The right hon. Alan Williams, the Member for Swansea, West, took the Chair (Standing Order No. 1(1)).
I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the resignation of the right hon. Michael Martin, lately Speaker of this House, gives leave to the House to proceed forthwith to the election of a new Speaker.
The House will now proceed to the election of a new Speaker in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 1B. A note for Members explaining the proceedings was published four weeks ago. In a moment, I will call the candidates to address the House in the order in which I drew their names by lot earlier this morning. The order of speaking was published earlier today. When all candidates have addressed the House, we will proceed to the first ballot.
Mr. Williams, when the House was first broadcast, Mike Yarwood, the political impersonator, when asked for his reaction, said, “I hope I never have to face an audience like that.”
I am very conscious today of facing an electorate who know our strengths as well as we do and our weaknesses rather better. One of mine is a deep reluctance to answer only yes or no to a question that I think calls for a more thoughtful response. So as I have made clear, I do not have any problem with electing those who chair Select Committees, but I would like us to give thought to whether and how we could take account of opinion among Select Committee members themselves.
I have no objection, in fact, to any of the ideas for change and reform which are being floated, but I have had experience of making reforms in this House—setting up Westminster Hall and allowing for a TV point in Central Lobby or for tape recorders in the Press Gallery. All were controversial in their day. There is rarely only one view; in fact, you are lucky if there are not 600. It is the House that must decide, and a way must be found to take the House with you. The Speaker cannot—and should not—attempt to drive the House, but nor should he or she be an obstacle. I pledge myself, if elected, to facilitate desired change.
Today we face unprecedented and uniquely difficult circumstances—a two-way crisis of confidence. The public have lost confidence in us and the confidence of many Members has been shaken or even lost. No one person can resolve these problems. The challenge is one that the House as a whole must address. But it is just the start for the next Speaker.
Independent financial regulation would be opposed, I think, by few—but the devil will be in the detail. There is good reason why our forebears fought for and guarded the freedoms of this House. A different relationship with the upper House, should that be agreed, would certainly require delicate and careful handling from the Speaker. And while I have never predicted the outcome of a general election, and do not intend to start now, many political commentators predict a hung Parliament or something close to it. New, smaller parties may be elected—or even others without party to sit alongside the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor).
Having watched admiringly Speaker Selwyn Lloyd handle just such a House, I recognise how delicate and how potentially controversial the Speaker’s role becomes. The Speaker must be seen to be fair-minded, even-handed and able to command a degree of consent and confidence across the House.
I have been asked particularly to address three issues about my own candidacy: my attitude to reform, with which I have already dealt, whether it is the Opposition’s turn, and my own background and experience. Last time, I myself advocated the notion that it was the Opposition’s turn for the Chair and was corrected by political historians, who pointed out that the speakership had in fact always gone with the majority party of the day, except once. Speaker Boothroyd was that one exception. I could not help noticing that on that occasion, as so often, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) demonstrated his independence and voted for, rather than against, her.
That brings me to my own record. I have extensive experience chairing committees and conferences, including Committees in this House. I have had to try to communicate obscure and complex issues in a way that illuminates them for the lay person, and I have experience of driving through needed change. I have never been afraid to speak truth to power, wherever power may be found, and as those who know me well testify, I have always been my own woman, and a House of Commons woman at that.
So let me assure you, with all the force at my command, that such skills as I have acquired in my years in this House would, if elected, be at the service of this House and all its Members, and that I am particularly conscious of the Speaker’s responsibility to Back Benchers. But the greatest task that faces us all is to convey afresh to the people of our country that we come here, as we all do, to serve their interests rather than our own. I shall work to help achieve that, whatever judgment the House makes today.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett).
Mr. Williams, it is good to see you presiding over this new procedure for electing a Speaker—a procedure introduced because the last one took too long. [Laughter.]
Being Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee for eight years, a job that Robin Cook asked me to do, may not be the platform of choice from which to launch a bid for the support of one’s colleagues, but perhaps more than almost any other job in the House, it calls for total impartiality and an imperative to be fair.
On impartiality, I have always been in the Conservative party, not run by the Conservative party. [Laughter.] On fairness, one of my concerns about recent events, with the anger about a failed expenses system exposed by the media, has been the emergence of a bidding war to be tough that risks losing sight of the basic principles of justice that this House has always defended. I want to see a House of Commons that regains its self-confidence. I want a more independent House of Commons, a more effective House of Commons, a more relevant House of Commons and a more accessible House of Commons. I want to see the terms of trade tilted away from the Executive and back to Parliament. Government have nothing to fear from that at all. If we raise our game, they will have to raise theirs, and the country will benefit.
So what might be different? I hope our proceedings might be brisker—shorter questions, shorter answers, shorter speeches. The heart of the Chamber might beat a little faster. I believe that we can use the time of the Chamber, and our own time, more effectively. We could trade those thinly attended Opposition day debates, when the Whips come into the Tea Room and tell us about speaking opportunities, for more topical statements, enabling us better to hold the Government to account and reconnect with the public.
We could build time in the Chamber around time in Select Committees, instead of the other way around. The time of colleagues is precious. I would pilot indicative speaking lists, where relevance would have the same importance as seniority. I would like to see some Select Committee Chairmen present their reports here in the Chamber of the House of Commons, and so challenge the Government monopoly on statements. That would be hugely symbolic of a Chamber in which we should be joint landlords with the Government and not tenants.
To some of those ideas terms and conditions apply. The Speaker is more referee than player. The House must decide whether it wants to shift the balance of power. I believe that there is a window of opportunity in the remaining months of this Parliament, and in that debate the Speaker can act as a catalyst. The Speaker should be neutral when neutrality is required; he should exercise influence when influence is required; and he should show leadership when leadership is required. The Speaker should look outwards as well as inwards. He should speak about the House of Commons, rather than for the House of Commons, and be much less detached than tradition has required. After listening to the tributes to Michael Martin on Wednesday, I would add another quality: at times, the Speaker should be a friend.
Last year, there was a run on the banks, which lie at the heart of our prosperity. This year, there has been a run on the Commons, which lies at the heart of our democracy. In both cases, imprudent behaviour by a few, loose regulation and inadequate supervision led to a loss of public confidence and an anger at those in charge. There was systemic failure, and those who did no wrong were caught in the backlash of a loss of institutional reputation. In both cases, we need to address that anger and restore that confidence by changes at the top, better regulation, transparency and a change of culture. We have recapitalised the banks; we now need to recapitalise the House of Commons. We have left behind the age of deference; we need to arrive at the age of earned respect.
None of us can do what is needed on our own. In his resignation speech, Michael Martin said that we are at our best when we are united. I hope that I could achieve that unity, build on the resilience of the House and help win back the confidence and trust of those we represent.
