I beg to move,
That, at this day's sitting, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman not later than two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order;
such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved;
the Questions may be put after the moment of interruption;
Today we return to our debates on the report of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee, with a further two hours of debate, following more than eight hours of debate on the Floor of the House and in Westminster Hall, including five and half hours of debate last Monday. I hope that we will agree the motion without further debate; we do not want to debate the process, but to bring our debates on the substance to a conclusion, and to vote on the motions and amendments before the House. I commend the motion to the House.
We have an opportunity this afternoon to register the concern of many Members that it was perfectly fair for the Procedure Committee to assume that its whole package of motions would be voted on today, especially as the Leader of the House had put them all down on the Order Paper. At business questions, however, she said that she wanted to facilitate the proposals of the Wright Committee. She seemed to imply that she would allow us to vote on all aspects of the Wright Committee, whose Chairman is in his place now, which had specifically involved itself in the matter of the election of Deputy Speakers. As I understand it, that part of the Committee's work was passed to the Procedure Committee, which was a specific decision of the Wright Committee.
For many months, the Procedure Committee deliberated on how we should elect Deputy Speakers, and whether the Speaker should be re-elected in an open or secret ballot. In all good faith, the Procedure Committee, whose Chairman is also in his place this afternoon, brought the motions before us. The Leader of the House was therefore wrong to say at business questions that we should vote only on the measures arising from the Wright Committee, because the proposals on election of Deputy Speakers came from the Procedure Committee. Deliberately and, we believe, for cynical reasons-I hate to say that, but I think that she fears she may not win the vote-she has cherry-picked only those motions relating to a secret ballot for the election of a Deputy Speaker.
My understanding was that the Leader of the House-she can deny this-had tabled all the motions, and was intending to speak against her own motion. Until last night, she was acting in an entirely appropriate way. She was doing what she promised the House: that she would give it a choice. Therefore, she put down one motion that the Speaker should be re-elected on an open ballot, and one motion that it should be on a secret ballot. She is of the view that we should elect the Speaker on a secret ballot only once-at the beginning, as we did last June. It is not for me to speak for her, but as I will not have a vote, I have no choice-this procedure debate is the only opportunity. She, along with many in the House, believes that the Speaker should be elected on an open ballot after that. Others take a different view, because we believe in consistency.
Why should every other post-every Select Committee Chair and Deputy Speakers-be elected on a secret ballot and then re-elected on a secret ballot? Nobody suggests that if the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, say, is elected on a secret ballot at the beginning of the next Parliament, thereafter there will be no further secret ballot. Once someone became Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, therefore, I presume that they could remain Chairman not just for that Parliament, but for two. I refer deliberately to a Chairman-or Chairlady or Chair-of a Committee in the next Parliament, because in the Parliament after that nobody would want to vote in an open ballot-they would rather have a secret ballot, and we will be granted one.
For clarity, may I make the point-I am sure my hon. Friend did not intend to mislead the House-that the Procedure Committee did not reach a judgment one way or the other on whether the Speaker in a new Parliament should be ratified by a secret ballot. It said that it ought to be a matter for the House to decide, and that is what the Leader of the House is denying us by not putting motions 69 and 72 above the line.
My right hon. Friend is right. I am at a disadvantage because I am not a member of the Procedure Committee; I can only look at its report. However, it seems that the Procedure Committee did a service to the House. It said, "There are two opinions: some people believe that the Speaker should be re-elected in an open ballot, and others believe that he or she should be re-elected in a secret ballot. Let us give the House a chance to vote." The Leader of the House seemed to be going along with that entirely sensible procedure. What happened yesterday to convince her that she could not trust the House of Commons to vote on that most important measure? Why is it that all the other Chairmen of Select Committees, which are far less important than the office of Speaker, will be re-elected on a secret ballot, but the House will never be given an opportunity to vote on whether the Speaker should be re-elected in a secret ballot?
