Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-239)|
WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH 2003
DALYELL MP, SIR
MP, PETER BRADLEY
MP AND DR
220. I am not in a position to challenge what
Tam Dalyell has asserted about what happened here in 1967 in connection
with Vietnam but I can say that not many people seriously believed
that we could deploy troops to Vietnam when we had our hands so
full in Borneo and in Aden.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) It is hardly a procedural matter.
(Mr Dalyell) The quick answer to that is that what
Harold Wilson was asked for was symbolic. I used Lyndon Johnson's
phrase, "only a battalion of bagpipers". That was all
that was asked for.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) But they made a lot of noise.
Chairman: I do not feel we need to pursue
that particular matter.
221. It would perhaps be useful at this stage
to summarise because I think we have been skirting around the
issue I was going to ask questions on anyway, Chair. The issues
that we have all been skirting around and one of the issues we
have raised with the Speaker is about bringing much more transparency
into the order of speakers to make sure that people are certain
that they are being called or being considered to be called. Would
you agree that speakers' lists printed prior to debate without
any indication as to when they are being called, on the assumption
that you will be in the House for the whole of the debate, could
be a positive addition to the workings of this House?
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Yes, but subject to my free
hour or whatever.
222. Tam, this is surely something you feel
very strongly about.
(Mr Dalyell) It depends on the length of speeches.
Again, forgive me being historical, but there was a Deputy Speaker
who was a small, peppery, bad-tempered but immensely sharp man.
He was a former Lord Provost of Glasgow. He had learned his trade
with Glasgow City Council. Sir Myer Galpern I will treasure. On
one occasion he just said to me, "Stop blethering",
and that was the end of it.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) And he succeeded?
(Mr Dalyell) Yes. He was jolly right. I do think that
a Deputy Speaker or Speaker should have the power and the confidence
to stop people when they have wandered off the point. Rude, sharp
they may be but immensely effective. One did not blether twice
with Myer Galpern.
(Peter Bradley) The first observation I would make
is that I think it is appropriate that Iain should have had to
wait so long to put the question since he was first elected in
2001. I feel quite strongly about this. I know that this is a
sensitive issue for the Speaker, as it has been for previous Speakers,
and I believe it is his view, shared by others, that if you publish
speakers' lists you discourage people from attending the chamber
because the only people who will attend are those who will be
on the list. I take absolutely the opposite view.
223. Hear, hear.
(Peter Bradley) We have now got to the point where
Members of the 1997 intake and certainly of the 2001 intake have
in many cases given up any expectation of being called to speak
on the major issues of the day because they have to wait while
the hierarchy of Members have their turn, to the extent that they
are not now putting notes into the Speaker's office because they
do not want to sit on the green benches for six hours in the futile
expectation of having their say. We also should bear in mind,
and I was thinking about this when we were answering the original
questionTam is upset by my use of the word "hierarchy"
and perhaps I can explain what I mean at a subsequent time. I
was thinking when Sir Patrick was answering the previous question
about speaking and the great speeches. There are many Members
of this House who actually are not great speakers and have no
pretence about being great speakers. They have other talents and
other strengths and, frankly, if they are not going to be able
to make a contribution to the debate in the chamber they may just
as well be elsewhere answering the other demands of the job that
we do, whether it is in committee or at a desk or following some
issue or cause or campaign of their own. I think it is very important
that we have speakers' lists, that the way that the Speaker selects
people for that list should be transparent. That does not mean
that he or she should not have discretion to alter the order as
the opportunity or the need demands, but at the moment some Deputy
Speakers will not even tell you halfway or three-quarters of the
way through a debate whether you are even likely to be called.
I know that we all should respect the chair and respect the chamber
and respect the House, but my argument is that if the chamber
does not respect Members and the demands on their time and their
ability as adults to make choices as to how to spend their time
then it is hardly surprising that increasing numbers of Members
do not respect the chamber as much as others would like them to.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Perhaps if the Speaker is reluctant
on lists your Committee might consider suggesting an experiment
in certain major debates and just see how it does work. I do not
think it would lead to the depopulation of the chamber. I think
it would encourage people, especially if we had this spare hour.
