HC Deb 13 June 2001 vol 370 cc2-10 2.49 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Under the provisions of Standing Order No. 1A, I am now required to ascertain whether Mr. Michael J. Martin is willing to be chosen as Speaker.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I know how new Back Benchers feel. Father of the House, I submit myself to the will of the House, as is the ancient custom. In doing so, I wish to thank the electors of Glasgow, Springburn for electing me for the sixth successive term.

Campaigning as a Speaker seeking re-election is no easy matter. There is no party banner, so we had to find a trademark, and it was agreed that the friends of Mr. Speaker would put a photograph of me in my formal clothes on every leaflet that was issued. We thought that that was a good idea until one of the electors said to me, "I hope you don't mind me asking, Mr. Martin, but were you ever a minister in the High Carntyne Church of Scotland?" Our posters carried the same photograph, and one gentleman said to me, "I hope you get the job. It will give you something to do when you're down in London."

May I thank the three main political parties for supporting my campaign? I am very grateful to them indeed. I am very proud of the people of Glasgow, Springburn, and I hope that I will always be remembered as a constituency Member of Parliament more than anything else.

Under the new procedures of the House, I will take the opportunity now to express my personal gratitude to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). He has been exceptionally kind to me from the day and hour when I became Speaker, and it is very much appreciated. May I also single out the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen)? I am glad to see her in the Chamber today. She has always been a great source of support.

May I also, Father of the House, congratulate you on becoming Father of the House? You came to the House in 1962, and you have become a first-class parliamentarian, someone whom Back Benchers, particularly new Back Benchers, can look up to. You have always been renowned for using your skills to hold many Governments to account, and I am sure that that will not change. I hope that you make a full and speedy recovery.

The House owes a debt of gratitude to the Chairman of Ways and Means and to the First and Second Deputy Speakers. They all work very long, hard hours for the House.

I welcome all Members to the House, and I congratulate them on being elected. I welcome all the new Members, and I hope that they will have a very happy parliamentary career. There will be robust debate and differing points of view, but I can assure them that, before long, they will make friends in the House from parties other than their own. The best advice that I can give to new Members is: never hesitate to seek advice from the Speaker, from colleagues and, of course, from the staff of the House.

When speaking of the staff of the House, I would like to put on record my thanks to Mr. Bill McKay, the Clerk of the House, and Sir Nicolas Bevan, my secretary. Their assistance has been invaluable.

I said last October: A Speaker has a clear duty to every section of the House, especially to Back Benchers, the minority parties and the Opposition parties … the Speaker's duty is to serve the House, not the Executive".—[Official Report, 23 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 14.] I still hold those views. I come to the Chamber every evening so that I can keep in touch with Members. A Speaker should always be approachable; that is why I have never refused a Back Bencher a meeting.

Life for a Speaker outside the Chamber can sometimes be isolated. I should like to thank my wife, Mary, who has ensured that I have a family life here in Speaker's House. I thank her because it would be very lonely indeed to come down to London alone every week, and I am aware that she has had to leave her family, her friends and our grandson.

It is a great honour to be elected Speaker. The House will decide the motion. I take nothing for granted. I can only assure each and every Member that I will always strive to be fair.

2.56 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

I beg to move, That Mr. Michael J. Martin do take the Chair of this House as Speaker. Mr. Dalyell, I begin by congratulating you on your accession as Father of the House. Given your commitment to the House and your knowledge of how to use it effectively, it gives all of us pleasure to see you supervising our proceedings today. I, too, wish you a full and speedy recovery. I also hope that you will continue to be as irreverent to those on your Front Bench as your predecessor as Father of the House was to mine. [Laughter.]

As we meet this afternoon, there are two important vacancies in our political institutions, and I am happy to make a nomination for one of them. In commending the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) as Speaker, I congratulate him on his re-election to Parliament. Although his election was contested, I suspect that he did not experience the aggravation that the rest of us suffered in getting here. I mention in passing that we in North-West Hampshire saw a new form of co-operation between the other two parties: the Labour party ran a low-key campaign to let the Liberal Democrats have a clear shot at me; and the Liberal Democrats ran a low-key campaign to give Labour a shot. [Laughter.] I am happy to say that my majority increased to more than 12,000.

There are two reasons, why I move the motion, the first of which is continuity. I do not believe that our Speaker should be put into play at the beginning of every Parliament. I can do no better than quote the second report of the Select Committee on Procedure, published in February: In our view it would be undesirable in these circumstances for a multi-candidate ballot to take place automatically. As we have seen, since the middle of the nineteenth century there has been a strong presumption that a Speaker once elected by the House is not subsequently challenged. If it were to become accepted that a change in the composition of the House following a General Election were as a matter of course to lead to a change in the occupancy of the Chair, we believe there are, grave dangers that the office itself would be destabilised and in danger of becoming politicised. Equally, however, we believe it is important that the House should not be denied the right to change its Speaker, however unlikely it may be that that right will be exercised. I agree with that sentiment, as did the House when it agreed to change our procedures. Although the Speaker should be validated, there should be a presumption against challenging the incumbent.

