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Mrs. Beckett: I do not think that anyone could argue that the House has not discussed the issue properly. We are discussing it repeatedly and at length, and it is right and proper that we should. The hon. Gentleman made a point with which no Member would quarrel: the impact of the crisis will be substantial and expensive. However, he may be slightly in error. I understand why he thinks that, initially, the effect on rural businesses may be disproportionate, but as he may have heard in the House yesterday--I understand that it continues to be the case--there is already a substantial impact in areas where there is no cause whatever for it. I believe that the city of Bath was mentioned; in London, I understand that takings are substantially down at the London Eye, Madame Tussaud's and other such attractions. Although rural businesses are bound to be affected and everyone is conscious of that, the crisis is having an effect on the whole economy.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated to the Leader of the Opposition that we would look at any proposals that are submitted. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) will know that issues
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Twelve months after the Government were condemned by the Commissioner for Public Appointments for their systematic politicisation of the national health service, the commissioner has now felt it necessary to bring in independent auditors to investigate the fact that that practice has continued unchanged in appointments to primary care trusts. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Government's failure to observe the Nolan rules on public appointments in the national health service?
Mrs. Beckett: The Government have not failed to follow the rules. We follow the Nolan procedures implemented by the Conservative party. It is a source of slight regret to me that the hon. Gentleman continues to condemn procedures that have ensured the appointment to health boards of far more women and people from minority communities.
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): This week, the Environment Sub-Committee published its report on sustainable waste management. In view of the Government's gyrations in their policy on incinerators, which have caused a spate of speculative applications and have been a source of disquiet in many communities, including that in Guildford, may we have an urgent debate on incineration policy? Will the Government consider the Conservative proposal for a moratorium to ensure that the many questions about incinerators can be sorted out?
Mrs. Beckett: Yet again, the Opposition react opportunistically by proposing steps that they would never have thought of taking when they were in government. I cannot undertake to find time in the near future for a special extra debate on the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I do not accept his animadversions on the Government's approach. I announced a Westminster Hall debate on renewable energy. With a little ingenuity--which has occasionally been demonstrated by Opposition Members--the hon. Gentleman might manage to work his concerns into that debate.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the right hon. Lady make time next week for a debate to discuss compensation for the consequential loss suffered by farmers who are caught by form D and exclusion zones? As such farmers are unable to move any of their animals, they have not had any income for almost six weeks and are living hand to mouth. With the greatest respect, I do not think that the package that the Government have so far proposed does anything like enough to keep those people in business.
Mrs. Beckett: I cannot undertake to find time for a further special debate on that issue, although I recognise the gravity of case that the hon. Lady makes. However, I can undertake to draw her specific point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In response to comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) about the problem of aircraft deviating from approved take-off and landing paths, the Leader of the House may inadvertently have misled the House. She said that she was not sure why it had been impossible to bring measures before the House, and suggested that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions might have been too busy to do so during the current Session. I tabled an amendment to the Transport Bill that would have ensured such provision, but it was not possible to debate it because of a Government programme motion.
Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has come to my attention that in the Budget debate on 13 March, column 902 of Hansard, I suffered a slip of the tongue and referred to "all" rather than to "many" schools in my constituency. I am grateful for the opportunity to make any necessary correction.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the hon. Lady said that she had visited all the schools in her constituency twice in the past year. It is a pity that she did not read the daily Hansard and correct the record immediately after the event. I know that her comments have created a lot consternation in her constituency.
Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business, which will continue until 4 o'clock. I have selected the amendment in the name of the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I may have to declare an interest in the matter!
(1) This House approves the recommendations contained in the Second Report of the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01, Election of a Speaker (House of Commons Paper No. 40) relating to the election of a Speaker.
(2) Standing Order No. 1 (Election of the Speaker) be amended by leaving out paragraph (4); and the title of the Standing Order shall be 'Election of the Speaker: Member presiding'; and
(3) The following new Standing Orders No. 1A (Re-election of former Speaker) and No. 1B (Election of Speaker by secret ballot) be made:
1A. (1) If at the commencement of a Parliament the Member who was Speaker at the dissolution of the previous Parliament is returned to the House, the Member presiding in accordance with Standing Order No. 1 (Election of the Speaker: Member presiding) shall, when the House meets to proceed with the choice of a Speaker, ascertain whether the former Speaker is willing to be chosen as Speaker, and, the former Speaker having submitted himself to the House, shall call upon a Member to move that he do take the Chair of this House as Speaker; and the question thereon shall be put forthwith.