Mr. Williams, I think I am unique in this contest. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] What is unique is that I propose myself as an interim Speaker, rather than as a permanent or long-term appointee. The reason I do that is that I have become convinced that what we need, between now and the next election—after the next election will be too late—is the restoration of the reputation of this House with the public. If we go into the election without that achieved, the consequences for our democracy could be considerable. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves what sort of Speaker could achieve that in the time available.
In these extraordinary circumstances—I would not have put myself forward in any other circumstances, given that I am definitely retiring at the next election—we need somebody who is provenly capable of connecting with the general public, whom the public know, whom the public by and large trust, and whom the public recognise and are willing to listen to. I believe that, perhaps by rather vulgar means, I have come to fit that bill. That is why, among these very trusty old serving senators this afternoon, I put myself before you as the rather vulgar tribune—I have been longing to say that to those on the Benches opposite for a long time. [Laughter.]
In addition to restoring Parliament’s reputation with the public—let me say that I do not believe that that means that the Speaker has to be appearing in television studios up and down the land—the Speaker needs to be more visible outside the House over the next few months than has hitherto been normally associated with the role. But in addition to that function, it is crucial that the new Speaker does what he or she can—it will be limited by the will of the House, and having seen some of the manifestos that have been put forth, I rather think that we are trying to elect a supreme dictator this afternoon, which is rather unlikely—to rebalance power from the Executive to Back Benchers. Whenever there is a speakership election, all the candidates put forward that notion. Not always is there a successful implementation. But I have not come late to that view; I have stood by it throughout my 22 years in this House.
Under the Conservative Administration, I actually teamed up with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—[Laughter.]—when we opposed, albeit unsuccessfully, a raft of measures that reduced Back-Bench rights, including the removal of our right—which I had exercised on one previous occasion—to put down business motions before the House. That was just the first of a long series of measures that have taken away power from Back Benchers and concentrated it very heavily on the Executive, of whatever party.
Under this Administration, I led a sit-in. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) took part in sit-ins in his youth; I came to them in middle age. I was moved so to do because the Government were bringing a Bill out of Committee, half of which had not even been examined. I believe that one of the consequences of the concentration of power on the Front Bench is that, out there and in here, we are being governed by increasing tranches of legislation that have never been examined, let alone voted on, by Parliament. That has to be wrong, and it is an urgent task for the Speaker to try to persuade people outside that we are not irrelevant and that we have a real function to perform.
I believe that it is important that whoever is Speaker will not only help to clean up the mess and be seen to do so, but that they will, in doing so, bear one thing in mind: no matter how much we may tighten the system and come down on those who have erred, we should always have it as a core principle that people of modest means should not be deterred from entering this House. If we fail in that, I do not think it grandiose to say that we will have failed democracy. I have been up and down the broadcast media over the past few weeks—before I even thought of putting in a bid for this post—defending the principle that we must have adequate remuneration and assistance if people of all means and very few means are to be able to enter this place.
I am very honoured indeed that enough people have asked me and indicated their support for me for me to feel able to stand here and say what I have said this afternoon. Whoever is the Speaker must have broad support on both sides of the House, and in all parties, or they will not be a Speaker who starts with the good will of the House of Commons. I believe that I have broad-based support; how much has yet to be seen.
It is good to have you in the Chair, Mr. Williams, not just because of your awesome seniority, which makes even me feel like a bit of a newcomer, but because of what you do to promote the work and independence of Select Committees. You developed the questioning of the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee, which is an effective investigative process rather than the shouting match we so often get at Prime Minister’s questions. You will recall, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) pointed out, that the last time we elected a Speaker—several of us were candidates then, too—it took an awful long time: so long that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett) rose from the Government Front Bench to move the Adjournment of the House at 25 minutes to midnight.
However long it takes us today—I hope it will not be that long—our decision is unusually important. Are we going to respond to public anger and dissatisfaction by setting out a process for making Parliament more effective, or are we going to announce tonight that it is business as usual? We will make a big mistake if that is all that we say.
Clearly, the new Speaker must help to make certain that there can be no repeat of the expenses disaster, because pay and expenses will be determined by an independent outside body. I believe that there is now general agreement on that. We need a system that is not wide open to abuse and that recognises that the public want us to be more economical in what we do. At the other extreme, I do not really want to spend any more Saturday mornings explaining to a national newspaper why the constituency office toilet had to be repaired before a member of my staff felt obliged to explain in more detail why this was necessary.
We cannot stop with expenses. The next source of public anger could be the disastrous impact of clauses in legislation that, because of rigid timetabling, the House has not properly examined. The House needs to take control of how it uses its time; the Government are entitled to bring forward a programme and to carry through the commitments on which they were elected, but it is not the Government’s job to dictate how scrutiny of that programme is carried out. A business Committee that does not have a Government majority is, I think, the increasingly accepted means of achieving that, and I would seek to argue for it.
We need to build on the strengths of the House, so the Select Committee system should be strengthened and made more independent. Back-Bench Members and minorities need rights to bring important issues to votes and to inquiries. The authority of the new Speaker should be used to rebalance Prime Minister’s questions in favour of Back Benchers and to help move the House towards a more constructive and less aggressive style. That aggressive style puts off many women, quite a lot of men and a lot of the public, and it is not what happens a great deal of the time in the House of Commons—but that is the part that the public mainly see.
The administrative structure over which the Speaker presides—much of the job is below the waterline—needs to open up the Commons more to the public and to make it a more family-friendly and diversity-welcoming place. I would like to see more younger and newer Members involved in bodies such as the House of Commons Commission.
The Speaker’s authority must be used to assert the independence of the House from the Executive and to protect the public. I took a privileges case against a previous Lord Chancellor over the dismissal of an agency board member who had given evidence to a Select Committee against the wishes of the board, which had been given as grounds for dismissal.
I also think it important that the Speaker has a real care and concern for Members, their staff and the staff of the House, as Speaker Martin clearly did. I would like to go further in reducing the isolation of the Speaker both inside and outside this House. There is a role for the Speaker, within limits, in speaking for the House and on its behalf to the public. The Speaker also needs to be someone who maintains the momentum for reform and does not act as a barrier to it.
That is the kind of job I want to do. It needs to be done by someone who is firm, fair and generally accepted. It is not enough to win the vote—the Speaker needs to be someone who is also accepted by those whose preferred candidate is not elected. The new Speaker and the House need a consensus decision rather than a mere majority. I would like to think that I can fulfil that requirement, and my commitment to making the House effective has run right through my political life, but the decision is in the hands of right hon. and hon. Members.
Thank you, Mr. Williams.
