Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Speaker have leave of absence on Thursday 1st July to attend the opening of the Scottish Parliament.— [Mrs. Beckett.]
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I rise briefly to make this point. Of course, I have no intention of objecting to the Speaker attending the opening of the Scottish Parliament next Thursday. It is entirely appropriate that she should do so on what will be an historic occasion. However, I find it slightly odd that, again, at the end of the 20th century, the House should have to pass a motion to allow our Speaker to have one day's leave of absence to attend such an occasion.
The last time this happened was when Madam Speaker received an honorary degree from my old university, Oxford, and the House had to pass a motion to allow her to do so. I am asking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is the Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, whether she should take this minor custom of the House to the Committee and see whether we should abolish it, and allow the Deputy Speaker automatically to take the Chair whenever Madam Speaker has to leave to attend certain occasions.
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
For the second time this evening, I find myself in total disagreement with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). I warmly endorse the motion. It is right and proper that Madam Speaker should accept this invitation, but it is right also that we should keep this convention within the House. There is a similar convention in the other place—the Lord Chancellor 1256 always has to seek leave of absence if he does something. It is right and proper that that should be the case, and I hope that the Speaker has a wonderful day.
§ Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to reveal to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) that we are not yet in the last six months of this century?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
Yes. It is surprising that one so numerically literate is 18 months out, and I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for pointing that out. The new century does not begin until 1 January 2001, and it is about time that people realised that.
§ Mr. Maxton
Do we take it, therefore, that we have another 18 months to ensure that the millennium dome works?
§ Sir Patrick Cormack
I will not be tempted down that road—even if I could walk there on water, as the hon. Gentleman doubtless could. I hope that the Speaker has a splendid day next Thursday, and I am delighted to support the motion.
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)
I am sure that we all hope that the Speaker has a splendid day. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) made his point with courtesy, and he was wise not to object to the Speaker being away. Hon. Members are wise to remember the courtesies open to the Speaker. I take my hon. Friend's point—as I do that of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack)—about the historic nature of this measure, and I accept my hon. Friend's reminder as to whether we should take the matter under advisement. On this occasion, the House would be well advised to pass the measure speedily.
§ Question put and agreed to.