There have been 125 exchanges between John Bercow and Leader of the House
|Thu 31st October 2019||Tributes to the Speaker||128 interactions (4,455 words)|
|Wed 30th October 2019||Business of the House||2 interactions (19 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election Bill (Business of the House)||2 interactions (181 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Business of the House||3 interactions (84 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Business of the House||14 interactions (759 words)|
|Thu 24th October 2019||Business of the House||30 interactions (315 words)|
|Thu 24th October 2019||Business of the House||16 interactions (173 words)|
|Tue 22nd October 2019||Business of the House||37 interactions (945 words)|
|Mon 21st October 2019||Business of the House||33 interactions (710 words)|
|Mon 21st October 2019||Business of the House||5 interactions (69 words)|
|Thu 17th October 2019||Business of the House||24 interactions (552 words)|
|Thu 3rd October 2019||Business of the House||12 interactions (69 words)|
|Thu 26th September 2019||Business of the House||22 interactions (647 words)|
|Wed 25th September 2019||Business of the House||13 interactions (379 words)|
|Thu 5th September 2019||Business of the House||39 interactions (391 words)|
|Tue 3rd September 2019||European Union (Withdrawal)||37 interactions (500 words)|
|Thu 25th July 2019||Business of the House||21 interactions (214 words)|
|Mon 22nd July 2019||Serjeant at Arms||6 interactions (575 words)|
|Thu 18th July 2019||Business of the House||29 interactions (267 words)|
|Thu 11th July 2019||Business of the House||11 interactions (146 words)|
|Thu 4th July 2019||Business of the House||24 interactions (384 words)|
|Thu 27th June 2019||Business of the House||7 interactions (149 words)|
|Mon 24th June 2019||Points of Order||20 interactions (1,461 words)|
|Thu 20th June 2019||Business of the House||17 interactions (271 words)|
|Thu 6th June 2019||Business of the House||20 interactions (411 words)|
|Thu 16th May 2019||Business of the House||9 interactions (185 words)|
|Thu 9th May 2019||Business of the House||20 interactions (113 words)|
|Thu 25th April 2019||Business of the House||11 interactions (115 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Points of Order||14 interactions (1,309 words)|
|Thu 4th April 2019||Business of the House||18 interactions (441 words)|
|Wed 3rd April 2019||Points of Order||29 interactions (1,417 words)|
|Wed 3rd April 2019||Business of the House||54 interactions (1,583 words)|
|Mon 1st April 2019||Business of the House||22 interactions (772 words)|
|Thu 28th March 2019||Business of the House||7 interactions (150 words)|
|Thu 28th March 2019||Points of Order||26 interactions (1,510 words)|
|Thu 28th March 2019||Sittings of the House (29 March)||89 interactions (3,178 words)|
|Wed 27th March 2019||Business of the House||20 interactions (278 words)|
|Tue 26th March 2019||Business of the House||3 interactions (50 words)|
|Thu 21st March 2019||Business of the House||28 interactions (471 words)|
|Mon 18th March 2019||Speaker’s Statement||69 interactions (6,141 words)|
|Thu 14th March 2019||Business of the House||6 interactions (26 words)|
|Wed 13th March 2019||Business of the House||23 interactions (264 words)|
|Tue 12th March 2019||Business of the House||34 interactions (1,041 words)|
|Thu 7th March 2019||Business of the House||3 interactions (55 words)|
|Thu 28th February 2019||Business of the House||3 interactions (69 words)|
|Thu 21st February 2019||Business of the House||7 interactions (69 words)|
|Thu 14th February 2019||Business of the House||27 interactions (342 words)|
|Wed 13th February 2019||Retirement of the Clerk of the House||13 interactions (151 words)|
|Thu 7th February 2019||Business of the House||9 interactions (783 words)|
|Thu 31st January 2019||Business of the House||3 interactions (261 words)|
|Mon 28th January 2019||Proxy Voting||16 interactions (488 words)|
|Tue 22nd January 2019||Proxy Voting||27 interactions (527 words)|
|Thu 17th January 2019||Business of the House||22 interactions (401 words)|
|Wed 16th January 2019||Points of Order||12 interactions (966 words)|
|Tue 15th January 2019||Business of the House||16 interactions (372 words)|
|Thu 10th January 2019||Business of the House||7 interactions (240 words)|
|Wed 9th January 2019||Points of Order||98 interactions (4,812 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Points of Order||50 interactions (1,764 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Speaker’s Statement||67 interactions (3,002 words)|
|Thu 13th December 2018||Business of the House||21 interactions (401 words)|
|Mon 10th December 2018||Business of the House||29 interactions (471 words)|
|Thu 6th December 2018||Business of the House||7 interactions (34 words)|
|Tue 4th December 2018||Privilege (Withdrawal Agreement: Legal Advice)||51 interactions (986 words)|
|Thu 29th November 2018||Business of the House||7 interactions (117 words)|
|Thu 22nd November 2018||Business of the House||23 interactions (1,247 words)|
|Thu 1st November 2018||Business of the House||12 interactions (270 words)|
|Thu 25th October 2018||Business of the House||9 interactions (107 words)|
|Tue 16th October 2018||Bullying and Harassment: Cox Report||10 interactions (335 words)|
|Thu 11th October 2018||Business of the House||21 interactions (105 words)|
|Thu 13th September 2018||Business of the House||7 interactions (91 words)|
|Thu 13th September 2018||Proxy Voting||3 interactions (19 words)|
|Thu 6th September 2018||Business of the House||11 interactions (434 words)|
|Tue 24th July 2018||Standards||2 interactions (311 words)|
|Thu 19th July 2018||Business of the House||9 interactions (164 words)|
|Wed 18th July 2018||Proxy Voting||11 interactions (299 words)|
|Mon 16th July 2018||Business of the House||6 interactions (362 words)|
|Thu 12th July 2018||Business of the House||21 interactions (535 words)|
|Thu 5th July 2018||Business of the House||14 interactions (104 words)|
|Thu 5th July 2018||Points of Order||30 interactions (1,354 words)|
|Thu 28th June 2018||Business of the House||15 interactions (349 words)|
|Thu 21st June 2018||Business of the House||15 interactions (122 words)|
|Thu 14th June 2018||Business of the House||27 interactions (591 words)|
|Tue 12th June 2018||Points of Order||10 interactions (665 words)|
|Thu 7th June 2018||Business of the House||26 interactions (449 words)|
|Mon 21st May 2018||Private Members’ Bills: Money Resolutions||9 interactions (146 words)|
|Thu 17th May 2018||Business of the House||10 interactions (670 words)|
|Thu 10th May 2018||Private Members’ Bills: Money Resolutions (Urgent Question)||15 interactions (203 words)|
|Thu 10th May 2018||Business of the House||20 interactions (657 words)|
|Tue 1st May 2018||Tributes (Speaker Martin)||23 interactions (1,034 words)|
|Thu 26th April 2018||Business of the House||17 interactions (138 words)|
|Thu 19th April 2018||Business of the House||7 interactions (197 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Business of the House||16 interactions (576 words)|
|Thu 29th March 2018||Business of the House||19 interactions (246 words)|
|Thu 22nd March 2018||Business of the House||13 interactions (188 words)|
|Tue 20th March 2018||Business of the House||2 interactions (55 words)|
|Thu 15th March 2018||Business of the House||34 interactions (375 words)|
|Thu 8th March 2018||Business of the House||23 interactions (315 words)|
|Thu 1st March 2018||Business of the House||9 interactions (113 words)|
|Thu 22nd February 2018||Business of the House||13 interactions (132 words)|
|Thu 8th February 2018||Business of the House||28 interactions (514 words)|
|Thu 1st February 2018||Business of the House||13 interactions (168 words)|
|Wed 31st January 2018||Restoration and Renewal (Report of the Joint Committee)||43 interactions (1,533 words)|
|Thu 25th January 2018||Business of the House||6 interactions (116 words)|
|Thu 18th January 2018||Business of the House||16 interactions (353 words)|
|Thu 21st December 2017||Business of the House||15 interactions (151 words)|
|Thu 21st December 2017||Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy||7 interactions (163 words)|
|Thu 21st December 2017||Christmas Adjournment||16 interactions (134 words)|
|Thu 14th December 2017||Business of the House||17 interactions (275 words)|
|Thu 7th December 2017||Business of the House||12 interactions (313 words)|
|Thu 23rd November 2017||Business of the House||30 interactions (401 words)|
|Thu 16th November 2017||Business of the House||25 interactions (373 words)|
|Tue 7th November 2017||Autumn Adjournment||2 interactions (41 words)|
|Thu 2nd November 2017||Business of the House||27 interactions (491 words)|
|Mon 30th October 2017||Sexual Harassment in Parliament||10 interactions (106 words)|
|Thu 26th October 2017||Business of the House||5 interactions (49 words)|
|Thu 12th October 2017||Business of the House||16 interactions (92 words)|
|Tue 10th October 2017||Government Policy on the Proceedings of the House||35 interactions (747 words)|
|Thu 14th September 2017||Business of the House||13 interactions (232 words)|
|Tue 12th September 2017||Nomination of Members to Committees||5 interactions (90 words)|
|Thu 7th September 2017||Business of the House||23 interactions (238 words)|
|Mon 17th July 2017||Scheduling of Parliamentary Business||41 interactions (589 words)|
|Mon 17th July 2017||Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)||3 interactions (41 words)|
|Thu 6th July 2017||Business of the House||13 interactions (90 words)|
|Tue 4th July 2017||Select Committees||12 interactions (1,207 words)|
|Thu 29th June 2017||Business of the House||3 interactions (15 words)|
Being in the Chamber is what you have loved most, Mr Speaker. Perhaps they are going to patent your bladder—the sight of Ian and Peter checking your vital signs as you leave after a long session is quite interesting. As many people have said, you have opened the Chamber up to urgent questions. You knew which Select Committee Members served on and called people appropriately for urgent questions and statements.