All hon. Members are, by definition, experienced campaigners. Some campaigns get off to a good start; others suffer setbacks. One of my first approaches was to a particularly distinguished colleague whom I would not dream of identifying. I asked if he would back me today. “Certainly not, Bercow. You are not just too young; you are far too young—given that, in my judgment, the Speaker ought to be virtually senile. If you were elected, it would be disastrous for you, disastrous for the House, and disastrous for the country,” and with that he slammed down the phone.
Just in case that is a widely held view, I shall merely observe, Mr. Williams, that Speakers elected younger than me at 46 were actually quite common in times gone by. In the 18th century, Speaker Grenville was elected at 29 and Speaker Addington at 32. Indeed, both went on to become Prime Minister—not a likely career move in my case. By contrast, Speaker Onslow was elected at 36 in 1728 and he stayed in situ for more than 30 years—not a danger in my case, given my commitment to serving no longer than nine years in total. Even further back, Sir Thomas More was virtually my age when he became Speaker, though frankly his rather sticky end does not fill me with encouragement. But then again he is the only Member of this House ever to have been canonised. My own preference is, however, for success in this world rather than in the next.
I do not want to be someone; I want to do something. Working with colleagues, I want to implement an agenda for reform, for renewal, for revitalisation, and for the reassertion of the core values of this great institution in the context of the 21st century. That this election is being held at this moment testifies to the turmoil that is engulfing this place and to the crisis of confidence in parliamentarians themselves. Unless and until we can move the debate on from sleaze and second homes to the future of this House, we shall remain in deep trouble. A legislature cannot be effective while suffering from public scorn. A strong command of “Erskine May” is far from adequate for the tasks, although I am confident that four years’ service on the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen has equipped me to cope with our over-mysterious procedures.
There are three core reasons for offering myself today as Speaker, and I am pleased to be supported in this by parliamentary colleagues from no fewer than six political parties—Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish nationalists, Welsh nationalists and the Social Democratic and Labour party, as well as enjoying support from independents of both right and left.
First, I would implement radical reforms to the system of allowances, but I would do so with respect and reverence for Parliament itself. This House is neither corrupt nor crooked, but what was meant to be a straightforward system of compensation for Members has become immensely complicated, mired in secrecy and short on accountability. Clearly, Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations must be accepted unless they are manifestly inappropriate, which frankly I do not expect to be the case. The next Speaker must ensure that hon. Members and taxpayers alike are not treated unfairly. This is a difficult balance to strike, but it is one that I can both accomplish and communicate.
Secondly, the case for strengthening Back Benchers, to revive Parliament as a whole, is incontrovertible. The true story of the past 30 to 50 years is not one, frankly, of petty claims on the one hand and extravagant claims on the other, but rather of the relentless erosion of this Chamber’s former strength. The Prime Minister recently asserted his desire to restore authority to Parliament, and, if elected, I would seek to hold him and any successor to that pledge. This House must seize back control of its own core functions by making a number of changes. For instance, there must be a business committee which it really runs; urgent questions must be more readily granted; scrutiny of budgets and legislation, both domestic and European, must be enhanced; and, once and for all, Ministers must be obliged to make key policy statements here. The Speaker should always be neutral within this Chamber, but he or she should not be neutral about this Chamber. If elected, I would be a tireless advocate for our political relevance.
Finally, I turn to the world beyond Westminster. A reforming Speaker needs to become both an advocate and an ambassador for Parliament. He must reconnect it with the society that it seeks to represent. I would be comfortable to be both a Speaker and a listener. I make no apology for the views that I have expressed, the causes that I have championed, and the votes that I have cast over the years. Some may have been incompatible with others—over a period—as many colleagues have been quick to point out, but even youngish men can acquire wisdom as time goes by. In any case, that is all irrelevant to the role of the Speaker, whose own political preferences must be permanently cast aside.
Throughout my 12 years in the House, I have always been passionate about Parliament. I believe that we can rebuild trust and restore our reputation, but only if we make a clean break with the past, and demonstrate once again that it is an honour without equal to sit in this House. I am that “clean break” candidate. I can help this House to meet the challenges ahead—to meet the challenge of change. We need change, we need change permanently and we need change now, but I can help to deliver it with you only if you give me the opportunity. I know that that it is a tall order and I am only a little chap, but I believe that I can rise to the occasion.
All my parliamentary career has been directed towards the ambitions that we all shared when we came into this Chamber. I refer to a profound belief in our central democratic institution. We see now it at a nadir. We see that we are under pressure, and the reasons are evident to everyone out there. The secrecy in which many parts of our national life operated has been rolled back just a little, revealing that which has disconnected us from those who sent us here in the first place.
I have always believed in opening things up. I stood up for reform of section 2 of the old Official Secrets Act. I stood up for the whistleblowers Bill, originally introduced by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). I have wanted this House to represent the very best of our nation. But what I have found, and what I think we have all found, is that we are so disconnected from the public that on the first great issue of trust—public finance, public money and knowledge of it—we failed. That means that, collectively, we are held in disregard.
I believe in freedom of information. There is no way of shrugging that off. I believe that it was a great, great statute that the Labour Government introduced. I believe that although it seems our nemesis at the moment, it is in fact the path to redemption. A public out there expect openness, and where public money is used, whether in local authorities or by this institution, they have a right to know. That I profoundly believe.
There are many things I could say, but—if I may quote the former Prime Minister—this is not a moment for rhetoric; rather, this is a moment for action. There is no hand of history on our shoulder; instead, there is a remembrance of what this House can be, rather than what it has become. It has become something that is less than the people we represent. We have forgotten that we are not the Government; we are those sent by our constituents to hold in check those who govern us. It is often a difficult balance, because we are party people by our origins, but we should never forget that the Government are the Government, and the Executive rule by royal prerogative and the creation of another apparatus. We, however, come here with the simple mandate that we will question, examine and argue with the Government.
We have lost our Standing Orders. We used to control them. As recently as when I first came into the House, they were in the hands of the Procedure Committee and they were brought by the Leader of the House to the Floor of the House. We no longer have any rights as private Members to initiate anything in this House, except for private Member’s Bills and the 18 Opposition days. We used to have the power of initiation whereby by ballot we could raise germane and proper questions for consideration by this nation, but that has gone. That is what we have given away, and, in a sense, that is what we must reclaim.
So I say that this is the time for this to be a House for business. The re-evaluation of the Standing Orders is absolutely key for the re-ignition of the central purpose of this House. Of course I believe in the election of Chairmen of Committees. There are many other things we can do, too. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) got together a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the product was Parliament First, with its purpose to save Parliament. All the ideas that are laid out there are the same ones that we hear repeated across the Floors of these Houses.
I believe that parties from other parts of this Union should be able to speak with greater equality than they have now, and I also believe that they should be called and recognised as such, because this country stands as a central gift and its Parliament used to be an inspiration of what a Parliament should be, but we let that go. For the future, we must repair that, and our success has to be achieved in the coming short period of time, in which we can give a legacy to those who follow.
