HC Deb 27 April 1992 vol 207 cc2-26 2.44 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Before the House proceeds to the choice of a Speaker, it may be helpful for me to describe the procedure that is to be followed.

I shall first call for a candidate to be proposed and seconded, after which a debate may follow on that Question. At the end of the debate, the Member proposed may indicate his or her willingness to accept the office. At this point, an amendment may be proposed and seconded to leave out the first name and insert another name. A debate on that amendment may then follow, at the end of which the Member concerned may indicate his or her willingness to accept the office. The Question, That the amendment be made, will then be put.

If the amendment is carried, I shall then put the main Question, as amended, on which also a Division may take place. If the amendment is defeated, it will be possible for further amendments to be moved in the same manner as I have described for the first; or, if no amendment is forthcoming, the original Question will be put to the House. I call Sir Michael Neubert.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

On a point of order, Sir Edward. Could you explain in which order the candidates will be proposed to the House? Have you decided in which order the names will be chosen?

Sir Edward Heath

Sir Michael Neubert will propose the first candidate.

2.51 pm
Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)

I beg to move, That Mr. Peter Brooke do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. No one recently elected or re-elected to this House and committed to parliamentary democracy, which has given freedom and stability to our country and so many countries around the world, will be likely to underestimate the importance of the purpose which brings us here to our first meeting of this new Parliament.

Parliamentary democracy places a unique responsibility on the Speaker. I take this first opportunity to congratulate you, Sir Edward, on the signal honour conferred on you by Her Majesty in respect of your premiership and many other public services over so many years. I believe that it will not be the least important of your duties that today you preside as the new Father of the House over the election of our Speaker. This Parliament —if you will approve the metaphor, Sir Edward—will not be plain sailing.

Unusually, we have a choice of candidates. In particular, on the Conservative Benches, it seems that we have an embarrassment of riches. [Laughter.] Whatever the House eventually decides we are all obliged to choose between friends and Members, hon. and right hon. alike —an invidious start to the new Session. The office of Speaker, once secured, is all-powerful in this Chamber. It is the Speaker who holds the key to the opportunity of one's next brilliant speech or incisive question. Therefore, proposing who should be the next Speaker is a perilous enterprise. I am all too well aware that, if I get this wrong, I may never catch the Speaker's eye again, but a choice has to be made and my choice is my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke).

Since my right hon. Friend's entry into the House 15 years ago as a Back Bencher in opposition, the Chamber has had an essential magnetism for him. Subsequently he has filled with distinction a number of ministerial offices, culminating with Cabinet responsibility for Northern Ireland, which is among the most onerous and difficult offices in the Government of the United Kingdom. Throughout that time he has always been ready to answer to the House—of the primacy of Parliament in his mind there can be no doubt.

As on earlier occasions, we would be enhancing the office of Speaker and the standing of the House by electing a Member who served as one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State. There have been Speakers of this House since 1258. It is a long line which encompasses much of our history. Since the second world war the Speaker has always come from the majority party in the House at the time.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Sir Michael Neubert

I make no special point about that. The House is free to establish its custom and practice in this matter as in others. However, in my experience during 18 years, it has worked well.

The independence of the Speaker has been conclusively demonstrated on several significant occasions. Governments have often been discomfited by the Speaker's ruling. There is no reason to believe that if my right hon. Friend were to take the Chair he would be any less forthright in defence of Back Benchers' rights or any less jealous of the Speaker's independence than his immediate predecessors have been.

There are some Members who might, with less than Christian charity and compassion, point to my right hon. Friend's time in the Whips Office, but I hope that any such doubts might have been put aside by the example of the previous Speaker, himself a former deputy Chief Whip. In the dying days of the last Parliament when he was accused of favouring his friends, he snapped back, "I have no friends." That is the truth of it. The office of Speaker is the loneliest job in Parliament. Its holder is required to sacrifice that camaraderie which means so much to the rest of us. Students of the Whips tend to concentrate on the darker, cloacal arts of the Whip's trade, forgetting that it gives essential understanding and training in the procedures and workings of the House, which will be a considerable asset to anyone in the Chair.

My right hon. Friend is steeped in the traditions of this place. Both his parents were parliamentarians. Parliament is in his blood. He has a grasp of history which would guide him if he were to take his place in that long line of Speakers. He would bring dignity, erudition and wit to the exercise of the office and the stature to ensure firm handling of our often stormy debates.

In personal terms my right hon. Friend has always been agreeable and affable in his dealings with Members in all parts of the House. He will be an admirable ambassador for us outside. Finally, he has the strength, stamina and family support needed for the task. In short, my right hon. Friend has, in good measure, all those qualities for which we look in a Speaker. I commend him to the House.

2.57 pm
Sir Thomas Arnold (Hazel Grove)

I rise to second the nomination of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke). He would make an admirable and excellent Speaker of the House of Commons.

The House has come to realise the pre-eminent value of fairness in Mr. Speaker, and my right hon. Friend, not least in the discharge of his duties in Northern Ireland, has shown himself to be fair and even handed. Those are qualities which the House of Commons rightly treasures.

Sooner or later in this Parliament, as I understand it, the Government will introduce proposals to change the Standing Orders, hours of sitting and other procedural matters of the House. It is perfectly true that when I used to work for my right hon. Friend he let me go home early, but I suspect that the changes that the Government have in mind will be judged not simply by whether they make our lives easier, but by whether they protect the rights of the House of Commons and of Members herein.

My right hon. Friend will be anxious to achieve that protection and would be impartial between the parties. As newcomers to the House will recognise quickly, the impartiality of Mr. Speaker is one of the essential ingredients and guarantees of our liberties.

On a personal note, and without wishing to sound impertinent, my right hon. Friend also looks the part. Indeed, he is famous for his bushy eyebrows, so much so that I have sometimes wondered what he is thinking. His qualities will stand him in good stead in dealing with over-enthusiastic Back Benchers and the over-mighty denizens of the Front Bench. I have great pleasure in supporting the motion.

3 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As there is no other occasion in the parliamentary calendar when one can say anything sensible about the operation of the Chair without implying criticism of the occupant of the Chair, which, as we all know, means a substantive motion, and, as we are extremely reluctant to table substantive motions against the Speaker, is it appropriate to ask two questions?

First, what can we hope for from an incoming Speaker in terms of a far more lenient attitude towards private notice questions? The decision whether to accept a private notice question often can alter events outside the House. The taste and decision of the Speaker is all-important in that. Whoever the next Speaker is, may I ask him or her to take a more lenient view towards granting private notice questions to those on the Back Benches? There is a feeling among some of us that private notice questions on the very same subjects that are granted to the Front Bench are often not granted to the Back Benches. I am speaking up for the rights of Back Benchers and for the merits of what they are proposing at least to be entertained by the Speaker.

Secondly, I should like to ask about the Speaker's attitude through the usual channels—he or she plays a very important part in the usual channels—to whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who now speaks for science—a subject much under-represented in the House of Commons—is to get just 10 minutes spatchcocked into the middle of a Monday or whether science will be treated as a proper Department of State with a 40-minute slot at Question Time.

