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Mr. Speaker-Elect (standing on the upper step): Before I take the Chair as Speaker-Elect, I wish to thank the House for the honour that has again been bestowed on me. I am aware that it is the greatest honour that the House can give to any of its Members. I pray that I shall justify its continuing confidence, and I propose to do all within my power to preserve and cherish its traditions. I ask for your prayers.
Mr. Robin Cook): Mr. Speaker- Elect, it is a great pleasure to congratulate you on your return to the Chair of the House. I think I speak for all Members when I say it is also a great pleasure for all of us that we have completed your election for a second time in rather shorter order than the six hours that it took us the first time.
May I add my congratulations to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), on becoming Father of the House? No hon. Member has shown greater affection for the traditions of the House or carried out his duties as a Member with greater diligence than my hon. Friend. As a fellow West Lothian Member of Parliament, perhaps I can explain on his behalf to the House that his injury is a tribute to the diligence with which he pursues his constituency office, as it was incurred with an excess of enthusiasm at a meeting of the Linlithgow football team. It therefore was an asset, not a liability, in the recent election.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, there have been only 155 Speakers before you in the many centuries of your office. When Speaker Yelverton in 1597 was asked to describe the necessary qualities of a Speaker, he replied:
Over the past seven months, you have shown all the necessary qualities of a modern Speaker. We could have expected no less from a Speaker who has brought to the Chair of the Chamber one of the longest records of service on the Chairmen's Panel. You have been fair but firm; you have turned aside confrontation with humour; and you have got the better of those unwise enough to challenge your authority. Many an awkward moment has been defused with your trademark catch phrase, "It's no' nice."
Since you came to office, your voice has become familiar in households across our country. You spoke for all your Scottish compatriots in the Chamber when you magnificently brushed aside an impertinent question from the BBC on your accent with the retort,
Not always believing that we get the press that we deserve is of course a frequent experience of Members of this House--even if the rest of the country thinks that we get the press that we richly deserve. If ever in this Parliament the Lobby dares hint at criticism of our Speaker, it can only be because as Chairman of the Administration Committee you banned Lobby correspondents from the Terrace of the Commons unless personally supervised. You thereby liberated a grateful House to relax in privacy on the Terrace in these summer months.
Both you and I are now of that age when we share that puzzling sensation after each election that Members of Parliament seem to be getting younger than we remember. To an even younger Chamber than before, your commitment that families will be remembered in the proceedings of the House is particularly welcome. That commitment comes, of course, from the affection and importance that you attach to your own family. Those who know you well know also that no words of congratulations to you would be complete unless they also expressed appreciation of Mary, your wife, for her support to you in your role here and in your constituency.
Mr. Speaker-Elect, on first taking the Chair, you said that the Speaker had a clear duty to every side of the House, especially to the Back Benchers. It is because you have served the whole House with impartiality that the whole House has today returned you to the Chair unanimously. Your colleagues and your friends congratulate you on it.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): On behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches, I offer our sincerest congratulations to you,Mr. Speaker-Elect, on your re-election. Many colleagues on both sides of the House will share my relief that it was accompanied by less controversy and took dramatically less time than your election in October. Your unanimous re-election underlines the important constitutional fact that you are now very much Speaker of the whole of the House of Commons.
I add the Opposition's congratulations to those expressed to the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who, as a highly active Back Bencher and champion of so many causes over decades, is in every sense fully qualified for the post.
It is also a great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) on his appointment as Leader of the House of Commons. We learned from the newspapers that--apparently--he has been unable to express all his real views as Foreign Secretary over the past four years. My hon. Friends are
On these occasions, Mr. Speaker-Elect, a great deal is usually made of the distinctive parliamentary existence of the holder of your great office that results from the need to cut yourself off from previous party affiliations. You have indeed cut yourself off from party affiliations and, as has been mentioned, served this House impartially. It has always been a tradition of Speakers that they do not visit the Tea Room and the bars as part of that procedure. You have created a new tradition by being available and visiting the Tea Room and bars, but not having a drink there. That may keep you happy, although it is incomprehensible to the rest of us, but we are delighted that you have amended the traditions in that respect.