Continuity is not the only reason. If we were starting from scratch, I believe that the House would choose the right hon. Member for Springburn as its Speaker today. His long service in the House and deep roots in the Back Benches, his work on the Chairmen's Panel and domestic Committees, his experience as Deputy Speaker, his genial and approachable manner, underpinned by a deep affection and commitment to the House—all those qualities strike a chord with the House. That commitment was confirmed in his acceptance speech last October and reinforced in the statement that we have just heard, which was greatly welcomed.

All Speakers develop their own style, and we saw the right hon. Member for Springburn develop his in the previous Parliament: a more approachable, informal style of Speaker, mixing with Members in the Tea Room and elsewhere, no wig or silk stockings—rather like the Scandinavian approach to the monarchy, but so far without the bicycle.

A key role lies ahead for Mr. Speaker in this Parliament. There is a strong view that the House should reassert the accountability of the Executive to Parliament. A growing number of hon. Members want the House to be more relevant to the concerns of those whom we represent, more effective in what it does, and a better link between Government and governed. The right hon. Member for Springburn is well qualified to supervise and manage that debate during this Parliament. I believe that he is entitled to support from the whole House in that role.

The House will understand why I was unable to propose the right hon. Member for Springburn last time, but I have no hesitation in proposing him today.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Michael J. Martin do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.

Whereupon MR. TAM DALYELL left the Chair, and MR. MICHAEL J. MARTIN was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by SIR GEORGE YOUNG and ANN KEEN. [Applause.]

Mr. Speaker-Elect (standing on the upper step)

Before I take the Chair as Speaker-Elect, I wish to thank the House for the honour that has again been bestowed on me. I am aware that it is the greatest honour that the House can give to any of its Members. I pray that I shall justify its continuing confidence, and I propose to do all within my power to preserve and cherish its traditions. I ask for your prayers.

3.3 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, it is a great pleasure to congratulate you on your return to the Chair of the House. I think I speak for all Members when I say it is also a great pleasure for all of us that we have completed your election for a second time in rather shorter order than the six hours that it took us the first time.

May I add my congratulations to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), on becoming Father of the House? No hon. Member has shown greater affection for the traditions of the House or carried out his duties as a Member with greater diligence than my hon. Friend. As a fellow West Lothian Member of Parliament, perhaps I can explain on his behalf to the House that his injury is a tribute to the diligence with which he pursues his constituency office, as it was incurred with an excess of enthusiasm at a meeting of the Linlithgow football team. It therefore was an asset, not a liability, in the recent election.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, there have been only 155 Speakers before you in the many centuries of your office. When Speaker Yelverton in 1597 was asked to describe the necessary qualities of a Speaker, he replied: A man big and comely, his carriage majestical, his nature haughty, and his purse plentiful. Fortunately, the characteristics of the Speaker have changed over the subsequent four centuries. For myself, I am relieved that we no longer expect our Speaker to be haughty, just as you must be relieved that the House does not expect your purse to be plentiful.

Over the past seven months, you have shown all the necessary qualities of a modern Speaker. We could have expected no less from a Speaker who has brought to the Chair of the Chamber one of the longest records of service on the Chairmen's Panel. You have been fair but firm; you have turned aside confrontation with humour; and you have got the better of those unwise enough to challenge your authority. Many awkward moment has been defused with your trademark catch phrase, "It's no' nice."

Since you came to office, your voice has become familiar in households across our country. You spoke for all your Scottish compatriots in the Chamber when you magnificently brushed aside an impertinent question from the BBC on your accent with the retort, I don't have an accent; other people have an accent". Yours is of course an accent which would normally lend authority to one of the traditional roles of the Speaker: the selection of a Scotch whisky for the Speaker's brand. For you, though, as a teetotaller that, that selection presented some obvious difficulties. Your solution delighted the Members whom you invited on to an all-party committee to carry out extensive research and tasting on your behalf.

Not always believing that we get the press that we deserve is of course a frequent experience of Members of this House—even if the rest of the country thinks that we get the press that we richly deserve. If ever in this Parliament the Lobby dares hint at criticism of our Speaker, it can only be because as Chairman of the Administration Committee you banned Lobby correspondents from the Terrace of the Commons unless personally supervised. You thereby liberated a grateful House to relax in privacy on the Terrace in these summer months.

Both you and I are now of that age when we share that puzzling sensation after each election that Members of Parliament seem to be getting younger than we remember. To an even younger Chamber than before, your commitment that families will be remembered in the proceedings of the House is particularly welcome. That commitment comes, of course, from the affection and importance that you attach to your own family. Those who know you well know also that no words of congratulations to you would be complete unless they also expressed appreciation of Mary, your wife, for her support to you in your role here and in your constituency.