I have known every Speaker since Sir Harry Hylton-Foster. The personal qualities of a Speaker and his or her attitude towards Members are all important. That is why I hope that, when the choice comes, we will make the right choice for Back Benchers and dissenters in the House.

3.3 pm

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I hoped that the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) would give way to me, when I would have made my point concisely. I shall make it as briefly as I can now.

The hon. Member talked about the Speakership of this House going back to 1258. As he will find when the Official Report is published, this will be the 51st Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which goes back only to 1801. That is not only an important historical point; it is also an important political point. If whoever occupies the Chair believes that this House is simply the continuation of the Parliament of England, he or she has another think coming.

It is important to recognise the important Scottish dimension when the Government, albeit having received some modest increase in support in Scotland, were rejected by 75 per cent. of the Scottish electorate. One would hope that, when the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) or anyone else who is proposed occupies the Speaker's Chair, he or she will be sensitive to the very different political situation that exists in Scotland.

3.4 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

You, Sir Edward, and I have sat in 13 Parliaments under seven Speakers, and I think that we are the last remaining Members of the House who saw Attlee and Churchill at the Dispatch Box and heard the last King's Speech from the throne. We were elected in the same year; you are the Father of the House and I was then the baby of the House. I must now be the uncle of the House, and it is in that capacity that I want to speak.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) introduced, in my opinion, the most important element into this debate—the Speakership itself. As a young Member I once moved a motion of censure on the Speaker—a daring thing to do, for which I paid a heavy price. I did it because he refused me an emergency debate on the possibility of military action in Oman. Also, I was kept out by Harry Hylton-Foster on the ground that I was a peer, so I have had conflicts with one or two other Speakers as well.

Before we come to the names—there is a candidate whom I strongly wish to support—I wish to stress that this is a House of Commons matter. Previously, Speakers have been chosen by patronage, nudging and winks, through the usual channels, which are the most polluted waterways in the world. All the candidates who have been mentioned have exceptional qualities—I am not arguing about that —but the House should remember that the reason that we regard the Speaker as important is that in this Chamber —or where it was 450 years ago this year—Mr. Speaker Lenthall refused to bow to the king when he wanted to arrest five Members. He said, using the famous phrase: May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor Tongue to Speak in this Place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here". Therefore, if we are talking about the Speakership, we must bring it up to date and ask where executive power lies now and how the House can be strong in defending it. We need a Speaker who will defend the legislature against the Executive, and defend the electors against those who abuse power, whether it be state power or private power.

The power of Charles I has long gone and his successors have no power left, but in that 450 years state power has grown enormously in many ways. For example—and I am looking at the Prime Minister—all the prerogatives that Charles had are now in the Prime Minister's hands. You, Sir Edward, know it yourself. The Prime Minister can take the country to war without consulting Parliament—he did. He can sign treaties and choose archbishops without consulting Parliament. He can create peers without consulting Parliament—the previous 10 Prime Ministers have created almost 900 Members of the other place without doing so. The Prime Minister can, without consulting Parliament, agree to laws being made in secret in the Council of Ministers in Brussels that take precedence over our laws. He also has other powers. Therefore, the divine right of kings is alive and well in the person of the Prime Minister of the day.

Other powers have grown: the City of London votes every day, and so will the European central bank, to decide the policy of this Government and every other Government. We are no longer even the primary source of debate, as television has taken it over. Mr. Speaker Sissons and Mr. Speaker Paxman presumed to tell us what the nation should think. When I first came here the Division Lobbies and polling stations were supposed to be the places where the nation's will was expressed, but now the arrogant pollsters—the inaccurate pollsters—presume to tell us what the nation thinks. I say to whoever succeeds to the Chair that democracy is being bypassed, and the responsibility for that rests largely with the House of Commons and all the parties which have allowed it to happen.

We have some powers: we can speak freely. Our speeches are printed in Hansard—the only newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdoch. We also have access to television, without being interrogated in the star chamber by David Dimbleby. But our most powerful weapon is Mr. Speaker, and I wish to speak about the Speakership.

Apart from keeping order, which is not as difficult as it might appear, the Speaker can allow or disallow parliamentary questions to Ministers, and thus expose or protect them; accept or refuse closure motions, which can prolong or stop debates; select or reject Back-Bench motions or amendments, and thus deny a minority view in the House from ever being put in the Lobbies; permit or deny private notice questions or emergency debates; call or not call individual Members; and give or withhold precedence to Privy Councillors, which is the source of much anger. He can determine which Bills are hybrid and which are not; use a casting vote if there is a tie; recall the Commons in a recess—a formidable power—in the event of some international crisis; certify a money Bill; and rule on matters of privilege.

That is the office which we are discussing and, although the vote will resolve who occupies the Chair, we must pay attention to the office itself. Every Member present brings his or her own experience and convictions to the House. We were not elected to be robots, trembling before the party Whips. Ultimately, we are responsible to ourselves and our consciences. All party leaders get it wrong sometimes and, often, one lone voice may turn out to have got it right. We must speak out more plainly for the people we represent, many of whom have no confidence in the House. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) questioned whether this is a representative assembly. That is now on the agenda, whether we agree or not. Ethnic communities and those who poured into the polling stations but could not vote because they did not pay their poll tax do not feel represented in the House. Others can live abroad for 25 years and still have a vote without even being asked to pay poll tax.

The point is that we must not have another cosy little election for a Speaker without recognising that these are difficult times. I believe—I have been here for a long time —that we need a reforming Speaker. We modernise everything but the Speakership goes on. We need a Speaker to call more Members from minority parties and more minority Members from other parties. We need more debates on emergency matters—why should the television channels cover matters that we cannot discuss even when the business of the House is only a trifling amendment on a Government Bill? I want a Speaker who will demand better conditions for the staff who work in the Palace of Westminster, including comprehensive and complete child care for the many parents who have come to the House: I should like a Speaker who will allow Westminster Hall to be used so that we do not leave pensioners freezing outside in the winter when they come to lobby their Members of Parliament. I should like the Strangers Gallery to be renamed the "Electors Gallery". We have never caught up with 1832 when this place was done out.

I should also like a Speaker who does not wear a wig every day, because it is so intimidating—[Interruption.] I know that Mr. Speaker Weatherill was popular on television, but many people watching thought that he was appearing in the High Court. We need a Speaker who will defend the rights of those represented here.

Although I am not speaking for my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), whom I support, I hope that she and the other candidates are listening. If Parliament is to survive, it must be a workshop, not a museum. For one reason or another, the years ahead will be very troubled. There will not only be difficulties in the House, but social unrest—[Interruption.] I am giving my opinion to the House I thought that that was what the House was famous for. I do not believe that democracy can be taken for granted anywhere. We would do well to elect a Speaker who will help to do the difficult task that falls to those of us who have the honour to serve in this House.

3.14 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I shall address myself entirely to the House of Commons and not to anything outside.

