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Soldiers' Deaths (Gulf War)

3.30 pm

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement on the verdict of the coroner's inquest into the deaths by friendly fire in the Gulf war.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in extending its deepest sympathy to the families of the soldiers who died in this tragic incident.

The inquest sitting in Oxford into the deaths of nine soldiers killed when their two Warriors were hit by two Maverick missiles fired by United States A10 aircraft has returned a verdict that each of them was killed unlawfully.

The Government and relevant legal authorities are considering as a matter of urgency the implication of the jury's findings and verdict. The Director of Public Prosecutions has asked to see all the relevant paper held by the coroner and the Ministry of Defence and will consider all the circumstances of the case. The MOD is providing all its papers to the DPP. I understand that the DPP has pointed out in a press release that there is no power to prosecute a foreign national in England or Wales for any offence of murder or manslaughter allegedly committed abroad.

I should also like to take this opportunity to respond to a number of points made during the inquest. I am aware that there has been some criticism with regard to the provision of information by the MOD to the families. I can assure the House and the families that our intention has always been to provide as full an account as possible. It was not until 10 July of last year that General Johnston of the United States Marine Corps wrote to our joint headquarters at High Wycombe with statements from the pilots answering points raised during our own inquiry. The MOD wrote to the families on 23 July as soon as it was possible to provide an authoritative account based on the findings of our board of inquiry.

On the question of procedures in future military operations, our board of inquiry recommended that standard operating procedures for close air support operations must in future include instructions that a grid reference or a latitude and longitude is included in mission briefs and that this is always acknowledged by the pilots. Work on that recommendation is in hand.

The board of inquiry also recommended that a study be initiated to identify a suitable air recognition system for future use. The Defence Research Agency is undertaking a research programme aimed at assessing short-term solutions as well as options for the longer term. We are exchanging information on possible solutions and maintaining close contact with the United States and other allies. We are also working closely with our allies to develop new procedures and training to ensure that, in any future operations, the risks of troops firing on their comrades is minimised.

These events were a tragic incident in the Gulf war. We must try to learn what lessons we can from them. We must at the same time continue to pay tribute to the remarkable achievements of British, American and other coalition

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forces in the successful liberation of Kuwait, and salute the memory of all those who gave their lives, whatever the circumstances.

Mr. O'Neill : In thanking the Secretary of State, can I pay tribute to the persistence of purpose of the families of the service men who were so tragically killed on 26 February? Had it not been for their endeavours, yesterday's decision might not have been handed down. The verdict would seem to contradict the official report of the board of inquiry which stated :

"The Board did not establish whether the US Air Force personnel involved were at fault."

Does the Secretary of State recall that, in reply to an Adjournment debate on Fusilier Lee Thompson on 6 December 1991, his Minister of State said :

"It is of overriding importance, particularly in the case of injury or death, to establish the facts as quickly as possible. It is essential, therefore, that witnesses appearing before boards of inquiry should give their evidence in a full and frank manner."--[ Official Report, 6 December 1991 ; Vol. 200, c. 590.]

What does the Secretary of State propose to do to guarantee that our American allies provide that evidence in the full and frank manner that his Minister of State demanded on 6 December? Finally, what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that the families of British service personnel are never again subjected to the unnecessary exacerbation of their grief in the way that they have been subjected to it during the last few months?

Mr. Rifkind : On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, our desire is to ensure that any sensitive response to the families of service personnel who are killed or injured in any conflict should be provided as fully and as quickly as possible. Of course there are occasions during a conflict when it takes time, particularly if other allies are involved in the conflict, for the full information to be known, but that is our intention and we intend to see that we achieve it.

On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Ministry of Defence and the United Kingdom authorities have co-operated fully with the inquest with regard to the provision of any information or witnesses required by either the coroner or the inquest. It must be for the United States Government to come to a conclusion on what their response should be with regard to their own personnel.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the description of fire as "friendly" rests very uneasily with the verdict of unlawful killing? Will he confirm that one of the remarkable achievements of the coalition efforts in the Gulf war was the achievement of the military ends with the minimum of casualties? Was not a major factor the flying of up to 2, 500 sorties a day? Although the whole House has the utmost sympathy for those British soldiers who died in the course of duty and, of course, for their bereaved families, and although I would not expect my right hon. and learned Friend to comment adversely on the coroner's verdict, in all the circumstances, would not a better verdict have been one of accidental death?