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on first taking the Chair, you said that the Speaker had a clear duty to every side of the House, especially to the Back Benchers. It is because you have served the whole House with impartiality that the whole House has today returned you to the Chair unanimously. Your colleagues and your friends congratulate you on it.

3.7 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)

On behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches, I offer our sincerest congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your re-election. Many colleagues on both sides of the House will share my relief that it was accompanied by less controversy and took dramatically less time than your election in October. Your unanimous re-election underlines the important constitutional fact that you are now very much Speaker of the whole of the House of Commons.

I add the Opposition's congratulations to those expressed to the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who, as a highly active Back Bencher and champion of so many causes over decades, is in every sense fully qualified for the post.

It is also a great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on his appointment as Leader of the House of Commons, We learned from the newspapers that—apparently—he has been unable to express all his real views as Foreign Secretary over the past four years. My hon. Friends are much looking forward to asking him for all his real views as Leader of the House during a succession of Question Times and statements over coming months.

On these occasions, Mr. Speaker-Elect, a great deal is usually made of the distinctive parliamentary existence of the holder of your great office that results from the need to cut yourself off from previous party affiliations. You have indeed cut yourself off from party affiliations and, as has been mentioned, served this House impartially. It has always been a tradition of Speakers that they do not visit the Tea Room and the bars as part of that procedure. You have created a new tradition by being available and visiting the Tea Room and bars, but not having a drink there. That may keep you happy, although it is incomprehensible to the rest of us, but we are delighted that you have amended the traditions in that respect.

On a more serious point, you are the custodian of the rules, privileges and traditions of this House. As the many newly elected Members will soon learn, we all look to you as the independent champion of all parties in the House and of the rights of all hon. Members. As you know, I have always made a particular point about protecting the rights of the Opposition Front Bench: come to think of it, though, the rights of Back Benchers need protecting too—especially those who have not spoken from the Back Benches for a long time. I know that you will protect their rights in this Parliament.

There are also those occasions of high drama, Mr. Speaker-Elect, when votes are tied and it falls to you to use your casting vote, although I admit that it is not immediately obvious that that will be necessary in a large number of instances. You never know; we will be working on it from this side of the House. I hope that the fact that the Government have such a majority will not deter hon. Members on both sides of the House from doing the job that they have been sent here to do: to hold the Government to account.

Like so many past and present Members, you and I care passionately about the House of Commons and the standing in which it is held throughout the country. That is why I for one deeply regret the diminution of its importance and reputation, which has accelerated—although it did not begin—in recent years. I cannot be alone in thinking that that decline contributed in some ways to the disconnection between the public and Parliament that was highlighted by the lamentably low voter turnout in the general election last week.

Last October, I expressed the hope that you would robustly resist all attempts to downgrade, marginalise or bypass the House of Commons: I repeat that today. Few things would give me—and, I hope, hon. Members from all parties—greater satisfaction in politics than to see this House restored to the centre of our national life. The great issues that will come before us during the next few years, some of which may be of supreme importance to the way in which our country is governed, should be fully scrutinised and debated first and foremost in this Chamber.

On a personal note, just as you are about to resume your duties, I am planning to relinquish mine as Leader of the Opposition, although I shall carry them out for a few weeks more. I should like to thank you for the courtesy and kindness that you have shown me behind the scenes since you took the Chair of this House last October. I am sure that your advice will continue to be of enormous benefit to hon. Members throughout the House.

Again, Mr. Speaker-Elect, I congratulate you and wish you well for what undoubtedly promises to be an important and demanding period in our parliamentary history.

3.12 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, may I entirely associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the personal and unanimous congratulations that the House has recorded on your re-election as Speaker this afternoon? We wish you all possible success for the forthcoming Parliament.

You will remember something about which we have joked privately since your first election. At that time, I recalled our first encounter, when I was a schoolboy and you were on a picket line in your then capacity as a NUPE—National Union of Public Employees—regional official. The unanimous endorsement of the House must mean that we have witnessed the ultimate triumph of NUPE man this afternoon. We congratulate you on that.

I should like to take this opportunity also to congratulate the new Father of the House, whose courtesy and advice to all of us—especially those who have entered the House over the years as new Members—has been unstinting and much appreciated. It is a great happiness to see him occupy that position on behalf of us all, but for me that happiness is, tinged with one wee regret: I shall dearly miss his distinguished predecessor, Sir Edward Heath, at Prime Minister's questions. I do not have any ambition as Lib Dem leader to write a diary and publish it. The book that I want to write and publish one day is the off-the-record commentary of Sir Edward Heath between 3 o'clock and 3.30 every Wednesday afternoon on the parliamentary Conservative party and the questions that its members put to the Prime Minister of the day. I shall miss the sensation when Sir Edward was notably upset or distressed by the viewpoints given by one of his own. He had a tendency to expel a great sigh of frustration, which tended to move me significantly along the Bench. I shall miss those noises.