We simply ask for democracy. How can one talk about making the House more modern and accountable when such back-room gerrymandering still goes on? The Leader of the House-she and she alone, not the House of Commons-has decided that for the next 100 years, once a Speaker is elected on a secret ballot, it will be impossible to have a secret ballot, and virtually impossible to have any decent election.
I am a member of the Procedure Committee, and I am horrified that the Leader of the House is denying us an opportunity to vote on a matter that was the unanimous decision of the Select Committee. It is quite wrong. For consistency, I happen to be in favour of open ballots across the board-I would like none to be secret-but is it not even more bizarre that if the Speaker loses his seat at the next election, his successor will be elected by secret ballot, but if he retains his seat, and there is a vote, which there will be, it will be by open ballot? Where is the consistency?
I think that we can prove, without a shadow of doubt, that there is absolutely no logical consistency in what the Leader of the House has done. This should not be seen in terms of an individual; it should be seen in terms of the rights of the House of Commons. So let us talk about some mythical future Speaker. The whole point of a secret ballot is to allow everyone to make a considered-
Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman some leeway, and it is perfectly in order for him to comment on what is not in the motion, but it is certainly not in order for him to go into such detail about the substance of the issue.
This motion, Madam Deputy Speaker, concerns the way in which we are to conduct our affairs this afternoon. Let me end with a plea to the Leader of the House, who presumably, like me, loves this House of Commons and wants it to act in a democratic way. Why are we voting for a Business Committee this afternoon? Because we do not want the Government-and it may be a Conservative Government-to decide on the business of the House. We do not want the Government alone to decide what we can vote for.
It is within the power of the Leader of the House to stand up in the next few minutes and say, "I have listened to the House of Commons. Next week I will allow the House of Commons to vote." I am not making any plea for either a secret or an open ballot; I am merely asking the Leader of the House to facilitate that vote. If people have confidence in her arguments, they will vote for her. That is all that she has to do.
Let me, as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, join my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh in saying how disappointed I am that the whole of our report is not to be debated under this motion. Motion 8, relating to the election of the Deputy Speakers, specifically states:
The rest of the report and its recommendations, however, are not the subject of a debate, and there is no opportunity for a resolution to be made.
I hope that in responding to what will be quite a short debate, the Leader of the House will repeat in an open forum what she said to me just now behind the Speaker's Chair. She seems to be under the misapprehension that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House cannot be trusted to make decisions themselves, and that she should somehow second-guess those decisions and prevent us from proceeding with motions when she thinks that that might produce the wrong result. If I may say so, the right hon. and learned Lady is confusing her position as a partisan member of the Government with her position as Leader of the House.
Perhaps the Leader of the House is simply trying to reinforce the case for a business committee, thus encouraging the House to vote for it later.
That is a good point. The same point was made powerfully by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight during business questions earlier today. The rather glib response of the Leader of the House was that of course she was in favour of a business committee; but why do we have to set up a Business Committee in order to be able to put on the agenda for debate and resolution in the House the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, which have already been presented? Members of the Committee were strongly pressured to produce our report in timely fashion so that there would be an opportunity the full report, and the recommendations, to be considered by the House before the end of this Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend agree that 2010 will feature in the great and long history of the House of Commons as the year that gave us the opportunity to reform this place as it has never been reformed before? Unfortunately, as a result of today's antics the reforms will be half-baked, and the public will not like that at all.
My hon. Friend has made an important point, which speaks for itself.
What we have now is a lacuna. Earlier, the Leader of the House was not prepared to tell us when motions 69 and 72-which are on the Order Paper in her name but will not be debated today, and which arise directly from the first report of the Procedure Committee-would be tabled in a way that would allow us to debate and vote on them. Despite repeated questioning, the Leader of the House refused to answer. She even refused to confirm or deny my suggestion that she would be intent on withdrawing those two motions, thereby, having led us up the hill, taking us down again.
