HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc229-35

3.51 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the creation of a constituency to be known as St. Stephen's and represented by Mr. Speaker. It is not often that the House of Commons has the opportunity of meeting problems before they arise, but I wish for a few minutes to provide an opportunity to discuss something which I believe to be of importance in an air of calm deliberation, not affected by party political considerations or by differences between the two sides.

The problem arises at this juncture, and is becoming pressing, because within a few months the country will be faced with a General Election, and at that election there will, as I think most commentators agree, be a considerable swing against the Conservative Party and a considerable swing in favour of the Labour Party. That means that all seats are likely to be contested. This is a good thing, except in one particular case.

Your own seat, Mr. Speaker, in Westminster, will also be contested at that time. Already, there is a candidate from an extraordinary party known as the Fellowship Party. I understand, too, that a candidate has already been nominated from a party better known but just as extraordinary, the Liberal Party. Even more important in terms of realpolitik, there will almost certainly be a candidate from the Labour Party. The House therefore faces the position that it is now quite clear that at the next General Election Mr. Speaker's seat will be contested.

That will be the fifth time that Mr. Speaker's seat has been contested in the last hundred years. In the first two of those contests, the Speakers concerned were Mr. Speaker Peel, in 1885, and Mr. Speaker Gully, in 1895, and both contests arose in rather different and rather special circumstances. But the contests for Mr. Speaker's seat in 1935 and 1945 and the contest for that seat at the next General Election arise, in my view—and I put this for the consideration of the House—from the failure of the present arrangements to satisfy two conflicting aims.

The first aim is what I regard as the very important one isolating the office of Mr. Speaker from internal party controversy. I believe that this is essential. I do not believe that the respect accorded to Mr. Speaker's office by members of the Opposition or the Government can be achieved if the holder of the office ever becomes part of that normal political controversy which I regard as a healthy thing in a democracy, but which, I believe, strikes at the very function of your office, Sir. The first aim, therefore, is to isolate Mr. Speaker from political controversy.

The second aim in a democracy is to enable any elector who is qualified as an elector to express his or her political point of view. Some commentators have suggested that under the present arrangements it is possible for the electors in Mr. Speaker's constituency to be represented as electors, as is their democratic right, because none of us is under any illusion at all that a request to a Minister from yourself, Mr. Speaker, would probably produce much faster results than would be achieved by one of the political proletariat here.

But in a democracy that is not the purpose of political representation. It is not the function of a Member of Parliament merely to be able to raise constituency issues on behalf of his constituents. In a democracy, it is the right of an elector to be able to pronounce on the big political, international and economic issues of the day, and as long as Mr. Speaker's seat is, by tradition, not contested, the electors within that constituency are deprived of the opportunity properly of expressing their political point of view on the big issues of the day.

For that reason, it is important that we should see whether there is some way in which we can achieve both these aims. I am suggesting, in my proposed Bill—and it is not a particularly new idea—that there shall be constituted a special, and a nominal, constituency of St. Stephen's which would be represented by Mr. Speaker upon his election to that office. Mr. Speaker would become the Member for St. Stephen's. There would then be a by-election in his former constituency, in which the electors would be represented by the party politician of their choice.

Some commentators, notably The Times, for which back benchers normally have a fitting reverence, have suggested that it is essential to Mr. Speaker's office that he should be "one of us," and that the respect for and authority of the Speaker is drawn from the fact that he is himself an ordinary Member of Parliament. I suggest that this is a fallacy. Mr. Speaker is not an ordinary Member of Parliament. Indeed, the powers wielded by a modern Speaker would, in a democracy, be intolerable in the hands of anybody who was an ordinary Member of Parliament.

It is quite beyond belief that in a democracy we could permit any ordinary Member of Parliament to be able to pick and choose which Amendments shall be debated, to determine whether a debate shall be closured, and to exercise all the very real and extraordinary powers which Mr. Speaker quite necessarily, and quite rightly, carries. There are other differences. Legislation over the last hundred years, and before that, has been directed towards making Mr. Speaker's office a quite special one, to make of it the non-political embodiment of the House as a whole, and, with respect, I suggest that it is from that that you draw your authority. Sir.

There are many other differences that one could produce to further the argument that you are not as the rest of us. In my researches I have found, and it has been mentioned before, that you do not pay Income Tax, which the rest of us have to pay. During a Dissolution, you retain your powers and continue in your office. In my view, all these things are essential to a modern Speaker, but they also make nonsense of the argument that Mr. Speaker's authority is drawn from the fact that he is an ordinary Member of Parliament.

The other argument against this is that if Mr. Speaker represents a specific Speaker's seat then, on the loss of his office as Speaker, he would cease to be a Member of this House. That is a very desirable thing, because I think that it would be undesirable to have any Speaker at any time reverting to being an active party politician within this House of Commons. The last Speaker who did so was Mr. Speaker Addington, in 1789, and he resigned to become Prime Minister. While many of us feel that any change could only be for the good in this direction, we on this side of the House have already chosen the present right hon. Gentleman's successor.