It is vital that the House should elect as Speaker somebody who believes in the integrity of the House of Commons and is prepared to safeguard the ability of the House to monitor the Executive. Year by year, the House's ability to monitor the Executive has been increasingly eroded. We want a Speaker who is committed to the House and to its ability to hold Governments to account.

We want a Minister—[Interruption.] We want a Speaker who is prepared to stand up for the rights of the only organisation within the House that can effectively monitor the Government, and that is the Select Committee system. [Interruption.] Remarks that are not unexpected are being made by Conservative Back Benchers. Perhaps too many people come to the House merely seeking ministerial office. [Interruption.] Some of us never anticipate the call. We do not sit by telephones waiting for the call to ministerial office, but we believe in the integrity of the House. The speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) reflected a deep concern, which is felt by the people of this country, that Back Benchers are not adequately safeguarded in this place and that the ability of this place to monitor the Executive is not powerful enough.

In considering the nominations for Speaker, I hope that the House will be proud of its power, authority and integrity and will elect a Speaker who will honour, cherish and safeguard the authority of the House of Commons itself.

Sir Edward Heath

Mr. Peter Brooke has been proposed and seconded, and I give him the opportunity to submit himself to the House if he so wishes.

3.16 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

I am grateful to my hon. Friends who have proposed and seconded me in terms much more generous than I warrant. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) in congratulating you, Sir Edward, not only on the office you now hold in the House, but on being elevated to the Order of the Garter.

Once upon a time, I was the first ever headhunter in the United Kingdom and widely condemned as an interfering reformer of ancient and traditional practices. Now, 30 years on, I am content in the knowledge that a commercial acorn has become a respectable forest of oaks. A characteristic of a headhunter is a preoccupation with the specifications of a job. One such specification for the task of Speaker was written by the great Delane, the 19th century editor of The Times when it was called "The Thunderer". It began: Imperturbable good temper, tact, patience and urbanity and an absence of bitter partisanship in his previous career. Confronted by such a litany of perfection, any candidate must be cowed into instant humility. I shall essay, but not achieve, the standard of humility set by King Lobengula of the Matabele whose first loyal address to Queen Victoria began with the words: We who are but as the lice on the edge of Your Majesty's blanket… These remarks will be brief but they cannot help being personal. I shall try to avoid the example of the peer at the turn of the century whose memoirs were held up for three weeks because the printers had run out of the capital I. I cannot, however, promise entire abstinence.

My father entered Parliament when I was four years of age; he sat in both Houses of it. Both my parents sat in the Upper House. My first visit here, at the age of nine, occurred, lugubriously to report, on the day that the then Mr. Speaker FitzRoy died, which I suppose constitutes a thread of continuity.

More germanely perhaps, my forebear, Mr. Speaker Brooke, was the first Member for the City of London, which is part of my constituency, to be Speaker while the City's Member. He lasted five weeks in the summer of 1554 before deciding in the reign of Bloody Mary, and in an office which then often led to summary execution, that discretion was the better part of valour. I risk not following his example in saying to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the events he described of Mr. Speaker Lenthall occurred 350 years ago rather than 450.

Delane's specifications apart, no one should be a candidate for Speakership unless he admires and reveres this ancient House, and that I can plead to do. A candidate must also be confident that his spouse understands what will be involved in the roles that both will need to play. My wife has experienced the representational life of a Minister's wife and has a vivid and willing understanding of the role that falls to a Speaker's wife.

I had recent grateful occasion to know the temper of the House towards me in a personal capacity. That event occurred, however, while I was a Minister. I have had, therefore, to ask myself whether it was appropriate for someone to allow his name to be proposed for this high office so soon after leaving government. That will be for others to decide. For myself, the last such case was that in 1959 of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, then the Solicitor-General, who was the most recent Member for my constituency to be Speaker. His being a Law Officer was regarded as being unpartisan and therefore to admit of the transition. The Northern Ireland Office is similarly unpartisan, at least between the two main parties. As I say, it will be for others to decide what is proper. I can only say on a personal note that, as when I started that lonely and innovative business 30 years ago, I shall be my own man.

I hold all the other candidates whose names I have heard in the highest regard. Some feel that competition for the office is in some sense improper. For myself I count it as an index of the importance that the House attaches to the Speakership, and I count it as an honour to have been considered at least worthy of nomination. I am grateful to all those who have encouraged me to stand.

3.22 pm
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, to leave out "Mr. Peter Brooke" and insert instead thereof "Miss Betty Boothroyd".

I wish to associate myself with those who have congratulated you, Sir Edward, most warmly on the award of Knight of the Garter and also becoming Father of the House. In the capacity of Father, you will recall the occasion in 1951 when there was a contested election between Mr. Morrison and Major Milner. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), when he talked about the contest leading to an invidious start to this occasion, was right in identifying the degree of ambience that there is on such an occasion. 1 believe that the House has reacted far more robustly and in a far more adult fashion to the matter today than it did in the embarrassment of some 40 years ago. That is a tribute not only to the House but to those who are offering their names for the great post of Speakership.

I say only this in respect of my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), whom I am seeking to exclude by means of the amendment. It has been a privilege to serve as a supporter of a Minister who has shown such courage and courtesy in one of the most testing offices of state. I know that similar qualities could be secured for each and every candidate. So we proceed to the business of deciding on the Speakership in, I believe, a healthy rather than an embarrassed atmosphere. I think that we can echo the words that were spoken in 1951 by Clement Attlee. After the decision had been made, he said: We have had a vote, and although the House has the right to exercise its choice, when its choice has been made that choice becomes Speaker of the whole House."—[Official Report, 31 October 1951; Vol. 493, c. 22.] That spirit will guide us today.

I intend to say a few words about the office of Speaker and the tasks that are required of him. As has been said by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), this is one of the few occasions when one can, in a reasonably free atmosphere, talk about the office of Speaker. By far the most important aspect of it is contained in what has almost become a theme remark in today's wider publicity—"Order, order"—for it is order, the securing of the framework of debate, which is absolutely essential for the freedom and the effective running of this House of Commons: not just to provide the circumstances for agreement between the exalted.

Harsh words about "the usual channels" were offered, characteristically, by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I regard "the usual channels" as almost an art form. Without their effective operation this place would be in a complete shambles within a very short time indeed.

The task of the Speaker is to require balance and, above all, to see that dissent is not the prerogative of the lilac establishment in the Reform club or of those who try to essay a permissible range of opinions. Dissent is very often the individual attitude, the pioneering determination, of Members of this House. Every time that we come to decide who is to be the Speaker there should be the spectral presence of those like Alan Herbert or Eleanor Rathbone to remind us that when individual Members use this place for the pursuit of social or other objectives the Speaker has an absolutely crucial role to play. When we make the choice I am sure that we shall have to resolve—I do not say this in the ringing tones of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield—the dilemma that dissent, like truth, is many sided and, in my view, is often many splendoured. That is a very important consideration for the Speaker in fulfilling his task.