On a more serious point, you are the custodian of the rules, privileges and traditions of this House. As the many newly elected Members will soon learn, we all look to you as the independent champion of all parties in the House and of the rights of all hon. Members. As you know, I have always made a particular point about protecting the rights of the Opposition Front Bench: come to think of it, though, the rights of Back Benchers need protecting too--especially those who have not spoken from the Back Benches for a long time. I know that you will protect their rights in this Parliament.
There are also those occasions of high drama,Mr. Speaker-Elect, when votes are tied and it falls to you to use your casting vote, although I admit that it is not immediately obvious that that will be necessary in a large number of instances. You never know; we will be working on it from this side of the House. I hope that the fact that the Government have such a majority will not deter hon. Members on both sides of the House from doing the job that they have been sent here to do: to hold the Government to account.
Like so many past and present Members, you and I care passionately about the House of Commons and the standing in which it is held throughout the country. That is why I for one deeply regret the diminution of its importance and reputation, which has accelerated--although it did not begin--in recent years. I cannot be alone in thinking that that decline contributed in some ways to the disconnection between the public and Parliament that was highlighted by the lamentably low voter turnout in the general election last week.
Last October, I expressed the hope that you would robustly resist all attempts to downgrade, marginalise or bypass the House of Commons: I repeat that today. Few things would give me--and, I hope, hon. Members from all parties--greater satisfaction in politics than to see this House restored to the centre of our national life. The great issues that will come before us during the next few years, some of which may be of supreme importance to the way in which our country is governed, should be fully scrutinised and debated first and foremost in this Chamber.
On a personal note, just as you are about to resume your duties, I am planning to relinquish mine as Leader of the Opposition, although I shall carry them out for a few weeks more. I should like to thank you for the courtesy and kindness that you have shown me behind the
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Mr. Speaker-Elect, may I entirely associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the personal and unanimous congratulations that the House has recorded on your re-election as Speaker this afternoon? We wish you all possible success for the forthcoming Parliament.
You will remember something about which we have joked privately since your first election. At that time, I recalled our first encounter, when I was a schoolboy and you were on a picket line in your then capacity as a NUPE--National Union of Public Employees--regional official. The unanimous endorsement of the House must mean that we have witnessed the ultimate triumph of NUPE man this afternoon. We congratulate you on that.
I should like to take this opportunity also to congratulate the new Father of the House, whose courtesy and advice to all of us--especially those who have entered the House over the years as new Members--has been unstinting and much appreciated. It is a great happiness to see him occupy that position on behalf of us all, but for me that happiness is tinged with one wee regret: I shall dearly miss his distinguished predecessor, Sir Edward Heath, at Prime Minister's questions. I do not have any ambition as Lib Dem leader to write a diary and publish it. The book that I want to write and publish one day is the off-the-record commentary of Sir Edward Heath between 3 o'clock and 3.30 every Wednesday afternoon on the parliamentary Conservative party and the questions that its members put to the Prime Minister of the day. I shall miss the sensation when Sir Edward was notably upset or distressed by the viewpoints given by one of his own. He had a tendency to expel a great sigh of frustration, which tended to move me significantly along the Bench. I shall miss those noises.
We must all share a sense of disappointment, if not foreboding, about the lack of engagement of so many of our fellow citizens in the election. That being so, I hope that early steps will be taken to examine our procedures and practices in this place to ensure that they are as relevant and comprehensible as possible to those outside. There is a danger that all of us in all parties will be engulfed if we are not careful.
Given the balance of the outcome of the election, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker-Elect, your senior officials and the new Leader of the House will give fresh consideration to the procedures of the House to ensure that they are made more flexible--in some ways, the House of Lords may provide instruction for us--with regard to the rights of all parties, especially those in opposition. We look forward to contributing constructively to such discussions at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, we wish you well, Sir.