We must all share a sense of disappointment, if not foreboding, about the lack of engagement of so many of our fellow citizens in the election. That being so, I hope that early steps will be taken to examine our procedures and practices in this place to ensure that they are as relevant and comprehensible as possible to those outside. There is a danger that all of us in all parties will be engulfed if we are not careful.

Given the balance of the outcome of the election, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, your senior officials and the new Leader of the House will give fresh consideration to the procedures of the House to ensure that they are made more flexible—in some ways, the House of Lords may provide instruction for us—with regard to the rights of all parties, especially those in opposition. We look forward to contributing constructively to such discussions at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, we wish you well, Sir.

3.16 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Mr. Speaker-Elect, on my behalf and that of my colleagues, I offer sincere congratulations on your being re-elected as Speaker of this place. We can vouch for your approachability, the care with which you have listened to the issues that Members have brought to you and the way in which you have responded to them. We look forward with confidence to that same care and consideration being offered in the months and years to come.

I congratulate the Father of the House on his conduct of today's proceedings. It is not necessary for me to emphasise the way in which he has built a reputation over the years as a Back Bencher who has held Governments of all colours to account. That reminds us that that is the prime function that many of us have in the House. I am sure, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that with your consideration for Back Benchers and for the primary role of the House, you will always be ready to assist us in ensuring that the Government are held to account.

It is commonplace these days to regret the decline of the standing of the House, but we would all do well to remember that its standing depends upon each and every one of us in the contribution that we make to the House. I am sure that we shall all be conscious of that responsibility. However, we rely upon you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, when it comes to issues where government may perhaps wish to cut corners or to do things elsewhere, to insist upon the primacy of the House.

I shall make a cautionary comment on the remarks of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the leader of the Liberal Democrats. We want to see the procedures of the House become more effective and clearly and easily understood. However, virtually every time that the reform of our procedures is broached, the result is that the life of government is made easier. That is not our objective.

3.18 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I warmly congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your unanimous re-election as Speaker.

I congratulate also my old friend the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). He represents a constituency of which I have some knowledge. I thought that I had seen everything in 10 successful, gruelling campaigns involving the hon. Gentleman since the 1960s. However, the election tactic of being injured in the service of the Linlithgow Rose football club is breathtaking. The hon. Gentleman has our profound congratulations on being the senior Member of this place.

I congratulate you, especially, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your resounding victory in the Glasgow, Springburn constituency, despite the best efforts of my party. It was not the most nail-biting contest of the election evening. Given the size of your majority, I am sure that the secret weapon of being able to tell your constituents that you had something useful to do here stood you in excellent stead.

It took almost seven hours to elect you last October. I remarked then that the qualities that some people regarded as controversial were excellent reasons for your occupying the Chair. I am delighted that that view is now held unanimously. In the past seven months, you have demonstrably kept your vow to protect all parts of the House.

People who listened to your remarks today will take heart from your declaration that you are the servant not of the Executive but of the Chamber. Those of us in the minority parties already have reason to be grateful for your fairness, impartiality and protection of minority rights in the House.

If you continue to do as you have done in the past seven months, you will occupy the Chair for many years, and you and your wife, Mary, will occupy the Speaker's House for many years.

3.20 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your return to the Chair. I also warmly congratulate the Father of the House, whom I admire greatly. He has inspired me to keep on about a subject until the Executive takes action. Even if the Executive does not take action, at least everyone in the country knows what the subject is about.

You have a more difficult task, Mr. Speaker-Elect, because my party has enlarged itself. I am sure that you know that in the Bible, five is the number of grace. You will need grace to deal with the five Democratic Unionist Members; we are also the fifth largest party in the House. I am sure that you will ask for grace in your prayers, which you mentioned. I assure you that the good Lord will give you grace.

I served under your Chairmanship for a long time when you were Deputy Speaker. We have had some tilts, but you have been exceedingly fair, accessible and willing to listen. I admire you for that.

Matters in the country that I come from need much debate in the House. I trust that hon. Members will listen to the electors of Northern Ireland. The turnout in the general election was higher there than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Alas, hundreds of people in my constituency were not allowed to vote. Although they had queued for 45 minutes to an hour, they were not given access to the ballot box. That is a disgrace. We need access to the ballot box when an election is called.

Hon. Members do not want to hear some of the things that I say, but there will be plenty time to say and emphasise them. I am most happy to serve under your Chairmanship. The courtesy and fair play that you have given the point of view that I express will be sustained by your continued occupancy of the Chair.

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