Mention has been made of Speaker Lenthall. I suppose that that was fairly predictable: it is almost the clause four of Speakership. I have always been much fascinated by the eyesight problems that plagued Speaker Lenthall. It clearly has engaged the affection of successive Parliaments. Indeed, we have a Westminster doctrine—the doctrine of constructive myopia: whenever it becomes more suitable not to see rather than to see things, there is great merit in not seeing them. I commend that view to the House about the choice of Speaker—that when we consider whoever is the candidate for Speaker we have total myopia about party affiliation, about whether he belongs to the party that has won an election, about whether he is of a party that did not have the Speakership in the preceding Parliament. If we have as our overwhelming consideration the test of merit, we shall not merely have made a valuable step forward but be vindicating the Back-Bench role in the House of Commons at a time when it is most valuable.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), whom I am most happy to commend to the House, has been here for nearly 20 years. Most of that time was spent on the Back Benches, learning the endless frustrations of that kind of life. Those of us who are looking for fraternity in suffering will therefore well consider her merits. Also, and providentially, the hon. Lady's innocence was tempered by service in the Fagin's den known as the Labour Whips' Office. As it now seems that service in the Whips' Office is almost a sine qua non of consideration for the Speakership, that tells us something about either the Whips' Office or the modern Speakership.

I commend to the House the fact that, since 1987. the hon. Lady has been Deputy Speaker. During that time she has excercised the role, often in difficult circumstances, with authority and with courtesy. If I wanted to make the recommendation, I should say merely, "Look at the record; look at the experience." Alas, that is known to only part of the House this afternoon because many Members are here for the first time today. They must take it on recommendation and not on experience. Either way, the hon. Lady's service as Deputy Speaker was an apprenticeship carried out with great skill, and it is a recommendation for the Speakership.

3.30 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I support the amendment most warmly. I begin by saying how delighted I am to see you, Sir Edward, in your new role as Father of the House. I am not sure whether that word encompasses the Mother of the House. Whatever your status, Sir Edward, you are most warmly welcomed.

We have heard today of many of the important things which people consider that the role of Speaker represents. I have no difficulty in speaking of the warmth, intelligence and wit of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd), who has been known to us for some time as our Deputy Speaker. It is important when we decide such an important question that we remember that her apprenticeship has been long.

I have known the hon. Lady since she began working —dare I say it—for a certain political office then not far away, in Smith square. She worked for one of the most illustrious general secretaries, who happened to be my father. She was highly thought of, not least because my father was known to say that if they were any damned good they went and, if they were no damned good, one could not get rid of them. The hon. Lady, of course, was one of those who moved on.

Like many women, she had to fight hard to get into the House. Hers has not been an easy apprenticeship. She fought a number of parliamentary seats. She worked very hard, not only for other members of the Labour party, but for elected representatives generally. During her time as a Member of the House she has represented the House in NATO and in the non-elected European Parliament. Indeed, she has served her apprenticeship in the Labour Whips' Office. That combination is extremely difficult to beat.

Everything that the usual channels think of such a Speaker would have heard of already. Those who think more often in committee than in European terms or in the rather robust way in which our Parliament behaves will find themselves dealing with a lady who understands only too well that the protection of the rights of the United Kingdom—and this Parliament is a Parliament of the United Kingdom—resides here in a Parliament that has had time enough to make excuses, to learn new ways, and to develop slowly over the centuries.

Only one group have found it very difficult to be fully represented here in the numbers in which they should be represented. That group is, of course, women. It is time that we had in the Chair someone for whom we shall vote not just because she is a woman, but because she is a woman parliamentarian whose intelligence and ability have proved themselves time and again in the protection of all Members of Parliament of all parties.

The House of Commons is at its most endangered when those on either Front Bench seek unduly to influence the Speaker. That is not unknown. From time to time those on the Opposition Benches have wanted to persuade a Speaker of the importance of particular aspects of the way in which debates are handled. It is therefore essential that we elect a woman who comes from one of the tribes of the United Kingdom that is well known for its ability to speak its mind plainly and with wit. I refer, of course, to the people of west Yorkshire.

Above all, I most strongly believe that this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to demonstrate its commitment to the interests of every one of our electors —not seeking only to consider the interests or rights of those who have come through the establishment, however strong may be their commitment to the interests of the House of Commons, but putting first and foremost the candidature of someone whom we regard with affection and respect, secure in the knowledge that it will be the House of Commons that she protects, that the House of Commons is her priority, and that it is for the House of Commons that she will speak with great force and great clarity.

I am delighted to second the nomination of Miss Betty Boothroyd.

3.37 pm
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I shall not detain the House for long—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and I ask new Members, who are in considerable confusion this afternoon, to observe how encouraging it always is to address the House and how warmly one's remarks are always received.

It is difficult for new Members in particular to make decisions regarding the relative competence and appropriateness of the candidates before us. There is one remarkable thing that may come to them afresh after their experience of the election: today, we are talking in favour of candidates and not against other candidates. I am in no doubt whatever about the qualities, honourableness, decency and fairness of Peter Brooke. I contend, however, that Miss Betty Boothroyd has three qualities which new Members in particular should consider most carefully. I am not trying to persuade those who are not new to this place; they know, and have made their judgments.

First, it is enormously important that the Speaker should be seen by every individual Member to be a fair person. I speak as a permanent Back Bencher for ever seeking to be a Front Bencher, and I can say quite simply that Betty Boothroyd is.

Secondly, control is sometimes necessary. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that, really, it was not all that difficult to control the House. It is easy enough for one of the difficult guys to say that, hut, in reality, it is sometimes quite difficult to control the House. One need only look at those on the Bench beneath mine to realise that. I believe that Miss Betty Boothroyd has that essential sense of humour that is vital in controlling the House in a way that does not offend or anger people.

Thirdly, in the end, the Speaker requires to be decisive and to be able to make a clear decision and to stand by it. I know that Miss Betty Boothroyd would do that in a fair and good-humoured way, and I am happy to support her nomination.

3.39 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

May I briefly, Sir Edward, join in the many congratulations extended to you. I support the amendment so ably moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) on behalf of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd).

This is a strange place. We spend our time legislating and telling the rest of the world how to train and modernise, but we never train ourselves or new Members. We do not tell people about the job that they are supposed to be doing. It is not a disadvantage that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West has had five years' experience as Deputy Speaker. Frankly, if we believe in training, we should regard that as a positive advantage. I take issue with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in only one respect: the fact that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West is a woman is of no significance as far as I am concerned.

We face a difficult task today. There are three or four candidates from the Conservative Benches whom many of us will have known for 15 or 20 years or more. The Select Committee on Members' Interests has considered the question of lobbying. I found some of the activities of the past few weeks particularly unattractive with regard to the office of Speaker. It is one thing to lobby for someone who wants to be joint secretary of the Conservative Back-Bench social services committee when a vote is taken in secret; it is altogether different when we march through the Lobbies and people throughout the country are aware of our decisions.

I believe that the hon. Member for West Bromwich. West has served us well, and would serve us well in future. If she does not get the job, I hope that none of those who succeed her will bear me any ill will for what I have said. A non-partisan, cross-party consensus, if that can be achieved, would be best. On that basis, I have pleasure in supporting the nomination of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West.