I will not forget the phone call that you made to me; I thought I had done something wrong, but you picked up the phone and said, “It’s Mr Speaker here. Would you like to come to Burma?” I think Joan Ruddock could not make it. It was great to be on that trip with you, and particularly to see your groundbreaking speech at the University of Yangon, before Daw Suu was elected. We went to Mon state, where we visited the legal aid clinic and then a school. There were people looking through windows with cameras. They were not actually following us—they were sent by someone else—but I remember you waving your hand and saying, “Who are those people? Send them away.” And they did go—they listened to you.
There is a phrase: “Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” I think people would say that you are a turtle on skids, Mr Speaker. You commissioned “The Good Parliament” report by Professor Sarah Childs, and many of her recommendations, particularly on proxy voting, have now been implemented. You produced a landmark report on speech, language and communication needs for children. Ican, the children’s charity, has done a follow-up report, “Bercow 10 years on” and I hope that it has made a difference and they have seen the difference that your initial report has made.
The Leader of the House mentioned the Education Centre, which has been used by many of our schools. It is such a delight to walk through Speaker’s Yard to the Education Centre. It has made a huge difference to the understanding of Parliament.
I was privileged to sit on your group for the Speaker’s school council awards. It was incredible to see the level of the children’s entries, how they were thinking about other people and how they want to change society. It is a tribute to you that that happened.
Then, of course, there is the Youth Parliament. Since 2009, you have chaired every Youth Parliament and you have been to every annual conference. It is incredible to see the way the members of the Youth Parliament have risen to the occasion. I am sorry that you will not be here for the next one, on 8 November. The level of debate, as you know, is absolutely exemplary and something that we can learn from.
It is UK Parliament Week next week, from 2 to 10 November—as part of my contribution to business questions, I am adding bits of information. There will be 11,400 activities—15 in Walsall South, but 11 in North East Somerset, so it has some catching up to do.
Mr Speaker, you are chancellor of two universities: the University of Bedfordshire and, your alma mater, the University of Essex. I know that you will continue to teach them about how Parliament can be opened up. You have opened up Parliament, which has been part of the golden triangle of accountability involving the Executive and the judiciary. Parliament is not the subservient partner, but, under your speakership, the equal and relevant partner. I say to the other side that I think you did do your job as a very impartial Speaker. I know that some of us on our side actually questioned you calling other sides first. So everybody thinks that you are an impartial Speaker and have favourites one way or the other. However, you will be pleased to know that your ratings on the Parliament channel have gone up and that the word “Order” is now used by parents around the country as the new naughty step.
I thank your long-serving staff: Peter Barrett, Ian Davis and Jim Davey, those in your outer office and those in your inner office. They have always been absolutely exemplary to me, whether I was a Back Bencher or on the Front Bench, and to other Members.
Of course, we cannot forget the great Sally, who has always been by your side and supportive of the work that you do. We all need that person who will support us in our work—particularly Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. It was lovely to watch them in the Gallery yesterday, as they were looking down almost in tears. It was very nice for them to hear the tributes because I know that they have faced difficult times in the playground when you have been attacked.
So, John Simon Bercow, this was your life in Parliament. We wish you well in whatever you choose to do, and you go with our grateful thanks and best wishes.
The answer to the right hon. Lady’s question is that the expectation is that we will come back on the Monday after the general election for swearing in.
Mr Speaker, may I echo the heartfelt comments that have been made about you from so many quarters over the past few days? May I do so by way of two confessions, which I have been needing to get off my chest? The first is that I was at a primary school—it is always there that you get the difficult questions—and I was asked, “What is the rudest thing that anyone has ever said to you in politics?” I thought for a bit and said, “Do you know what, it is when someone came up to me in the street and said, ‘Good morning, Mr Bercow.’” I hope that you will forgive me for that. The second confession is rather worse. I may well burn in the fiery flames of hell for ever having done this. I am known occasionally in the Tea Room to have referred to you as Mr Speaker Hobbit. I hope that you will forgive me this affectionate teasing and, in paying my own tribute to you, it gives me pleasure that my last words in this House are to wish you the best for the future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I say that for the last time. I was just saying to the SNP Chief Whip, given that questions were allowed to go on for 40 minutes longer, Bercow must go.
I was, of course, one of your nominees 10 years ago. I would therefore like to congratulate myself on my solid and sound judgment on that occasion. I always knew that you would make an excellent Speaker. Even that awful impersonation you did of Peter Tapsell when you were trying to be elected did not dissuade me of that notion. But I did not know that you would be such a transformative Speaker. The way in which we do business in this Chamber is now forever changed because of your speakership. You have pioneered and transformed. The speakership of this House is now no longer just about overseeing the business in the Chamber, and the way in which we debate and interact with each other. It is about asserting the rights of Parliament and championing parliamentary democracy. And you have been singularly brave in the way you have challenged various Governments who believed that it was their gift always to get their way. We will never go back to those days now, because of the way in which you have challenged that assumption.
I will never forget sitting with you in that curry house in Buckingham, when MP4 did a gig for you in your constituency. That curry house stayed open because Mr Speaker was coming with some strange guests from a rock band, and the vindaloo you ordered that night had to be specially prepared. We could not get you to come up on stage with us that evening, but now you have a bit more time. Given the Prime Minister’s Sinatra reference yesterday, maybe you could give us a rendition of “My Way”; we would happily supply the backing for that occasion.
The culture of this House has been totally and radically transformed. You have ensured that the Back Benchers are now fully accommodated. I have been here long enough to remember the days when urgent questions and statements were cut off after half an hour or 40 minutes, and it would always be the Back Benchers and Members of the smaller parties who would lose out on an opportunity to say something and give their point of view on the issue of the day. That no longer happens. Everybody is now accommodated. I hope that that transformation that you have made will continue to be adopted as we go forward. We all now get an opportunity to give our point of view in this House, and it is important that that remains the case. For that, we thank you.
We on these Benches will miss you, and you will forever be a friend of Scotland and of the Scottish National party. On behalf of our party, I wish you and your family—Sally, Freddie, Jemima and Oliver—all the very best for the future. I wish your staff, Peter, Ian and Jim, all the best as well. I hope that you enjoy the next stage of what has already been a fascinating and unique journey. You are a one-off, sir, and we will miss you.
Mr Speaker, a couple of days ago, you commended me for my brevity, so let me be brief. Two weeks ago you were kind enough—or possibly unkind enough—to remind me that I was the longest serving member of the Panel of Chairs. Let me say on behalf of that panel, thank you for your guidance and wisdom over very many years of service. All your friends on the panel wish you and your family well in your retirement.