I regard the way in which this procedure is being conducted as intolerable. It obviously reinforces the case for a Business Committee, but until that Committee is up and running, we shall remain in our present position. What has happened today has raised a great many suspicions about whether, as a result of the motions with which we will be dealing, we shall be able to wrest control over the proceedings of the House away from the Executive and the shadow Executive and give it to the legislature. That is certainly what I want to happen.
The motion provides for two hours of debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that we would need no more than two hours in which to debate motions 69 and 72? It cannot be a question of time.
I do agree, but, in fairness to the Leader of the House, she has not put forward that explanation. Indeed, she has not put forward any explanation for not tabling the motions for debate today. When we are considering whether or not we wish to support the business motion, it would be very helpful for us to know the intentions of the Leader of the House in relation to motions 69 and 72. Perhaps because she did not think that there was enough time during business questions, she declined to answer specific questions on the subject, one of which was asked by the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Sir George Young. I hope that she will respond to them now.
I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman a little. If the House were to approve the motion on the House business committee, we would no longer be forced to be a supplicant of Government in order to ensure that our own business is discussed. Surely that it is the issue that we need to nail down today.
The hon. Gentleman has made a point that has been made already by both Sir Robert Smith and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire, and I agree with him; but what he is talking about is something for the future. What he is not talking about is how to deal with the issue raised by the Procedure Committee, which met on more occasions that it would have normally, specifically in order to be able to present its recommendations to the House in good time before the dissolution of the present Parliament. Even if all the hon. Gentleman's recommendations are passed today, that will not enable the House, of its own volition, to deal with motions 69 and 72 before the end of the present Session, thus enabling resolutions to be in place at the beginning of the next Parliament in time for the re-election of the Speaker.
As I said during our last debate on this subject, last week or the week before, the root cause of the problems is the fact that the Executive control the Standing Orders of the House. We must address that as part of the issue to which my hon. Friend is referring, and the issue of the House Business Committee, because it runs very deep. It has often been said that the moment when Front Benchers are seen to be agreeing with each other is the moment at which to look for the problem that is being generated.
I agree absolutely, which is why I tabled an amendment to a motion that suggests that if X, Y or Z were done, there will be various consequences, but does not answer the question as to what would happen if the Government did not do what we would normally expect; namely to act quickly after the Queen's Speech in a new Parliament. I remember being a Member when it took six or nine months to get the Select Committees set up, because the then Conservative Government were reluctant to appoint them. They thought it would suit their own purposes not to have those Committees set up to scrutinise the Government's activities. The motions should ensure that these Select Committees are set up very early.
The behaviour of the Leader of the House in not putting forward motions 69 and 72 means that we would be well advised to look at the small print in the motions before the House. If the Government can give themselves some wriggle room, they certainly will. We have seen the Government wriggling in a most unparliamentary fashion today.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me one last time to speak on an issue that I feel I have been living and breathing since the end of last summer. I spoke early in the debate last week and I will try not to cover some of the- [ Interruption. ] I am sorry. I have made a mistake; I thought this was the main debate.
I am very sorry that the Leader of the House has not indicated that she wishes to respond to the points that have been made by my hon. Friends. I speak totally dispassionately and objectively-I shall not be in the next House-but the very first business to be taken by the newly elected House of Commons, be it in April, May or June, is the election of the Speaker. I do not know how the House will vote on these motions; I am not even sure how I would vote myself. But whether it is to vote for an open or a secret ballot, it is not for the Leader of the House to deny the House the opportunity to make that choice.
I am sure that this must be deeply embarrassing to you, Mr. Speaker. You have been such a champion of democracy, making it plain throughout your time here-long before you stood for the Speakership-that you were first, second and last a democrat. You would not wish to be given some extraordinary artificial protection by the Leader of the House from a secret ballot if you were fortunate enough to be returned as a Member of this House at the next election and then seek the Speakership. It is terribly important that the Leader of the House gives the House the opportunity described by my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight.
