiet day before Prorogation, with those retiring least inclined to return to our constituencies, giving us the opportunity to bid farewell to the House before we turn into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight on Sunday. I am delighted that the Leader of the House is replying to the debate, that the Father of the House is in his place and that so many colleagues are eager to take part.

I made my maiden speech on 18 March 1974. 1 thought it would also be my valedictory speech, as a second election was imminent and I had a wafer-thin majority in Ealing, Acton. Indeed, Harold Wilson delighted in telling me that he was in my constituency twice a week, which he was—on the A40 to and from Chequers. I was lucky enough to get in first time and I have been here ever since. Thanks to the Boundary Commission, I have represented two very different seats—Ealing, Acton and North West Hampshire. It has been a privilege to serve my constituents, my party and my country in this House. Whether my career has justified that privilege is another matter. Few MPs can have been sacked by two Prime Ministers, and then brought back by both, thus showing some ambivalence about my talents. I doubt whether any will achieve the double of TheSpectator Back Bencher of the Year award for leading the rebellion against the poll tax, and another one for being appointed Chief Whip—and for the same party.

Let me share a few quick reflections—first, on the coalition. The Liberal Democrats did the right thing in joining my party in coalition, and I believe that history will be kinder to them than the electorate is going to be. The coalition was at its strongest with the business managers, and I enjoyed working with my right hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) as Deputy Leader of the House, and with the current Secretary of State for Scotland and the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster), who were Liberal Democrat Chief Whips. Both parties had Back Benchers with independent views—they were the so-called awkward

26 Mar 2015 : Column 1635

squads, but the two squads tended not to be awkward at the same time. Their reluctance to engage with the Whips was mercifully matched by a reluctance to work with each other, and so defeat was rare.

I recall one exchange in a meeting in my office—without coffee—with a difficult colleague who wanted to talk about social mobility. He looked me in the eye and said: “Sir George, I believe in social mobility, downwards as well as upwards.”

I was greatly assisted in my task by two high-quality deputies, and a strong team of Whips who kept me out of serious trouble. There were occasions in the last Parliament when the Conservative Whips thought we had a better idea of how the Liberal Democrats were going to vote than their own Whips did, but together we helped deliver a stable five-year Government—something that many people doubted would ever happen. We were greatly assisted by the staff in the offices of the Leader of the House and the Whips under Mike Winter and Roy Stone.

At times, my patience with the Liberal Democrats was tested. I would get back to my constituency on Friday to find them taking the credit for all the good things the coalition had done, while blaming my party for the cuts that had made them possible.

Although a coalition was right for this Parliament, I hope it will not become the norm. I am worried that this country may drift towards an unstable Italian style of Government, with moving coalitions remote from the electorate. I worry too that the sharp change of direction that this country needed in, for example, 1945 and 1979 may no longer be possible.

Looking ahead, I hope that the next Parliament will work hard to ensure that the United Kingdom stays intact. The Union is more fragile than it has been since the partition of Ireland and will require very sensitive handling.

We need to restore confidence in the profession to which we all belong—that of politician. It is a paradox that most people believe that their own MP is a paragon of virtue, but refuse to generalise on the basis of that experience. We must decontaminate our brand and encourage more young able people to stand. Although we may never be popular, the next Parliament must rebuild public confidence both in MPs as a professional body and in Parliament as an effective and relevant institution.

To that end, I hope that we shall have a clean campaign, fought on the issues, with alternative positive visions of the future being promoted, with a minimum of personal invective and abuse. As a former Housing Minister, I hope that housing will be an important issue in the campaign, as we need to build more houses than were built under either of the last two Administrations if every family is to have a decent home.

Finally, if we have to leave this building at some future date for repairs, we must come back here. We should never abandon the history of this magnificent Palace of Westminster for a horseshoe-shaped Chamber in a new glass building outside London.

