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Mr. Bercow: I detect that my hon. Friend comes at the matter, and the motion specifically, completely--or largely--unsighted. Does he agree that although in no sense under a formal obligation to discuss the matter in advance, it might have been a parliamentary courtesy or propriety for the Parliamentary Secretary to discuss it through the usual channels, thus reflecting the spirit of the issue, which is pre-eminently a matter for the House rather than the Executive to determine?

Mr. Grieve: May I remind my hon. Friend that the Minister is always a model of courtesy? We know that that is true both inside and outside the Chamber. I would certainly not wish to criticise the Minister. Of course, the first date on which the Speaker's election is likely to be relevant to the House will fall after the general election. Obviously, I can speculate only remotely on whether there is any link between the imminence of the election and the decision to lay the motion before the House and allow it to discuss the report of the Select Committee on Procedure. Who knows? The Minister may care to enlighten us on that when he comes to reply to the debate. That would certainly make it far more informative.

That said, we are clearly unsighted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, because we do not know what the motion will be. We are simply being asked to agree the procedure beforehand. I do not intend to labour the matter further.

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Mr. Hayes: I can see that my hon. Friend is trying to deal with the matter as concisely as possible. However, he omitted to raise an important issue relevant to our debate--the public's expectation of how we should go about the business. There was a good deal of public debate after the election of the current Speaker, which centred on the conduct of affairs of the House. The wider public, not just hon. Members, expect us to debate the matter thoroughly and fully when it comes before the House. They will gain a poor impression of the House if we deal with it in a cursory fashion. I invite my hon. Friend to make that point before the Minister replies, as that view is shared by many people outside the House.

Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who makes an exceptionally good point. He is quite right; enormous interest was generated by the election of the Speaker. Subsequently, there was enormous press coverage and a great deal of criticism of our procedure. When we discuss whatever motion the Government introduce and whatever amendments are tabled and accepted, we must expect a great deal of public interest and attention.

Mr. Bercow: I do not wish to labour the point. However, to amplify the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), will my hon. Friend confirm that our concern is not merely with the debate that ensues in the immediate aftermath of the election of the Speaker, important though that is, but with the wider medium and long-term issue--namely, the fact that the Speaker effectively performs a critical ambassadorial role for the House?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is wandering far and wide of the remit of the motion.

Mr. Grieve: I shall resist the temptation offered by my hon. Friend to go too far down the road of exploring the Speaker's ambassadorial role, save to agree wholeheartedly that there are a multiplicity of issues relating to the Speaker's election and role which hon. Members have close to their hearts and which they wish to be considered.

Mr. Hayes: I have no desire to wander anywhere--neither far nor wide. I want to be specific about the nature of the debate. My point was not a wide point. It was a narrow point. The wider public will look at this debate and the judgment that we make now about the amount of time that we allocate--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is repeating points already made during the debate. The motion is clearly about timetabling.

Mr. Grieve: As I said before I gave way, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not intend to labour the matter further. After 25 minutes of debate, we have covered, albeit at a slow pace, a number of pertinent issues relating to the wording of the motion. How on earth can the House do justice to the matter when the substantive motion will have to be dealt with in two and a half hours at best? The time allocated is not enough. We therefore cannot support the motion.

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1.5 am

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Here we are again, with a motion on the Order Paper inviting us to limit the time for debate, possibly to as little as an hour and a half, if a substantive statement is made on Thursday 22 March. We do not have the terms of the motion that we will be invited to discuss on that day, relating to the election of a Speaker. The Minister said that the motion would endorse the second report of the Select Committee on Procedure, but that report is not a single, take-it-or-leave-it set of recommendations. There are choices to be made, such as the question whether there should be a secret ballot or an open ballot for the election of the Speaker.

Those are fundamental choices. I expect that hon. Members will come to the House without having made up their minds before they listen to the debate. The subject is one that the House should properly consider. On the single question whether the ballot should be secret or open, a variety of views was received by the Select Committee from members of all parties, each of them offering a different prescription. This is not a party issue.

The matter cannot be decided on the basis of a simple motion tabled by the Government. There must be consideration of the motion, which lends itself to substantial debate. Unusually in the House, that debate would have the capacity to change people's minds or to allow them to make their minds up according to the discussion that they hear.

Without knowing what motion the Government will table for Thursday, we cannot agree to tonight's motion, which would end discussion at 4 o'clock on Thursday. The Minister referred to the precedent of 1972, when the House took only an hour and five minutes to discuss the procedure for the election of Speaker. I draw attention to the conclusion that the Committee reached in paragraph 44(iii). It stated:

That demonstrates how the debate has changed. There was no controversy about the system in 1972. Indeed, it appears from the Committee's conclusions that there was a degree of trust that the usual channels would produce the correct candidates, probably because there would be only one, two or perhaps three options. In the election of our current Speaker, however, there has been a wholesale change. I think that that is a good thing, as it might suggest that the House is beginning to get up off its knees in its relationship with the Executive. It is good also in respect of the interaction of the two Front Benches.

Mr. Bercow: You have just reminded us, Madam Deputy Speaker, of the narrow terms of the motion, on which everybody accepts your guidance. With that in mind, does my hon. Friend agree that the central point of issue, which we invite the Parliamentary Secretary to take

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on board, is that the nature and extent of the debate for which the motion provides will be crucial not only to the credibility of its outcome, but to its perceived legitimacy?

Mr. Blunt: I agree thoroughly with my hon. Friend. It is easy for hon. Members to think of halcyon days when the House was independent of the Executive--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, I remind hon. Members of the narrowness of the debate and the motion.

Mr. Blunt: I am very aware of the terms of the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is important for arguments to be advanced on the time scale that it proposes. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that an hour and five minutes was sufficient in 1972. He was asking us to accept that as much as an hour and half--or two and half hours, if there is no substantive statement--is unheard-of generosity on the part of the Executive.

Mr. Tipping: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, I did not use any of those words.

Mr. Blunt: But the implication--

Mr. Tipping: There was no implication either.

Mr. Blunt: I am happy to accept that the Parliamentary Secretary was not implying the suggestions to which I referred. However, his body language during the debate has given me some hope--it did so especially as he listened to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve)--that our arguments are persuading him to accept that the time scale to which the motion refers, which extends until 4 o'clock on Friday 22 March, might not be sufficient in the light of the complexity of the issues. If that is the case, I do not know what he will do in the time that is available. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield said, Opposition Members will oppose the motion. I do not know what the Government can do if they accept that it allows insufficient time.

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