Mr Speaker, you are my fifth Speaker now, and I can say from that experience that you have been a remarkable Speaker of this House. You have been a champion of Parliament and a reformer. As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, you have thought about opening up this House so that young people all around the country can see that it is their Parliament that is here for them. You have been a great champion of the Youth Parliament. The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House were right to say that everybody agrees with that now and recognises that it is a thoroughly good thing, but you had to fight for it because there were those who resisted change and said, “We cannot have all these children here in the House of Commons. We’ve got work to be done.” You relentlessly, and in a principled way, pushed for it, and I thank you for that.
You have used the Speaker’s state rooms to give outside organisations a sense that their work is recognised by and valued in this Parliament. As the shadow Leader of the House said, over 1,000 organisations have come into this House, and the grandeur of those state rooms has inspired and encouraged them that their works in communities all around the country are valued here.
I would like to pay particular tribute to the work that you have done for the women’s movement. Organisations campaigning for equal pay have been in those grand state rooms surrounded by those 20-foot-high portraits of former Speakers. They have had their place there: those championing equal pay; those complaining that we need more childcare; those campaigning against domestic violence. They have been there; you have brought them in and endowed them with a sense of importance.
You actually turned one of the bars of the House of Commons into a nursery for the children of staff in Whitehall and in the House and of Members. That too is something we can be proud of, but it is something that you had to fight for. We had been fighting for it for decades and had failed; it was not until you were in the Chair that you made it happen. You supported the coming into this Chamber of 100 women MPs from 100 Parliaments from all around the world so that here in the mother of Parliaments we could validate their work in their Parliaments all around the world.
I think we can fairly say that you are politically correct, but it was not always the case. You have been on what they describe as a political journey. You started off going towards the views of the Monday Club. You are woke now, but my goodness me, you were in the deepest of slumbers.
You really have made a huge difference in championing us here in the House. Above all, you have been concerned about the role of Parliament in being able to hold the Executive to account. That is not just about Back Benchers and Front Benchers; it is about the role of Parliament. Members who have come here more recently perhaps would not remember this—I thank the Library for getting this information for me—but in the 12 months before you took the Speaker’s Chair, two urgent questions were granted in that whole time. The impact of that was that people outside the House would be discussing issues but they would not be discussed here, and therefore Parliament felt irrelevant. In the past 12 months, you have granted 152 UQs. You have made Parliament relevant. I thank you for that—but again, it has not always made you popular. Ministers would rather sit in their Departments talking to civil servants and junior Ministers who agree with them than come here and face the House. But it is better for Government to be held to account. It is easy to make mistakes when doing things behind closed doors. You have always believed that the minority must have its say in Parliament, and you have championed that, but you have also always believed that the majority must have its way, and that is right.
Precedent offers less help in unprecedented times, which we have been experiencing, but you have had a profound sense that you are accountable to the House and that you want to enable and facilitate the House, and that is what you have done. You leave the Chair in uncertain and, I would say, even dangerous times. Thank you for your support and recognition of all those Members—men as well as women—who have gone about their business under a hail of threats of violence. Our democracy should not have to experience that. I would like to thank you for being tireless in your work, and I would like to thank your family for their support of you. They can be rightly proud of what you have done, and we are too.
I am disappointed that I am not able to put my question to the Leader of the House regarding the lack of funding from the national lottery for Southend West and the lousy ticket machines installed by c2c, but I will get over that.
The House is at its best when we are being nice to one another. This will not last, as we are about to embark upon a general election campaign. Mr Speaker, you and I have known each other for a long time, and I cannot imagine how you and the others who are leaving this place voluntarily must feel today. I wish each and every one of those colleagues every good fortune for the future.
You and I followed very different paths to this place. It has not been easy for you being the Speaker, particularly in the circumstances in which you took that great office, but you have been a champion of Back Benchers, in so far as you have ensured that every voice is heard, particularly when you notice that a voice is not always heard within a Member’s own political party. You would be the first to say that you could not have done the job so well without your magnificent backroom team—I am not going to show favouritism—of Peter, Ian and Jim. They have been wonderful.
I know that we will have tributes to Reverend Rose later, but she was an inspired choice. For those of the Catholic brethren who were in the Crypt last night, it was particularly wonderful to hear her speak with my great pal Father Pat Browne, who has just celebrated 10 years as the Catholic chaplain to the House.
Mr Speaker, among the things that you have done, you have made sure that it is worth while being on the Order Paper. It took colleagues a little time to get the hang of it, but you gave everyone on the Order Paper a chance to have their say. You have also done a magnificent job in promoting the work that you do throughout the country.
The election of the new Speaker will be held on Monday. A number of the contestants are in the Chamber at the moment, and each and every one of them would do the job splendidly. I did not seek to fill your shoes because those shoes would pinch. I do not have your control of the bladder, and I certainly do not have your photographic memory, but if there is an opportunity for a slightly different role, I will certainly be a candidate.
My final point is about your family. You and Sally can look after yourselves. This is a very tough job when you have children. When my children were young, they did not take kindly to the fact that not every member of the general public thought their father was wonderful. Your children have somehow got through all that, and they are a credit to you and Sally—of that there can be no doubt. I wish you every future success and every happiness, especially in your new role as a sports commentator.
Mr Speaker, I do not intend to repeat the warm and generous tributes that have been paid to you and your speakership today, except to agree wholeheartedly with all of them. There have been some extremely good summaries of the particular flavour that you have brought to the speakership.
Mr Speaker, you took over in very difficult times—right at the height of the controversies about expenses—when the House had to regain a great deal of good will from the public. You did so in a way that I think few would have expected, given where you began your political career. The thing I saw most quickly about you was that, although you had a respect for tradition, you also had a very open mind about how it needed to change. I referred to that in my own maiden speech, when I came into this House in 1992, and it is a rare combination. It is particularly rare, I suspect, coming from someone who began his life in the Federation of Conservative Students.
It was clear, Mr Speaker, that you had not only the capacity but the desire to go on a journey, and many of us noticed your particular commitment to your principles as you grew into them when you resigned from the Conservative Front Bench because you objected to being whipped to vote against the equalisation of the age of consent. It was nasty for anyone, in what was then a rapidly modernising social situation, to be expected to do that for their party.
The journey that you have taken on matters of equality, Mr Speaker, has been noticed by all of those who were oppressed by not having access to it. It has been celebrated, and the LGBT community in particular owes you a great deal. You have been an untiring and unfailing champion for women’s rights, for the rights of those who have disabilities, and for LGBT and BAME people. That commitment has been shown in many of the decisions you have taken in your executive role. I was privileged to be able to serve with you on not the most glamorous of committees—the Speaker’s committee behind the scenes—as you drove forward some of the modernisation that you have been responsible for, as Members on both sides of the House have pointed out in their tributes to you today.
Mr Speaker, the reactionary resistance that you faced in driving that change—for example, on the education department, or to allow the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber—had to be seen to be believed. However, if I may say so, you have driven a coach and horses through that resistance and achieved real and lasting change, which—when you are finally in your bath chair, and I know that will be a very long time from now, watching Roger Federer still winning the veterans trophy at Wimbledon—I think you will be able to sit back and reflect very much on.
I have a couple of other points, Mr Speaker. One is that I have always loved your use of language and command of the House. You are never one who is content to say “medicine” when you can say “medicament” or “suitcase” when you might say “portmanteau”. Many of us have enjoyed that aspect of your time in the Chair.
There is one place still far too hidebound by tradition that needs your open and reforming zeal, Mr Speaker, in order that we might deal with it. This is a question for the Leader of the House: why on earth does the right hon. Gentleman not get up now and say that he recognises the absolute ability you have shown to drive change in fusty-dusty organisations and send you where you belong—to the House of Lords?
Mr Speaker, I think this has changed from a statement into a succession of speeches, and it would be tiresome for the House if I popped up every other moment.