The report from the Procedure Committee is part of the package of papers that we were all given at the Vote Office for today's debate. The motion on the election of Deputy Speakers has been tabled by the Leader of the House. As my right hon. Friend has also made plain, his Committee did not come to a conclusion on whether the Speaker should be elected by secret or open ballot. He has made plain his own detachment or agnosticism, if I can put it that way, on the issue. That is a position that I share. All that he and his Committee colleagues have asked is that the House be given the opportunity for which the Committee asked. It is as simple as that. The Leader of the House should speak for us all and it is not for her to trust us only selectively. It is terribly important that every one of these substantive recommendations in the Wright report and in the Procedure Committee report be voted on before the end of this Parliament so that the new Parliament begins with new rules and a clean slate and knows what it is doing. If it is that the Speaker should be elected by open ballot, God bless the Speaker and God bless the House. If the House takes a different decision, equally God bless the speaker and God bless the House.
I urge the Leader to give an undertaking-she cannot do it this afternoon-that in the next two or three weeks there will be a brief opportunity of an hour or an hour and a half for my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire to present his recommendation and for the House to vote upon it.
I agree with everything that has been said, most particularly the point that this underlines the need for a House business committee to take control of these events and, as my hon. Friend Mr. Cash said before leaving the Chamber, the issue of control of Standing Orders needs to be addressed.
I shall be brief, but I wish to ask about the reference in the motion to the suspension of
It is understandable that this sort of House business comes up on a Thursday, but why was
I am dismayed-I trust that you will be, too, Mr. Speaker-at the manner in which the House is being treated this afternoon. You were kind enough to give evidence to the Procedure Committee, as did the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and a number of experts. The Procedure Committee went to a great deal of time and trouble to produce the report in short order, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, to enable it to be debated and voted on before dissolution.
The motion indicates a time limit of two hours. By my miserable reckoning, and even allowing for my continuing for a couple of minutes, that takes us up to about 4.15 pm. [Hon. Members: "No."] Whenever it is, the House could sit until 6 o'clock, so where is the rush? Why is not possible for us to debate properly and thoroughly the recommendations of the Procedure Committee this afternoon? It is not now possible because the motions are not above the line on the Order Paper. But the Leader of the House must stand at the Dispatch Box in a minute and give the House a good and clear reason why the Procedure Committee's report has been cherry-picked, why matters are not being debated properly, and why she is seeking to deny the House the opportunity to vote on the unanimous recommendation of the Committee.
On the question of deferred Divisions, one of the reasons for introducing them was to enable Members to vote other than very late at night. Deferred Divisions do not apply to motions to which amendments have been tabled. That makes sense. It is simple for hon. Members to vote in a deferred Division on a simple straightforward motion, but it would be difficult to do so on a motion with amendments, or amendments to amendments. I am a strong advocate of deferred Divisions as a means of avoiding late-night voting.
One of the reasons for putting this debate on today, rather than at the end of the debate last Monday, was so that we would not be voting very late at night. Instead, Members can be present at the debate this afternoon and then get on with the voting. I hope that that answers that point.
I feel very uncomfortable indeed that I appear to be crossing swords with the Procedure Committee, because I think it does extremely good work; indeed, I pay tribute to it. Members know that they do not make themselves national figures of great popularity by serving on that Committee, but they do a good job on behalf of the House by taking forward detailed procedural issues. Somebody has got to do that, and they do it extremely well. As has been said, they have taken time and trouble in their work on the matter that we are currently discussing, and they have produced detailed work not only on the election of the Deputy Speakers but on petitioning and a range of other issues. The House has benefited from all of that.
