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Procedure of the House

Part of Business of the House (24, 25 and 26 March) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 26th March 2015.

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Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham 1:10 pm, 26th March 2015

I am very grateful to you for calling me, Mr Speaker, not just as a Liberal Democrat but as a Member who had the privilege of joining the House in the most recent intake, in 2010. Since then I have sought to learn a great deal from my colleagues, not least my right hon. Friend Mr Heath, who has been an inspiration to me in respect of the way I have performed my role.

However, the lesson that I want to share with colleagues today is one that I learned from Sir Edward Leigh, who told the House on another occasion that it owed a great deal to the authority of the Speaker. “The House” means each and every one of us—the legislature that stands up to the Executive—and none more than those of us who may expect to find ourselves from time to time, or even frequently, in a minority, and thus unable to rely on the force of numbers in a majority of Members to get our way. That is a lesson to which I urge my colleagues to pay particular attention.

I am not against secret ballots when choosing someone in an election. Indeed, we have used them many times over the last five years, during the current Parliament. However, the motion refers not to circumstances in which a Speaker has retired, resigned or even died in office, and in which we might choose between candidates—I believe that, in those circumstances, there should be a secret ballot—but to the imposition of a secret ballot when the question under consideration is

“that a former Speaker take the Chair”.

I think that the shadow Leader of the House was right to describe that as a motion of no confidence in the Speaker at the start of a Parliament.

An unforeseen—I think, and hope—potential consequence of the motion would be the fatal wounding of a Speaker, even if that Speaker were to win such a vote of confidence and continue in the Chair. That, I believe, is the gravest danger to Members of this House: to have a weakened Speaker, whoever that might be, at some time in the future. There may come a time, Mr Speaker, when you, or indeed your successors, will need to call it a day. If the House were to decide as much, and if there were to be a kill, let it be a clean kill. We would all regret a fatal wounding of the Speaker that left ordinary Back Benchers vulnerable to the power of the Executive.

As Members well know, Mr Speaker, you have not always had your way during this Parliament, particularly in relation to the question of the future of the Clerk of the House; but when you did not have your way—when you did not have the support of the House—you were very gracious in recognising that, and accepting the will of the House. I urge the Leader of the House today to show an equally gracious attitude to the will of the House, and to withdraw the motion.