224. I think you have made a very good point
with regard to questions in regard to an emergency debate and
Peter's information is revealing but we knew that generally that
was the case. On things like emergency debates on Iraq would it
not be fairer and more honest and more democratic, rather than
do it, as it has clearly been done, on a hierarchical basis, whatever
Tam feels, being the Father of the House, to have a ballot of
the Members who put in their letters to the debate to be pulled
out and allowed to speak? At least there you would get a cross-section
of Members across all the years and the parties making a point,
because, although it probably would not have changed my mind in
the way I voted (and I voted the same way twice on both the debates
because I was opposed to the issue, I regret), it does raise questions
in my mind that this has been rigged by the Government to reduce
debate and I think at the end of the day if we want to see it
fairer and across the board it would be better for a ballot to
be held of all Members interested to talk.
(Mr Dalyell) No, no, no.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Certainly not. I actually think
that the Speaker does choose without fear or favour. I have been
here nearly as long as the Father of the House and I have missed
out on a number of major debates, so I know what it is like, but
I think that if you had a ballot you actually could run the risk
of having all people with one point of view. I think it is terribly
important that the Speaker is able to take account of many things,
including length of service, including the line that the Member
is likely to take, so that the debate is indeed balanced. The
reason that I am anxious to have this free hour is that then there
is that extra element of spontaneity which really does give people
a chance to be buttoned down and be noticed.
225. This is a very critical part of our debate
and our inquiry.
(Dr Taylor) I would certainly welcome the transparency
of having a list. It would help one to plan one's life much better.
I did go with the new Members in the smallest parties to a meeting
with Mr Speaker just ten days or so ago and he outlined in detail
how they keep track of Members when they have spoken, when they
have stood and have not spoken, and how they fall over backwards
to try and maintain a fair way of calling people. Obviously, from
what people have said, some people do not think that that works.
I would certainly welcome a list, as I welcome time limits for
backbenchers when there is a vast number who want to speak.
(Mr Dalyell) I am not unsympathetic to Iain Luke's
line of argument, but there is one point I would wish to put to
the Committee. If you have ten-minute or eight-minute speech allocations,
psychologically everybody who is called thinks that they have
to speak for eight minutes or ten minutes. I have never been part
of a hierarchy, I assure you. I spoke on Iraq for four minutes,
said everything that I needed to say at that time, and it was
considered rather odd that I had spoken for only four minutes.
If people can say what they wish in four minutes or two minutes
they might be given credit, incidentally, the next time round.
226. A couple of our witnesses today talked
about how you select people and Peter Bradley said that the method
of selection for a list should be transparent. I find, by the
way, Peter's evidence characteristically well argued, partly because
I agree with every word of it. Sir Patrick Cormack also talked
about getting points. Might it not actually be the case that attendance
in debates, of actually standing and not getting called and so
on, in a way gives you a kind of points rating? I do share with
Peter the thought that there is really a real effort by the Speaker
to try and recognise that you have been there for a very long
time and have not been called, but I have to say, Chairman, that
I have no feeling that that applies at all in the case of many
Deputy Speakers and they seem to have very little knowledge of
what the Speaker's database is. I do not know how that information
percolates through. If it was possible to have some sort of building
up of points, and that might be partly through just attending
the chamber, it might be trying to get called to speak and failing
to do so, expressing an interest in a point and being constantly
rebuffed, and if we managed to codify that a bit it would not
alter the Speaker's capacity to regulate the debate and it might
not end up completely fair, but it might give people a greater
sense that, just because you are not known and the Deputy Speaker
does not know what side of the debate you are going to be on,
you are not actually ever going to get called, and therefore he
is never going to know what side of the debate you are on because
he is never going to find out because he has got this list of
people who are always miles above you in terms of the pecking
(Sir Patrick Cormack) A points system, yes, I think
you could do that. I do believe that for those who attend regularly
in the chamber some recognition should be made of that fact. We
all know that there are some people who, come what may, unless
there is something really personal or pressing, are there for
Question Time day after day. They are in the chamber, they seek
to take part, and I do believe that those people should frankly,
whatever their seniority, be given a degree of preference over
the fewand we all know who they arewho come in perhaps
once a week for Prime Minister's Questions and grab a particular
seat and then are not seen at all for the next week. There are
some on both sides of the House that fit that category and I think
that assiduous attendance should bring its own reward.
Chairman: Before I ask John Burnett to
come in and then Rosemary McKenna, in the answers you give to
the next question you would include a response to whether or not
you would like to see a list of those who have applied to speak
in alphabetical order, or a list which is published in the order
that the Speaker is likely to call them to speak. I do believe
that both are relevant and it would be interesting to know what
our witnesses think.