3.41 pm
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

1 need only say that I have listened to the debate and I have no objection to those hon. Members who have been proposed. However, if it becomes necessary, I shall vote for the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd). I hope that it does not come to that. She has shown her credibility and experience, and I will have the greatest pleasure in supporting her.

Sir Edward Heath

Miss Betty Boothroyd has been proposed and seconded. I now invite her to submit herself to the House if she so wishes.

3.42 pm
Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)

May l congratulate you, Sir Edward, as I address you in this way for the very first time.

In accordance with ancient custom, 1 must now submit myself to the will of this House. However, this House has another custom on which I have checked. On an occasion such as this, one pays tribute to our former Speaker. In doing that, I am not merely obeying a custom. Speaker Weatherill was my teacher when I became a Deputy Speaker, but by the time he left office he had become my friend. He once said—and it is quite true—that a Speaker has no friends. In his case, he was speaking only part of the truth. It is true that a Speaker must have no favourites, but Speaker Weatherill had a legion of friends. Were this House to reach a certain decision today, it will be my hope to take my place among the honoured Speakers of the past whose number certainly includes Jack Weatherill. I might not achieve that, but that would be my aim.

Our former Speaker was asked on one occasion about his guiding rule when he was presiding. He quoted St. Bernard of Clairule: Notice everything. Correct a little. Cherish the brethren. That is not a bad rule for a Speaker, and it is one that I would wish to follow. Although I shall certainly cherish the brethren when I am in the Chair, I can be relied upon to cherish the sisters as well.

That brings me to another factor which must be in the mind of the House today. Much has been written recently about the possibility of having a woman Speaker for the first time. Some right hon. and hon. Members might consider it desirable, others conceivably not. but this House must know that, although having a competent woman Speaker may be a good thing, having a bad woman Speaker would be disastrous. It would be a tragedy for this House, it would he had for the country, and it would be bad for the cause of women everywhere.

I know, Sir Edward, that on occasions such as this the House can be somewhat sentimental, and there is nothing wrong with sentiment in some circumstances, but when it comes down to basics, the House is essentially hard-headed. So I do not need to urge this House today to make its decision only on the grounds of the qualities which have been revealed by my conduct in the Chair and by my membership of this House. I say to you, elect me for what I am and not for what I was born. That is crucial.

I have been a Member for nearly 20 years. For me, the Commons has never been just a career: it is my life. I have known it in all its moods—sometimes very dull, although even at its drowsiest it is always capable of erupting at the most unexpected moment. I have known it, unfortunately, docile, too, before the Executive. I have known it sometimes mutinous, and I have witnessed moments which are the very stuff that our history is made of. Now millions outside the House share the experiences that we all know here. The introduction of television into the Chamber has meant that whatever happens here is not only seen in this country but is broadcast to living rooms thousands of miles away. Although I certainly understand the emotions which are aroused in this Chamber—and I have every sympathy with the very strong and robust feelings which are so often revealed—people at home and abroad expect the highest possible standard of conduct from us.

I have been a Deputy Speaker, but always at heart I have been a Back Bencher, and, except for a period 16 years ago when I was in the Whips' Office, that has been my position. I have never sought, and I have never expected, to occupy one of the great offices of Government. It is true that I have seen Administrations grow enormously in size in the past 20 years. I have always been aware, though, that it is the Back Benches which provide the overwhelming majority of the House when all is said and done. Whoever takes the Chair will have one overriding responsibility—to safeguard the rights of all Members.

I wish to thank the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who has been robust in my support since it became apparent that a new Speaker was needed. 1 also wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). As she said, we have known each other for many years in the House, on our party's national committee and in the European Parliament. To both of them I am grateful for the faith that they have placed in me. I must mention also the hon. Members who have voiced their support for me this afternoon. If that faith is extended by other right hon. and hon. Members, I shall of course endeavour to justify it.

I realise the weight of responsibility. It is something more massive, more demanding than anything that I have known before. I am comforted by the fact that this feeling cannot be unique, that almost every Speaker would have felt similarly in the past. Like them, I am conscious of my limitations. Like them, I shall endeavour to discharge my duty to protect minority rights without ignoring the fact that majorities have rights as well.

It will he a lonelier life than I have known before: no longer part of the camaraderie of the Palace of Westminster—though occasionally that is a little patchy; no longer sustained by my party alone—though that is even patchier. But I hope that I may be sustained by the good will which I shall attempt to earn of the Members of all parties.

I well remember a former Member of this House recalling at a previous election of this kind the qualities which another Speaker had outlined 400 years earlier. Speaker Yelverton thought that the office of Speaker demanded a voice great, a carriage majestical, a nature haughty and a purse plentiful. How do I measure up to that? Not very well, I fear. I certainly do not possess a purse plentiful. I do not believe that I have been endowed with a haughty nature. It is true that in the past I may have been granted some physical agility; but my carriage is not all that majestical now.

So what is left? Perhaps only what Speaker Yelverton described as a "voice great". Hon. and right hon. Members with experience here know that I can use that voice strongly in fairness and justice when the occasion demands.

I now have to offer myself as the voice of the House —sensitive to the concerns of every Member, aware of the supreme duty of the Speaker to safeguard the rights of this House, abandoning all my previous commitments to party, and content to serve the House for as long as it may require.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 372, Noes 238.