Let me add my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, on a fantastic 10 years as Speaker during what has probably been one of the most turbulent and difficult times that this House and this Parliament have seen. I echo all the points raised by others about how you have reformed the way the House works, and the causes you have championed. Our relationship has changed over the years. I have been a Back Bencher asking questions, as well as a shadow Minister, a Minister, and a Secretary of State—all while you sat in that Chair and adjudicated over our proceedings.
In my experience, the approach that you have taken to parliamentary matters, in particular urgent questions that have allowed Members to raise issues with Ministers and Departments, has been unfailingly fair. Whenever a Department has been genuinely getting on with an issue and had a good case to make for a question not being urgent, you have looked at that point and processed it fairly. I was a Minister for many years, and I never had any issues with the way you made such a decision. Indeed, I welcomed the chance for my Department and ministerial team to be held to account in the Chamber. In my view, your decision made us behave more appropriately and up our game, which is exactly what it was meant to do.
One final point that has not yet been highlighted is the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, which has enabled the House to become accessible to a range of young people from backgrounds that are very different from those of the more traditional cohorts of MPs and employees. Like a number of other Members, I have had two candidates from the scheme in my office over the past two years, and they were both outstanding. Not only did they learn, I hope, from the chance to take part in the scheme that you set up, but my office, my team and I also learned and grew from having those candidates as part of our team. The chance to open up Parliament to a new generation of young people who would otherwise not get the chance to come here, and let them realise that this is everybody’s Parliament, is one of the most powerful steps you have taken. I very much hope that your successor will continue the scheme, and consider how it can be expanded so that young people from all over the country, and many more MPs, have the chance to experience the wonderful Speaker’s Parliamentary placement scheme.
Mr Speaker, you have been a parliamentary referee during perhaps the toughest game that we have played here for many years. I am sure that has taken its toll on both you and your family, and the support you have received from them has been amazing. I wish you well in the next phase of your life. As I, too, leave this House, perhaps our paths will cross again, but in different capacities.
I will start from a slightly different place from other Members, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for the support you have given me on the House of Commons Commission. We have not necessarily seen eye to eye on every matter raised, but I am sure we both wish to thank the staff who supported you, and the civil servants who supported me. I have no idea whether I will be back seeking their support again, or indeed whether I will return to my position as spokesman for the House of Commons Commission, but they do sterling work for us and support us effectively.
I want to start, as others have, by thanking your family. We all know, as politicians, that our families are often on the frontline. They do not see enough of us and when they do, it is not exactly quality time that they get with us, so I hope that you will spend very valuable time with them in the future. I remember, as one of the highlights of being in this place, attending one of the events you organised in the Speaker’s House and your children coming in to kiss daddy goodnight. I remember that and often use it as an anecdote when I am doing my best to entertain people.
I want to commend you for your commitment to modernising this place. Many people have referred to some of the initiatives you have spearheaded, whether proxy voting, the Youth Parliament, the education service or the much greater frequency with which urgent questions are heard in this place. I would like to commend you for improving the diversity among staff and making the House of Commons a place where hopefully anyone will feel comfortable working, including our excellent Chaplain, Rose, who has served us so well.
As one of the House of Commons Commission members, I want to draw attention to the work you have done in pushing through the restoration and renewal project. That is something that needs to move forward. The mother of all Parliaments is at real risk of simply collapsing around our ears. The role you have played in making sure that the restoration and renewal project proceeds will certainly rest as one of your legacies in this place.
Finally, and I think perhaps most importantly, I would like to commend you for ensuring that this Parliament is not an encumbrance to be trampled upon, but a sovereign Parliament proud and resolute in standing up for the rights of our constituents and the people of the United Kingdom. From the Liberal Democrat Benches, I wish you a very bright and positive future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me, for once, quite early on in proceedings and not “saving the good doctor” for tail-end Charlie. [Laughter.] One of the disadvantages, it must be said, of having originally met you 15 years before we both entered the House in 1997, is the fact that you have, from time to time, felt it incumbent upon yourself to demonstrate that you were showing no particular favouritism to a personal friend by not calling me perhaps as early as I would have liked.
I was impressed that the shadow Leader of the House referred to our 10-year period training up Conservative activists—I think 600 in all—before we entered the House of Commons together in 1997. At that time, I used to do the campaigning part of the course and you used to do the oratorical part of the course. You used to say that in a good speech the speaker should have, at best, one key point and at most two key points to convey to the audience. So, my one key point about you, your character and your speakership is that you have shown that you are a good man to have by one’s side when the going gets rough. That does not just apply to individuals; it applied to Parliament as a whole, because when you came into office in 2009 the going was very rough indeed.
You made your entry into Parliament in a somewhat dramatic way as the MP for Buckingham. Such were your skills as an orator during the selection process, you had been shortlisted for not only Buckingham but the Surrey Heath constituency. You were due to be in the semi-final in Surrey Heath and in the final in Buckingham on the same night. You will recall that, at my suggestion, we organised a helicopter to enable you to go from one interview to the other, so that you would not have to withdraw. I know that you have felt for many years a great deal of gratitude towards me for making that possible. I have to tell you that that gratitude was entirely misplaced, because I knew that only a few days later, the process of selecting for New Forest East was going to begin, and we were both on the longlist. [Laughter.] I thought, “If I can’t get this blighter selected, I’m not going to have a chance,” so it worked out as a win-win situation.
It has often been remarked, and has been again today, that you went on a political journey, but the detail of that political journey has not always been spelt out as clearly as it should be. There is a myth out there that the young Bercow was part of the Monday club, had very right-wing views, and then saw the light and repudiated them all. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I remind the House that on 2 December 1997, when we had both been elected and there was a Second Reading debate on the treaty of Amsterdam, I was making only my fourth speech from the Benches of the House of Commons and you—chuntering from a sedentary position—kept heckling me on why it was that I was such a johnny-come-lately to the cause of ardent Euroscepticism. Some people may wish that some journeys had been rather shorter than they turned out to be.
I will not detain the House much longer, other than to make a couple of closing points. I am still waiting for the dinner that I earned in a bet with a young female Conservative MP—now a Minister, I am delighted to say —when she made a bet with me that you would not last one year as Speaker without being ejected. And I observe that now, finally—at last—freed from the constraints of the speakership, you will feel able to speak your mind and not hold back your views so self-effacingly.
On a more serious note, but a heartfelt one, as well as thanking you for your personal friendship over many years, I am sure that you will agree that it would be nice to close this tribute to you with a personal tribute that I would like to make to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She has been here for 35 years, and in all that time, she has never ceased to promote human rights at home and abroad. From the opposite side of the Chamber, I salute her as I salute you, Mr Speaker.
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On a personal note, Mr Speaker, you know that I met you before you were a Member of Parliament, and I can remember what an irritating young man you were at that time. [Laughter.] You were clever, and you knew it, and a bit arrogant with it, and you wanted to tell me just how right you were on every political issue—this is before you were in Parliament. Over the years, I have got to know and like you a great deal, and I hope that I can count you as a friend. You actually like my ties, which is something that recommends you to me.
When I chaired the Education Committee, I remember that you asked me to come to your constituency, and then much later, you asked whether you could come to Huddersfield to see what sort of constituency I represented. I have told the House this before. I met you at Wakefield station. You got off the train and said, “It’s a hell of a long way, isn’t it?” Of course it is—it is nearly 200 miles to Huddersfield. We had a fantastic day together. I think you have learned a great deal from going to people’s constituencies and finding out what the journeys are like and how vulnerable we are when we are travelling. I think you woke up to that on that day and have been such a good influence ever since—remember this was just after Jo Cox was murdered. It was also the day after the referendum, so it was an auspicious occasion.
On a more personal note, you know I have a large family: three daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren. A few years ago, we were wondering what to do on Boxing Day. We were all down in London for a big reunion and thought we would go to London Zoo. Of course, the favourite place to go was the penguin pool, and who did we find there? You, your wife and your children. It gave a flavour of you as the great family person we all know you are. We love that you and Sally have been living here with your family. The kids seem to have grown up really wonderfully even in this strange environment. I congratulate you on all that.