We are faced with the problem of what to do about the approaching situation. If we do not change the present position with regard to your office, Mr. Speaker, within a few months there will be a General Election and your seat will be contested. It will then be the third time that it has been contested since 1935. I believe strongly that this is an extremely undesirable custom which is growing up and something which we should seek to avoid. It is quite wrong and incompatible with democracy in 1963 that any group of constituents, for whatever reason, should be deprived of the right of electing not only the person of their choice but—to face the realities of the present party system—the party politics of their choice. I would, therefore, ask permission to bring in the Bill on these grounds.

It is not difficult, of course, to find anomalies in this position. Indeed, it is fashionable to point out the anomalies which exist in the British Constitution at present and all the illogicalities in the way we run our affairs. One thing which can be said in favour of the British Constitution or Parliamentary system is that it happens to work rather better than the systems which other people have followed. It has worked because it is a pragmatic system based on the recognition of difficulties and on the desire to ensure that the system always works to the best of our ability.

We are faced, however, with these conflicts with regard to this extremely important office and because of this I beg to ask leave to bring in the Bill.

4.2 p.m.

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

As the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) has said, this is an old idea. It is so old an idea that I think that the most senior Member of the House—bless him—was very much in the cradle when it was already old history. Royal Commission after Royal Commission has gone into the subject, and there has been inquiry after inquiry. One after the other has turned down this suggestion, and for very good reasons.

The first reason—and I say this with great respect to you, Mr. Speaker—is that whoever was appointed Speaker, from the moment that the Bill was passed, could regard his office as a lifelong job from which he could never be turned out. There would be no check on his appointment, either by the House or by a constituency. I think that that would be very wrong.

The second point is that once we introduce a Measure of this kind, creating one Member of Parliament, whatever his office, in a quite separate, distinctive and privileged category from any other Member, we would have his deputies wishing that they had the same privilege. It would not be long before

the House extended this privilege, or uniqueness, to Deputy-Speakers and Chairmen of Committees. At present, we have the straightforward practice that every Member of the House, no matter what his position, however dignified and honourable, is liable to the chance of the polls. It is very wise that we should retain that, even with so high and privileged an office as that of Mr. Speaker.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):

The House divided: Ayes 68 Noes 76

Division No. 96.] AYES [4.4 p.m.
Ainsley, William Hill, J. (Midlothian) O'Malley, B. K.
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Holman, Percy Paton, John
Beaney, Alan Houghton, Douglas Prentice, R. E.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Randall, Harry
Bradley, Tom Hynd, H. (Acorington) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Brockway, A. Fenner Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Rodgers, w. T. (Stockton)
Collick, Percy Janner, Sir Barnett Sorensen, R. W.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Jennings, J. C. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Crossman, R. H. S. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Dalyell, Tarn Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield) Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Darling, George Lipton, Marcus Thornton, Ernest
Dodds, Norman Loughlin, Charles Thorpe, Jeremy
Driberg, Tom Lubbock, Eric Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Tomney, Frank
Fernyhough, E. McCann, John Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Finch, Harold MacDermot, Niall Walnwright, Edwin
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McInnes, James Warbey, William
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.) Willey, Frederick
Gooch, E. G. Mapp, Charles Williams, LI. (Abertillery)
Grey, Charles Marsh, Richard Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)
Griffiths, W. (Exchange) Millan, Bruce TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hannan, William Montgomery, Fergus Mr. Manuel and Mr. Mackie.
Herbison, Miss Margaret Nicholson, Sir Godfrey
Barlow, Sir John Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Neal, Harold
Barter, John Green, Alan Neave, Airey
Benson, Sir George Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Black, Sir Cyril Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Bossom, Hon. Clive Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Box, Donald Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Pilkington, Sir Richard
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.SirWalter Hurd, Sir Anthony Pott, Percivall
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Prior, J. M. L.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Profumo, Rt. Hon. John
Cary, Sir Robert Kerby, Capt. Henry Rawlinson, Sir Peter
Channon, H. P. G. Lagden, Godfrey Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Cleaver, Leonard Lancaster, Col. C, G. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Cooke, Robert Langford-Holt, Sir John Shepherd, William
Cordle, John Lawson, George Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Crawley, Aidan Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Stodart, J. A.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Lilley, F. J. P. Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. G. E. M. Longden, Gilbert Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)
Doughty, Charles Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Turner, Colin
Duncan, Sir James Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Walker, Peter
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Maclean, SirFltzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek
Eden, John Maitland, Sir John Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Mathew, Robert (Honlton) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Mawby, Ray
Farr, John Miscampbell, Norman TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles More, Jasper (Ludlow) Sir Frank Markham and
Galpern, Sir Myer Morrison, John Sir Harry Legge-Bourke.
George, Sir John (Pollok) Nabarro, Sir Gerald

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Marsh, Mr. Arthur Skeffington, Mr. Niall MacDermot, Mr. Tom Driberg, Mr. Bruce Millan, and Mr. Jeremy Thorpe.

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