Previous Section Index Home Page

1.20 pm

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Mr. Speaker, in the circumstances, it is especially generous of you to give me the opportunity to speak today, and I am grateful to you for that.

I entered this House only in 2005, and one of my most abiding memories of those first few weeks was your generosity to the former Member for Cheadle, Patsy Calton, when she came, despite the fragility of her health, to swear the Oath of Allegiance. I do not think that any of us will forget the tenderness with which you stepped from the Chair, against all convention, to greet
17 Jun 2009 : Column 319
her by the Dispatch Box. It has been clear to all of us, whatever differences there might be, that personal kindness has been the outstanding characteristic of your time in the Chair—a kindness that enthused every word of what you said earlier.

As a newly elected party leader, I remember sitting with you in your apartments, talking not about politics but about our families, and I remember on another occasion watching you unveil a portrait of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) in those same rooms. It was wonderful to listen to both of you reminisce about the journey that had taken you from almost the same area in Glasgow to public service here in Parliament.

Mr. Speaker, whatever differences there have been, you and I share a belief in the importance of our democracy. Our political institutions, as you have pointed out, have come under immense and unprecedented pressure in recent times, but democracy remains an idea that is bigger than every one of us—an idea that must be defended no matter the personal cost. I know—everyone here knows—that you gave yourself, heart and soul, to the job of Speaker. Above all, you have shown us all how to temper great authority with great kindness, and that will be your legacy.

1.22 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure and a privilege to address my remarks to you in paying the warmest tribute for the service that you have provided to this House, for which we are indebted to you. I would like to thank you personally for the kindness and support that you offered me when I was elected. I believe that throughout your term as Speaker you have always had the best interests of this House at heart, and even now in leaving office, you have put those interests first.

Your election as Speaker was a great honour for you and your family, and an even greater honour for our native city of Glasgow. You began your working life as a sheet metalworker, and all your achievements are the result of your own hard work and ambition. It is a positive indicator of the society in which we live today that someone from such humble beginnings can rise to one of the greatest offices in the country.

Mr. Speaker, I was incredibly sad when you informed this House that you were resigning from the office of Speaker. That sentiment has been shared by many of my constituents who have contacted me over the past few weeks.

I would like to share with the House a few lines of an e-mail that I received from a 16-year-old constituent who visited the House last year as part of a school trip. Her name is Kayleigh Quinn, and she wrote:

In short, Mr. Speaker, many young people throughout the United Kingdom look to you as a source of inspiration—an inspiration that anything can be achieved through dedication and hard work.

17 Jun 2009 : Column 320

Your distinguished predecessor, Speaker Boothroyd, is famously known for having said that there are times when she thinks that she has come a long way, and I believe that you are certainly entitled to say the same. Mr Speaker, I repeat my thanks to you once again.

1.25 pm

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would like to thank you for the privilege of being able to speak on a very important and, I am sure for you, personal and emotional day, because you have not only served this House but given excellent service to the United Kingdom. I am sure that you are rightly proud of your achievement in the political world, coming from humble surroundings right to the highest office here, as Speaker of this United Kingdom Parliament. You have also been an inspiration, and in actual fact your story is an inspiration to many young people, showing them that they can look up, aim high and accomplish even the greatest achievements, irrespective of their humble beginnings.

Mr. Speaker, you have always shown the greatest courtesy to my colleagues and me over the years, and I place on the record our deepest gratitude to you. I would also like to thank you for your acts of kindness, and your generosity will never be forgotten. Sir, you opened Speaker’s House to many people who would never have gone there if it had not been for your kindness, and you invited Members from all parts of the House to go to many excellent occasions there, and for that we owe you and your good wife Mary our deepest gratitude.

I should express my personal appreciation of your taste in music, given that you invited me to participate in your excellent Burns night events on two occasions. The House will, however, be delighted to know that no performance fees were asked for or received, and therefore that can go on the public record. I did not, however, stimulate the economy by imbibing any of Mr. Speaker’s whisky and, for that, I am absolutely delighted to be able to keep a very steady and good head.

Mr. Speaker, I conclude by wishing you and Mary every happiness in your retirement, and I trust and pray that you are able to leave this House with your head held high, having been the defender of the ordinary Members of this House—the Back Benchers. For that, we shall be eternally grateful.

1.28 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, may I say what a great pleasure it was, at the beginning of this Parliament, to preside over your reselection as Speaker of this House? You were a triple-first candidate: as has been said, you were the first Catholic, the first metalworker and, unsurprisingly, the first teetotaller to occupy the Chair. You learned of your needs to protect the rights of the Back Bencher through 18 years in opposition, and I think that many Opposition Members now, having spent 12 years in opposition, particularly those in the party who governed previously, view accountability rather differently from when they sat on the Government Benches.