We have all in our time had our narrow squeaks. My career as Chief Whip nearly ended in disaster. One of my last visitors was the Australian Chief Whip who presented me with a whip—not a small whip that a jockey might use but a stock whip with a long leather

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handle, and yards and yards of leather of diminishing width. He made it clear that this was a personal gift to me and not a donation to the Whips Office. The rules on ministerial gifts are clear: if it is worth less than £125, one can keep it; if it is worth more, one must either buy it or give it to the Government. When my guest had gone, I asked my private office to establish the value of his gift. Minutes later, a white-faced official came into my room. All the websites he had accessed on my behalf had been barred by the parliamentary authorities, and he feared that retribution for the instigator was imminent.

I am conscious that many Members wish to speak, so I shall finish on that cautionary tale. I thank colleagues on both sides of the House and the staff of the House for their friendship over 40 years. I wish my successor and the new Parliament well in the challenges that lie ahead.

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman has done the House a wonderful service, not only in terms of his service in the House but in once again being briefer than he had to be, and it is appreciated.

1.46 pm

Mr Gordon Brown (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Lab): I wish to start by thanking all those who have helped me during my time as a Member of Parliament. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your stewardship of this House, your dedication to our parliamentary democracy and your unfailing courtesy to all sides, even when provoked. It is customary, of course, for the new Speaker to give up his previous party when he becomes Speaker. You, of course, had given up your previous party long before that.

Let me also thank the staff of the House: the Clerks, the cleaners, the catering staff, the librarians and the doorkeepers for their non-partisan and always unselfish support. Let me thank my colleagues on the Labour Benches, who have been so brilliant to work with and to work alongside. Their wisdom and friendship have sustained my family and me at times of personal loss. Let me also thank all colleagues, especially those who leave the House today, for their outstanding contribution to what we are right to believe is the greatest democracy in the world. Most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to my constituents who sent me here and who accorded me the privilege of trust and service more than 32 years ago, in which time I have always tried to represent their needs and aspirations.

When I first stood for Parliament in 1983, I asked constituents to elect me as a candidate of youth and fresh ideas. I had to change tack in 2010 to ask them to elect me as a candidate of maturity and experience.

When I first arrived here in 1983, I was so unknown, so patently here just to make up the numbers and so clearly forgettable that The Times confused me with one of the many other Browns in this Parliament—there were as many MPs named Brown as there were Liberals or Social Democrat MPs. That may never happen again. The newspaper published a photo of me when I was a student, but then said that I had been born in 1926. In each successive newspaper in London, the error was repeated—not so much the power of the press, but the power of the press cutting. I was labelled as “elderly”,

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“veteran” and “old Labour stalwart” —definitely old Labour—with the result that, a few days later, I received a letter from a pension company saying that I had joined a new job late in life and would want to make provision for an early retirement.

Now, 32 years on, it is for others to judge what has been achieved between then and now. Today, it is not my constituents, Scotland or public service that I am leaving, but Westminster in London. I leave to live full time in the place in which I grew up and in which my children will grow up and complete their schooling. I leave this House feeling not just a huge amount of gratitude, but some concern. As the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said, the UK is fragile, at risk and potentially at a point of departure. Countries at their best, their strongest and their truest are more than places on the map and a demarcation of borders. Great countries stand on shared foundations. They are guided by unifying ideals. They move forward in common purpose, and so it must be in Britain.

Whatever the future, in the constitutional revolution that is now under way I will fight and fight and fight again to renew and reconstruct for a new age the idea of Britain, based around shared values that can bring us together and advance a common Britishness, with a shared belief in tolerance, liberty and fairness that comes alive in unique British institutions such as the national health service and in common policies for social justice.

It is because I believe in Britain’s future that I am saddened—I am sorry to have to say this—that for the first and only time in 300 years of the Union, it has become official Government policy to create two classes of elected representatives in this House: a first class who will vote on all issues, and a second class who will vote on only some. That mimics the nationalists by driving a wedge between Scotland and England, and is meant only to head off opposition from the extremists with a direct nationalist appeal to the English electorate. It is not so much English votes for English laws as English laws for English votes. I ask this House to remember that our greatest successes as a country have come not when we have been divided and when we have turned inwards, but when we have confidently looked outwards and thought globally, our eyes fixed on the wider world and the future.

