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Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con):
I am grateful to the Liberal Democrat spokesman for anticipating a possible result of the certain general election. The problem here is caused by the expiry of Parliament in May. The
Government, who must have known that this was coming, ought to have suggested that there be two private Members' days in each sitting month. That would have solved the problem. It would give us roughly the 13 days that we want by working out the number of private Members' days in proportion to the number of weeks on which we are sitting.
That does not mean that all private Members' Bills would be either discussed or necessarily passed. In memory of Eric Forth, there is what I call the Chope-Dismore choke. Any private Member's Bill has to get through this little parliamentary interest. Many of the concerns of those who promote these Bills are not about the people who object sitting down but about those who discuss the merits of the Bills and their possibilities on their feet-clearing their throats, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) did with some distinction and effect this afternoon.
Mr. Heath: If the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) were passed today, one of its inadvertent consequences would be that most of those days would be devoted to consideration of the nine Bills presented by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) earlier today.
Peter Bottomley: I will not deviate from what I intended to say, which is not as extensive as it would be if I followed every remark that the hon. Gentleman felt he ought to have made in his speech and that he has decided to put into mine.
The reason for supporting the amendment is a simple one. Liberty and responsibility are things that people take; they are not things that are given. We should be saying to the establishment, which is represented at the moment by the Deputy Leader of the House and rather elegantly by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the shadow Leader of the House, who can see all the proper considerations, that if this House-that basically means those who are free to vote as they wish-votes as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough suggests, we will be taking responsibility for our affairs and using the liberty of our votes to say that we want those days for ourselves. I believe that we should do exactly that.
I finish by making an observation that was made yesterday as well. It is rare that a Government motion, whether it be a motion on a Bill or a motion such as that which we are debating now, is discussed in the House-not put through on the nod, but discussed-and not a single Government Back Bencher speaks in favour of it.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con):
Very briefly, I should like to put on record my admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), who ensured that we got this debate by
persistently blocking the motion on the Order Paper and not allowing it to go through on the nod. His amendment is first class. I am delighted that I was able to support it, and I look forward to voting for it soon.
(1) Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely:
In paragraph (4) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'thirteen' in line 42 and in paragraph (5) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 44;
(2) Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely:
In paragraph (2) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'eighth' in line 21; and
(3) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 29 January; 5 and 26 February; 5 and 12 March; 23 and 30 April; and 7 May.
That this House approves the Fourth Report from the Procedure Committee of Session 2008-09 (House of Commons Paper No. 1080); endorses the principle that the Deputy Speakers should be chosen through a ballot of the whole House; and endorses the preparation by the Procedure Committee of detailed proposals for the election of the Deputy Speakers and the consideration by the Committee of the introduction of term-limits for the Speaker and Deputy Speakers.
The motion on the Order Paper has been brought before the House at the request of the Procedure Committee. The Leader of the House is therefore facilitating that request, which I believe has cross-party support. On 2 July last year, Mr. Speaker proposed that Deputy Speakers should be elected. The Procedure Committee then conducted an inquiry, and on 2 November published its report, "Election of the Deputy Speakers: Principles". In the report the Committee recognised that further work was needed, and before taking that work forward, it asked the House to endorse the principles that it has identified: that the Deputy Speakers should be elected; that they should be elected by the whole House in a way that ensures that the party balance within the House is respected; that the Procedure Committee should prepare detailed proposals for the House to consider at the start of the next Parliament; and that the Procedure Committee should examine the idea of adopting term limits for the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, and make recommendations. I commend the work of the Procedure Committee in producing its report.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): In giving consideration to the acceptance of these principles, there are two important concerns. First, the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers clearly need to work as a team; therefore, although we have had the very successful election of a Speaker, there will be issues of compromising that teamwork if elections for Deputy Speaker take place. Secondly, on term limits for Speakers and Deputy Speakers, the House should give consideration to the impact that that might have on the ability of the Speaker's team of Deputy Speakers to be sufficiently independent of the House to be able to maintain its proper discipline and order.
Barbara Keeley: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am sure that the Chair of the Procedure Committee, who is here with us, has heard it. However, it would not necessarily be appropriate for me to respond, as I am moving this motion on behalf of the Leader of the House, to facilitate the further work of the Procedure Committee in taking it forward.