Finally, I made it clear in my letter to every Member of this House that, should I be honoured by this House to be the Speaker, I would stand down at the next election and fight and contest an ordinary election, so that at least I could then stand here in the knowledge that I had the confidence of the people of Aldridge-Brownhills, as well as of this House.
This is, without doubt, the most important Speakership election in modern times, and this is certainly the most important speech I shall ever make in my entire life. This election is not only important to us in this Chamber; it is also important to those people outside the House of Commons who, because of recent events, are watching us much more closely than ever before to see what kind of Speaker we elect, and what that Speaker is going to do to restore the badly damaged trust in our House and this Chamber, which belongs not to us, but to our constituents and all the people we came here to serve. It is therefore essential that the next Speaker is someone who understands the frustrations and increasing disillusionment of Back Benchers, who are trying to do the best for their constituents. There is a huge amount of experience and talent on our Back Benches, which I see every time I am in the Chair. We must find ways of harnessing that talent.
The most important qualities in the next Speaker will be strength, experience and the enthusiasm to embrace the changes that are so badly needed. Strength will be vital to stand up to the Government when they seek to bypass the House of Commons or simply use it for their own purposes. Strength will be needed, too, to protect the interests of Back Benchers, whose contributions are at the moment so badly neglected.
As someone who in his younger days—much younger days—played rugby against the South African Springboks, I am used to coping with the roughest of confrontations and able to insist on fairness being done in the toughest of circumstances.
Experience, too, will be so important—to understand how the House works now and to appreciate all that is good about it in so many ways, while at the same time having seen its growing faults over the years and being able to recognise the need for urgent changes.
I would describe myself as a reluctant politician, but an enthusiastic parliamentarian. I have never enjoyed being called a politician, but I have always been immensely proud to be a Member of Parliament. Ours is a simple Chamber, where elected men and women assemble to talk about the problems and needs of their constituents and the country. If there are problems at the moment with the way we use it, that is our fault—all of us—and we must correct it.
Before entering Parliament, I was an arboriculturist. I know the value of tending and nurturing irreplaceable plants. But there is huge merit, when the time is right, not to uproot, but to prune, perhaps severely, to ensure the survival and regeneration of that which is so precious. What is precious to us all, and in grave danger now, is the reputation of our House of Commons and with it our ability truly to represent our constituents in the way we were elected to do.
The Speaker is a servant of this House, and it is not for would-be Speakers to prescribe in detail the changes that are now so clearly needed, but some things are now obvious and must be tackled with the greatest urgency. The vexed question of our allowances must be dealt with as speedily as possible, but we must also get it right. No one believes, not even the press, that Members of Parliament came to this House to make money out of their pay and allowances, but the events of recent weeks have not only made this House a sad, introspective place, but—more importantly—they have robbed us of the vigour and vitality to do our jobs as we all know they should be done.
The boil has been lanced: the old system has gone, never to return. Clearly, steps will be taken to deal with all the issues arising from the past. However, it should not be difficult to put in place a new system, completely out of our hands, which not only gives complete transparency to our affairs and not only reassures our constituents and the press, who keep a careful watch on these things, but allows us to fight our way out of this slough of despond and stand up once again for ourselves, for our House of Commons and for our ability to do the job we came here to do.
There are some things that the Speaker can do even under the existing rules. Governments of whatever party ought no longer to be allowed to make major statements in schools, hospitals or television studios before coming to this House. There is nothing in the world more irritating than to wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or see on the television important announcements being made and discussed—and often minds being made up and positions being adopted—before this Chamber has had the opportunity to hear the actual statement from the Minister concerned and to question him or her about it. There are ways open to the Speaker under existing rules that would enable him or her to make that practice much, much more difficult.
Everyone is now agreed that the scales in which are weighed the power of the Executive and the power of this House have tipped too far towards the Executive. A Committee should be established as soon as possible to look at how, without in any way hindering Government business, the House can again take charge of those matters that rightly belong to it and that could completely revitalise its workings. The kind of things that I would envisage being on the agenda would be the day-to-day management of the business of the House, to allow much greater input from Back Benchers; freedom for Select Committees to elect their Chairmen, and perhaps to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath; and the need for pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills—now very obvious.
It is an old saying, but a true one nonetheless, that out of grave difficulties can sometimes come rare opportunities. We must now leave the vexed question of our allowances and salaries in the hands of others, put the difficulties behind us and get on with serving our constituents as they expect and we long to do.
This is a golden opportunity. The House of Commons will never be the same again. The lid has been taken off and I, for one, am only too happy to let the fresh air in, to embrace change and to look at everything we do in this House.
Like others, I agree that the new Speaker must be prepared to speak publicly on behalf of the House when appropriate in an authoritative and non-political way. I do not believe that he or she should have a constant presence in the media, but the House’s position and how we work must always be carefully and clearly explained and only the Speaker is in a position to do that.
Were I to be elected, I would serve the remainder of this Parliament and, if re-elected, most of the next, before resigning to allow the election of a successor who by that time would be known to all the Members of the new Parliament. I have not sought to canvass colleagues during this election, nor have I had anyone working on my behalf. The reason for that, quite simply, is that I feel that for this election, of all elections, it is inappropriate, as history shows. It could possibly jeopardise the new Speaker’s independence and, in my case, colleagues have been able to see me perform as Deputy Speaker for many years. If it proves to be a handicap in the selection, so be it. I can only do things in the way I believe to be right.
Finally, may I say to the House that this is no time to vote along party lines. It is no time to vote to stop him or her. It is no time to vote because you told someone days, weeks or months ago that you would support them when the time came. This is the time—the desperately serious time—when we must all vote for the person we genuinely believe to be the best person to be the next Speaker of this House of Commons.
The task is huge and the demands will be great. If I were to be given the honour of becoming Speaker, I promise this House of Commons that I will dedicate the coming years of my life to making our House of Commons, once again, the respected and vital centre of our national life that we all so want it to be.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Sir Michael Lord), I have not conducted a great campaign. However, I am very privileged to be able to stand before my colleagues and to offer my services based on 39 years this very week in this House of Commons—an institution that I deeply and passionately love and which, for the remaining few years of my parliamentary life, as I too would wish to retire at a similar time to my hon. Friend, I wish to serve.
My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) has talked of Thomas More, the only Member of Parliament ever to be canonised. It is in fact his feast day today, and perhaps it is therefore an appropriate time for us to think about how we can reclaim that confidence and trust that the nation ought to repose in this, its House of Commons. Before I get too pious, let me also remind the House that it was on this day that Machiavelli died and that, in case I am accused of being Anglocentric, it is of course the eve of Bannockburn.