With the unwinding of what is called the pax Americana and in the wake of the recent retreat from global co-operation, we have today no climate change treaty, no world trade treaty and no global financial standards. We must recapture what now seems a distant memory—the heightened global co-operation of the past, which Britain led. We must never allow ourselves to become spectators and watchers on the shore when the world needs us in Europe and beyond to lead and champion global action to deal with problems from poverty and pollution to proliferation and protectionism.

This is about more than economics. Over 30 years, I, like most people on this side and on both sides of the House, have condemned the discrimination and prejudices of the past, which should now be consigned for ever to that past. I welcome the new freedoms, the new rights for equality and the anti-discrimination laws we have

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enacted and embraced. All societies need a moral energy that can inspire individuals to self-sacrificial acts of public service that come alive out of mutual respect and obligation. Yes, the predominant feeling in our country is an anger at elites that I can see in people’s eyes and hear in their voices. Yes, too, of the many social changes I have witnessed in 30 years, one of the most dramatic has been the fall in religious observance, but I also sense that the British people are better than leaders often presume. They are ready to respond to a vision of a country that is more caring, less selfish, more compassionate and less cynical than the “me too, me first, me now, me above all—me whatever” manifestos.

I sense that there are millions of us who feel, however distantly, the pain of others today; who believe in something bigger than ourselves; who cannot easily feast when our fellow citizens go hungry to food banks; who cannot feel at ease when our neighbours, in hock to payday lenders, are ill at ease; who cannot be fully content with poverty pay and zero-hours contracts when around us there is so much discontent. I repeat that it is not anti-wealth to say that the wealthy must do more to help those who are not wealthy; it is not anti-enterprise to say that the enterprising must do more to meet the aspirations of those who have never had the chance to show that they too are enterprising; and it is not anti-market to say that markets need morals to underpin their success. For this, and for showing me when I was young that when the strong help the weak, it makes us all stronger, I will always be grateful to my parents, who taught me these values of justice; to my party, which taught me how to fight for justice; and to my constituents, who taught me every day the rightness of justice.

We must never forget that politics at its best imbues people with hope. In 1886, Tennyson wrote one of his last poems, “Locksley Hall”, with its pessimistic refrain:

“Chaos, Cosmos! Cosmos, Chaos! who can tell when all will end?”

The then Prime Minister, Gladstone, was moved to remind Tennyson that in his first poem of that title he had said:

“When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;

Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.”

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I want merely to take Mr Speaker’s advice, since he mentioned that if someone intervenes, the Member speaking gets more time—[Laughter.]

Mr Brown: I have spoken today about what endures beyond anyone’s time in office and I want to leave here as I came here, with an unquenchable faith in the future—the future of a country that we can build and share together, a future in which we help shape the world beyond our shores, and a future in which we always demand the best of ourselves. That is a future worth fighting for.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. The time limit from now on is five minutes, but again the principle of interventions applies, of course. We want to try to accommodate everybody, so consideration of one other would be appreciated.

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1.55 pm

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Thank you for that guidance, Mr Speaker, and I shall endeavour to show that consideration.

This is for me where the journey ends—a journey that started when I was an 11-year-old and met Sir Geoffrey Johnson-Smith, the MP where I grew up, and said to my parents that that was what I should like to do one day. I was incredibly fortunate some decades later to be selected as the candidate to take over from him, although, with his timeless film star looks, people wondered why he was giving way to an older man.

My journey has in many ways been one from north to south. My first seat was Clackmannan; my friends thought that I had wanted to stand in Clapham in south London but had stuttered and ended up in a mining seat in the middle of Scotland. It became clear to me in the course of that campaign that I had never really met a miner before and that they certainly had not met a Conservative before. I moved gradually further south and stood in another mining seat, in Nottinghamshire, and I worked out eventually that if I wanted to be a Tory MP, I should stop fighting mining seats. I was then very lucky to be selected for High Peak in Derbyshire and to serve there for five years before, after a break, coming back in for Wealden. To have had wonderful constituencies in glorious parts of the country has been an unbelievable and very special pleasure.