Division No. 1] [3.53 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Adams, Mrs Irene Burden, Richard
Ainger, Nicholas Byers, Stephen
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Caborn, Richard
Allen. Graham Callaghan, Jim
Alton, David Campbell. Ms Anne (C'bridge)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Campbell. Menzies (Fife NE)
Anderson, Ms Janet Campbell, Ronald (Blyth V)
Armstrong, Hilary Cambell-Savours, D. N.
Ashby, David Canavan. Dennis
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Cann, James
Ashton, Joe Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Aspinwall. Jack Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Austin-Walker. John Chisholm, Malcolm
Barnes. Harry Churchill, Mr
Barron, Kevin Clapham, Michael
Batiste. Spencer Clark. Dr David (South Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Bayley. Hugh Clarke. Tom (Monklands W)
Beckett. Margaret Clelland. David
Beggs, Roy Clwyd. Mrs Ann
Beith. A. J. Coftey, Ms Ann
Bell, Stuart Connarty, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, Andrew F. Corbett, Robin
Benton, Joe Corbyn, Jeremy
Bermingham, Gerald Corston, Ms Jean
Berry, Roger Cousins. Jim
Betts, Clive Cox, Tom
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cryer, Bob
Blair, Tony Cummings. John
Blunkett, David Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boateng. Paul Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Bowis, John Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)
Boyce, Jimmy Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Boyes, Roland Dafis, Cynog
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Dalyell. Tam
Bradley, Keith Darling, Alistair
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davidson, Ian
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Day, Stephen Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Denham, John Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Devlin, Tim Hume, John
Dewar, Donald Hutton, John
Dickens, Geoffrey Illsley, Eric
Dixon, Don Ingram, Adam
Dobson, Frank Jackson, Ms Glenda (H'stead)
Donohoe, Brian Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Dowd, Jim Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Jamieson, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Janner, Greville
Eagle, Ms Angela Johnston, Sir Russell
Eastham, Ken Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Enright, Derek Jones, leuan (Ynys Mon)
Etherington, William Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Jones, Ms Lynne (B'ham S O)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Jowell, Ms Tessa
Fatchett, Derek Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Faulds, Andrew Keen, Alan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Khabra, Piara
Fisher, Mark Kilfedder, James
Flynn, Paul Kilfoyle, Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Kirkwood, Archy
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland) Knapman, Roger
Foster, Donald (Bath) Leighton, Ron
Foulkes, George Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fraser, John Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Fyfe, Maria Lewis, Terry
Galbraith, Sam Litherland, Robert
Gallie, Philip Livingstone, Ken
Galloway, George Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Gapes, Michael Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Gardiner, Sir George Llwyd, Elfyn
Garrett, John Lofthouse, Geoffrey
George, Bruce Loyden, Eddie
Gerrard, Neil Lynne, Ms Liz
Gill, Christopher McAllion, John
Godman, Dr Norman A. McAvoy, Thomas
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Ian
Golding, Mrs Llin McCrea, Rev William
Gorst, John McFall, John
Gould, Bryan McGrady, Eddie
Graham, Thomas Mackinlay, Andrew
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) McLeish, Henry
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Maclennan, Robert
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McMaster, Gordon
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McNamara, Kevin
Grocott, Bruce McWilliam, John
Gunnell, John Madden, Max
Hain, Peter Madel, David
Hall, Mike Maginnis, Ken
Hanson, David Mahon, Alice
Hardy, Peter Mallon, Seamus
Harman, Ms Harriet Mandelson, Peter
Harvey, Nick Marek, Dr John
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Marland, Paul
Hawksley, Warren Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hayes, Jerry Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Henderson, Doug Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Hendron, Dr Joe Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Hepple, John Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Martlew, Eric
Hinchliffe, David Maxton, John
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Meacher, Michael
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Meale, Alan
Home Robertson, John Michael, Alun
Hood, Jimmy Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Hoon, Geoff Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyle Bute)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Milburn, Alan
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Miller, Andrew
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Milligan, Stephen
Hoyle, Doug Mills, Iain
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Morgan, Rhodri Smith, Llewellyn (Blaenau G'nt)
Morley, Elliot Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Soley, Clive
Morris, Michael (North'pton S) Spearing, Nigel
Mowlam, Marjorie Speed, Keith
Mudie, George Spellar, John
Mullin, Chris Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Murphy, Paul Squire, Ms Rachel (D'mline W)
Nelson, Anthony Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Steinberg, Gerry
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stevenson, George
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Stewart, Allan
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Stott, Roger
O'Hara, Edward Strang, Gavin
Olner, William Straw, Jack
O'Neill, Martin Sumberg, David
Oppenheim, Phillip Tapsell, Sir Peter
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Taylor, Mrs Ann (D'w'bury)
Paisley, Rev Ian Taylor, John D. (Strangf'd)
Patchett, Terry Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pawsey, James Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Pendry, Tom Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Pickthall, Colin Thornton, Malcolm
Pike, Peter L. Tipping, Paddy
Pope, Greg Townsend, Cyril D. (B'xl'yh'ath)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Tredinnick, David
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Trimble, David
Powell, William (Corby) Turner, Dennis
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew' E) Twinn, Dr Ian
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tyler, Paul
Prescott, John Vaz, Keith
Primarolo, Dawn Walden, George
Purchase, Ken Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Quin, Ms Joyce Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Randall, Stuart Wallace, James
Rathbone, Tim Walley, Joan
Raynsford, Nick Ward, John
Redmond, Martin Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Redwood, John Wareing, Robert N
Reid, Dr John Watson, Mike (Glasgow C)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Richardson, Jo Wicks, Malcolm H
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Wiggin, Jerry
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wigley, Dafydd
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Wilkinson, John
Roche, Ms Barbara Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Rogers, Allan Williams, Alan (Carmarthen)
Rooker, Jeff Wilshire, David
Rooney, Terry Wilson, Brian
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winnick, David
Ross, William (E Londonderry) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rowlands, Ted Wolfson, Mark
Ruddock, Joan Worthington, Tony
Sedgemore, Brian Wray, Jimmy
Sheerman, Barry Wright, Anthony
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Young, David (Bolton SE)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Short, Clare Tellers for the Ayes:
Simpson, Alan Mr. Giles Radice and
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Robert Adley.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Aitken, Jonathan Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Alexander, Richard Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Ancram, Michael Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Arbuthnot, James Bates, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bellingham, Henry
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bendall, Vivian
Atkins, Robert Beresford, Sir Paul
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hanley, Jeremy
Body, Sir Richard Hannam, Sir John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hargreaves, Andrew
Booth, Hartley Harris, David
Boswell, Tim Haselhurst, Alan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Hawkins, Nicholas
Bowden, Andrew Heald, Oliver
Brandreth, Gyles Heathcoat-Amory, David
Brazier, Julian Hendry, Charles
Bright, Graham Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Horam, John
Burns, Simon Hordern, Sir Peter
Burt, Alistair Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Butler, Peter Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Butterfill, John Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Carrington, Matthew Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Carttiss, Michael Hunter, Andrew
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Jack, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Jenkin, Bernard
Clapplson, William Jessel, Toby
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Jones, Robert B. (IV H'f'rdshire)
Coe, Sebastian Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Congdon, David Key, Robert
Conway, Derek King, Rt Hon Tom
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Cormack, Patrick Knox, David
Couchman, James Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Critchley, Julian Lait, Ms Jacqui
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Lawrence, Ivan
Davis, David (Boothferry) Legg, Barry
Deva, Niranjan Leigh, Edward
Dicks, Terry Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dorrell, Stephen Lidington, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lightbown, David
Dover, Den Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan, Alan Lord, Michael
Duncan-Smith, Iain Luff, Peter
Dunn, Bob Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Durant, Sir Anthony MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Eggar, Tim McLoughlin, Patrick
Elletson, Harold Maitland, Lady Olga
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Malone, Gerald
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Mans, Keith
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Marlow, Tony
Evennett, David Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Faber, David Mates, Michael
Fabricant, Michael Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Fishburn, John Dudley Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Fookes, Dame Janet Mellor, Rt Hon David
Forman, Nigel Merchant, Piers
Forth, Eric Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Fox, Dr Liam Moate, Roger
Fox, Sir Marcus Monro, Sir Hector
Freeman, Roger Moss, Malcolm
French, Douglas Needham, Richard
Fry, Peter Neubert, Sir Michael
Gale, Roger Nicholls, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Norris, Steve
Garnier, Edward Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Gillan, Ms Cheryl Ottaway, Richard
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Page, Richard
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Paice, James
Greenway, Harry (Eating N) Patten, Rt Hon John
Grylls, Sir Michael Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Pickles, Eric
Hague, William Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie Richards, Rod
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Riddick, Graham
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Robathan, Andrew Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Temple-Morris, Peter
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Thomason, Roy
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Thurnham, Peter
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Townend, John (Bridlington)
Sackville, Tom Tracey, Richard
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Trend, Michael
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Trotter, Neville
Shaw, David (Dover) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Viggers, Peter
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Shersby, Michael Waller, Gary
Sims, Roger Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Waterson, Nigel
Soames, Nicholas Watts, John
Spencer, Sir Derek Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Wheeler, Sir John
Spink, Dr Robert Whitney, Ray
Spring, Richard Whittingdale, John
Sproat, Iain Widdecombe, Ann
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Willetts, David
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stephen, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stern, Michael
Streeter, Gary Tellers for the Noes:
Sweeney, Walter Sir Anthony Grant and
Sykes, John Mr. Peter Bottomley.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Miss Betty Boothroyd do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

Whereupon SIR EDWARD HEATH left the Chair, and MISS BETTY BOOTHROYD was taken out of her place and conducted to the Chair by MR. JOHN BIFFEN and MRS. GWYNETH DUNWOODY.