When I first came into this House, provoked by a love of parliamentary democracy, one of the first things that I did was, at the behest of my new Labour friend Greville Janner, now Lord Janner, to become the first chairman of the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. My activities in that regard, and subsequently during the period of perestroika, when I picked my way through the sandbags outside the Parliament building in Vilnius and when I conducted a seminar in democracy in Bucharest, showed me two things: first of all, how right Churchill was to say that our system, for all its deficiencies, is the only true system; and, secondly, how people looked up to this British House of Commons.
I want to feel that we can again become a beacon for those who are hungry for democracy. Yes, the iron curtain may have come down and, yes, many of the people for whom one worked in those days may now enjoy a degree of parliamentary democracy, but there is still a hunger out there. One has only to think of Zimbabwe or Iran to have that point underlined.
There is obviously a limitation to what any Speaker can do. I never forget the most immortal words that ever issued from the Chamber of the House of Commons, by Mr. Speaker Lenthall on that January day in 1642—
You were there.
Yes, I was there.
Speaker Lenthall said, “I have neither eyes to see, nor mouth to speak but as this House shall direct me, whose servant I am.” An inconspicuous man, a man who rose to the occasion and who underlines in those famous words both the duty and the limitations of the Speaker, because so many things can only be done as this House directs.
I would very much like to see the business of this House in the hands of a business Committee, with a majority from the Opposition Benches and with the Speaker presiding; but that can only happen if this House directs. I would like to see Select Committee Chairmen elected by the same system that we shall use later this afternoon; but that can only happen if this House directs.
There are certain things that a new Speaker can, and in my view should, do. First, I would like to take a tighter grip of parliamentary questions, particularly—if I may say so in the presence of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—Prime Minister’s questions. Too much of Prime Minister’s questions is taken up by the gladiatorial battle across the Dispatch Box. I would cut that down at a stroke.
I would like to feel that Members of Parliament had more opportunity to call the Government to account by giving them more opportunity for urgent questions and emergency debates. In that regard, I agree very much with many of the things said by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young).
I would like to be very tough with Ministers who spill the beans outside before coming to the Dispatch Box. I believe that if they do that they should be named. I believe that would quickly bring them to heel.
We need an Executive who are better balanced with the legislature than at the moment. Perhaps it is time for a new Dunning’s motion: “the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”—for “Crown” read “Executive”. We have to redress the balance and I believe that there are things that the Speaker can do, just as I believe that it is the duty of the Speaker to protect minority parties and minority interests.
The Speaker should have no political views, but he can adopt the stance of Voltaire: “I dislike what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” From my experience in the House, I know very well how much I depended on catching Mr. Speaker Wetherill’s eye when I was speaking against the hated poll tax and when I was moving amendments to try to preserve the Greater London council. I know how much I depended on Madam Speaker Boothroyd allowing me to catch her eye when I was conducting an often unpopular—on my own side—campaign against the then Government’s policy in Bosnia. I know what Back Benchers need from that Chair.
It has been very sad to see Parliament so vulnerable in recent weeks. There was a time when Members of Parliament eagerly scanned the press to see if their speeches were reported. Now they apprehensively scan the press to see if their expenses are commented on. We have to redress that balance.
I have a passionate belief in democracy. I have four grandchildren and I want them to feel that this place is indeed the ultimate defender of their liberties and the guardian of their hopes and future, because the real poor are those who have no hope. I hope that many young people from their generation will aspire to sit in this House, to serve the people of this country.
I submit myself to the will of the House.
Although it is a pleasure to follow the eight distinguished colleagues who have already addressed the House, I have the nasty feeling that there is a certain amount of print through in the remarks that have been made.
Undoubtedly, this election is taking place in extraordinary circumstances. With greater public interest aroused, I think that we as candidates should be thankful that only Members have the vote. To we who know what is and what is not possible, the media expectation for the new Speaker has got more unrealistic by the day. However, there can be no doubt that change is in the air. I welcome change; I have argued for change; and if chosen, I will work for change.
Although never having seen myself for one moment as part of the establishment, I do believe that I have the necessary experience to guide the House through the current changes and those that will arise in a new Parliament. But of course, some change will come with whoever is chosen—the style and the personality of the new Speaker will ensure that. Now, the House has seen me in action. I have shown that I can bring about more vitality and greater inclusivity in our proceedings. I have been known to favour brevity, and I would favour it even more from those on the Front Benches in the future. I have shown that it is possible to get to 20 questions. So I say to the House that I know the job; I believe that I could do it well; and I promise not to bark too much at the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope).
Without more ado, the authority of being Speaker would allow fuller use of discretion, over urgent questions, over emergency debates and over the timing and length of statements—the purpose being to achieve a better match between our proceedings and the issues of the day, which are often out of sync. The Speaker, nevertheless, as we have been reminded more than once, remains the servant of the House and not its master, but we have put our Speaker into a position of greater impartiality than any other Speaker in a Parliament in the world, and I believe that we should follow the logic of that and grant the Chair more discretion in the reform of procedures.
More extensive reform must have the agreement of the House. The party leaders are all talking reform. They would find me proactive in encouraging them towards consensus. If they falter, I certainly have plenty of ideas. Yes, a business Committee giving the House more say on the arrangement of business would help to achieve a better balance between Back Benchers as a whole and the elected majority. Select Committees have become, and are becoming, an ever more important part of the scrutiny function of the House, so, at the very least, the House should elect their Chairmen.
Private Members’ motions should be restored, thus allowing a Member to table a substantive motion with the expectation of a vote at the end of the debate. I believe that we could copy the example of the Finance Bill, by allowing the Opposition parties to select those parts of Bills that they believe should be considered in Committee of the whole House, leaving the rest to be dealt with upstairs in Committee. Fridays should be altered, with set slots to allow sensible debate on private Members’ Bills, with Divisions on a deferred basis the following week. Westminster Hall is now a fixture; we could use it much more imaginatively.
Heavy on our minds, however, is the subject of our allowances. I appreciate the hurt that many hon. Members feel, and it makes me all the more determined to ensure that we must get this right. I would engage with Sir Christopher Kelly to encourage an integrated approach to salary and allowances. The allowances problem—and, let us face it, the cost of administering it—shrinks if salary becomes a greater component of the remuneration package and the additional costs allowance a lesser one.
Now, without wanting to become a media turn, I believe that there is a role for the Speaker in speaking up for the House. It is important to accentuate the positive: independent research showing that, on average, Members regularly work 70 hours a week on behalf on their constituents. There is genuine public interest in what our role is and we should explain ourselves better. I will aim to be an accessible Speaker—accessible to all Members from any part of the House—and I will seek regular input from colleagues on a systematic basis.
Overall, my aim will be to help the House to up its game, not only through how we, as Members, present to the public, but through how we do our work on the people’s behalf and how we discharge our duties designed towards the better governance of our country.
