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Mr. Hayes: I appreciate that my hon. Friends the Members for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) do not share my desire to have such a broad debate, over quite such an extended time, on the matter. However, I think that we agree that the matter goes beyond the usual conduct of Government business and the usual guillotining of Government legislation. The motion and this debate have hit a much deeper and richer vein--the very business of Parliament. That is a matter of legitimate public concern and requires a full and thorough debate. I believe that, perhaps typically, my hon. Friend is understating the case.

Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

I note that the motion has been tabled only by the Leader of the House. I am sure that that was a deliberate decision, as the motion deals with a House of Commons matter. I ask the Minster to convey to her our belief that it is not sufficient for her, as Leader of the House,

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to propose such a short time to consider such an important matter. I therefore hope that, before we divide on the motion, the Government can find a way of reversing their position on the matter. I profoundly believe that the Leader of the House should find a way of doing so, and I hope that the Minister will tell her that.

1.32 am

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I do not wish to detain the House unduly on this matter. In fact, I had not intended to speak in the debate.

Mr. Bercow: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: I must make a little progress, if my hon. Friend will bear with me.

I have become animated, not to say angry, as I have listened to the debate. I do not want to use hyperbole, but I believe that the motion is more than simply another example of the Government abusing their position so as to curtail proper debate on their business. I believe that the motion is about curtailing the rights of hon. Members on both sides of the House who want to express a wide range of opinions on the matter. We know from the election of the current Speaker--who is a very good Speaker--that hon. Members on both sides of the House hold a variety of views on the subject. We also know that the election of the Speaker is important both to the House and to the public. As I said in a brief earlier intervention, the public would judge us harshly if we were to deal with the matter in a cursory fashion.

Mr. Bercow: Entirely inadvertently, I am sure, my hon. Friend has traduced me. Does he accept that full debate on these important matters and debate in the next Parliament should not be regarded as mutually exclusive? It is even entirely possible to envisage a comprehensive and perhaps even leisurely debate on the matters being conducted before this Parliament concludes.

Mr. Hayes: That may indeed happen. My point is that a general election may be imminent--I do not want to get into a debate on the date of the general election--and it would be bizarre for this Parliament to agree a procedure for the election of the Speaker that would then be foisted on a new Parliament, which may be very different in its composition from this one. It might contain a different range and set of views.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. We are simply debating whether the amount of time indicated in the motion is appropriate.

Mr. Hayes: I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but are we not also debating the date on which the motion should be discussed? My point is that the time allocated is inadequate, and that the motion may be set for debate on the wrong date. It may not be appropriate to debate it next week, as the speculation is that we may be coming to the end of this Parliament. My point is that it might be appropriate to have a wider, public discussion of the implications of the Procedure Committee's report, as happened after the election of our current Speaker. That should be followed by a thorough and full debate in the House.

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Neither the time allowed on the day by the Government, nor the timetable that they have set, allow for full public debate or proper exploration of the matter before a possibly imminent general election. A curtailed debate, a limited timetable in the House and inadequate wider discussion among the general public, who will have views on the report, would be followed by a general election. An earlier occupant of the Chair suggested that the new Parliament would be sovereign and entitled to debate the whole matter again. There is therefore a legitimate point to be made about the date set for debate of this matter, as well as the time allocated for its discussion.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: Yes, but I am due to be evangelising my party's cause at 8 o'clock in the morning. I do not want to be much later going to bed.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sorry to keep my hon. Friend up for another 30 seconds, but I wonder whether he has considered an important point. The motion is in two parts, and they are different in their application. The first part does not protect debate, and so the Government can put as many statements on before it as they choose. I hope that the Minister will indicate whether any statements will be scheduled for that day. The second part of the motion protects the debate to be held on the private business regarding the Kent County Council Bill and Medway Council Bill. Would not it be reasonable for the Government to allocate greater time for the first section of the motion?

Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend's intervention was so convoluted--untypically, as he always speaks with great acumen and lucidity--and my own desire for bed and cocoa is so great that I cannot deal with it--

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hayes: Yes, but my hon. Friend must do better this time.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am conscious of being censored by my hon. Friend, but there has been so much hilarity and barracking in the Chamber that I have not been able to address the point seriously. However, I do not understand why my hon. Friend fails to grasp the point that the first part of the motion is very different from the second part.

Mr. Hayes: I think that it was G.K. Chesterton who said that people who have the impatience to interrupt the words of others seldom have the patience to choose good words of their own. I do not want to ascribe that fault to my hon. Friend, but he is right to suggest that we might end up with only an hour and a half in which to debate the motion. The matter is profoundly important, and it stimulates a variety of views across the Chamber. To have so short a time for its discussion is inadequate and scandalous. The seriousness and breadth of the Committee report is such that I suggest that many right hon. and hon. Members will want to contribute to the debate. We will be faced with a situation that I have seen before in my short time in the House in which right hon. and

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hon. Members will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will be disappointed. Not only will they be disappointed but their constituents and others will feel that they have not had an opportunity to make their views known properly.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is making a cogent point. Did he notice a moment ago that when he suggested that many right hon. and hon. Members might wish to contribute to this important debate in future, hand gestures from the Deputy Chief Whip appeared to cavil at that suggestion? Will my hon. Friend accept from me that there is a great difference between a debate at 1.40 am, resulting necessarily in a relatively modest attendance, and debate at a proper hour on a normal working day of the House, which would probably attract a great deal of interest from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber?

Mr. Hayes: I suspect that such a debate would attract not only full attendance in the Chamber but a good deal of public and press attention. Indeed, I am convinced of it. I suggest that it would also be one of the more interesting debates in the Chamber from the perspective of the wider public. Unusual views would be expressed, and I suspect that those views would cross the party divide. We have had a taste of that in the debate that followed the election of the Speaker.

It seems unwise of the Government to curtail debate with this timetable motion. I have known the Minister for many years; we have known each other man and boy--well, almost. I know him to be a reasonable and decent man. I suspect that he wants the matter to be explored in the most extensive manner. I do not know whether he has been pushed into this, but it is unwise of the Government to curtail debate in this way because I think that the public will judge them harshly for so doing.

The debate is proposed to take place on the wrong date and at the wrong stage in the Parliament. There is certainly not enough time in which to debate the issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said with regard to the detail of the motion, the nature of the private business to be debated that day and the pressure that it puts on other business on the Order Paper renders the time allocated for debate on the election of a Speaker even less suitable. It is a bit of a pig's breakfast--a dog's dinner. [Interruption.] The Deputy Chief Whip laughs. It is a testament to the House that we can deal with this matter with a degree of good humour, but there is a serious point at stake.

The Speaker is in many ways the personification of the House's legitimacy.

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