Madam Speaker-Elect

(standing on the upper step): Before I take the Chair, I wish to thank the House for the very great honour that it has bestowed on me. I pray that I shall justify its confidence, and I pledge that I shall do all in my power to preserve and cherish its traditions.

4.12 pm
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major)

Madam Speaker-Elect, I rise to offer you my congratulations and, as you have just seen in a most remarkable fashion, those of the whole House, on your election as our Speaker.

Many people will remark that you are the first hon. Lady to assume the awesome responsibilities of Speaker. I shall not dwell on that point, except to note that you have made history today. It seems to me, however, that the question of why you have made history is relevant. You have become our Speaker-Elect because the House trusts you. It believes that you enjoy in abundance the qualities necessary to protect and sustain the House, and to safeguard its rights. For those reasons and no other, you have become our Speaker, and I offer you my warmest congratulations.

Will you also permit me to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) on chairing our proceedings so skilfully, on becoming Father of the House, and on the signal honour of becoming Knight of the Garter? I hope that he will play many more distinguished roles as Father of the House and Knight of the Garter.

Today was historic for another reason. This was only the third contested election for the Speakership this century and only the sixth since 1800. The fact that it was a contested election adds to your success and in no sense detracts from it. It will enhance your authority in the House and it reflects also the richness of experience available to us in choosing our Speaker. I pay tribute to those right hon. and hon. Members who were also prepared to place their wisdom and experience at the service of the House.

The election of Speaker has been a House of Commons occasion and those of us who were privileged to be present will not readily forget the occasion. Members from the longest serving to the most newly arrived have expressed their individual preferences. So they should, because you, Madam Speaker-Elect, have now become the guardian of the rights of the House and of each and every Member within it.

The holder of the office of Speaker needs a vast array of talents and virtues. She must know when to turn a blind eye and when not to do so. She needs a quick mind and a ready wit and must be unfailing in her impartiality. She will sometimes need the wisdom of Solomon and, if I am strictly honest, she will sometimes need the patience of Job. I suspect. Madam Speaker-Elect, that all your predecessors found their patience sorely tried from time to time, not least of course Sir Fletcher Norton, Speaker in the 1770s, who was apt to cry out during a tedious debate: I am tired! I am weary! I am heartily sick of all this! I suspect that on some days, Madam Speaker-Elect, you may know precisely how he must have felt.

When I heard the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) speak about the remarkable expectations of the new Speaker, I wondered whether any of the candidates would remain. Thankfully, they did.

I have no doubt that you, Madam Speaker-Elect, meet the necessary and demanding qualifications because we have seen you display them in your five years as a Deputy Speaker. In some respects your job will be different from the jobs of your distant predecessors. You no longer have to face the personal physical dangers that existed for them nor, I promise you, the rough treatment meted out to the Speaker of the rump Parliament by the then Member for Huntingdonshire.

But new perils and burdens have grown up. Day after day you will be heard and seen by millions of listeners and viewers. You must deal with the steady growth and complexity of parliamentary business. The halcyon days of Mr. Speaker Popham are long gone. In Francis Bacon's words: When Mr. Popham was Speaker in 1581, and the Lower House had sat long, and done, in effect nothing, coming one day to Queen Elizabeth, she said to him: 'Now, Mr. Speaker, what hath passed in the Lower House?' He answered: 'If it please your Majesty, seven weeks'. I cannot promise that you will be able to give such an answer in the coming Session, Madam Speaker-Elect.

I warmly welcome you, Madam Speaker-Elect, to the Chair of the House. I have no doubt that your Speakership will be long and distinguished, underpinned by adherence to the principle so eloquently proclaimed by Mr. Speaker Onslow who stated: I have loved independency and pursued it. I have kept firm to my original principles and upon conscience have never deviated from them to serve any party course whatsoever. The election for Speaker is over and the House has chosen you by vote and then by acclaim. As you embark on your historic role, you do so with our warm good wishes and sincere congratulations.

4.18 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Madam Speaker-Elect, I share with the House delight at your election. If there was any form of reservation in any part of the House, surely it must have been removed entirely by the way in which you stood at the point of your election, a time when you could have been expected to be overwhelmed by a certain emotion, and gave instructions that the Mace should be put in its appropriate position. That is what my children would call very cool. I think that that coolness has stood you in good stead over many years and will be of great benefit to the House during what I hope will be a long period of office.

My pleasure comes in part, Madam Speaker-Elect, from the respect and affection in which you are held throughout the House. I say that on the basis of a personal friendship, which shall not cease despite the fact that our political relationship has obviously been severed within the past 10 minutes or so. Respect and affection for you are widely held and have been so well earned.

I celebrate your election also because of the fact that you are a woman. After six centuries and 154 previous Speakers, your elevation to the Chair could hardly be described as an overnight success for women's rights. I heed, however, the admonition in your brilliant speech, which was that you should be judged on what you are and not on what you were born. Without differing in any way from you, Madam Speaker-Elect, I regard your election by an overwhelming majority to the Chair of this honourable House to be a step forward for the majority of the people of the United Kingdom who, after all, share your gender.

Whatever the basis upon which you were chosen by that large majority, Madam Speaker-Elect, it is clear that all Parliaments will want the qualities which you possess in abundance: good humour, determination, patience and endless stamina. You come to the Chair with special assets. Your previous careers have in more ways than one equipped you with balance and poise, as I am sure Baroness Castle would be the first to testify. Anyone who was a secretary of hers had to have a certain steely gracefulness. Let us put it no higher than that. You have a clear-headedness and precision which are widely recognised in the House. I saw those qualities manifested frequently in the testing environment of the national executive committee of the Labour party some years ago.

Most of all, Madam Speaker-Elect, you have full possession of the powers that are necessary for the Speakership of the House. They are not, of course, powers that are to be found in any formal rules or standing orders. They are powers of instinct, judgment, wit and fairness that form the knowledge that you have of the nature of human beings and particularly from the understanding that you have of the psychology and, dare I say it, neurology of the subspecies of homo sapiens to which we all belong in the House—political animals. It requires a special skill and experience to have a full awareness and knowledge of this subspecies and I am sure that the House has done itself a considerable favour in electing an expert to the Chair.