For all that has been said of late, I firmly believe that the House remains the cradle of our democracy. This is the place to which so many people from overseas look for advice and inspiration. The outcome of today’s proceedings must carry with it a determination to renew this House’s reputation, and it is in that spirit, and with that resolve, that I submit myself to the will of the House.
Nearly there; this is the last one.
I have been in this race for 12 days. I have been playing catch-up, because others have probably been in it for 12 months or perhaps longer—who knows? The key thing that brought me into this in the first place was a sense of frustration.
I listened to all nine contributions. Actually, I passionately believe that any of the 10 of us is capable of doing the job of Speaker. However, I ask myself and colleagues in the House: do we all really get it? Do we understand the extent of crisis out there and the level of people’s anger? I am not sure that we do.
We have seen ourselves on the front pages of national and local newspapers day in, day out, and as the main item on news bulletins day in, day out. Then, two Sundays ago, we had the results of the European elections, which mean that two of our representatives in the European Parliament come from the British National party. That should send us a very strong message. The message is not that the British people are racists—I do not believe that they are—but they are telling us that they are thoroughly disengaged with us. They think that this place is remote and distant from them and that we are remote and distant from them as well.
So, what do we do now? That is the challenge and the question that we are being asked today. The easy and safe thing would be to retreat to someone who is a safe pair of hands—an establishment candidate. We have no end of quality candidates with great ideas, and we have heard from them today. We have half a dozen knights of the realm and Privy Counsellors—as I said the other day, there are probably more gongs than you will see at the Olympic games—but are they in touch and do they speak the language of modern Britain? Part of the question that we need to ask ourselves is whether we will be thanked tomorrow for our choice.
My proposals are quite different from what all the other candidates are talking about. We need to change the settlement between the citizen and Parliament. We need a more deferential Parliament and to give more power away to local people and communities—that is the way to re-engage with local people.
In this day and age, when the rest of the public—our constituents—are using Facebook, Twitter and the internet, why should our Front Benchers be dictating the topical issue for debate? We should be allowing the public to decide that through internet polls. If we did, the Chamber would be far fuller, because we would be discussing the desires of local people who have a direct input into their democracy.
Time and again, we have debates in Westminster Hall about local and regional issues, and issues that matter to us. I would want to move the apparatus of our Adjournment debates by taking them out of the capital to towns and cities throughout the country—whether Gloucester, Bristol, Birmingham or Manchester—and giving those areas a little prestige by being part of Parliament. Instead of Ministers responding to debates by reading out sides of A4, I think that you would find them responding to packed public galleries, rather than to one man and his dog, and maybe a Lobby correspondent. We would then also be able to re-engage local media. I think that it would be a good thing for those Ministers to feel the heat of local public opinion. That is likely to change the culture of decision making, and would, I think, lead to better decisions being taken in the first place.
At the current rate of change, we in this House will not be representative of modern Britain at any stage in the next 100 years. I do not want to be a dictator, I promise you—honestly, I do not—but the next Speaker of this House needs to be a driver for change, someone who will cajole and try to persuade our party leaders to make this House more representative of our different classes, genders and races much, much quicker. I cannot believe that in 2009 we are still talking about having a crèche that we Members can pay for in this House. If the next Speaker, whoever he or she is, does not implement that idea within the next 12 months, frankly, they will have failed. We need to make fundamental changes. We need a more deferential Parliament. We will be stronger, ultimately, and more respected as politicians, if we move the pendulum of power back to local communities.
In conclusion, my father always said to me, while bringing up my two older siblings and me, that nobody should put an artificial barrier between us and our hopes, our expectations and our ambitions. That would be a good motto for whoever is the next Speaker of this House, because I want people to aspire to be here. I want them to be ambitious, regardless of their background, to create a House that is more representative of modern Britain. If we are not brave enough to make changes here, in the mother of all Parliaments, then where? After the time that we have just had, if not now, then when? The rest is up to you.
All the candidates have now addressed the House, and may I thank them on behalf of the House? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] There are so many of them, but they spoke with such brevity. In a moment, I will declare the ballot open. When I do so, Members with surnames beginning with the letters A to K should vote in the Aye Lobby. Members with surnames beginning with the letters L to Z should vote in the No Lobby. Please note that the side doors will be locked, so entrance to the Lobbies will be through the usual main entrance.
When you enter the Lobbies—much of this is obvious, but it has to be said—please give your name to the Clerk at the appropriate desk for your surname. Surnames have been divided into three streams in each Lobby. When you have passed the desks, you will be given a ballot paper. When you have completed it, please place it in one of the ballot boxes at the exit of the Lobby. I remind Members that they should vote for only one candidate. [Laughter.] It would be much preferred, anyhow. The ballot will be open for 30 minutes. I hope to announce the result about an hour after the closure of the ballot. Sorry that it will take so long, but it is a secret ballot, and it will take time to count the votes. The House will be alerted by the Annunciator before it is to resume. Division bells will also be rung.
I declare the ballot open.
Order. This is the result of the first ballot. Five-hundred and ninety-four ballots were cast. The numbers of votes cast for each candidate were as follows:
Margaret Beckett, 74 votes;
Sir Alan Beith, 55 votes;
John Bercow, 179 votes;
Sir Patrick Cormack, 13 votes;
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda, 26 votes;
Sir Alan Haselhurst, 66 votes;
Sir Michael Lord, 9 votes;
Mr. Richard Shepherd, 15 votes;
Miss Ann Widdecombe, 44 votes;
Sir George Young, 112 votes.
One ballot was spoiled. [Laughter.] [Hon. Members: “Name them.”]
No Member received more than 50 per cent. of the ballots cast. Sir Michael Lord received the fewest votes. Sir Patrick Cormack, Parmjit Dhanda and Richard Shepherd received fewer than 5 per cent. of the ballots cast.
Before I confirm the list of candidates for the next ballot, I now invite any candidate who, as a result of this round, has decided that they would like to withdraw from the next round, to come and inform me here in the Chamber within the next 10 minutes.
The next ballot will then be opened as soon as the ballot papers have been printed, checked and put in place, which is likely to be about 30 minutes from now. I will cause the bells to be rung as soon as the Lobbies are ready and the ballot will then start. As before, Members will have 30 minutes to vote.
The candidates for the next ballot will be Margaret Beckett, Sir Alan Beith, John Bercow, Sir Alan Haselhurst, Miss Ann Widdecombe and Sir George Young. It will be opened as soon as the ballot papers have been printed, checked and put in place. This is likely to take about 20 minutes. I will have the bells rung as soon as the Lobbies are ready, and the ballot will then start. As before, Members will have 30 minutes to vote.
The ballot papers are now in the Lobbies. The second ballot is now open.