Mr. Rifkind : I first pay tribute to the personal contribution that my hon. Friend made when he volunteered for active service in the Gulf. That is something which I know has been widely acknowledged.

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He was right to remind the House and the wider public of the enormous pressure under which all the allied pilots were operating at that time. Some 110,000 sorties were flown by allied pilots during the Gulf conflict. As my hon. Friend mentioned, that worked out at approximately 2,500 sorties a day. That is a factor which ought to be borne in mind.

Not only American pilots but pilots of all the coalition countries were acting under enormous pressure, and were exposed to the enormous risks of injury or death. Those who expose themselves to enormous danger in such circumstances ought to have that taken into account when tragic incidents-- accidents, acknowledged by all as having been accidents--occasionally, regretfully, occur.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : Two of the soldiers came from my constituency and one from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Miss Lynne). Is the Minister aware that we both know that the parents did feel that they were given misinformation and that they were struggling against secrecy? Will the Secretary of State also note that the jury's verdict was returned after the coroner had most clearly and specifically told it that a verdict of unlawful killing should be returned only if it thought that the action was not simply careless but reckless? While I accept all that has been said about the heat of battle and the pressures to which pilots are subjected, surely it would be right for our Government to ask the Americans now to have a full and open inquiry into the affair.

Mr. Rifkind : In the first instance, the implications of the jury's verdict are something for the legal authorities to consider. In answer to the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I certainly acknowledge that, in the first period after the Gulf war, there was some confusion and uncertainty as to precisely what had occurred on that day. The fullest information was available to the Ministry of Defence only at a later stage- -in July, as I said earlier. As soon as we had acquired that information, we took steps to ensure that the families were informed. I accept, however, that it is desirable to try to find a more effective procedure for making information available at an earlier date and, if initial information turns out to be incorrect, special efforts must be made to correct it as soon as possible.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite the tragic and ghastly accident that led to the deaths of these fine young men, all British forces who served in the Gulf have reason to be grateful in particular to the pilots of A10s, whose outstanding work in destroying Iraqi tanks contributed to our casualties from enemy action being minimal?

Mr. Rifkind : I agree with my hon. Friend. It was one of the remarkable features of the Gulf war that so few coalition forces sustained injury or death, and it is a tribute to the professionalism and expertise of British, American and other coalition pilots and other forces that that proved possible.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Is it not possible to drop this absurb military euphemism, "friendly fire"? All fire that kills or injures is hostile, even if it comes from an allied weapon. What discussions have taken place between Ministry of Defence officials-- representatives of the British Government--and the pilots concerned?

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Mr. Rifkind : As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, our contacts have been with the United States Government, and it was as a result of those contacts that the United States Government sent the United Kingdom authorities full statements and affidavits from the pilots concerned, which were made available to the inquest.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : In view of the coverage in some of today's media, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it absolutely clear that there can be no question of bringing the American airmen to trial in Britain, not only because there is a world of difference between the accidental and mistaken killing of someone in the heat of battle and the deliberate or even reckless killing of the innocent in peacetime but because the only countries with jurisdiction to bring them to trial are the United States, which has granted them anonymity, and Iraq, where they would receive no justice?

Mr. Rifkind : I have heard what my hon. and learned Friend has said. He will be the first to appreciate that, in the first instance, these must be matters for the Director of Public Prosecutions. The DPP has already pointed out the lack of jurisdiction that exists and has emphasised the point to which my hon. and learned Friend has drawn attention.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Does the Secretary of State agree with me, as a Member representing one of the families that were bereaved as a result of this tragic incident, that we all accept that no litigation and no monetary compensation can bring back the young men or compensate in any way for the loss of their future? Does he also accept, however, that the families have gone through 15 months of tears, turmoil and trauma to reach even this stage?

If I recall rightly, at Question Time the Prime Minister said that he was not in a position to release any more information. Does that mean that there is further information to be made available? When the Secretary of State refers to the information that became available on 10 July, is he referring to this documentation sent to all the families, substantial sections of which were blanked out and which was not very helpful to the families concerned? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that prosecutions could be forthcoming only in England and Wales. Was that deliberately to avoid the possibility of litigation in a Scottish context? Will the Secretary of State now agree to meet all the families concerned-- preferably with the Prime Minister--as those families know how and when their youngsters were killed, but not yet why?

