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17 Jun 2009 : Column 325

I think it was also appropriate that you, Mr. Speaker, addressed some of the issues surrounding recent events, and it would be inappropriate if, in the course of all these tributes, you ended up being the only person who did so. The House should receive well the reminder that you offered, and if there was a measure of rebuke in it, the House should receive that rebuke well, too. There were opportunities, and there is now an opportunity cost that the House is suffering. Unfortunately—it happens in life, and it certainly happens in political life—sometimes events, perceptions and moods conspire to result in some necessary unfairness or unfair necessity, and you find yourself in many ways a victim of that.

As you spend your retirement not just in your constituency but, I am sure, in one near me—not a constituency represented in this House, but that of Donegal North East, where I know you have such affinities and family connections—and contemplate how many people who resisted or avoided change in the past are now leapfrogging each other to be the champions of ever more change and openness, you will be able to ruminate on the adage that, in politics, irony is just hypocrisy with panache.

I want, not just on my own behalf but that of my party colleagues, to extend that tribute and thanks not only to you but, as you have rightly done, to all your staff; and to your wife, Mary, who has, with you, again in a very special and quiet way, done so much to make Speaker’s House available to so many good causes, as has been said, and to use it as a special stage to recognise, celebrate and encourage young talent from all the regions represented in the House.

All Members will miss the warmth of your presence here and the consideration that you show. You are an extremely modest man. As we have heard, you are a Catholic. I am sure that as a Catholic boy of your vintage, you would have learned your catechism, which would have included lessons about calumny and detraction—what they were and the difference between them. After your experience in recent weeks, I am sure that you can give examples of both, and of how you have been on the wrong end of examples of both. However, Mr. Speaker, whatever the coverage in recent times and however hurtful it was, just remember that you, this modest man whom we respect, leave here with immense pride.

1.49 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I add a brief footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to you, Mr. Speaker? I begin by saying how very much I welcome what you said in your statement about the issue of privilege. I was delighted to hear that we are now going to make progress with it, as it does indeed need addressing.

Mr. Speaker, you may have forgotten the conversation that we had shortly after you saw off a large number of contenders for your job some nine years ago. I asked you whether, on the assumption that we were both returned in the 2001 general election, I might propose you as Speaker at the beginning of the new Parliament. We both felt that that would be a good way of healing any wounds, and you generously agreed to it.

I have been looking at what I said then, almost exactly eight years ago to the day, at the beginning of that Parliament, and I would say the same today. I referred to your commitment and long service to the
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House, your deep roots in the Back Benches, your earlier work on the Chairmen’s Panel and Domestic Committees and your experience in the Chair as Deputy Speaker. I mentioned your genial and approachable manner, underpinned by a deep affection for and commitment to the House. I said that all those qualities struck a chord with the House. They did then, and they do today.

The Prime Minister referred to your background in the trade union movement, and I wish to mention one role related to that. It is not the role of negotiating with management, because after all you are the management, but that of shop steward. It is the role of someone whom a Member can approach for advice and comfort when they have a problem—the so-called pastoral role. I know that you have done a lot of that as Speaker, and it is an important role, particularly at this difficult time for the House and its Members. I hope that that role may continue, and I wish you and Mary a long and happy retirement.

1.51 pm

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): It is said, and has been said today, that the best speeches come from the heart. All the speeches that you have heard today in the House have come from the heart, Mr. Speaker, as does mine.

I have worked with you on the House of Commons Commission for all the years that you have been Speaker. I served your predecessor, and it was an honour and a privilege to serve you. I mention those passing years because in all that time, in addition to your ceremonial duties and your stewardship of this House, you have always had one thing uppermost in your mind: the well-being of 646 Members of this House. You have seen them individually and, as you are seeing them now, you have seen them collectively. You have sought to protect their interests against all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I know that you particularly enjoyed being in the Chair when votes were taking place and Members could come up to you and speak to you. Many unburdened themselves and opened their hearts to you. They knew that they were able to do so in the utmost confidence. You were their friend as well as their Speaker. In many small ways and in many large, you defended their singular and collective interests in a Parliament to which Members are elected from the Shetlands to Land’s End and back again, representing different and differing constituencies but all seeking to do their duty by this House and by their constituents. For that, the entire House owes you a debt of gratitude.

You have served your nation, Sir, and you deserve our respect and admiration. There is little mean or common that you have done on this memorable scene, and we can only thank you with gratitude, wish you, Mary, Paul and Mary well, and wish you a very happy and long retirement.

1.53 pm

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind): As the senior of the two elected independents, it is my absolute privilege to add some words to the tributes to you, Mr. Speaker. In particular, as others have said, I am most grateful for your detailed statement, which set the record straight. Thank you, Sir, for that.