Mr. Pelling: Will the Minister help me to understand this clearly? In her speech she said that we were accepting the principles; subsequently, in answer to my intervention, she said that this was purely a matter of process. Could she explain whether in supporting the motion we are accepting the principles of elections and term limits?
As I said, we are accepting the idea that the Procedure Committee should examine the issue of adopting term limits. That is not to say that we are accepting term limits. We are adopting the principle as
laid out but there is further work to do, and the Procedure Committee will be taking that forward. I hope that that is clear to the hon. Gentleman. If the House agrees to the motion the Procedure Committee will produce a further report. The motion simply asks the House to endorse this decision, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The motion reflects changing times, and Conservative Members support it. As the Deputy Speakers serve the whole House, there is merit in the argument that the whole House should have a say in who they are. Moreover, this is consistent with the arguments for reform of the House of Commons, in that there are proposals for the election of the Chairmen of Select Committees.
By passing the motion, we will allow the Procedure Committee to continue urgent work to create the mechanism required for the election of Deputy Speakers. It will not be an easy task, as there are several matters to consider, not least to ensure that the party balance is maintained with the final result. Given that the aim is to ensure that the proposals are in place for the start of the new Parliament later this year, I wish the Procedure Committee well with all its deliberations.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I, too, support the motion. It is sensible for the Procedure Committee to be given the green light to proceed with its deliberations. I had the great pleasure of discussing these matters with members of that Committee this afternoon, and I know that they are taking great care in looking at all aspects of the issues. The issues are complex; deciding the details of the scheme that will be put before the House is not as simple as might at first be perceived, and the Committee members are taking great care to consider all the implications. Nevertheless, it is right that today the House as a whole should give its imprimatur to the direction of travel that the Procedure Committee is taking.
The one caveat that I enter is that there will be an impact on some of the procedure that will be needed in respect of the exact role of the Deputy Speaker. We are not, of course, discussing the Wright Committee today, but if its proposals for the future role of Deputy Speakers are adopted by the House in respect of giving the Chairman of Ways and Means greater influence over the programme and business of the House, that will have an impact on the eventual proposals put before the House. I am a little worried about the timing of those two factors and the impending general election. It would be greatly to the advantage of the House to have the matter determined before Dissolution, so that the new Parliament has the opportunity to elect the Deputy Speakers in good order at the start of the new Session. With that one caveat, I shall certainly advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the motion.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con):
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), her shadow, and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath),
for their support for the motion. In answer to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, I should say that the Procedure Committee shares his view that this matter will best be settled as soon as possible-certainly during the lifetime of this Parliament. The Procedure Committee is currently meeting weekly to try to meet that goal.
As has been said, the motion is an endorsement of the principle of election for Deputy Speakers. I say to the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) that I suppose some academic might say that we already have a system of election in place, in that the motion that comes before the House for their appointment may be voted on, and is amendable. However, the last time such a Division took place was in 1962. The downside of our current procedure is that such a motion is tabled without notice, so no Member in any part of the House has any time to reflect on whether he or she wishes to support the names being put forward. Indeed, on the day when it normally occurs-the day of state opening-there is no Order Paper. Members do not even get five minutes' thinking time, because the motion is moved without any notice at all. Some may say that the nominations are cloaked in secrecy.
So the procedure is not transparent. However, I have to say that it has worked well in the past, and has delivered a number of excellent Deputy Speakers; I include the present incumbents in that description. However, I do think that it is now time to update our procedure to make it more transparent, and to give Members time to think about their choice.
I do not intend to dwell in detail on the proposals because, as the Deputy Leader of the House has made clear, the motion is an endorsement of principle. If the House supports the motion, it will have an opportunity to go into greater detail at a later date. The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) mentioned term limits; I should tell him that all the motion does is authorise the Procedure Committee to give "consideration" to the introduction of term limits. If the motion passes, the matter will not be concluded one way or the other today. The motion asks, and authorises, the Procedure Committee to look into the matter and make recommendations to the House.
Today is not the day for detailed debate. The motion merely endorses the work we have done so far and authorises the Procedure Committee to continue. I would like to place on the record my thanks to all members of the Committee, of all parties, for the excellent work they have done so far. I support the motion, and urge the House to do so.
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