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Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are delighted to associate ourselves with the tributes to Sir Michael.

I want particularly to draw attention to the role that Sir Michael has played in modernising the House over the past five years. As the Leader of the House said, it
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has been a period of dramatic change—not least in terms of IT, which Sir Michael has had to steer through. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) has reminded me that that is by no means the sort of activity that one would normally associate with retired military personnel, or indeed with those whose main hobbies were equitation and tapestry. The process has been remarkably smooth compared with many other processes of a similar nature.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that there has been—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. There is far too much conversation in the Chamber.

Mr. Tyler: As the Leader of the House has already said, the Serjeant has had to look after us in a period of particular difficulty in relation to the security of these buildings. There has been much unfair, ill-informed criticism of the Serjeant's team. This is an opportunity for us not only to thank him but to pay tribute to his staff who look after us so well. It is important to recognise that prevention is just as important as response and the Serjeant has done us proud in the way that he has led his team in that respect. They are unsung heroes and heroines and they deserve all the praise we can give them.

The quality of Sir Michael's leadership is seen in the performance of his Department. We can be very proud of the way in which it works on our behalf. The Liberal Democrats, too, wish Sir Michael and Lady Cummins a long, happy and very rewarding retirement.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

4.59 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Members of Parliament are not easy people to organise. They all come here with a firm conviction not only that are they elected solely on the basis of their own brilliance, but that everything that they do should be given precedence over all the other 654 Members with whom they work. To seek to organise them at least in some comparatively sensible way, any servant of the House—the Serjeant at Arms is the most senior and most important servant of the House—must learn to deal not only with that vast number of bruised egos, but with the day-to-day complications presented by a building that, for centuries, has been the centrepiece of freedom in this country, where our people must have access, where the public must have the right to come and where hon. Members must congregate to express freely the views that they represent from their constituencies.

Sir Michael Cummins has exercised that task with not just wit and sense, but enormous courtesy. Every hon. Member who has had to deal with him knows that he is very sensitive and has always been extremely anxious to maintain the reputation of Parliament and deal with the needs of individual Members, irrespective of whether they are Back-Bench or Front-Bench Members. In the past year, he and his staff have been subjected to gratuitous, unhelpful and astonishingly ignorant criticism, based on extraordinarily superficial things, such as the court dress that his office brings with it. If we ever lose touch with those traditions that have
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made this a great Parliament, we shall be the poorer for it. The fact that he has borne those criticisms stoically has given me to understand that possibly some of the assault courses that he had to negotiate in the Army must have given him excellent training for his job in the House of Commons.

I hope that Sir Michael and Lady Cummins will look back on their time here perhaps with affection, somewhat tempered from time to time by reservations about some of the things that have happened. I hope, too, that they will go away not with regret, but with appreciation in their hearts from those of us who know that those who undertake that very difficult task frequently do so with little appreciation and with—on the part of many Members of Parliament, I hope—our prayers and certainly our affection.

5.2 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): It is a pleasure to associate myself and my colleagues, on whose behalf I speak, with the comments made and good wishes expressed to Sir Michael on his retirement. Just listening to the recital, particularly by the Leader of the House, of all the changes that have taken place over the past five years almost took me by surprise. I suppose that it is a tribute in a sense to the skill with which those changes have been manoeuvred into place that we now take so many of them for granted. The smoothness with which that has happened is in itself a significant achievement.

Hon. Members have also referred to the security difficulties that have arisen in recent months and they have rightly noted the ill-informed comments that have been made and the ignorance about the House that they reflected. Obviously, there must be a response to the changed circumstances and to the threat, but I very much hope—I think that this is the view of my colleagues—that, in that response, we will bear in mind the traditions of the House, the need for openness and the need for what happens in the Palace to reflect the needs of Members both of this and the other place. We must not allow ourselves to reach a situation where excessive security in any way impinges on what hon. Members need and wish to do in representing their constituencies and trying to deal with the issues of the day. I hope that we never reach a situation where so-called security experts start to try to tell us how we should conduct ourselves in this place.

5.4 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I happily associate my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru and myself with the sentiments in the motion, not just because Sir Michael had distinguished service in the Scots Guards—one of the few regiments unaffected by the Government's recent proposals—but because it notes his unfailing courtesy and good humour. To that, we should add—this has been reflected in the sentiments expressed—the efficiency with which he has carried forward his duties and those of his Department.

The Leader of the House listed some of the responsibilities of the Serjeant at Arms in addition to order and security, which his Department has carried forward with great efficiency. I can report that the
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responsibilities on order are carried out with efficiency because some of my hon. Friends helpfully test them from time to time. I agree with the sentiments about security that have been expressed. Despite all the controversy about men in tights, I think that they look after the security of this place rather well and perhaps better than men without tights will in the future, although that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we all join in wishing Sir Michael and his family a long and happy retirement. He takes with him our grateful thanks for his distinguished service to all of us.

5.5 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On behalf of the three Back-Bench members of the House of Commons Commission, it is good to be able to join the unanimous tributes from all parties in the House. Without being a Member of the House, Sir Michael was a wonderful House of Commons man, and I shall remember him in that context. He loved this place as much as any of us could love it. He cared for it deeply, which is why it was sad that the ill-informed comments to which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) eloquently referred were made in recent months. I hope that Sir Michael's memories of this place will not be coloured or distorted by those ill-informed comments, which were motivated by prejudice and based on ignorance.

Sir Michael has been an exemplary servant of the House. He is an honourable man in a long line of honourable Serjeants who have served us well. On behalf of the Back-Bench members of the Commission, who have good reason to know just what he has done for the House, I am glad to add my tributes and good wishes to Sir Michael and Lady Cummins for a long, happy and healthy retirement.

5.6 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): I rise briefly on behalf of the Joint Committee on Security, the advisory Committee of both Houses that makes recommendations on security to the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor regarding the parliamentary estate. Sir Michael has, like his predecessors, been one of our principal advisers and has attended the Committee for almost 10 years, first as the deputy Serjeant and then as the Serjeant. The Committee is chaired by the Government deputy Chief Whip and its members include the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), for Stockport (Ms Coffey) and for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), and my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). Committee members expressed their gratitude to the Serjeant for his long and dedicated service at their last meeting.

As hon. Members have said, over a difficult period during which Sir Michael has often been criticised unfairly, he has displayed a dignity and loyalty to Parliament that is much to be admired. He has been a superb Officer of the House, combining industry, integrity, a lightness of touch and a ready sense of humour. He will be greatly missed and we wish him well in his retirement.

Question put and agreed to.
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