You are very easy to get on with, and you are a very good friend, so may I have the privilege of giving you some careers advice? I give a lot of careers advice. I am told it is one of the things I am quite good at: helping people to identify their talents and moving them on a bit. Now, I did not realise that you are a very good manager. I recall the dark days in this place before you became Speaker. It just needed management. From those early days, you built up a great team of people around you. It was not easy, but you made changes in a place that was desperately badly managed. We had inherited a crazy system, but you came in and transformed the management of this place. I think we will look back on the Bercow years as great years for Parliament. It is more efficient and sensitive in so many areas—families, children, women and diversity—and you will be remembered for all that, but you will also be remembered for bringing this place back to life. We were in deep trouble and you helped us to save it and led that saving process.
I want to repeat something I said earlier about what you went through at a certain stage in your career and how the press treated you—not just the red tops, but The Times, The Daily Telegraph, people who used to be MPs. Political sketch writers used to be funny—not some of those who hounded you. We know who they are. They stimulated on social media some ghastly stuff that you and your family had to put up with, and I am proud that you stood up to it. It didn’t get you down and you are still here, a robust champion of everything you did.
The careers advice comes now. You are still very young. I hope to be re-elected as the Member for Huddersfield, and if I am successful, I will miss you, but you are only in your mid-50s, I think, which is just the time to start a brilliant new career. I won’t talk about Frank Sinatra. His voice, though I loved it, had gone by then. You are in the prime of your life and I see you making a contribution greater even than the one you have made up to now. I say to the Leader of the House: it would be an absolute insult to the House if the tradition that the Speaker is offered a seat in the House of Lords was not respected. I was worried this week when the Prime Minister failed to pay a warm tribute to the Father of the House. I hope that that kind of pettiness will not go to a repudiation of a long tradition that our Speaker, when he retires from this place, is offered a place in the House of Lords.
Even if that happened, Mr Speaker, you have your talent—that of mimicry, your voices and all that stuff. Yesterday, I was phoned by ABC, which said, “Would your Speaker be interested in doing a programme? We love him in America.” I said, “No, we want him to have brand new television programme about politics called ‘Order, Order!’” So, Mr Speaker, I want you to stay in politics, do a really good job on the media and bring that to life in the way that you have brought this place to life. But whatever you decide, Godspeed.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that it was recently announced that we are being given a new hospital in Harlow, one of six to be built—in the early stages—in the country. I mention that because much of it is down to you. You gave me five debates. You allowed me to ask questions. You helped me when I came to you to say that this was a very important issue in my constituency. That example is recent, but it is one of many throughout my time in the House since 2010. What is not known in the media is how often you help MPs who have real constituency issues to make their case to the Government, and I think that the Leader of the House mentioned that.
You have been unfailingly kind to me, and unfailingly helpful whenever I needed to support the people of my constituency. Whatever may happen at the general election, much of what I have been able to do is down to you, and the people of Harlow owe you a debt for what you have enabled me to do in my role as MP. I thank you for your constant kindness to me over the last few years. I will never forget it, and I wish you every possible success in the future.
I do not use many words, but I want to say to you, Mr Speaker, that I cannot imagine this place without you. I have been here a very long time now, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) know. When it was difficult for women to get into politics, my hon. Friend helped me to become the MEP for Mid and West Wales, and I thank him for that. I have disagreed with the right hon. Member for New Forest East, particularly on defence matters over the years, but I still look on him as a friend.
As for you, Mr Speaker, the BBC, apparently, has a particular tribute to you. It talks about your catchphrase,
“the traditional cry of Commons speakers through the centuries…‘Order!’, often elongated and twisted into an extraordinary sound that is all his own.
To mark his retirement, the BBC has analysed 100 years of Hansard—the official Parliamentary record—to discover just how different he was to any previous occupant of the chair.
The first thing we discovered is that he has said ‘Order!’ nearly 14,000 times.”
I think that must be a record, but it
“is just the beginning of the Bercow story in statistics.”
I want to thank you in particular, Mr Speaker, on behalf of those of us in this place who are older. There is a place for older people in this Parliament. Sometimes we are not able to jump to our feet quite as fast as we used to when we first came here 35 years ago. I am grateful that, when I had a new knee, you allowed me to sit down but still get in on questions. Thank you for that.
Thank you also for understanding people’s weaknesses and strengths in this place. I have sat here since 1984—I cannot count under how many Speakers, but it is quite a number—and you, in my view, have been the best, because you have given us Back Benchers, in particular, the opportunity to get in on questions, urgent questions, statements and all the rest. Sometimes it has been difficult to catch your eye, although I usually wear a red coat. However, I quite understand that, and I feel grateful to you for opening up this Parliament to everybody, which many of my hon. Friends have mentioned. That is particularly the case with Speaker’s House. People from outside who have come here have been amazed by how accessible you have been to the public.
You have been particularly nice to children. My nieces and nephews wrote to you after being here. They wanted to know what you have for breakfast; you had some conversation with them about food. They were very young and kept asking me that question, so I said, “Why don’t you write and ask him?” I think they got an answer as well.
Thank you for everything. Thank you for being such a good human being. You were very active before you were Speaker, particularly on human rights, so I hope you will continue to be the voice for people who need your help all over the world. I am sure you will be, because that is your natural instinct.
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd—thank you, Mr Speaker. Welsh is my first language; I spoke my first few words here in Welsh. Thank you very much from all of us. I will not say happy retirement. I do not like the word “retirement” because those of us who want to keep on talking will, I am sure, use every opportunity to do so.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). In so doing, may I thank her for her exemplary public service over so many years?
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) referred to career advice. I can remember, Mr Speaker, that you once asked me, at one of these meetings of potential Conservative candidates, whether I could give you some advice as to how you might become a proper parliamentary candidate selected in a constituency. The advice I gave you, which you followed, was that you should get married. That just reminds us, does it not, of how times have changed?
You and I have been friends for many years. I had the privilege of nominating you for the Conservative party candidates list at a time when our views were very similar. Indeed, one of your qualifications then was that you regarded, as did I, Enoch Powell as a schoolboy hero. I think that in more recent weeks, you have been following the advice that Enoch gave. I had the privilege of serving with him on the—[Interruption.] Yes, back in 1984 this was. Enoch Powell was on the Procedure Committee, and he gave advice to us that, in the absence of a written constitution, the procedures of the House are our constitution. That is something that you have taken very much to heart over recent weeks and months, Mr Speaker. I hope that nothing that has happened in that period will cause pressure to build for a written constitution, because that would deprive us of those flexibilities.
You have obviously been a really good servant for Back Benchers. You have also always had your finger on the pulse. I will give just one example of that. Back in 2010, after the coalition Government were elected, there was an announcement that the Government were going to bring in a measure which had not been in the manifestos of either of the two coalition parties: to change the prerogative powers of the Prime Minister to call a general election. You, with your finger on the pulse, chose me to secure the first Adjournment debate of that Parliament on the subject of the Dissolution of Parliament. The debate, which I think went on for about an hour and a half, was an opportunity for new Members and old to hold the Government to account for their extraordinary announcement, which at that stage was for a threshold of 55% in order to trigger an election. We asked questions such as, “55% of what?” On that occasion, Mr Speaker, you showed your perspicacity regarding which issues were going to be—and indeed still are—important.
You were fantastic, Mr Speaker, when we had the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. You went out of your way to impress our colleagues across the other 46 countries that belong to the Parliamentary Assembly, and then you stood up for those of us in this House who found ourselves being arbitrarily removed from membership of the Parliamentary Assembly because we had had the temerity to vote against the Government’s attempts to try to rig the referendum by suspending the rules of purdah. Your intervention caused the Government to be put into the naughty corner. As a result, a few years later, those of us who had been removed from the Parliamentary Assembly were reinstated. I thank you for that and for your fantastic service to this place and to democracy over so many years.
I do not think that the Leader of the House should be so shy today. He is an innovator—we have now had a statement that has become a debate. That has never happened before in the history of Parliament, so he is a great innovator and we look forward to his many more innovations.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). Tony Blair never managed to say that correctly; according to him, it was always “Sinon Valley”. I first met her on a trip long before I was a Member of Parliament. She was already a doughty figure in the Labour movement when we went to Chile many years ago. As many Members have said, she has stood up for human rights—and for that matter sat down for human rights in Tower colliery. I know that her constituents, and mine in the Rhondda too, for that matter, have a great deal of respect for her.
