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Mr. Winterton: My right hon. Friend rightly says that noise does not carry the day. Despite my preference, I think that both systems--the exhaustive ballot and the alternative vote--would function satisfactorily.
We considered whether there should be a run-off, according to the existing rules, after the ballot. We decided that there was little point. The ballot would give a decisive result, while a run-off would add nothing and might lead to confusion or an erosion of the legitimacy of the ballot.
Even with this radical proposal, some of the elements of the existing system will be retained. For instance--and I address this remark specifically to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon--the Father of the House will normally preside over the proceedings.
Mr. Winterton: It is the wish of the Committee on whose behalf I am speaking today. I am outlining and stressing that wish in my remarks. I repeat that the Father of the House will normally preside over the proceedings. There will still be an opportunity for congratulatory speeches after the election and for some of the ceremonial surrounding the election to be retained.
We recommend that there is one set of special circumstances in which there should not be an automatic ballot. That is when a sitting Speaker seeks re-election to the Chair after a general election. As we show in the historical section of the report--which is a valuable part of it--there has been a strong convention for many years that in those circumstances, a sitting Speaker is not challenged.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I should be interested to hear my hon. Friend's comments on that section of the report, in particular in the following respect. It is clear that, for the election of a new Speaker, the nomination system that the Committee has proposed requires a degree of cross-party support. One could envisage circumstances--this may have happened although it may not have been clear because no nomination system existed--in which such support did not exist. Should the House fetter the rights of a majority
Mr. Winterton: As I develop my argument I think that my hon. Friend will realise that it is possible for the re-election of a sitting Speaker to be challenged, but the Committee and I, as its Chairman, do not believe that that is desirable. I will highlight that in a moment. We show in the historical section of the report that there is a strong convention that in such circumstances a sitting Speaker is not challenged. We support that convention and I hope that the House will also support it today.
I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that that convention helps to safeguard the office of Speaker against the politicisation that might follow if it were felt that a change in the composition of the House following a general election might lead to a change of Speaker. The new Standing Order provides that in those circumstances a single Question should be put to the House, "That the former Speaker do take the Chair." In theory, it would be possible to vote the motion down and to hold a ballot the following day, thus preserving the House's right to change its Speaker, but we think that that is highly unlikely to happen and that it would be undesirable if it did. I speak on behalf of the Committee as a whole in making those comments.
Among other issues, we considered the desirability of candidates campaigning, issuing manifestos or speaking at hustings meetings. Here, I must mention the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), whom I commend for his initiative at the last election, which enabled a number of the candidates, including me, to present themselves to a large number of Back Benchers and to be assessed on their suitability for this vital job. I found the experience exhilarating and the initiative taken by the hon. Gentleman served the House well.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I recall the hon. Gentleman at the hustings describing himself as a "traditionalist moderniser" and then correcting himself and saying that he was a "modernising traditionalist". Which is he?
The broad conclusion of the Procedure Committee was that a limited amount of campaigning is only to be expected and, indeed, is healthy, but that it should be regulated by what we describe as the hallmark of this House, common sense. At the start of a Parliament, with many new Members in the House who will not know the candidates personally, it would be helpful to have some way of judging differences between candidates. We provided for candidates to make speeches in the Chamber before the ballot. That is probably the most effective form of hustings. However, we came to the conclusion that speeches by proposers and seconders--however good they may have been or might be--do not serve much useful purpose and should be discontinued.
We provide for a system of nomination, including the requirement that each candidate should have the support of at least 12 Members, three of whom do not belong to his or her party. We did not want to go too far in the direction of discouraging Members from standing, but we thought it reasonable that there should be a minimum threshold of eligibility. We set out a step-by-step proposal for a new system, but we have not attempted to prescribe every last detail.
Mr. Grieve: If I may, I will pick up on my previous point, the thrust of which I think my hon. Friend misunderstood. Will he clarify why he regards it as necessary to have cross-party support for the nomination for the speakership, when the decision must ultimately be taken in accordance with the majority view of the House? Could that not lead to a situation where there is a clear majority view of the House about who it wants as Speaker, but where, because of that mechanism, it is deprived of having the opportunity of that choice?
Mr. Winterton: My hon. Friend asks a hypothetical question. I do not believe that that situation will arise. Any serious candidate for the highest office of this House, that of Speaker, will always attract cross-party support. In my view and from 30 years' experience in this House, if appropriate representations are made by the individual concerned or those representing the interests of that individual, there will be absolutely no doubt whatever that such a candidate will receive cross-party support. To have merely three out of 12 Members not belonging to the candidate's party is modest indeed. It will be for the House authorities to work out the operational details of conducting a ballot within the clear framework established by the new Standing Orders.
Finally, the Committee comments on matters relating to tradition and ceremonial. We say that it should be up to the successful candidate whether he or she wishes to continue with the tradition of being dragged to the Chair. My view is that it is a pleasing piece of theatre with a serious message. It reminds us, as you know only too well, Mr. Speaker, that the new Speaker is taking over a heavy responsibility and may be called on to show courage in standing up to the Executive--perhaps not the physical courage that was needed in the past when after the Speaker's Chair could come the executioner's block, but certainly moral courage.
The Leader of the House said in evidence to us that the outcome was more important than the process. She was right. By that she meant that what mattered was that we continue to elect good, able, impartial Speakers who will defend the rights of this House and the people. Voting systems and Standing Orders are only a means to that end.
I pay tribute again to my Committee for its work. Although it is somewhat unusual, I also wish to express appreciation on behalf of my Committee of the staff who helped us throughout this important inquiry. They undertook valuable work and were much appreciated by all the Committee's members. I hope that my Committee has put together a sensible package of proposals that will enable the right outcomes to be reached and so strengthen the speakership and the House of Commons. I hope that the House will support the proposals.