I have been given great jobs by the leaders of my party, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who will be responding to this debate. If I look back at the thing in which I have greatest pride, it is that as Energy Minister I was able to drive through electricity market reform, one of the most important bits of legislation in the course of this Parliament. I feel that we do these things better when we do them collectively and when we try to take energy out of politics. When I left office—it would be more appropriate, I think, to say that the Government left me rather than that I left the Government—I received very kind messages from the leader of the Labour party, the leader of the Scottish National party and the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I thought, “Three out of four leaders; that’s not bad going.”

If we are looking at where we can make a change to Parliament, we must remember that the institution of Parliament is bigger than all of us, even collectively. I look at some aspects of it with great concern and even some sadness. We must address the opprobrium with which we are held as a collective breed and we must recognise that in some ways, that is to do with the way we do business. This Parliament is ruder and less courteous than I remember Parliament being when I first came in 23 years ago. We need to address that, because if we do not show that we believe in the institution and that the people with whom we debate on the other side of the House are as genuine and sincere as we are about what they are trying to do—they might have chosen a different way of trying to do it and might hold different values, but ultimately we are all here because we believe in serving our constituencies and our country—why should people looking in from outside believe that?

I have noticed as well a strange habit among Members of Parliament, which is that we do not shake hands. For 23 years, I found that rather strange but over the past few days I have been shaking an enormous number of

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hands and the policy starts to make real sense. At the end of this process, we are leaving as people who enjoy each other as people, and as friends and who value each other as human beings who all want to do the best for their constituencies.

I have been incredibly lucky. I have had wonderful constituents in two different constituencies and have had a wonderful parliamentary staff, but above all I have been supported by a wonderful family. In the course of the next Parliament, I look forward to being able to spend more time with them and to enjoying working with them and giving them the time and attention that they deserve.

1.59 pm

Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): This place has shaped my life for the past 28 years, but before that I remember my late father Ken and my mother Eileen, who instilled in me my values, and my late husband Keith, who introduced me to socialism and was a great support for 30 years.

I hope that I have remained true to those values. First and foremost, I have been a woman Member of Parliament who did not want to play the boys’ games—probably to my detriment at times. I am proud to have been the first full-time Minister for Women, even though my efforts got me sacked a year later.

I have had many opportunities as a Back Bencher, particularly in private Members’ Bills. My first was a Bill to tackle fly-tipping. My second was to place a duty on local authorities to introduce doorstep recycling. Both passed. I always hoped to win a third place in the ballot so that I could introduce a Bill to permit assisted dying, in which I believe passionately.

Another privilege has been membership of Select Committees, beginning with the Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House, in which I had the distinction of proposing the hanging lights we now have today, as there were none there before. From the moment I arrived I wanted change. I got my first opportunity on Robin Cook’s Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, which brought in many of our changes in procedure. It led to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and me organising the first successful campaign to change the House’s sitting hours. When those changes were partially reversed, we organised again in 2010. With much help we achieved the more sensible timetable we have today. I also greatly enjoyed my time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and later the International Development Committee, when you, Mr Speaker, were also a member.

Inevitably, there were bad times. Rejection from government was one of them, but by far the worst was the Iraq war. Despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I did not believe that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, and I could not support an illegal war that I knew would have repercussions for a generation.

As I leave, I reflect on some of the great issues that remain unresolved, most notably the outdated notion of nuclear deterrence, when the real threats to our security are cyber-warfare, terrorism and climate change. Nuclear weapons have no utility; they cannot be used to defend or gain territory, and their financial cost is an obscenity. I only hope that the new initiative for a global ban on nuclear weapons, spearheaded by Austria and now signed by over 50 states, will succeed.