Mr. Rifkind : The reference to jurisdiction in England and Wales is a consequence of the fact that the inquest took place in England. However, I am not aware of any difference with regard to matters of jurisdiction even if similar events took place north of the border. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has of course already met a number of the families. I fully appreciate the difficult and tense period that this has been for the families in question. We are all anxious to ensure that, if any new information that might become available was relevant to explaining the circumstances in which their relatives lost their lives, that information should be made available to them. However, that will have to be judged in the light of any information that might arise. We are considering the evidence that was submitted to the inquest

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to see whether it gives rise to the need for any further examination, and we will respond if it turns out that that is justified.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Bearing in mind that some of the service men killed were Scots, my right hon. and learned Friend will recognise the feeling that exists in Scotland about the matter. However, we also hope that he will take a balanced view and recognise that there are no easy areas in the desert to identify one's position ; that it is difficult in the desert in a fast-moving war when movement is rapid, and that the pilots operated under enormous stress. The operation of so many sorties a day in battle conditions are the circumstances in which mistakes can and will occur. It is nonsense for anyone to pretend afterwards that humans do not make errors, because they do. That is particularly true in the stress of battle conditions. Will my right hon. and learned Friend also bear it in mind that the A10s were responsible for the massive destruction of Iraqi armour which would have caused irreparable damage to our troops if it had made contact with them?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. Obviously the success of the coalition in achieving not just air superiority but air supremacy had a very material impact on our ability to win the Gulf war and on the minimising of casualties when that war entered its final phase.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Secretary of State accept that, from the very time that the bereaved families learned that their beloved sons had died, they were concerned about the lack of sensitivity and information and the belief that there was a cover-up and that the truth was not being told? Should such tragedies ever occur in future, I hope that we will have learnt that lesson. Would it not be useful if the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State told the American authorities that, although the House fully supported the war and the overwhelming majority of British people fully supported a justified war against criminal aggression, it would be unfortunate if the alliance built up at that time was marred as a result of a lack of American co-operation in telling the truth about what actually occurred? I hope that our American allies will be told that.

Mr. Rifkind : I do not believe that the alliance is being marred, or that there has been a failure to tell the truth. It is important to stress those points. Of course, it may prove impossible to understand exactly the detailed circumstances that led to the tragic deaths of those soldiers. What

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happens in the midst of such conflicts can sometimes be very difficult to establish with precise detail at a later stage. However, we have no reason to believe that there has been any intent to withhold legitimate information or to do anything unreasonable. It is important that that point should be emphasised.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while our hearts go out to the families of the young soldiers, the hounding of the two American airmen and, by extension, the American air force, ought to stop? They risked their lives to save the lives of tens of thousands of ground troops, including many thousands of British lives that were potentially at risk.

In welcoming the various remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend about reconsidering standard operating procedures, may I ask whether he accepts that there is no way of avoiding accidents completely? Indeed, 15 Royal Marines were killed at Suez--a much smaller operation--as a result of an accident involving a British aircraft ; and 110 British soldiers were killed by a Czech pilot on Salisbury plain during the second world war in a single accident. No one suggested that those people should be tried for manslaughter.

Mr. Rifkind : Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely correct in reminding the House that in almost every example of war or conflict there have been tragic incidents of that kind. He is right also to emphasise the invaluable contribution that was made by American pilots and by pilots of all the countries of the coalition to ensuring an extraordinarily successful outcome to the Gulf war.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Does it not show hypocrisy and double standards that, not so long ago, the Bush Administration were demanding that the two Libyans go to America and stand trial, and yet when the British people-- [Interruption.] I thought that that would provoke some comments from the Tories. Whereas on the other hand, when the British people and the parents are demanding the same treatment for those Americans, this tawdry Government act like Bush's poodle.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is descending to a new level of repugnance in seeking to draw any comparison between an act of terrorism which led to the loss of lives of hundreds of people on a civil airliner and a tragic incident by courageous pilots in the middle of the Gulf war.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. We will now move on. That matter has had a very good airing.