As for you, Mr Speaker, I hope that you remember Tom Harris. Tom was not the most left-wing of Labour MPs. Indeed, on one occasion in the Tea Room, when he was trying to say that he was a leftie, I said to him, “Tom, the only vaguely left-wing thing about you is that you quite like the gays”—he decided he would have that on his tombstone one day.
It is not often that I speak solely about the LGBT issue, but I think it has been an essential part of your journey, Mr Speaker. There have been occasions when Speaker’s House has felt a bit like a gay bar night after night, which is wonderful, because change has come so quickly in this country, as has acceptance and diversity. You have played a very important part in that.
The main reason why I wanted to speak is that I want to say a very specific thank you. For centuries, as hon. Members will know, Members of Parliament and their very close relatives have been allowed to get married in St Mary Undercroft. Many have taken advantage of that and it has been a great delight to them. Of course, that was never available to gay MPs, and it still is not because of the rules of the Church of England. I fully understand that, although I did have to persuade Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, that he could not marry me, first because canon law did not allow it and also because the law of the land did not allow it.
When it was mooted that we should be able to find somewhere in the Palace of Westminster where gay and lesbian MPs would be able to form their civil partnerships, you, Mr Speaker, were the first person who leapt forward and said that you would do everything in your power to try to make it happen. I know this to be the case because you rang Chris Mullin to ask him what he thought about it. Chris Mullin has always been a very liberal-minded chap—he is always in favour of the modern world, diversity and so on—and he was very friendly to me and my partner, Jared Cranney, but I happen to know, because it is Chris Mullin’s published diaries, that he said that he thought that civil partnerships in the Palace of Westminster would be a step too far at that time. But you ploughed on, Mr Speaker, and what was particularly nice was that opening up the Palace to allowing civil partnerships meant that any member of the public could form a civil partnership in the Palace. We have now made that possible for several hundreds of people, I understand, which is a great delight.
I particularly remember Harriet—if you don’t mind my calling the Mother of the House that—chatting to Cilla Black, Sally, Pat Brunker and lots of other women from the Rhondda Labour party, with copious quantities of champagne and everyone enjoying themselves enormously. We were the first civil partnership in Parliament, and that was entirely down to you, Mr Speaker.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I did not vote for you to become the Speaker when you were elected in 2009, and I am sure you will recall that I spent about an hour with you, sitting down at a table over a cup of tea and explaining all the reasons why I was not going to vote for you to become Speaker. I think that it is also fair to say, Mr Speaker, that we have had our disagreements, particularly on the decisions you have made over Brexit in recent times; I do not think that will come as a great shock to anybody either in the House or outside the House, but we have always conducted those conversations in perfectly civil terms.
Mr Speaker, you have always been immensely kind to me in my time in the House of Commons, not least during the preparations for our wedding—mine and Esther’s—next year, about which you have been especially kind. I must at this point pay tribute to Rose, the chaplain—an inspired appointment by you, Mr Speaker—who has been equally amazingly kind to me and Esther, and indeed is so kind that she has even offered to come back to conduct the service even after she has left, which is a mark of her as a person and which is very special for both me and Esther; we are very privileged that that has been the case. That was an inspired appointment by you, Mr Speaker, and you have been incredibly kind.
However, Mr Speaker, I think and hope you will be most remembered for your support for Back Benchers. As you know, I am a permanent Back Bencher, Mr Speaker, so this is more important to me than anybody else; as I always say, the one thing that the Prime Minister and I always agree about is that I should be on the Back Benches. You have always been a champion of Back Benchers, to allow everybody’s opinion, whatever it is, to be heard in the Chamber, and I have always been immensely grateful for that.
Some people have very short memories, but I remember when I first entered Parliament in 2005 in Question Times we barely got beyond Question 6 or 7 on the Order Paper and at Prime Minister’s questions those with a question after Question 10 had no chance of being called, to the great irritation of many colleagues who had spent ages trying to get on the Order Paper for Prime Minister’s questions only to find that they could not even get to ask their question. I do not think anyone could possibly go back to that kind of regime now; indeed, I do not think the House will allow any Speaker to go back to such a regime, and that is because of your making sure that Back Benchers get to have their say. That has made what I think will be a permanent change to the way that this House operates.
I have been very grateful for your friendship over many years, and the fact that you came to my constituency and spoke at Beckfoot School, which those there particularly cherished. I hope we will stay in touch after you have finish your term, Mr Speaker, and I wish you every success for the future.
May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to put on record my thanks to you and my appreciation for all your guidance and support since the day I was elected? You are an extraordinary parliamentarian, human being and friend to so many—and I extend that to your family, who also deserve our thanks. As I know, your welcome to new MPs goes a long way towards settling them in the House at a very daunting time for them, when everything is so confusing. It went a long way towards giving me the confidence to stand up in the House and do my duty on behalf of my constituents, and I thank you for that.
May I also say thank you on behalf of my family? My brother Sundeep in Australia has just texted me to say that he, too, wants to extend his best wishes and his thanks to you, particularly for your support when we were going through extremely difficult times, notably the illness and death of my father. You were accommodating when I had to leave before a debate ended; you came to our last family tea downstairs; and your letter to my father wishing him good health was a huge boost to his spirits in his final months.
Your commitment to equality and wellbeing has been second to none in the House. I know how much you have done. It has indeed been an honour to serve on your Speaker’s Committee on equality, diversity and inclusion since very soon after I was elected, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. You have done incredible work, often behind the scenes, to secure a proxy vote for colleagues who are benefiting from that now. You have been committed to increasing diversity in senior and significant positions in the House, and the visibility of that diversity has gone a long way towards making the House seem feel more relevant and inclusive, not just to us here, but to those outside.
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You have been given careers advice today, Mr Speaker, by people rather more experienced than I am, particularly the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but I have been thinking a lot about this. At first I thought that perhaps you could be the host of the Radio 4 programme “Just a Minute”, but, given your experience, can you imagine no deviation, hesitation or repetition? No chance!
Then I thought of a programme of my childhood, which older Members may recall; you may recall it, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House may as well. I thought that there might be a remake of the programme “Call My Bluff”. You could be the Frank Muir character. Let me explain for the benefit of younger Members that each of the members of one panel would give a definition of an English word—most of the people listening would have no idea what it meant—and the others had to decide which version of was correct. “Chunter” is a good example, and now you have made it into a household word, Mr Speaker. It can be a verb, an adverb, a noun —almost anything.
You are the only Speaker who has been in the post during my time in the House, and I think that you have been a very fair, very decent and very honourable Speaker. Given the nonsense that you have put up with—here, in the press and everywhere else—it is to your credit that you have seen your way through it all. Your system, Mr Speaker, is based on what my children and my former employees have called my system: parenting and management by sarcasm. I think you should be very proud of that, because you have taken it to a new level. Sarcasm can be used as a way to control 650 people—as well as my children and my former employees.
You have fans everywhere, Mr Speaker. My mother has a large photograph of you on her mantelpiece at home, and I am continually asked, “Why can’t you be like John Bercow?” Harriet Rainbow in my office, the doyenne of the Watford parliamentary office, is also a big fan.
Every time I have stood up to speak in the Chamber, I have said, “Thank you, Mr Speaker”—so I will finish by saying, “Thank you, Mr Speaker.”
For the very last time: I am grateful to you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker. It has been a real pleasure to work under your speakership for the past nine and a half years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) stole a little piece of my thunder by mentioning the fact that the BBC reported this morning that you had used the term “Order, order” no fewer than just under 14,000 times. Maybe you are fortunate in one way, because you might not have achieved that record, had we been living through less interesting political times. Those interesting times were exemplified two Saturdays ago when we assembled here in this Chamber for Prayers and your Chaplain used the words, “be not anxious”. A nervous giggle ran around the House, and I thought that that was a moment to treasure because it captured the mood of the House, and the mood of the country, in the light of the political position we are currently in.
Mr Speaker, you have been a true champion of Back Benchers for the entire duration of my nine and a half years’ tenure in this House. For nine of those years, I have served as a member of the Backbench Business Committee, and for the past four and a half years, I have been Chair of that Committee. Sir, you have been a champion not just of Back Benchers but of the role of the Backbench Business Committee, which came into being when I first entered the House. Through your speakership, the Committee has allowed Members across the House to air issues of vital importance to their constituents across the whole United Kingdom. You have been a true champion of their capacity and ability to do that. You have allowed us as Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account.