227. I think the Speaker is very much more open-minded
on this matter of lists than has been suggested, and I would cast
the Committee's attention back to our meeting at Speaker's House.
I agree with Peter Bradley on this matter and I also agree with
Sir Patrick who has set out his view about the etiquette of the
House. The point I would put is, if there was a list and you were
on it and you did not obey the etiquette, well then, you are struck
off it and you do not get to speak. There is a similar arrangement
in the House of Lords. I strongly support it and I am also strongly
supportive of a chronological list so that people know when they
are going to come up. Peter is quite right to say that there are
many other compelling duties that we have in this place other
than performing in the palace of varieties, which is very important
but it is not the only thing we are here to do.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) I am slightly in favour of a
list that is not chronological because I believe it would encourage
attendance. I am in favour of the list but I am rather in favour
of it not being chronological. Then you know that you are going
to be called but you do not precisely know in what order. I want
to clarify something I said earlier. I do think it is crucially
important if you are speaking in a debate that you are there until
you are called and then for at least the two speeches after and
then you come back as soon as you can. That is why I would favour
it being non-chronological.
(Mr Dalyell) I am a dinosaur who just thinks, in answer
to John Burnett, that if anybody has more important things to
do then they should not put in to speak at all.
(Peter Bradley) They do not. That is the whole point.
The fact that Tam did not get called in the Iraq debate I think
is the exception rather than the rule. I am glad he has shared
our experience of that though. Let me take issue with what Sir
Patrick was saying when he was talking about seniority of Members.
I think there is a very important principle at stake here. There
should be no senior or junior Members of Parliament and when I
talked about hierarchy, Tam, I have tabled some evidence which
you may not have seen but is my analysis of the Iraq debate in
September and the Iraq debate last week, both of which show a
very heavy preponderance of what would be considered by some to
be the senior Members, the Privy Councillors, former ministers,
those with long service, in preference to those who were elected
in 1997 and 2001, and the vast majority of MPs in this House have
been elected in 1997 and 2001. They get very little look-in. Only
three Labour MPs elected in 1997 participated in either debate
and none from the 2001 intake. I think that is pretty telling.
This principle of seniority is utterly alien to me because it
means that we have at least two categories of Members of Parliament,
one of which is a second-class category which renders our constituents
second-class constituents. When we are elected to this House we
should have equal rights each with another and equal opportunity,
all things being equal, to speak for our constituents in the chamber.
I have to say to Iain Luke that I would not support the idea of
a ballot, frankly, because I think it is important that there
should be a proper matching of backgrounds and parties and points
of view and experience to have a really vital debate, and I also
agree that once people understand what the rules of combat are
they should comply with them and, if they do not, they should
suffer the penalty. In other words, if you are selected to speak
you must pay respect to others in the debate both before and after
your speech and so on, and if you do not it will be quite clear
that you will suffer next time. However, other than those rules
of engagement, there should be no discrimination against a Member
on the basis of his or her seniority, juniority (if that is a
word), party or background.
(Dr Taylor) I would just like to support Peter Bradley
about the ballot. I would not like to see that, and I very much
agree with Sir Patrick that I would like to see a list but I do
not think it should be a chronological list.
228. On the list issue, I am broadly supportive
of a list, but let me bowl you a googly, which is the point the
Speaker will come back with, interestingly enough, which is that
if we have a list every Member will have to apply for every debate
because you and I will get a letter in our postbag the week after
a debate saying, "Why did you not apply to speak in the Iraq
debate?", "Why did you not apply to speak in the hunting
debate?", "Why did you not apply to speak in whatever
debate?" Would we get into a situation where the list actually
becomes self-defeating because we all have to bid all the time;
otherwise our constituents think we are not interested in the
business of the House?
(Sir Patrick Cormack) I do not take that point because
I think that the Speaker should regard the letters that he receives
as entirely confidential and nobody has to say whether they have
written to the Speaker. All the Speaker does is that he says,
"These are the Members I have selected", on whatever
grounds. I do not want to get into a long debate with Peter Bradley.
I probably should have used the word "experience" rather
than "seniority". Mr Bradley used it himself. He said
it was one of the things you had to take into account and when
he looks at the evidence he will find that that was what he did
say. I think that that should be confidential and the list should
be published and then you do not have to tell your constituents
or anybody else. It is entirely between you and Mr Speaker.