I do not want to get into a detailed debate about a motion that is not before the House-we are currently discussing the business motion-but I would like to respond briefly on the election of the Speaker. Deputy Speakers are elected at general elections under party banners. They stand for election like any other Member of the House, as Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative. The Speaker's situation is different: the Speaker stands for election as Speaker of the House and, by convention, the other parties do not stand against the Speaker. There is, therefore, a difference between Deputy Speakers and Speakers. I know that that does not address the issue-
If the right hon. Gentleman will let me continue, I will give way before I conclude if I have not answered the point he wishes to raise.
I know that my comments on Speaker and Deputy Speaker do not address the annoyance that is felt at the fact that I control what is put down for the House to debate. We have already taken steps to deal with that issue, however, because last Monday we agreed that we did not have to wait for a House business committee, because a private Member could table a motion. Indeed, after the election, a private Member could table motions 69 and 72 and have them debated and voted on. This is not just a question of proving why we need a House business committee, therefore, as we have already given Back-Bench Members the opportunity to bring a matter before the House for a debate and a vote.
I will give way in a moment.
We now have now got a lot of substantive business before the House. We have the election of Deputy Speakers and the election of Chairs and members of Select Committees. We have the establishment of a House Committee to deal with Back-Bench business and also an amendment to give that House Committee the opportunity to deal with Government business too, as well as a whole range of other issues. These are very important, substantive matters, and I suggest that we should not take up time debating something that is not before the House, although I accept that Members are questioning why it is not before the House.
I also ask Members to let us agree to this business motion without a Division, because if there is a Division, I am sure that the motion will be passed, and all that will have been achieved is that time will have been taken out of the debate. Therefore, if Members call out against the motion, it will avail them of nothing except taking 15 minutes out of the available time in order to vote.
I shall give way in a moment.
I do not stand back from the fact that I have time-limited the next debate to two hours, because we want to have the debate on the substance of the motions and then we want to vote on them, and there will be quite a number of votes. Afterwards, Members will be able to return to their constituencies.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving way, and I hope I am never very unpleasant to her or anyone else in the House.
The Procedure Committee accepts that the Speaker is in a totally different position from Deputy Speakers, and the argument that the right hon. and learned Lady just put forward is a strong one, but it is just that: an argument for debate. She is denying us that very debate in which that argument could be put, however, and I have to say to her that I find that indefensible. Also, if the remarks that she made to my hon. Friend Mr. Chope behind the Chair are true, she ought to be ashamed of herself.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman heard the remarks that I made to the hon. Member for Christchurch, behind the Speaker's Chair, but I do not remember his being there. I said nothing about my own views and intentions. I actually cast aspersions on the hon. Gentleman's. No light was shed on my views, therefore, in case anybody has run away with that idea. That is all I can say about that. I would not want to repeat to the House what I said about the hon. Member for Christchurch, and I do not know why he has raised this.
The hon. Gentleman has merely created a cloud of suspicion, when we should just be getting on with the job. I shall allow him to intervene, but I might regret it.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving way on this issue. Can she tell me why she has tabled motion 69? Does she intend at some stage that we should have the opportunity to debate and vote on it, and if not, why not?
When I get to make my speech in the substantive debate, the hon. Gentleman will hear me saying that we have made a lot of changes and we have an opportunity to make some further changes tonight, but that this is not the end of the process. Members need not fear that their work will be in vain, therefore, as this is an ongoing process, and I think we have made good progress already and have the opportunity of making further progress tonight. With that, I commend this business motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That, at this day's sitting, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of Ms Harriet Harman not later than two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; the Questions may be put after the moment of interruption; and
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have rightly made your name by defending and promoting democracy. I believe you could solve this issue at a stroke if you stood up and said that you would encourage the Leader of the House to facilitate a vote. You have nothing to fear from this, Mr. Speaker-it is only democracy-and it is in your hands.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order, but he has been in the House since 1983 without interruption-he is in his 27th year of service-and he knows perfectly well that what he has just said is simply not a point of order.
We shall now proceed to the substantive business. As Members will be aware, I have issued my selection of amendments, which has been distributed in the usual way.