On behalf of my elder sister, I also want to thank you for pronouncing my name correctly. I think we had a little lesson about that in a curry house not too far away from this very establishment. It has been a pleasure to work under your speakership, and I wish you a very long and happy next stage of your career.
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Well, that is certainly not a fault with you, Mr Speaker. Your memory and recollection of every single name and detail regarding every colleague is beyond extraordinary.
I have spent the last fortnight or so on the Speaker election hustings. The candidates have not agreed on everything, but one thing that all nine of us have agreed on is that you have done the most superb job for Back Benchers. You have done this through the urgent question revolution, through Back-Bench debates and through calling colleagues to speak when you know that they have a particular constituency interest.
We also agree that what you have done for outreach, for children and for schools has been transformational. In the past, when school parties came down from Norfolk, they would meet me in Central Lobby and we would struggle to find a Committee Room and there was nowhere to go for a cup of coffee. Now, they can go to the Jubilee Café and to the new Education Centre, and it is a completely different experience, thanks to you. You have made the lives of those children much more fulfilling in terms of their understanding of democracy than was ever the case before.
I entirely agree with the Leader of the House that you look out for colleagues who have individual constituency cases. When there is a real issue, you come to the rescue of those colleagues and help them to get justice and some form of satisfaction for their constituents. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and I were both on the HS2 Select Committee and, during that inquiry, we spent a lot of time going along the route of HS2. That included a number of days in your constituency, Mr Speaker, where we had meetings with action groups and residents in communities and villages. One of the things that struck me—and, I am sure, the hon. Member for Gateshead—was that, whenever you arrived at a meeting of distraught village residents, you not only knew the name of every single one of them, but you knew everything there was to know about the village. You were the local MP who was on their side, and you were admired and respected in a way that few of us could aspire to achieve. You were able to do that in spite of also carrying out your duties here as Speaker.
I thank you for the way in which you have helped me on a lot of different issues, to do with my constituency and elsewise, both in my capacity as a Minister and as a Back Bencher. You can leave this place confident and secure in the knowledge that you are leaving behind a powerful, special and long-lasting legacy.
I should like to carry on this theme about names. When I was selected as a candidate, my constituency neighbour, John Prescott, seemed to have a problem with my name. He kept calling me Melanie. Then, when I got to the House of Commons, the then Speaker seemed to have a problem with my name as well, because he referred to me as Jacqui. So I am delighted that you have never had a problem with my name, Mr Speaker. You have always called me Diana, for which I am very grateful.
First, I want to thank you on behalf of the children of Hull, because through the Hull Children’s University, so many of them have been able to visit Parliament and to use the Education Centre, which I know is very dear to your heart. Huddersfield is a long way from Westminster, but Hull is even further, so this is a great tribute to your commitment to ensuring that this place is accessible to children from all around the country. I also want to thank you on behalf of the Youth Parliament for the work you have done to support those budding politicians and for inviting them into this Chamber and overseeing their proceedings.
I personally would like to thank you for the kindness you have shown me when I have come to you with illness or adversity. You have always been a very decent, kind man, and I very much appreciate that.
Your use of urgent questions has been remarked on by many in the House today. I think I probably have the record for the number of urgent questions you have granted to any Back Bencher, and they have been on the issue of contaminated blood. I know that the community who have been infected and affected by that awful scandal in the NHS hold you in very high esteem and regard for allowing parliamentarians to pursue the Government of the day and to seek justice for what happened to them. I want to say a very big thank you on behalf of that group.
You have also been innovative with urgent questions. I remember coming to speak to you when the Church of England made the ridiculous decision not to allow women bishops, and I asked you what Parliament could do to make the Church of England think again. You advised me that, although it had never happened before, an urgent question could be submitted to bring the Second Church Estates Commissioner to the House to answer for the Church of England, so a big thank you for that. I am delighted that we have one of the women bishops in the Church of England with us today.
You have always been a great champion of women’s rights, particularly on sensitive issues such as abortion. You have allowed debate in this Chamber on issues that people find difficult and sensitive. The way that you have allowed debates to take place, particularly on the issue in Northern Ireland, has been really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is a doughty champion of women’s rights, and I know that she holds you in high regard.
I am going to miss you, and I send you every good wish for whatever it is you go on to do. Whatever it is, it will be an enormous success, but we will miss you.
Break in Debate
First, I want to apologise for not having been here at the beginning of these tributes, Mr Speaker. I had to engage in a podcast with the Father of the House. It was a joint podcast. I say that, but he took up at least 90% of it, so it was joint in the sense that it is joint whenever you sit to hear him and you ask him to speak briefly and he does exactly that!
At the outset, I also want to say a farewell to you, Mr Speaker. We have known each other for a significant amount of time. I believe you once referred to me as a “sea green incorruptible”. You may or may not recall that. I am not sure to this day quite what you meant by it, but I had been rebelling against the Government then for some time and I fancy that you thought that was a good thing. It was on the back of that that when I became leader I employed you in the shadow Cabinet, as shadow Chief Secretary. It was not altogether a happy period. I recall being approached by one particular colleague of ours, who will remain nameless but who upbraided me in the Lobby, saying “It is fantastic that you have got somebody who is really campaigning on the rights for gay people and out there speaking on all these subjects. I was thinking, “Oh, very good, thank you.” He then said, “Do you think we could have a shadow Chief Secretary when you next get to the appointments for the shadow Cabinet?” I think he was not altogether enamoured of your journey, but it was certainly a journey, one that you have taken personal ownership of. You have been part of changes that have come about, all of which have been overdue. I fancy that your legacy in this matter will also therefore be recorded by everybody, notwithstanding your period in the Chair.
On that note, I wish briefly to deal with the idea of legacy. I recall a quote from “Julius Caesar”:
“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones”.
I wish to reverse that process and simply say that there is much that you have done in this House that will stand the test of time and will return this House, in a way, to where it probably was many, many decades before, before it became too subjected to the concept of the overarching power of the Executive. I was a little tongue in cheek there. When I was, unexpectedly, in the Cabinet for six years, I regularly used to curse you in the mornings at about 9 o’clock when I heard that you were about to grant an urgent question—I think such questions came at noon—and I had to give you some reason why we should not have the UQ. Almost invariably I was told by your office that you had read what I had put but not required that it was the case and had granted the UQ. During that period, I do not think any Minister would not have been frustrated, annoyed and angry. However, having returned to the Back Benches, I have to congratulate you on reinvigorating the UQ, turning it from being an unusual event to being a very standard one, and I hope I have taken advantage of that. Of course the Government do not like that. When one is in government, surrounded by all the decisions one has to take and things one has to do, coming back to the House and being forced to answer questions is a nuisance, but it is a nuisance that really does matter.
I recall being frustrated as a junior Back Bencher on many occasions because I could not get in on a question and I thought that I had been pushed to one side, that everybody senior had got in and that the usual rules had applied. Any Member coming in here now will not have any knowledge of how it was before and they will just be used to standing and getting called. I often say to such Members, “It was very different in the old days. You might stand for three separate questions not related to each other and still not get called. Eventually you would approach the Chair and the Chair would say, ‘Next time we will call you. And you would then argue, ‘Well, I may not have an interest in the next question” but you would still have to come in and stand. Banishing that and getting rid of that process will stand as an important legacy of yours, because it allows non-Privy Counsellors to get their word in. I have one word of slight advice: my general rule is that in this place after about an hour there is absolutely nothing that anybody is going to get up to say that has not already been said at least three or four times. You have been incredibly tolerant that even on the fifth time it is worth hearing and sometimes quite important.
In that regard, your use of this place and your reforms to this place were overdue. I also remind colleagues that you came in at a difficult time; this House was in shame. The expenses scandal was all that people in the country saw and thought of us in this place. They thought all of us were corrupt and involved only for our own sakes, which is completely untrue but was overarchingly the view. As you know, Mr Speaker, people come here because they genuinely believe that they want to do good and to try to improve the quality of life for their constituents and for citizens around the country. To some degree, we are still suffering from that view. We needed the reforms such as opening this place up, letting younger people come into here, using the education service and expanding that process, and giving colleagues the power to bring Governments to the Dispatch Box so that they could ask those questions and force Ministers, even in difficult moments, to answer the most difficult questions of the day. That is a set of vital reforms and I cannot see any future Speaker reversing them, nor should they, because they are absolutely structural.