17 Jun 2009 : Column 321

I well recollect my very first day in the House, in 1964, when I sat on the second row of the Government Benches. I was sitting next to Iorwerth Thomas, a 70-year-old Welsh Member, and I said to him, “Well, Iori, it must be wonderful to be sitting on this side of the House after 13 years on that side,” and he thought and he said, “Yes, my boy; the sun gets in your eyes on the other side of the House.” That, of course, was in the days before television and the screening of the windows.

As you said, you served your apprenticeship as Speaker doing the unglamorous work of chairing the legislative and administrative Committees of the House, and you duly became Deputy Speaker. By the time you became the Speaker of the House, you were a complete House of Commons man. You said then that the Speaker’s duty was to serve the House, not the Executive, and to protect the rights of Back Benchers.

Essentially, you are also a constituency man. I was intrigued to come across a quote from Bill Walker, the former Conservative MP whom many here will remember. Bill said of you:

That was a touching thing for a political opponent to say, and it helps explain the affection in which you are held in your own constituency. You are an innately kind man, as we heard from one of our colleagues even in Question Time today. Since you have been Speaker, your door has been open to any Member who wants advice or guidance.

To follow on from something that you mentioned, I should say that until last July, I had been secretary of the British-American parliamentary group for seven years. I thank you, on behalf of not only that group but the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for all your work to help our endeavours to develop relationships with democracies overseas. You put an enormous amount of time into that, and it is appreciated by us all.

As Chair of the Liaison Committee, may I also thank you for your enormous support for Select Committees? They are only 30 years old this year, but they represent one of the greatest transformations in parliamentary accountability. When I became Chair of the Liaison Committee, I spoke to every Select Committee Chairman. Having served on the Public Accounts Committee, I was horrified at what I discovered was available as back-up and support to our Select Committees. I asked that a review be set up and that the National Audit Office be included in that review to ensure that it was seen as impartial.

When the review reported, you and the House of Commons Commission responded instantly. You gave the Select Committees the largest injection of support that they had received in 20 years. To ensure that such a situation never arose again, five-yearly reviews were also established so that the future of the Committees would be secure. We are deeply grateful to you for that. You have presided during two wars and the greatest economic crisis that any of us has ever seen. Throughout, you have tried to be even-handed between the Government and the Opposition and you have tried to protect the right of Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account.

17 Jun 2009 : Column 322

Mr. Speaker, your love for and commitment to the House has never, ever been questioned. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in wishing you and your family the happiness that you deserve in retirement.

1.34 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): It gives me great pleasure to say some brief words to celebrate your work, Mr. Speaker, and to thank you for it. I do that on behalf of my hon. Friends from Plaid Cymru and, I am sure, on behalf of the public at large. I am also pleased to have agreed with everything that has been said hitherto. You, of course, are the 156th Speaker of Parliament, and you have been unfailing in your courtesy and help throughout your tenure. Almost immediately after your election as Speaker, we all became aware of a press lobby that harboured misgivings about the appointment of a one-time steelworker to such a high office. Those have not crossed my mind; my experience has been of a Speaker who has been scrupulously fair and who always had an eye on the interests of Back Benchers and minority parties.

Owing to the attention from some sections of the media, I can only imagine that at times the pressures on you and your family have been immense. Despite your vast work load, every time that I have sought a meeting with you, one has been arranged swiftly; even the odd meetings that I attended to do some grousing were unfailingly cordial and businesslike.

Speaking of grouse, I should say that I have a feather in my cap that is not shared by any other right hon. or hon. Member. A few weeks before the official opening of the Senedd building at the National Assembly in Cardiff, I received a telephone call from the Speaker’s Clerk, asking whether I would visit you. I duly responded and attended as requested, having no idea why I was being summoned in that way. I entered your chambers in a quizzical mood, with no earthly idea of why I was there. I comforted myself with the thought that I had been behaving reasonably well in the Chamber and that I was probably not going to be dressed down.

When you came in, you said that, as a Scot, you were keen to make a speech in the Welsh language during the official opening ceremony in Cardiff. You asked me to write a short speech and translate it into Welsh. I did that, recorded it and gave you a tape. There followed a practice session in which you showed a mastery of the language. I recall that you said that you were keen to do a good job, because anything else would be seen as insulting. Anyway, your pronunciation was second to none when the fabled, fickle finger of fate pointed your way and you were struck down by a heavy dose of influenza. You could not attend. In the meantime, I was in the auditorium at Cardiff, awaiting my star pupil. So it is that I refer to myself as Welsh language tutor to the 156th Speaker of the House of Commons; that is probably as high as I will ever go in this institution.

You also referred to your being a teetotaller. I remember attending a meeting with you and the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). At its conclusion, you brought out a bottle of whisky and, as they say in Scotland, you “poured a good one”—in fact, for my liking it was a very good one. I was drinking on an empty stomach and unaccustomed to undiluted whisky. For the remainder of the meeting, I was with the birds.