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Points of Order

3.50 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to ask whether you have received any requests from Ministers for a statement on the Government's intentions in respect of the pension cuts of 20,000 Maxwell pensioners. I believe that Parliament and the country have a right to know the Government's attitude to the return by the banks of stolen fund assets, to the lifebelt idea, to ensuring that the trustees can continue to pursue those funds, and to the underwriting by the Government of pensions in payment if there has been culpability on the part of the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation or negligence on the part of the Department of Social Security in implementing the Social Security Act 1990. In view of the Government's silence on the matter for the past four weeks, has there been any such statement? If not, will you use your good offices to try to secure one?

Madam Speaker : I have had no request from a Minister to make a statement. I hope that the House understands that the Speaker does not indicate to Ministers or to any Government Department when a statement should be made. It is, rather, the other way round. The hon. Gentleman must try to find other means of pursuing his claims.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have given notice of my point of order to you, the Leader of the House and the Foreign Office. You may recall that the House was concerned about what is known as the consolidated text of the treaty of Rome. I raised it at business questions on Thursday and received a reply from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is important. It reads :

"It is clear how the Treaty on European Union is intended to amend the Treaty of Rome when those two documents are read against each other. For this reason the Government have not prepared any consolidated version for their own use, nor are they yet preparing such a version for publication. An official version of the consolidated text of the Treaty of Rome incorporating the Treaty on European Union will be published by the Office for Official Publications of the European Community in due course. That will be the official text of the Treaty. The Government intend to wait for the Community's text to be finalised, and for the Treaty to enter into force, before publishing their own consolidated version." You will agree, Madam Speaker, that some important matters arise from that. We will have a motion tomorrow--I am sorry, it is a Bill, which is little more than a motion--to approve a treaty, CM 1934, of more than 100 pages, which amends yet another existing treaty of more than 300 pages, to produce a third treaty, treaty C, through fertilisation and through progeny. We therefore have to decide on Thursday whether treaty C, from the point of view of the House, will emerge. However, on their own admission, the Government, even for the purposes of Privy Councillors protecting the realm, let alone for the House, do not have even for themselves a copy of that third treaty. Furthermore, it is clear from the text of the letter which I have quoted and which is now in the Library that there will be two versions of the said treaty, even after it may have had Royal Assent from the House and even after it has come into effect--one from the official office of the Communities and one apparently from Her Majesty's Government. Which text will the Court of the European

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Communities depend on? Which version of either of those phantom treaties will we be invited to approve on Thursday? I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that three questions arise.

Is it not a breach of the practice and custom of the House for Her Majesty's Government not to publish prior to effective assent in principle the known text of a draft treaty which is likely to become a fundamental component of the effective constitution of the nation? Secondly, is it not a major breach of duty that Her Majesty's Ministers have not, even in their role as Privy Councillors, taken steps to protect the realm by furnishing themselves with this phantom text? Thirdly, in consequence of these matters, should not the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill be postponed until the text of the third treaty becomes a printed and published reality? Should not the Second Reading of the approving Bill be undertaken only after the public, Members of Parliament and perhaps Committees of the House have had the time to read, scrutinise and assess its implications and consequences?

Madam Speaker : I am grateful, first of all, to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice of his point of order. I have, of course, seen the letter from the Minister of State which refers to the relationship between the treaty on European union and the treaty of Rome. It is for the hon. Gentleman to decide whether he considers it premature for the European Communities (Amendment) Bill to be proceeded with ahead of the preparation of a consolidated version of the treaties. That may well affect how he votes on Thursday. I am satisfied--I have had to satisfy myself--that the Bill before us tomorrow is perfectly in order. Whether it should be passed is a matter for the House, not for me. The Bill that we shall debate tomorrow is perfectly in order.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that this morning the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that she proposed to take no action on any of the 91 complaints against officers of the West Midlands police force or on any of the 11 complaints about misappropriation of funds from police sources. The matter has obvious implications for the police as a whole. It is clearly a green light to officers planning misbehaviour. Have you had notice from the Attorney-General, in view of the obvious implications for the police and public confidence in them, that he intends to come to the House to offer a statement on the subject?

Madam Speaker : No, I have had no such indication.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that, during the run-up to the general election, all of us who are sitting Members received a letter from the then Speaker and the Serjeant at Arms about the use of House of Commons facilities, such as notepaper and stationery. I think that they were sensible rules, because such facilities clearly give to an incumbent Member a distinct advantage over candidates from other parties. Therefore, it is important that those rules are reinforced regularly. On this occasion, I look to you to make sure that the House is fully aware of those rules and that they are abided by on future occasions.

