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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 it has bestowed upon me. I am aware that this 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 to cherish its traditions.
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Geoff Hoon):
Mr. Speaker, may I, on behalf of the entire House, congratulate you on your re-election? May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) on becoming Father of the House? He has served the House and his constituency with distinction since his election in October 1964, both on the Government and Opposition
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Front Benches and, of course, as a highly respected Back Bencher. He has contributed both as a member of the Select Committee on Public Accounts and as an incisive Chairman of the Liaison Committee. He is a worthy Father of the House and we are all grateful to him for his supervision of your election today.
Mr Speaker, this is your third election as Speaker. You became the 156th Speaker in October 2000. You were unanimously re-elected in June 2001 and have been again for the 2005 Parliament. You have throughout served this House with impartiality, wisdom and good humour. I have no doubt that you will continue to do so.
We all know how important it is to you, Mr Speaker, that you have the strong support of your wife Mary. You are proud of your roots in Scotland, the trade union movement and of being the first Roman Catholic Speaker since the Reformation.
I note from my incoming brief that the other place has discussed the election of their own Speaker. I want to make it clear from the outset that, as far as this House and this country are concerned, you are the only Speaker.
The House, noting your obvious reluctance, is very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for agreeing to serve once again. That reluctance is the result of the responsibility that the position brings and, historically, even the prospect of more than a little danger. You are following in the footsteps of previous Speakers who have been forcibly expelled from this House, imprisoned or even beheaded.
The strain of being Speaker comes in many guises. There were reports that Mr. Speaker Fitzroy would remark to himself in a voice audible at least to the two Front Benches, "When is this boring fellow going to sit down?" [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I decided to include that because undoubtedly the sketch writers will say it in any event.
Sir John Cust, Speaker from 1761 to 1770, collapsed in the Chair of the House and died a few days later. Family tradition that his death was caused by ailments brought on by long periods of confinement in the Chair were confirmed in a newspaper report of 27 January 1770 that the House of Commons had just introduced a rule allowing for the Speaker to depart the Chair whenever the usual calls of nature should require his absence, adding that
The modern equivalent of these ancient strains is probably to be done over by the sketch writers in the Press Gallery. When attacked in such circumstances, Mr. Speaker, no doubt the House could develop its historic powers to deal with dissent in more modern ways. It could introduce, for example, an anti-Speaker behaviour order; an ASBO for sketch writers who we feel might benefit from a short sharp stay in the Tower of London.
of this House and to keep order in our debates. We have every confidence that you will keep all of us in this House, and us in government, on the right side of the rules in the Parliament ahead.
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Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have been appointed Leader of the House. In carrying out my responsibilities, I will ensure that colleagues in government are reminded of the importance of their duties in this House and of their accountability to its Members. It is a singular privilege to be elected as a Member of Parliament. It is a great honour to work for the people we represent. All of us on the Government and Opposition Benches have a duty to defend and uphold the powerful conventions of our democracy. Your role, Mr. Speaker, is the very embodiment of those traditions. We wish you well.
Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of Members on these Benches, may I welcome your re-election as Speaker? This tribute normally would be paid by the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone & Hythe (Michael Howard), but as you will understand, he is attending the service for the tsunami victims in St. Paul's at this moment. I know that he adds his congratulations and tributes to you as well.
May I also congratulate the new Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Swansea West (Alan Williams)? He and I have served together on the Public Accounts Committee and the British-American parliamentary group, and I pay tribute to him for the enormously important work that he has done on both of those bodies. I am sure that he will fulfil his role as Father of the House with great distinction although, before the election, he let me know that he was rather keen not to have undertake it as it made him feel a little elderly. I am sure that we will forgive him that.
It is a particular pleasure for me to be able to welcome you and to pay tribute to you today, Mr. Speaker. You and I go back a certain distance in politics, to the days when I was in Scottish politics and we were colleagues on the old Scottish Grand Committee, where we crossed swords on many occasions. I look back to those days with warm recollection.
Over the years, you as Speaker have been very distinctive in the style that you have cut. You have been enormously approachable, accessible to all Members and fair. You have been friendly to us all and you have shown a great feeling for this House. I hope, pray and believe that you will continue to do that in your role. You have proved to be a great custodian of the rules, privileges and traditions of this House, a very important part of the Speaker's role that you have again fulfilled with distinction.
We do look to you, Mr. Speaker, to be an independent Speaker in dealing with all the parties in this House. You will have noticed the cheer that you got when you re-emphasised that you are here not to work for the Executive, but to protect the rights of others, particularly those of Back Benchers. May I say from my position that I hope that you will occasionally feel able also to protect the rights of Opposition Front Benchers?
You have shown yourself, Mr. Speaker, to be a great defender of Parliament's status, and you have reiterated today the importance of the Executive's regarding this House as the port of first callthat statements should be made in this House before they are given to the press,
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and that this House should be treated with the respect that it deserves as a democratic institution. Our democracy depends on a strong House of Commons and an accountable Executive, and in many ways you are the bridge that can help to hold that balance.
Over the years since becoming Speaker, you have avoided one particular duty. On occasion, it is one of the onerous duties of a Speaker of the House to cast a casting vote when there is a tie in a Division. Sadly, that has not been a great necessity over the years since you became Speaker, but I hope that in the coming years, we will engineer a situation in which we might require you to carry out that onerous task.
Our job, Mr. Speaker, is to hold the Government to account, and I am sure that you will keep us up to that. One of your great injunctions in the last Parliament, which I hope you will reiterate, was to tell Front Benchers to be short in their questions and in their answers. I am sure that we will try to obey you in that regard. May I thank you for your past kindness and wish you well, on behalf of my party, for the future? Our wishes go with you for another very successful term as Speaker, holding that great office in this great House.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Mr. Speaker, may I, on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, associate myself with the unanimous congratulations that you have received today on your re-election as Speaker? We wish you all possible success for the coming Parliament, and may I say that for me, it is a particular pleasure for one Glasgow boy to congratulate another? Kelvinbridge salutes Springburn, and although you now represent Glasgow, North-East, I suspect that it will always be Springburn to you; it will certainly always be Springburn to me.
I should like also to congratulate the new Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Swansea West (Alan Williams), whose friendship and wisdom I have had occasion to be grateful for over several years; both qualities will doubtless be available to the whole House in his new capacity. But those congratulations are tinged with one regret: the retirement of Tam Dalyell. I am not sure whether I will miss that frisson of apprehension and anxiety that the perfunctory early-morning telephone call, beginning with the words "Tam, here", induced in me from time to time. However, I suspect that my relief at the absence of such calls will be as nothing compared with that of the Government Chief Whip. We and you were right to mention the contribution of Kathleen Dalyell, and we might just pause a moment and think ahead. She is going to have to give Tam lunch every day of the week now.
Mr Speaker, we must all share a sense of disappointment at the continuing lack of engagement in elections on the part of so many of our fellow citizens. That being so, I hope that we in this place will continue in our steps to examine our procedures and practices, in an effort to ensure that they are as relevant and comprehensible as possible to those outside it. You will not be surprised to learn that during those discussions, we will argue that three-party politics in the country should be reflected in three-party politics in the House. Perhaps there is also something that we can learn from the other place.
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