229. I am probing you on that.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Indeed. I would like to re-plug
my idea of having this period in the debate when there is this
genuine opportunity to catch the Speaker's eye. I would only support
the list if that were there as well.
230. Would you have a limit to all the speeches
that are asked of members during that hour?
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Yes. During that hour I would
have a time limit and that would be for the Speaker to say whether
it was six or ten minutes or whatever.
231. I know the problems the Speaker faces from
the experience I have had this afternoon.
(Peter Bradley) We are talking about two different
kinds of experience. The experience I felt Sir Patrick was referring
to was experience in the House which relates to longevity of service.
The experience I was talking about in selecting speakers for debate
is their knowledge of or commitment to the issue under debate,
which I think is somewhat different.
(Mr Dalyell) David Wright's point about constituents
asking, "Why didn't you even reply?" is very valid and
here again we are faced with the laws of unintended consequences.
232. I find your analysis very powerful. 71%
of the Members of Parliament in the Labour Party came in after
1992 so that is from 1997 onwards and yet only 7% of them were
called in the debate and I hope that Tam will have a really good
read through that because it is quite a powerful argument about
being called in debates other than through seniority. Sir Patrick,
I agree with you completely on the list, provided there is no
publication of people who apply and there is a time when the Speaker
can use judgment. I do think that would increase people's time
in the chamber. Peter, have you done any analysis on how many
senior members spoke in both debates, because I think that is
important as wellnot just how many people were not called
but how many people were called to speak in both debates?
(Peter Bradley) That was the question I was hoping
you would not ask me. It is an absolutely sensible question but
I have not done that analysis. I can reveal to a startled nation
that Tam spoke in the first debate and that Sir Patrick spoke
in the second, but whether they spoke in both I do not know. The
reason why in the analysis I have referred to the proportion of
Labour MPs as opposed to members of the House in general is because
the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs do not suffer the same
congestion that Labour MPs do. Because of the ping-pong, it is
rather unlikely that if a Conservative or a Liberal Democrat is
standing that they will not get called. Sir Patrick's experience
in recent years at least will be rather unrepresentative of other
members of the House. Sir Patrick will always get called not because
he is such an eloquent orator, although I am sure that is an important
factor, but partly because of his seniority, because that is the
current system, and largely because of the numbers game in the
House of Commons. That is why the newer intake of Labour MPs is
effectively being disenfranchised by the current convention.
233. We did in the Conservative Party have a
not dissimilar problem in 1983.
(Mr Dalyell) I am getting a bit restless about this
because much has been made of my seniority and speaking on Iraq.
The fact of the matter is that I have spoken on nothing else.
I did not speak on the Queen's Speech; I did not speak on the
Budget and I saved myself for Iraq. How much is it about seniority
or the fact that I have been to Iraq, one of the very few who
has, on two occasions?
234. The question has been asked about three
times and answered four times. That was about the seniority issue.
Tam's contribution and the statement about seniority appearing
to be a relevant factor in choosing the members who speak has
already answered that question. There is another important issue
about the ballot. I agree with Sir Patrick that there has to be
a balance about the printed list, but there has to be a flexibility
within that. I have sat through part of a debate where I have
never stood up but as the contributions were being made I felt
there was a contribution I could make. That flexibility is not
there because they have a list already set up and that is something
I would like to see expanded upon. When we talk about balances,
there is one very big issue and that is the imbalance of the Labour
Party versus everybody else. There is a 104 government majority
and if you are looking seriously to have a balance within Parliament
one of the things that must be changed is the ping-pong because
the ping-pong works out on the basis that it is one from one side
and one from the other. Many times I have been in the chamber
when there have been 20 or 30 Labour MPs standing and other parties
scurrying to get people in so they can speak. That is an extremely
unfair position and it is also a very unfair position when the
minority parties, both Plaid Cymru and the SNP, have pro rata
speeches in the chamber that are far greater than that of any
back bencher. When I go back to my constituency, constituents
quite rightly say where was I; why was I not in that debate; why
could I not do that? They see in the Scottish papers that other
Scottish MPs can get in, namely from the SNP. That is a very unfair
system and if we do look at changing certain things one of the
things we must look at, surely, has to be the ratio of speakers.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) It is extremely difficult. It
is very fair to raise the subject and your Chairman, Sir Nicholas,
was right when he referred to 1983. I was along with him one of
that large majority, frequently, I might say in a minority in
that large majority on things like the poll tax and so on, and
finding it difficult to get my point of view across. I have been
there; I have done that, or failed to do it, as the case may be.