I have in my possession a letter sent by one hon. Member. I have given her notice that I intended to raise

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this point of order this afternoon. The letter appears to violate those rules. The hon. Member in question is the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock). The letter is dated 7 April --two days before the general election. At the top it says :

"From Mrs. Elizabeth J. Peacock JP MP, Member of Parliament, Batley and Spen"

In the right-hand corner, the letter heading says :

"House of Commons, London SW1A OAA",

and it lists some telephone numbers. At the bottom, the letter is signed by "Elizabeth J. Peacock".

I think that that is probably a violation of the excellent guidance given by the previous Speaker, and I look to you to safeguard the constitutional rights of this Chamber and of the facilities here.

Madam Speaker : I certainly intend to do so, and I remember the guidance so wisely given to us. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman furnishes that information to the Serjeant at Arms.

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Mr. Speaker Weatherill (Retirement)

Motion made and Question proposed,

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 Bernard Weatherill for his eminent services during the important period in which with such distinguished ability and dignity he presided in the Chair of this House.-- [Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]

3.59 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is this matter debatable?

Madam Speaker : Yes. It is usually a procedural motion, but it is debatable. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to speak?

Mr. Skinner : I shall not take long. This motion says that we are asking the Queen for a Royal favour. I have no intention of asking the Queen for any favours. I believe that the Queen should do her subjects a favour and start paying taxes.

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member of this House. He knows full well that we do not debate the Queen, her activities or our attitude towards the Queen in the House. This motion requests the Queen to confer an honour on our former Speaker. It refers to the Speaker and not to the Queen, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carry out the procedures that have been laid down in this House for a long time.

Mr. Skinner : I realise that what you say is absolutely correct and I shall come to do that matter, I just mentioned the Royal favour bit en passant--and that is the only favour I shall give to the Maastricht mob this week.

What is this favour? Will it be a place in the House of Lords? If it is, I do not want to support it. Normally, I do not have a say in the matter for anyone who gets a place in the House of Lords, because they are nominated in some list. There will be a few more nominated in a bit--Norman Tebbit, the Countess of Finchley and all the rest of them.

On this occasion, when I am given a possible chance of voting against sending someone to the House of Lords, I shall seize it with both hands. So I am looking for a teller to join me and to vote against the motion. If the favour means a place in the House of Lords, this is one of the rare occasions that we have a chance to say no. I am against the House of Lords. I believe in a classless society. The Prime Minister is always rabbiting on about a classless society, but I want to carry it out. I do not believe in perpetuating the other place and adding to its number.

What is more, I do not know why Bernard Weatherill wants the job. It astounds me. The man had everything going for him when he was Speaker of the House of Commons. He often used to tell us that he had a little thimble in his pocket, and that he would use it when he finished. I am not against him doing that. He could use his thimble to undo all the robes. He could also use it for all those new Conservative Members of Parliament who want penguin suits, or he could make a few grey suits for those who want to be clones of the Prime Minister. Why does he need to go to the Lords?

Of course, it might not be the Lords, it might be money--some extra cash. We are talking about a society where

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more than 3 million people are on the scrap heap--that pile of human misery known as the dole queue. We live in a society where 80,000 people are losing their homes. Why should we dole out favours to someone who is doing all right?

I do not want any favours when I have done. I hope to Christ that no one will nominate me for anything, because I shall turn it down.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : The hon. Gentleman is suffering from "knight starvation".

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman has been given a favour. He became a knight like nearly all the rest of the Tories. They go begging on hands and knees to the Prime Minister of the day. They should be given a pair of knee pads to enable them to crawl.

If my hon. Friends agree with me, they will be against the House of Lords. We once had a conference decision, when the block vote was flavour of the month, that resulted in 6 million votes, against 6,000, in favour of abolishing the House of Lords. If my hon. Friends join me, we will have a vote. I suspect that the House of Lords is what the royal favour is all about.

We have heard a lot of talk about the classless society, the honours system and elitism. Here is a chance for some Labour Members to practise those ideas. I say no to the motion.

4.5 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : This House has developed its long commitment to free speech to such an extent that, when we listen to highly individual and colourful characters, such as my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), we enjoy not only their colourful speeches but their commitment to the art of personal propaganda. That does not mean that we should always appear to be, whatever our real reasons, a graceless and slightly unforgiving and ungrateful Assembly.

I have served in this House for many years, and I have had the privilege to serve under many Speakers. We would be wrong to allow the interesting gesture of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover to be recorded as though we were in some way seeking to detract from the commitment and hard work of Mr. Bernard Weatherill. During his Speakership, many of us learned to appreciate not only his honesty and kindness, but his real concern for Back -Bench Members, and not just for those powerful Members on the Front Bench, either above or below the Gangway.

I think that it is important that the House of Commons should, from time to time, thank those of its own who care for its traditions--not only those associated with the pomp and ceremony but the really important ones concerning the protection of free speech and the rights and privileges of the people of the United Kingdom. I should like to place on record not only my appreciation of Mr. Bernard Weatherill, but my real thanks for the way in which, over many years, he sought above all to protect the interests of individual Members of Parliament. However the motion is expressed on the Order Paper, I hope that the House will record its appreciation of the many years of loyal, kind and heartfelt warmth of service that he showed to hon. Members.

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4.8 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : There is no objection on my part to recording our appreciation of the work of Bernard Weatherill as Speaker. I do not mind doing that at all. I object to the idea that a job must, for some reason, be given an added favour. I should have thought that the job of Speaker itself, which many people regard as the accolade of their political life, is sufficient reward. I am opposed to the idea that, because a person achieves a certain position, he should necessarily receive a royal favour.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people work in the Palace of Westminster, and many of them do not receive anything like the prominence or accolades that the Speaker receives, but they are necessary to the functioning of this place. Last night, when the Adjournment debate started before 10.30 pm, those who receive the lowest wages in the Palace--not the £70,000-plus a year earned by the Speaker--were not allowed to travel home in a taxi because that is the rule. The Speaker receives a car, and rightly so. I do not object to that. However, the women who work here were sent home from this place, out on to the streets of London, to get home as best they could, late at night. They are not provided with a taxi if the Adjournment debate starts before 10.30 pm.

When we talk about the teamwork that is required to keep this place going, let us bear in mind the working men and women here who receive salaries and wages that are trivial compared with the pay received by the Speaker. Indeed, one might say that the Speaker, as the chairman or chairwoman over our proceedings, receives sufficient recognition by being elected by hon. Members. That honour should be recognised as such.

The idea that a royal favour automatically follows the Speaker's term of office should be scrapped. We can go a little way down the road of scrapping that aspect of the pomp and circumstance by voting against the motion. I have no doubt that many hon. Members thought that the motion would be passed in a routine way, but it gives us a chance to express our view now.

I do not expect many hon. Members to be in the No Lobby. If we are to change the panoply of this pompous institution, let us make a start now by calling a Division. I assure the House that, even if nobody is in the No Lobby, there will be two tellers for the Noes. As I say, it would be a start-- [Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) is muttering. As a Tory, if he wants to support the Prime Minister, he has a chance to support us by voting in favour of a classless society.

4.11 pm

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : This is a singularly ungracious and churlish way in which to mark the long and distinguished service of your predecessor, Madam Speaker. When tributes were paid to Speaker Weatherill at the end of the last Parliament, they met with the genuine and deserved approval of hon. Members in all parts of the House. When the traditional honour--some of us believe in tradition--is being offered to a man who has served the House with impeccable rectitude for many years, it is churlish, undignified, mean, mean-spirited and petty- minded in the extreme that it should be opposed by the sort of speeches that we have heard this afternoon.

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4.12 pm

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made it absolutely clear why he would be voting against the motion, and explained that in no way did he intend any disrespect to the previous Speaker. As the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, hon. Members in all parts of the House paid tribute to Speaker Weatherill. They were sincere tributes, for we hold him in the highest respect and affection. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover made an important point. Many of us have been in talks with people from eastern Europe in which they have explained how they are establishing new democracies. When we explain the way in which democracy works in Britain, they are, generally speaking, impressed--until we describe how the House of Lords works, its powers and the way in which its members are selected. There is no question of any of the newly emerging democracies imitating our upper House.

This is the first time for many years that we have a chance to make a gesture. We have an opportunity to say that the House of Lords is an affront to the democratic system and must be reformed. In joining my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover in the No Lobby, I and others who may be in that Lobby mean absolutely no disrespect to the previous Speaker, whom we hold in the highest regard.

4.14 pm

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