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I should like to pick out three words and phrases mentioned in the tribute that the Prime Minister proposed, the first of which is “kindness”. On my arrival, I joined some other new Members in meeting with you. I was then surprised to receive an invitation to have a cup of tea. I thought that it would be with a few others as well, but no, it was with me alone. You wanted to know whether I was feeling lonely. That was so kind and so typical of your attitude that I shall always remember it. I am still not quite sure which of my many Adjournment debates on health issues you pushed for and which were produced by the computer, so thank you for that, too.

The second word that I wish to pick out is “humanity”. Your involvement with charities has been mentioned, and I remember one of the latest events, at which you opened the charity for the refurbishment of St. Margaret’s. It was at the height of your stress, but you were still able to come in and speak to that charity. Your receptions for staff have also been highly appreciated. Some of my friends among the catering staff who serve us in the Terrace Cafeteria have said how much they have appreciated being involved in some of them.

The third phrase is “good humour”, which includes your tolerance. The best example of that—some Members on the Opposition Benches will remember it, as we had a very good view—was at one session of Prime Minister’s questions, when the Prime Minister was perhaps not at the height of his popularity. One very young Labour Whip was standing within about two inches of your right ear and very loudly orchestrating support from the Labour Benches. You put him down with a superb but very brief, tolerant and humorous set-down. That provides a hint to the person who is selected to follow you that when hon. Members are behaving like unruly schoolkids, as all too often they do, the best answer is good humour. That keeps the place going.

An attribute that has not been mentioned is your humility, Mr. Speaker. Despite everything that you have been through and overseen, you still regard your greatest privilege as that of representing your friends and neighbours at home. That is a real tribute. Thank you, Sir, very much. I wish you and your beloved family happiness in a long retirement.

1.57 pm

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): It gives me great honour to be associated with the motion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister moved. It was a fitting tribute to your good self, Mr. Speaker.

Every Member of Parliament knows where they were when a new Speaker was selected. I can remember sitting on the Opposition Benches when we elected your predecessor, Betty Boothroyd, as Speaker. I remember that those on the Government Benches said, “Don’t get too excited, that’s the only vote you’re going to win in this Parliament”, and it was. I can also remember your election, Mr. Speaker. I remember the dignified way in which you approached it and quite rightly won the support of the overwhelming majority of the House. You and I come from similar trade union backgrounds, having similarly left school at 15 and become apprentices. I was not one of those whom you had to tell what a sheet metalworker was, because I already knew that before I got down here.

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A word to those who wish to succeed you. One of the most wonderful things that I have done in this House has been serving on Committees. I have served on your Chairmen’s Panel for a while, but I also served on the special little committee that chose Speaker Martin’s Whisky. That was a real privilege, and I hope that a similar one can be afforded other hon. Members.

I know the professionalism and sincerity that you have brought to the job, and all that I wish to do is echo the words about the great kindnesses that you have shown. I will miss you as Speaker, and also as a friend. Have a good retirement.

1.59 pm

Sir Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): I did not expect this to be a reunion of the panel that was chosen to select your malt whisky, Mr. Speaker, but it is. I was also a member of that committee.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made passing reference to the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which has been one of your important roles. It has been given specific tasks in relation to the commission, such as the approval of its budget, the examination of its estimates and reporting to the House. It is a carefully constructed link between an independent body and this House, and it has achieved its role very well. You appointed five of the nine members, and Electoral Commissions cannot be appointed without the Speaker’s consent, effectively making your office the person responsible for such appointments.

In January 2007, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a change in the emphasis of the Electoral Commission to play a more regulatory role, and the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, under your chairmanship, actively participated in the discussions that led to the implementation of the proposals. The work of the Speaker’s Committee has been well respected, and I am sure that the other members of the committee and, indeed, the Electoral Commission, would wish to pay tribute to your chairmanship during an active and evolutionary time.

Being the spokesman of the Speaker’s Committee gave me an opportunity to come to know you quite well, and I am extremely grateful for the courtesy and kindness that you always extended to me and the other members of the Committee.

2 pm

Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, I associate myself with all the positive comments about your contribution to the House and your personal approach to the job of Speaker. I am particularly pleased to underline the comments about your attitude to the staff of the House of Commons. I know how much it is appreciated by everyone from the Clerk down to the lowest cleaner in the basement.

I want to add a little about my contact with you. I was first elected in 1987 as one of 19 new Members of Parliament in Scotland. You were one of the people who gave us most support as new, very raw MPs. In 2005, I was selected as Chair of the Administration Committee and developed a much closer working relationship with you. It is important to put on record the number of changes that have happened under your speakership.