Order. This is the result of the second ballot. Five hundred and ninety-nine ballots were cast. The numbers of votes cast for each candidate were as follows:
Margaret Beckett, 70 votes;
Sir Alan Beith, 46 votes;
John Bercow, 221 votes;
Sir Alan Haselhurst, 57 votes;
Miss Ann Widdecombe, 30 votes;
Sir George Young, 174 votes.
One ballot was spoiled. [Laughter.] Well, at least one of you is being consistent.
No Member received more than 50 per cent. of the ballots cast. Miss Ann Widdecombe received the fewest votes.
Before I confirm the list of candidates for the next ballot, I invite—almost beg—[Laughter.] I am getting older. I invite any candidate who wishes to withdraw to inform me, please, in the Chamber within the next 10 minutes. The next ballot will be opened as soon as the ballot papers have been printed, checked and put in place, which is likely to be about 30 minutes from now. I will have the bells rung as soon as the Lobbies are ready, and the ballot will then start.
I have made a change to the voting time: under the powers given to me under the Standing Order, the time for voting in the next ballot will be reduced to 20 minutes. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Thank you.
Order. Margaret Beckett, Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Alan Beith have all withdrawn. The candidates for the next ballot are John Bercow and Sir George Young. It will be opened as soon as the ballot papers have been printed, checked and put in place, which is likely to be in about 20 minutes. I will have the bells rung as soon as the Lobbies are ready, and the ballot will then start. Members will have 20 minutes this time to vote.
The, hopefully, final ballot is now open.
This is the result of the third ballot. Five hundred and ninety-three ballots were cast. The number of votes cast for each candidate was as follows: John Bercow 322; Sir George Young 271. [Applause.] Order. Let us make sure that we sign it off properly. Mr. John Bercow has secured more than 50 per cent. of the ballots cast.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 1B(10)), That John Bercow do take the Chair of this House as Speaker.
Question agreed to.
Congratulations, Mr. Speaker Bercow. [Applause.]
Mr. Alan Williams left the Chair, and John Bercow was taken out of his place and conducted to the Chair by Mr. Charles Walker and Sandra Gidley.
(standing on the upper step): Thank you. My first pleasant duty is warmly to thank on behalf of us all Alan Williams for the magnificent and good-humoured way in which he has conducted this election. It has been a very long day, and those of you expecting a customarily lengthy diatribe will be sorely disappointed.
I should like to thank and pay a heartfelt tribute to all of the candidates who stood in this election. It has been a constructive debate that we have enjoyed over the last few weeks. I confess that I have the highest regard for all the other candidates; each brought something to the occasion; each had a contribution to make; and I can honestly say that each made that contribution in the most sincere and constructive fashion to the great and continuing benefit of this House.
Colleagues, you will understand that my thoughts at this time are, above all, with my family: my wife, Sally, our three very young children, Oliver, Freddie and Jemima, not to mention my beloved mother, who has been keenly interested in the proceedings.
Colleagues, you have just bestowed upon me the greatest honour that I have enjoyed in my professional life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the confidence that you have placed in me, and I am keenly aware of the obligations into which I now enter. I just want to say this about the responsibility of the office.
I said only a few hours ago in my speech that, if elected, a Speaker has a responsibility immediately and permanently to cast aside all his or her previous political views. I said it—[Interruption.]—and I meant it. My commitment to this House is to be completely impartial as between members of one political party and another. That is what it is about, and I will do my best, faithfully and honourably and effectively, to serve this House in the period ahead.
We have faced quite the most testing times. It has been a gruelling experience. Many Members feel very sore and very vulnerable, but large sections of the public also feel angry and disappointed. We do have to reform, but I just want to say that I continue to believe that the vast majority of Members of this House are upright, decent, honourable people who have come into politics not to feather their nests, but because they have heeded the call of public service. They want to serve their constituents, to make a difference and to improve the lot of their fellow citizens in this country, and for such people I shall always have the highest respect. It is on that basis, with that conviction, and in that spirit that I shall seek to discharge my obligations in this office, which—as I have said—I regard it as the greatest privilege of my professional life to occupy.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, let me say on behalf of the whole House that it gives me the greatest pleasure to offer you the warmest congratulations on your election as the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons. You join a long and prestigious history of Speakers who have all shared this moment in the election process. For now, however, you await confirmation by the monarch.
The House will know that, having received royal approval, the longest sitting Speaker held this great office for 33 years. Sir John Popham, however, was not so fortunate. He was the shortest-serving Speaker ever elected by this House. He might have been acceptable to his fellow Members, but he was not acceptable to the monarch. Let us hope that tonight you follow in the tradition of the longest-serving Speaker.
In our election of the Speaker, the House is carrying out one of its most important responsibilities. The public are today looking to see whether we mean to change, and I believe that it was made clear in all the speeches made by all the candidates for the office of the new Speaker that we have taken an important step in that process of change. So let me also pay tribute, on behalf of all Members of this House, to all Members who were prepared to put their names forward as candidates for this great office, and to the high quality of their speeches today. We should draw confidence from the knowledge that all 10 candidates were clearly driven by their desire to do what is best for this House and, by so doing, to do what is best for the public and those whom we serve, and I thank them all.
Let me also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who ensured today that the election was carried out under new procedures, and did so with his customary charm, dignity and fairness.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, all of us in this House know that you bring great personal strengths, and integrity and independence, to the office to which we have elected you. Your deep and passionate concern for children’s issues, especially for those of children with learning disabilities, has been warmly welcomed right across this House. Your interest in helping those in greatest need, not only here in Britain but in helping some of the poorest people on our planet, has been a mark of your distinction in this House. In your co-chairing of the all-party parliamentary group on Burma, you have demonstrated your commitment to democracy in every part of the world. You said that you had now cast aside all your past political views; some of us thought you had done that some time ago. You are, of course, highly respected as a professional tennis coach; for ever now, you have moved to the position of umpire. Your commitment in your speech today was to change. You will bring strength of character and purpose to our House and all of us will wish you to succeed as you discharge your responsibilities in a spirit of fairness and responsibility.
This House has faced great moments of difficulty and great moments of challenge. Today, we have the opportunity to begin a new chapter with a new Speaker. Today we have heard that every candidate for the office has understood that Parliament must reform. We have shown today also that we can cross party divisions in our choice of Speaker, and I believe this country will also want us to work together in the same spirit as we set about reforming and changing our politics in this great House and creating a new system of transparency and accountability that should take immediate effect.