We have not always agreed on everything, Mr Speaker, nor should we; I confess there have been times when I have been somewhat frustrated. However, as colleagues have said, this is not really about being frustrated about the decisions; it is about whether or not somebody is consistent in the process they engage in. The one thing you have been absolutely consistent in is your belief that Back Benchers have the right and should have the power to be heard, regardless of whether you agree with them or not, and of whether they sometimes say things that might be an abhorrence. You believe that they have the right, because they were elected to this place, to be heard here without fear or favour. Restoring that process will be your greatest legacy, so I wish you a good retirement—although I suspect it will not be retirement and you will have some other kind of career. Perhaps you will be speaking across the States, where I gather you are becoming quite a celebrity on the speaking circuit. Whatever else you do, I know you will bring to it longer speeches, with words that nobody has ever understood or heard before. Notwithstanding that, people will be fascinated by them, as I have always been by your approach at the Chair. So I wish you the very best of fortune, and I consider it in a way a privilege to have been in this House when these reforms have taken place, and you were the architect of them. Thank you.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, on behalf of three groups of people. As other Members have mentioned, the schoolchildren who have been through the Education Centre, thanks to you, have been inspired by that experience. I echo the tribute on that that others have paid to you.
There are two other groups, and one of them is my constituents. You have a lot of fans in Bristol West, so if ever you feel like popping down, you will get a warm welcome. Many of them have asked me to pass on to you their admiration and to tell you that they have been glued to the television over the past year. It is an interesting by-product of where we have been politically that people text me to say, “What’s that funny thing you do when you bow at the table?” You have facilitated that sort of interest.
This is a slightly quirky one, but I want to thank you on behalf of the very unofficial parliamentary string quartet, the Statutory Instruments. It was in your Speaker’s palace at a Christmas celebration last year that Emily Benn and I first hatched the plot. We were enjoying the Christmas tree, and I think probably some Christmas carols and possibly some mince pies. I will always be grateful to you for being there at the birth of the parliamentary string quartet, and then at its first performance. Every time we play, we will be thinking of you. We are a little bit thwarted, because we were supposed to play at a concert for the Archbishop of Canterbury on 12 December but I gather we are doing something else on that day. Nevertheless, the Statutory Instruments are grateful to you.
Other people have said this, but I feel I must add that you and Reverend Rose—I cannot be here for her tribute—have been here for us at our darkest hours, as well as our moments of joy and celebration. Those dark moments been very dark indeed: June 2016 in particular and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) mentioned, the murder of PC Keith Palmer. There have been other times as well. You have been here for us and it has been incredible. It is a source of great support and comfort, both spiritual and non-spiritual, that the two of you have given to us as individuals, and to me as a Whip.
Your views on Whips are well known, Mr Speaker. Despite what has been said about your views on Whips, I have always known you to be really rather kind and helpful to us. I have sat in Whips’ corner for three years now—I cannot believe it has been three years, but I think my Chief Whip will confirm that I have been an Opposition Whip for three years—and you have been extraordinary. I have learned such a lot from working by your side and also, of course, from Peter, Ian and Jim, to whom I also owe a great debt of thanks. I hope they will not be leaving us, even if you are.
The Leader of the House could perhaps have cleared up a mystery for us. He said that to him the word “modernisation” is an expletive; if that is so, I am slightly perplexed as to why he has not taken this opportunity to confirm that your 10 years of public service will be rewarded in the traditional manner. I think it would be courteous if somebody on the Treasury Bench could clear up that mystery for us at some point in the not-too-distant future. I think the traditional time to do that would be today.
Break in Debate
The Leader of the House is shaking his head at me, but I do think that somebody ought to clear it up. Nevertheless, I know that whatever it is that you go on to do, Mr Speaker, you will do it, I hope, billowed up on a cloud of love and admiration from us all, and with the great enjoyment and collegiate spirit that you have shown to us and, I hope, we have shown to you. Some of the greatest and the darkest moments in my four years here have been enhanced by your presence in the Chair, including a tiny little thing involving a packet of peanuts and an Order Paper that I think will best be left to my memoirs or yours. Yes, you know of what I speak.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and good luck.
Time does not allow me to do justice to all the amazing work that you have done in the service of this Parliament, Mr Speaker. Before I came to Parliament, I was a young barrister, and I was told, “Brevity is a virtue, not a vice, so keep it short.” You have applied that rule when we have all spoken.
I wish to cover three things: accessibility; the way you have treated Back-Bench Members of Parliament; and wellbeing. First, on accessibility, all Members of Parliament are among equals in this place, and you have applied that rule. As a young Member of Parliament, many years ago, when I thought I needed to talk to the Speaker, I contacted the Speaker’s office and said, “I would like to speak to the Speaker of Parliament.” I was told, “Thank you, Mr Chishti,” and within minutes the Speaker could be reached on his mobile phone in his constituency. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the brilliant team around you—I see one of them standing there, and there are others. Members of Parliament judge the moment when they need to speak to our Speaker—you are our Speaker—and accessibility is key for Members of Parliament and for anyone when they want to reach a person in a position of responsibility. You, Mr Speaker, has have always ensured that.
Secondly, Mr Speaker, you have been the champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament. We all have our own cases. One thing on which I can never compromise —I never have throughout my time in Parliament—is freedom of religion or belief. I came to this country as the son of an imam. My father was an imam, my grandfather was an imam and my uncles were imams. I came to Gillingham in 1984, and we could practise our religion openly and freely at every level. Morally and ethically, it would be wrong for me not to stand up at any level when I see individuals of minority faiths being persecuted.
In 2014, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, to ask for an Adjournment debate on the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where they are used to target minority faiths, and the case of Asia Bibi, who was on death row. Before the case came up in the media in the past year, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, and you gave me the chance to raise it on the Floor of the House. And it was not just then, because you know what matters to Members of Parliament. We all champion different issues, and you have been absolutely brilliant in realising what issues matter to Members of Parliament. When I resigned from the Government in November 2018—the Government did not agree with my view on the Asia Bibi case, so I stepped aside—I wanted to question the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, but I was not listed on the Order Paper. I was sitting on the Bench right there, and although I am slightly short, I was still bobbing up and down. You, Mr Speaker, called me so that I could raise my issue with the person who had to make the final decision. You have been absolutely amazing as a champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament.
Thirdly, there are some outside who do not see Members of Parliament or those who work here as fellow human beings. We are all human beings, and we all suffer from the same challenges that every other citizen in our great country suffers. We all have challenges and issues that arise. I wish to touch on the work that you, Mr Speaker, have done on the wellbeing of Members of Parliament and of those who work in this great Parliament. I cannot thank you enough for the way you have dealt with those issues with compassion, decency and complete regard to human dignity. You have put in place a system with the brilliant Dr Madan. It is a clinician-led approach, and I thank Dr Madan, because often those who do the work behind the scenes do not get the credit. They do an amazing job. If everyone applied your approach, Mr Speaker, of making sure that those who work here, at whatever level, get support when they need it—and quickly, swiftly and appropriately—individuals could go on and be better than before. That comes down to individuals in responsibility taking such decisions.
I was very fortunate to represent the Prime Minister in the Holy See at the canonisation of Cardinal Newman. I did not know much about Cardinal Newman, but when I was there I listened to people speak about that great man’s values. One of the hymns was “Lead, Kindly Light”, which has the lyrics:
“I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”
In the 10 years for which you have sat in the Chair, Mr Speaker, every step that you have taken has been for the betterment of this Parliament. Thank you, Sir.
I listened carefully to the opening statement by the Leader of the House and was interested to hear what he had to say. I always listen to him carefully. He chooses his words carefully and gives me the impression, at least, that he understands the meaning of them—after all, he is the only person I know who reads the words “lounge suit” inside his jacket and takes them as instructions for use. You, