The House being met; and it being the first day of the meeting of this Parliament, pursuant to Proclamation, ROGER BLAKEMORE SANDS, Clerk of the House of Commons, DOUGLAS GEORGE MILLAR, Clerk Assistant, and HELEN ELIZABETH IRWIN, Principal Clerk of the Table Office, attending in the House, and the other Clerks attending, according to their duty, ALEXANDER CLAUD STUART ALLEN, Clerk of the Crown in Chancery in Great Britain, delivered to the said ROGER BLAKEMORE SANDS a book containing a list of the names of the Members returned to serve in this Parliament.
The House went; and a Commission having been read for opening and holding the Parliament, the Lords Commissioners directed the House to proceed to the Election of a Speaker, and to present the Speaker-Elect tomorrow, in the House of Peers, for the Royal Approbation.
Father of the House, I submit myself to the will of the House, as is the ancient custom. In doing so, I wish to congratulate you on becoming Father of the House. You were elected to this House in 1964, on the same day as my predecessor, Dick Buchanan. With your wealth of experience, I have always been impressed by the fact that Members from every side of the House listen when you speak. Because of your dedicated work with the British-American parliamentary group, you are well respected in the American Congress and in the Senate of the United States.
I would also wish the outgoing Father of the House, Tam Dalyell, a very happy retirement. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Everyone agrees. May I also convey my very best wishes to his wife Kathleen, who is a most popular person in Scotland and comes from the Wheatley family, who are a family of distinguished parliamentarians?
I would like to thank my wife, Mary, who has ensured that I have a family life here at Speaker's House. I thank her because coming to London means that she has to leave her family and friends, and especially our two grandchildren, Ryan and Abbie.
Father of the House, my constituency, up until the election, was called Glasgow, Springburn. It is now known as Glasgow, North-East, because of boundary changes. It has been expanded to take in the districts of
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Possilpark, Lambhill, Hamiltonhill and Milton. These changes now mean that I represent a constituency where my wife Mary was raised, and where we were married and raised our son, Paul, and daughter, Mary. I thank the people of Glasgow, North-East for the honour they have given me, and I hope I will always be worthy of their vote of confidence.
If I were asked what impressed me most about my constituency, I would say that it was the tremendous kindness of the people there. There is no law that there should be clubs for our disabled people or our elderly, and yet every day, in every district, men and women volunteer to run those clubs so that their friends and neighbours can have a better quality of life. I have at least five community-based housing associations in which residents give up their time to improve the tenements and homes of their neighbourhood. Such people come to meetings after their day's work. Each and every one of those associations have built sheltered housing so that pensioners and people with special needs can stay within the community and live in security. They also provide new buildings so that young couples can live in the districts in which they were raised. Many asylum seekers live in my constituency and I am impressed by the number of local people who come to my surgeries asking for help for their new neighbours, who, only a few months previously, had lived in another land, many thousands of miles away.
I congratulate the Members who have been re-elected. I have enjoyed working with them over the past four and a half years. I hope that I have not been too hard on them. I also pay tribute to all Members, from every party, who have left the House. Their contribution will always be appreciated and well remembered. I wish new Members well and I am sure that they will enjoy the House as much as I have since my election in 1979. If I receive their support today, I will be a Speaker who will be approachable and who will help and advise them.
Re-elected Members will know that I think that it is right and fitting that a Cabinet Minister, and any Minister, who has some new statement to make, should make that statement here, on the Floor of the House. Her Majesty's official Opposition have built-in rights and privileges that the House has rightly given them. I say to those from minority parties represented here today, however, that their voices must be heard[Interruption.] The Speaker-elect can hear them. I always remember the late Lord Callaghan saying, when he was Home Secretary:
As Speaker, I have received Speakers from our Commonwealth and from democracies from all over the world. I have also received many charitable organisations and educational bodies in Speaker's House. I wish to continue that work on behalf of the House of Commons.
The House is very fortunate in that we have an excellent staff: the cleaning, catering, Library and security staff, and many others who serve us so well. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank them. In these days of high security, I should also like to thank our Serjeant at Arms staff. They are excellent people, who have proved their great value in ensuring that every Member, the staff of the House and of course the public are well protected. I particularly thank our Clerk of the House, Roger Sands, Mr. Peter Barratt, the acting Speaker's Secretary, and the Chairman of Ways and Means and the First and Second Deputy Speakers for all their help and support in the last Parliament.
Let me take this opportunity to express my personal gratitude to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen). Both have been a great source of support to me.
I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Williams, on your accession as Father of the House. There is some indication that in the 1800s the position may have been subject to an election, but mercifully we have been spared that today. Your long and distinguished record of unbroken service is recognised across the House, and adds grace to today's proceedings.
"A Speaker has a clear duty to every section of the House, especially to Back Benchers, the minority parties and the Opposition parties. The House must hold the Executive to account. I am firmly of the view that the Speaker's duty is to serve the House, not the Executive power."[Official Report, 23 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 14.]
We are all concerned about people's disaffection with politics and the democratic process. It is therefore even more important for this Chamber, the heart of our democracy, to hold fast to the rights of each one of us so that we can all hold the Executive to account; and it is to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East that we turn, for if our rights are not maintained, by definition those whom we represent are disfranchised.
In the right hon. Gentleman, we have a man whose political career was not born in the Whips Office and who began that career not as a Minister, but as a House of Commons man. Many here today will be sitting on these green Benches for the first time. I can tell them that in the right hon. Gentleman they will have a Speaker of
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great kindness. Many of us have, with gratitude, received a compassionate note when we have suffered bereavement, a cheery word in the Corridor when we have needed it, and always a smile.
Outside the Chamber the Speaker has many responsibilities, such as chairing committees and hosting receptions to which we are often invited. Indeed, I recall only too well the time when I thought I would never be invited to Speaker's House again, when Mr. Speaker invited me to a dinner that he was hosting for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unfortunately, in the middle of the dinner I suffered an asthma attack. Two paramedics escorted me from Speaker's House. One said to the other, "I thought they said he was teetotal."
Mr. Speaker, you kindly invited me again to a most wonderful evening at Speaker's house, which I shall always treasure. That was your famous Burns night supper. I only wish that the rest of the House could have been there to hear you play the bagpipes to your guests. You are a member of the Glasgow college of piping. It is a talent that not many know you have. If only our new year celebrations could begin with you in that Chair welcoming us backit would be a wonderful way to start the new year.
You have shown that you can take that advice. Many times, we senior Members have sat through long hours of debate on these green Benches waiting to be called, wondering whether to take an aspirin in case deep vein thrombosis set in. I can assure all Members of the House, old and new, that this Speaker treats all of us the same. He is a fair man, a kind man, a House of Commons man. I commend him to the House.
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