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We have been through momentous times in developing and modernising the building and the institution. As Chair of the Administration Committee, I quickly learned that most of my colleagues do not give a damn about what happens in this place as long as it works. However, it is important to record the changes that have been made.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly mentioned the modernisation of the hours that happened on your watch, but it is also right to remember more mundane matters, such as the introduction in 2001 of IT systems for Members of Parliament and the creation of a joint IT service with the House of Lords; the modernisation of the administration of the House after the Tebbit inquiry, and the creation of the new departments, which are much more focused on services to Members rather than to the institution of the House of Commons; the creation of a new post of chief executive, for which many of us called over many years; and the development of a Members’ centre, which again recognises the importance of service directly to Members.

Substantial changes have also occurred—some have yet to take effect. They include the House’s agreement to establish an education centre. The will mark significant progress in the facilities that the House offers. At the moment, our facilities can cater for approximately 20,000 to 30,000 schoolchildren in a year. When the new education centre is established, we will be able to deal with more than 100,000, making this place more accessible. We are currently running a pilot scheme for subsidised travel for schoolchildren to come to the House of Commons. So far, it has been enormously successful.

The big issue that has been on all our minds in recent years, to which you referred several times in your speech, is Members’ allowances. I congratulate you on the points that you made. When one reads the press, one would think that you were sitting doing nothing, but I know from my contact with you how much work you and the members of the Commission put in, not just when we experienced the problem of employing family members, or in the recent crisis of the publication of our expenses in detail, but long before that. You recognised the problems that our system posed for us, realised that, with the Freedom of Information Act 2001, things had to change, and tried to find some solution. Like you, I feel strongly about the fact that we did not accept the Commission’s report to the House last year.

Recent events have made me think about the way in which we deal with expenses. My first exposure to MPs’ allowances and so on came when I was a brand new Member in either late 1987 or early 1988, when we were asked to vote on our pay. I took the trade union position that a worker is entitled to the rate for the job. I found myself in the Lobby, which was jam packed, because most of my colleagues took the same view as me, pressed against the former Prime Minister and Conservative party leader, Ted Heath. I said to him, “For many years, I campaigned against your Government and denounced everything you stood for, yet here we are, shoulder to shoulder in the Lobby.” He turned round and said, as only he could, “Young man, this will happen twice in every Parliament, on pay and hanging.” That is the sort of leader I like. He did not just say things, he did things.

In 1971, Ted Heath’s Government introduced the allowances system that has caused us so much difficulty. It was introduced after due thought and consideration
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and I hope that those who now deal with those matters will appreciate their importance. As a Member of Parliament representing a constituency nearly 500 miles away, I could not afford to be a Member without the allowances, and I know that you have defended that principle sincerely throughout your period of office. I hope that, when decisions are made, others will reflect as seriously as I believe that Ted Heath did when he introduced the system in 1971.

May I add my good wishes to you and Mary? Virtually everyone who passed on their good wishes talked about your retirement. I think I know you better than that. You may be leaving the House of Commons, but I am not so sure that it is retirement.

2.7 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): It has always astonished me, Mr. Speaker, that you almost always remember the names of every Member of the House, but I found it truly amazing when, a few months ago, you acknowledged by name from the Speaker’s procession my seven-year-old son when he was lining up to watch you in your splendour. That made me realise that you appreciate that the House of Commons is not just about what happens in the Chamber, but that we all have families, people who work for us and many thousands of people outside the Chamber who make the House of Commons work. You can acknowledge them all, and they all look up to you.

Some of us—it may be a small minority—appreciate your playing of the bagpipes. It has been a great privilege to take part not only in your famous whisky tasting for producing Speaker Martin’s malt—I am glad it has been such a bestseller—but in the very first Burns supper, which you inaugurated in Speaker’s House. Like you, I take my moral ideas from Robert Burns. He would be proud, as we all are, that you personally have taken us a step nearer that great aim:

2.9 pm

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): I want to make a personal tribute to you and your speakership, Mr. Speaker. Yours has been a remarkable journey from ordinary working-class lad from Glasgow to one of the highest offices in the land—Speaker of the House of Commons. You are a tribute to our democracy and an example to us all. You have served with dignity and distinction, often in the face of the inherent snobbery that still persists in some parts of the British establishment.

On a personal level, I thank you for your kindness to me, not least when you agreed some years ago to meet my good friend Frank Duffy and me in your apartments—I am sure you remember that. Frank Duffy is another working-class trade union activist from Glasgow, but it was Frank’s father whom you admired so much, for his trade union activities in Glasgow. We were accompanied that day by Frank’s daughter Carol Ann and her daughter Ella. Carol Ann was recently appointed poet laureate, and her father Frank and her daughter are very proud of that. As memorable as that appointment is, however, I am quite
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sure that they will always remember with great fondness their visit to Speaker Martin’s apartment and your allowing Ella to bounce on the bed.

I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your term of office and thank you for your kindness. I wish you and your family a long and happy life ahead.

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