First, Madam Speaker-Elect, you have the power to distinguish between genuine passion and mere posturing, between authentic outrage and synthetic anger. Secondly, you have the power to recognise when opinions have great significance even though they are held by a small minority, and sometimes a minority of only one. Thirdly, you have the power to maintain the decorum that is appropriate to this democratic House without wanting docility, which —I share your view—should be impossible. Most important of all, you have the power of discernment that permits you to understand the difference between rumbustious behaviour and riotous conduct.

We know, Madam Speaker-Elect, that you have these gifts of sagaciousness, which you share with 650 other Members. Doubtless you will occasionally have the benefit of their advice, and from time to time you can expect one or two Members generously to offer their help with one of those points of order that we all know to be motivated entirely by a cherubic desire to be constructive. You know how to deal with those points of order, Madam Speaker-Elect; of that I have no doubt. I for one will simply put my trust in your qualities and your sense of responsibility rather than to depend upon the sporadic counsel of others. When it comes to guiding the House, I say, better the Speaker whom we have elected than the talkers who are self-appointed or, if I may be permitted one very last familiarity, Betty, the Speaker we know than the devils we know only too well.

I congratulate you, Madam Speaker-Elect, and wish you a long and fruitful time in the Chair. I say with the greatest warmth and sincerity, may all your points of order be little ones.

4.24 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

I cannot guarantee, Madam Speaker-Elect, that every speech that I make under your Speakership will be as brief as this one. However, I want to be among the first of the Back Benchers to congratulate you on your elevation to the Chair. It is very moving to take part in history. I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. I am not a man given to disorder, but I shall do my best to obey your every instruction.

4.25 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

May I first pay tribute, Madam Speaker-Elect, to the efficiency with which the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), secured your election in a democratic way, which is not surprising, given his consistent attitude to the position of women in authority.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this Bench, may I congratulate you, Madam Speaker-Elect, most warmly. Over the years we have experienced your scrupulous fairness and your protection of minorities. As you have already pledged yourself to look after the interests of the United Kingdom, I know that you will bear in mind the fact that, although there are some of us who are minorities in this House, we have a different status in the various component parts of the United Kingdom that we were sent here to represent.

4.26 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I take great pleasure in welcoming your election to the Chair, Madam Speaker-Elect. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition commented on this being an historic day. Of course it is, in all sorts of ways. My colleagues and I—and, I suspect, quite a few others—will cherish in particular the fact that at least the first vote that we cast in this Parliament was a winning one, even if others may not be.

There are three other good reasons for us to be particularly pleased that that was a winning vote and that we have your skills and abilities in the Chair of the House. First, we know that those skills and abilities, which we have learnt to respect and admire over the last few years, will be carried forward in the service of the House.

Secondly, for reasons alluded to also by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, you were right, as were others, to say that this is not an occasion on which we should have voted for you or against you on the ground that you are a woman. We voted for you on the grounds of your skills, your abilities and your qualities. Nevertheless, it is a matter of considerable welcome and some rejoicing that we now have our first lady Speaker in the House of Commons.

Lastly, it is a matter of some pleasure to me and, I suspect, to many others that after an election which has put the same party back in government for the fourth time, on the basis of only 40 per cent. of the vote, the Speaker of the House, by the will of the House, should be drawn from the Opposition Benches. That is a good thing. If permitting that denotes a more pluralistic attitude by the Government, it is a doubly good thing. We on these Benches believe that the voice of dissenters and of minority parties in the House has not been sufficiently heard over the last number of years. It is our hope that you will, as your predecessors have before, act as a bulwark and safeguard to ensure that those voices are adequately heard. The skill and fairness that you have shown in the past give us good reason to hope that that will continue to be the case.

Another point bears mentioning and it was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). In this Parliament, special consideration must be given to the position of Scotland where the Government are a minority party, as is the case in Wales. The Liberal Democrats, and others as well, hope and believe that you, Madam Speaker-Elect, will ensure that the voices of those who represent those two nations of the United Kingdom are heard adequately and properly when the occasion arises.

You, Madam Speaker-Elect, will need all your skills, all your judgment and all your sense of fairness in the job that you now have. My party believes that those qualities will be deployed to the benefit and service of the House and of the nation. We wish you well in the task ahead of you.

4.30 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I congratulate you, Madam Speaker-Elect, on your election to this high office today. I convey to you the warmest congratulations of my hon. Friends.

It is well known to the House that I have run foul of many Speakers. I am in the unique and honoured position of having been excluded, with my whole party, from the House. I am happy that you have been elected, Madam Speaker-Elect, because I believe that a woman has a tenderness that some males do not have.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who leads the Ulster Unionists in the House, does not have any womenfolk to go home to. I have four womenfolk to go home to. How could I have faced them if I had voted against you, Madam Speaker-Elect, this afternoon? I hope that you will keep that in mind and be indulgent to the voice of Ulster in the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker-Elect.

Madam Speaker-Elect

Today would not be complete without a point of order.

Mr. Banks

It will be a short point of order. I know of two hon. Members who wanted to vote for you, Madam Speaker-Elect, but who did not do so—probably the only two. One was you, who did not vote on a matter of principle, and the other was myself. My reason was nothing to do with principles, because I have few of those. The reason was bad timing on my part. I had intended to vote for you. I hope that, when you read Hansard, you will not hold that against me.

Madam Speaker-Elect

That is the most bogus point of order I have heard this Session.

4.32 pm
Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I, as the leader of a minority party, join the leaders of the other parties in the House in expressing our warmest congratulations to you, Madam Speaker-Elect, on your election. I heard you say clearly —I agree with you—that you were elected because of who and what you are and not because of what you were born, but I believe that it is historically significant that this place, which has always taken pride in the title "the Mother of Parliaments", has at last after centuries put a woman in the Chair.

The occasion is also historic because it does not take too much thought to realise that you, Madam Speaker-Elect, will lead this Parliament out of the 20th century into the 21st century. Everyone will agree that we are delighted that we are being led out of this century, which has been one of the centuries of greatest suffering which the world has seen, into a century of hope by a lady such as you. I wish you well and look forward to working with you in this Parliament.

4.34 pm
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

May I wish you, Madam Speaker-Elect, my warmest congratulations?

4.35 pm
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

May I, too, offer you my congratulations, Madam Speaker-Elect? I hope that what I am about to say will not be taken in the wrong spirit. The outcome of this election has been a fine one, and I am sure that the whole House rejoices in it. You will recall, however, Madam Speaker-Elect, that, at the outset of our proceedings, I raised with the Father of the House, who was in the Chair, the manner in which candidates were being presented for election. I felt that the system was wrong and that it was rather bizarre that right hon. and hon. Members who had made it perfectly clear that they were willing to stand for the high office that you will now occupy were being denied the opportunity to do so.

All that I ask, Madam Speaker-Elect, is that, in the fullness of time, the system for electing the Speaker should be revised—in case there are other elections in years to come—so that anyone who wishes to stand for the office has the opportunity to do so in a way which would be regarded as normal in any other election.

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