(2) If the question is agreed to, the former Speaker shall thereupon take the Chair as Speaker-elect.
(3) If the question is negatived, the Member presiding shall forthwith adjourn the House to the following day at half-past Two o'clock, and the House shall proceed in accordance with Standing Order No. 1B (Election of Speaker by secret ballot).
1B. (1) If the question put in accordance with Standing Order No. 1A (Re-election of former Speaker) has been negatived, and on any other occasion when it is necessary to proceed with the choice of a new Speaker, the election shall be by secret ballot.
(2) Preparatory arrangements for a ballot shall be made under the supervision of the Clerk of the House.
(3) (a) Nominations of candidates shall be in writing and shall be received by the Clerk of the House between half-past Nine o'clock and half-past Ten o'clock in the morning on the day on which the House is to elect a Speaker.
(b) Each nomination shall consist of a signed statement made by the candidate declaring his willingness to stand for election accompanied by the signatures of not fewer than twelve nor more than fifteen Members, of whom not fewer than three shall be Members elected to the House as members of any party other than that to which the candidate belongs or members of no party. No Member shall sign more than one such statement and if any Member does so, his signature shall no longer be valid.
22 Mar 2001 : Column 500
Before I address the motion, I want to do what I think is proper and express publicly our thanks. First, our thanks are due to the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who weathered the storms around the recent election of Speaker with such good sense and aplomb that several hon. Members gave substantive evidence to the Procedure Committee in support of the current system, despite the widespread anxiety that was expressed at the time. It is also worth noting the conclusion of the Committee's report, with which I believe all hon. Members will agree. It states
Let me stress at once that the motion has been tabled in my name simply to allow the House to reach a decision on the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, as has the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I shall deal with that shortly. The motion and the amendment have been drawn up with the assistance of the Clerks. The detailed process of drafting has, as is often the case, created the need for minor amendment and to expand the Committee's precise recommendations, so that the Standing Orders do, in some places, flesh out the detail of the Committee's recommendations. I believe that the Committee expected that. We have been greatly assisted by the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who has been consulted on our detailed interpretation of the recommendations.
There is no Government position on the issue, just as there was no Government position on the election of a Speaker. It is a House of Commons matter and Labour Members are not subject to any party Whip.
The first part of the motion simply approves the recommendations that the Procedure Committee made about the election of a Speaker. They include matters that probably cannot adequately be put into Standing Orders, but should nevertheless guide the House in future. For example, the Committee noted that it perceived no need for hustings or manifestos, but did not recommend their formal prohibition. It deprecated strident campaigning and noted that it should be possible to carry out the whole electoral process in a single sitting day. Those are important guidelines, which should be put on the record, but they need not be written into Standing Orders.
The second paragraph of the motion provides for leaving out paragraph (4) of existing Standing Order No. 1. That paragraph sets out our existing procedures for electing a Speaker. The rules about who should preside over any election, and the powers that they should exercise, are left unchanged.
The meat of the motion is in the two new Standing Orders proposed under paragraph (3). The first, entitled "Re-election of former Speaker", simply provides that if the Speaker in the previous Parliament is re-elected to the Commons, the House should, at the beginning of the Parliament, be given the opportunity to re-elect him or her
However, it is conceivable, although always extremely unlikely, that a previous Speaker might no longer be acceptable to the House. In that rare case, and in all other cases when a new Speaker is elected, the procedure in the second proposed Standing Order for the election of a Speaker would come into play. I want to highlight one or two details in it.
The report recommends that each nomination should be accompanied by 12 signatures. It does not suggest what should happen if an hon. Member signs two candidates' nominations. It seems to have been intended that the signature of any hon. Member who signed twice should properly be disregarded. Again, that was confirmed by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. However, there was no wish for candidates to be disqualified through no fault of their own but as a result of a duplication of signatures. The draft Standing Order therefore specifies that nominations may contain up to 15 signatures. That gives some room for manoeuvre. It is the Committee's view that the nominations should not be publicly revealed. That is not written into the Standing Orders, but it would be covered by the House's general endorsement of the Committee's proposals.
Paragraph (6) provides that the order in which candidates address the House should be determined by lot in the House, to ensure that the process is as transparent as possible. After that draw, each candidate will, as the Procedure Committee recommended, be given the opportunity to address the House before the ballot takes place.