This is something where your Committee has to weigh up the very
powerful arguments on both sides. There is the argument Mr Hamilton
has put and I concede it is a powerful one, that the Labour Party
has, as a result of the will of the electorate, far more members
than the other parties put together and therefore, yes, Mr Bradley
is right. I have a better chance of being called than if I was
sitting on the Labour side of the House. Against that you have
to weigh the longstanding convention which pertained throughout
the Thatcher years when we had that big majority that the Speaker
always alternated one side to the other and, in his alternation,
brought in the minority parties. What you cannot do is have a
system which so discriminates against the minorities that they
are excluded at the expense of a huge majority. One of the answers
to your question might be that you concede that you have to pay
the price for electoral success by this slight imbalance. It is
not for me to say what your Committee should decide but merely
to indicate some of the issues that I believe you should address.
235. From the chair, Sir Patrick, do you believe
that the Speaker should have the discretion to call two members
from the same side if there is a huge demand from both sides of
the House because of the current imbalance in the House in order
to ensure that as wide a section of opinion can be expressed?
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Yes. I think probably he should.
I think the Speaker must have as much discretion as possible.
I am a great believer in giving the Speaker a lot of discretion
but I think that if he is going to do that that is where he should
also be able to exercise the discretion by saying, "Yes,
I will do that, but they will be shorter speeches." I do
not think you have to say that every speech must be a maximum
of ten or eight minutes. You can well say, "Yes, I am going
to do this", just as he has the discretion at the moment
to treat the Liberal spokesman in the same way that he treats
the Tory front bench speaker. He might say, "If I am going
to call two from the government side, those two people will have
to pay the price of a slightly shorter speech." These are
the sorts of things that the Speaker would be able to do. I was
for three years the Deputy Shadow Leader of the House so I have
been through this, through the usual channels. I would be happy
to endorse that sort of approach because I think Mr Hamilton has
a perfectly valid point.
236. Bearing in mind there should be equality,
government against opposition, because opposition is so difficult
and the huge power of the government and its machine, we must
be able to speak against them and have equality of time.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) Yes.
237. Mr Dalyell, would you like to comment on
(Mr Dalyell) I think the discussion is distorted by
the issue of Iraq. Can I turn back to another issue, namely the
miners' strike? It was quite right that the Speaker should repeatedly
call members representing the National Union of Mineworkers. I
at the time represented three pits. Did I ever speak on it? No.
Did I attend the debates? Yes, every one because I thought I had
an obligation to do so, but without uttering a word.
Sir Robert Smith
238. Some of these problems might solve themselves
because if Sir Patrick's point is taken on board that the courtesies
of the House are respected what Peter Bradley has seen happening
would not be able to happen because the whips would not be able
to go scurrying and find someone in the tea room to make up the
(Peter Bradley) It already does happen because very
frequently one convention of the House will conflict with another.
One convention says that you should be there throughout the debate
if you expect to be taken seriously and called but, at the moment,
what tends to happen is that you will have some members on the
Labour benches standing up fruitlessly, hour after hour. That
is the tip of the iceberg because many people who feel strongly
about the issue have spent a day or so researching and writing
a speech before they even get into the chamber. While they are
standing up fruitlessly, a Conservative Member of Parliament may
wander into the chamber and within five minutes be called.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) That should not be allowed.
(Peter Bradley) We are pong-pong, ping, ping-pong.
239. If there is no time limit, you will find
that the third parties get squeezed out because the extremely
long length of speeches by the Conservative benches tends to mean
that the one to four ratio between third party and Conservative
Party means that hardly anyone else gets called.
(Sir Patrick Cormack) I hope that as a result of your
deliberations there will be a guide to the proper etiquette to
be observed so that members will be penalised if they flagrantly
disregard that. I also think that the Speaker, again with his
discretion, should have the power to do what Sir Myer did do on
a number of occasions and say, "That is enough." The
Speaker does it now sometimes in question time. He did it three
times today. I think that is a power that the Speaker can reasonably
exercise after a period. It places great burdens upon him but,
if your Committee came up with a guide and he was then enforcing
it, it would have the endorsement of the House's own committee
Chairman: We intend to make reference
to the courtesies and traditions of the House but I believe I
am correct in saying that the Speaker himself has recently sent
out a letter to all members of the House outlining the courtesies
of the House which he wishes to see implemented and respected
by all members.