17 Jun 2009 : Column 323

Speaker Weatherill once said that a Speaker has no friends, but you know that that is not true. You have sincere friends in all corners of the House. It has been a privilege to serve under you. I wish you, your lovely wife Mary and your whole family the very best in health and happiness on the cusp of what we all hope will be a long, fulfilling and well-earned retirement. No doubt there will now be time enough to become fluent in the Welsh language. Pob bendith a llwyddiant i chi a’ch teulu. Diolch yn fawr!

1.38 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, I address you in your capacity as a fine Speaker of the House of Commons, a devoted Member and, if I may say so, a good friend. With others, I had the privilege of serving on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. I remember what a trenchant Chairman you were, within your obligatory neutrality.

One of the great features of your speakership, and one that I have not noticed to the same extent under the other Speakers during my service in the House, is how you have reached out to the variegated communities that make up the great and colourful mosaic of Britain. You reached out to the Muslim and Jewish communities. I had the privilege of attending the events that you arranged to commemorate Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Apart from my occasional visits to the synagogue, I probably met more Jews at those ceremonies than I do in my normal daily activities. The ceremonies were very moving, and I very much hope that your successor will continue them, because they brought a glow and a beauty to Speaker’s House.

May I, Mr. Speaker, both personally and as a Member of this House, wish you Godspeed? You have served this House extraordinarily well, and we shall miss you.

1.40 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Mr. Speaker, my tribute will be personal. I am, I think, the longest-serving member of the Speaker’s Panel, and in that capacity, clearly, I have had a lot to do with you. Everything, from my point of view, has been entirely satisfactory. You have shown kindness, understanding, courtesy and care. May I say, perhaps on behalf of the Speaker’s Panel—your panel of those who chair Public Bill Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees in this House—that the care and courtesy that you have extended to us has always been hugely appreciated? The annual reception that you give for members of your panel in your state apartments, prior to our own private dinner, is always hugely appreciated, and, as you know from the attendance, greatly appreciated by Members as well.

May I pick just one word out of the motion that was moved so eloquently by the Prime Minister—“humanity”? That has not been mentioned other than in the text of the motion. You have been a Speaker who has shown huge humanity. You have sought, on all occasions, to stand up for the interests of this House. You have sought not only to defend this House as an institution but, from time to time, to defend Members when they have rightly come to you for advice and help. Much of this is not appreciated by the people out there, which is very regrettable. I think that if people had actually got
17 Jun 2009 : Column 324
to know you as an individual—a man of kindness, a man of humanity—some of the totally unjustified criticism that has been levelled at you would never have been spoken. I deeply regret it. I think I can say on behalf of many Members of this House that I feel the criticism that has been made of you as much as if it had been made of me personally, because it was unjustified; you were not understood. The statement that you have delivered to the House today has been of immense value. I hope that it will be very widely read, because if, from time to time, this House had accepted your counsel, perhaps some of the worst criticism and the serious problems that we have faced in recent times would never have arisen.

May I say, Mr. Speaker, that my wife and I were particularly grateful to you for allowing us to use your wonderful state apartments to celebrate 60 years of combined service in this House? It was a wonderful party—a wonderful occasion—attended by Members from all parties in this House. May I add that you remained to the bitter end of what was a very long party, and you were able to do that with humour and commitment, without the stimulation of any alcohol whatsoever? That indicates the sort of man you are.

I can say personally, Mr. Speaker, that I shall sincerely miss you for your kindness and for your humanity. I believe that the record that you have left, coming from the background that you do, is one of which you should be immensely proud. I am personally immensely proud to have known you and to have served for nearly a quarter of a century on your panel of Chairmen. You are truly a magnificent representative of Glasgow. You are a wonderful family man. On all occasions, your love of family—your love of Mary and your children—shone through like a beacon. I wish you, on behalf of myself and perhaps every Member of this House, a very happy and long retirement, and I hope that our paths will cross. I wish you well.

1.45 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Others have made the point Mr. Speaker, that you are the first metalworker and the first Catholic to be Speaker. I took my seat in 2005, so you are the first Speaker I have known. Like others, I have always been hugely impressed by the consideration and courtesy that you show to each and every Member of this House, to all the parties in this House, and to all the regions represented in this House. I can recall, on taking my seat, the warmth of your handshake and greeting, and the fact that that lasted through the manner in which you, with civility and sensitivity, received my complaints as an Irish nationalist having to recite an affirmation of allegiance, and immediately moved on to ask after people such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon—who send their salute to you today.

Mr. Speaker, you have never pretended to be a big thinker, but you are one of the most thoughtful people I have ever come across in political life. You are not a grabber, but you have the best and warmest reach of anyone in this House—a quiet reach that extends not just across party lines and regional differences in this House, but outside this House, across professional interests and across religious and faith dimensions. You have never particularly advertised that, but I am glad that you took the opportunity to reflect on some of those points today.

Next Section Index Home Page