Undoubtedly, the road ahead will not be easy, but with your leadership and integrity, this House has begun along the path to renewal. Mr. Speaker-Elect, this House, I know, joins me in congratulating you on the highest of distinctions and thanks you for taking up the greatest of responsibilities in this House of Commons. Congratulations.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, may I join the Prime Minister in offering my congratulations, and in wishing you well, not least in crossing that last hurdle that the Prime Minister referred to: the agreement of the monarch? I would like to thank the Father of the House for the way in which he conducted proceedings. I was not here for the last contested election for Speaker, but I gather that this one was a model of efficiency and good practice, so I thank him for that.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, you know that on the Conservative Benches all colleagues share a view of the importance of the House of Commons, the importance of the role of Speaker and the importance of the practices and procedures in this House, and you should know that, in discharging your responsibilities, it goes without saying that you have the support of those on these Benches, but not just in your work as Speaker, but in the vital work of reforming and renewing this House, which so badly needs to happen.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, I have read a lot about our own relationship. The thing that has never come out is the fact that, of course, briefly for a time we were both together the first pair of the Lords and Commons tennis team. I would also like to put on record a historical first that you have achieved, which is to be the first person of the Jewish faith to occupy the office of Speaker of the House of Commons, and it is a milestone that we should mark. I also noted, as all colleagues did, what you said about casting away your past political views, and I think that on the Conservative Benches we would say, “Let’s hope that includes all of them.”
I listened carefully, as did hon. Members throughout the House, to an excellent debate this afternoon and a series of very strong and powerful speeches. I thought that there was something very powerful in what the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) said about our need to demonstrate in this House of Commons that we get it—that we get the need for transparency, that we get the need for the reform of pay and allowances, and that we get the need to understand, and respond properly to, the public’s anger. We share a collective responsibility for what went wrong; we share a collective responsibility for putting it right. Your success will enable all of us to succeed in that; and on that note, I wish you well.
I, too, wish to add my congratulations on your election, Mr. Speaker-Elect, and I also thank the Father of the House for conducting the proceedings. The move to a secret ballot was the right one, and I congratulate him on inaugurating the process so successfully, although judging by the cheer that went up when he said that the third ballot would be accelerated, I am not alone in hoping that next time we will be able to move at a less dignified pace.
You have an enormous challenge and opportunity before you, Mr. Speaker-Elect. Never in living memory has Parliament been the subject of so much anger and dismay from the people who send us here. The need for change is simply unprecedented, but you know, as we all know, that change does not come easily to this place, where old habits die hard. So you must be different from every Speaker who has ever come before you—no longer just another pillar of the establishment. We urge you to reinvent the role of Speaker as a catalyst for radical change. On your own, you cannot bring about that change, but you can become one of its prime architects.
In your speech to us this afternoon, you rightly said, “I do not want to be someone; I want to do something.” I urge you also to remember some of the words of other candidates in today’s election, especially those of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) who rightly said that we should all look to change what he called the settlement between Parliament and the people, and of the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) who said that this is a moment not for rhetoric but for action.
To misquote the misquote from the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), you must now show that you are in the office of Speaker, but not run by the office of Speaker. You will be at the centre of an institution that you yourself will wish to challenge. We know that there are many things that everyone agrees on, so let us not delay, consult and analyse, but act quickly on reform, under your guidance and leadership. You have a mandate for change, Mr. Speaker-Elect, not just from the votes you won today across the Floor of the House, but from the people of Britain whose legitimate anger made this election happen. I urge you to use it.
May I congratulate you most warmly, Mr. Speaker-Elect, personally and on behalf of my Friends and colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party? Today we saw Parliament at its best, with 10 worthy candidates, 10 very good speeches and one very worthy winner. I feel sure, Mr. Speaker-Elect, that you will be as mindful of the need to protect the interests of minority parties as you will of all the parties in this House. Without doing too much damage to myself by saying things like that, may I finish by warmly congratulating you and wishing you well in the momentous tasks that you have ahead of you?
May I, on behalf of my colleagues, join in thanking the Father of the House for the manner in which proceedings were conducted today? I also want to thank all the candidates. The campaign that we witnessed, the debate and the ideas were important in raising the sights of Members of this House, and were important reminders of our purposes and our proper priorities.
The contributions today went some way towards re-edifying the proceedings of this House, but we now have to move forward to reforming the processes of this House. It is clear that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, have received a mandate towards that end. All the other candidates sought a mandate to that end and all party leaders have pledged themselves to that end. Let us now move to decisive, authoritative reform that means something to Members of this House and that is credible to the public.
I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your election. It is important that you are the first member of your religion elected to this high office, and all of us have every confidence that you will honour every pledge that you have made.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation to the very important office of Speaker of the House of Commons. I thank the Father of the House for the manner in which he carried out the election and I congratulate all the other candidates on the excellent speeches that they gave to this House today. Last week, I thanked Speaker Martin for his defence of the rights of Back Benchers and minority parties. I trust that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, will continue in that vein. Finally, I simply trust that you will be granted great wisdom as you take this House of Commons through challenging times.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, you have heard from the Prime Minister and from the leaders of the various Opposition parties. It is notable that the members of the fourth estate have gone away already, to decide why they got their predictions so wrong and whether you have a fine turn of calf which merits a certain kind of Victorian dress—who knows? To reflect the comments of the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), I know that you will consider every day when you sit in that Chair that you do not owe the power of your position to Front Benchers. You owe the power of your position to the Back Benchers in this place. I hope, pray and trust that you will look out for the interests of those Back Benchers, because as sure as night follows day those Back Benchers will look out for your interests, too.
As the senior independent Member, may I add my congratulations and welcome you sincerely, Mr. Speaker-Elect? Your changes of mind have demonstrated your independence and I hope that that independence will continue in this high post. Many congratulations to you, Sir.
I think that the Prime Minister will now inform the House of the detailed arrangements for Royal Approbation.
I have to signify to the House the pleasure of Her Majesty that the House should present their Speaker this day at 9.45 pm in the House of Peers for Her Majesty’s Royal Approbation.
Message to Attend the Lords Commissioners
Message from the Lords Commissioners delivered by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.
The Speaker-Elect, with the House, went up to be presented to the Lords Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Royal Approbation; and returned.
I have to report that this House has been in the House of Lords where Her Majesty has been pleased, by Her Majesty’s Commissioners, to approve the choice made of myself for the office of Speaker.
My first duty to the House is to repeat my respectful acknowledgements and my grateful thanks for the great honour you have conferred upon me in placing me in the Chair and to renew the assurance of my entire devotion to the service of the House.
Speaker Martin’s Retirement
Resolved, nemine contradicente,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty that she will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of Her Royal favour upon the Right honourable Mr. Michael J. Martin for his eminent services during the important period in which he presided with such distinguished ability and dignity in the Chair of this House.—(Ms Harman.)
Address to be presented to Her Majesty by Members of the House who are Privy Counsellors or Members of Her Majesty’s Household.
Resolved, That this House do now adjourn.— (Ms Harman.)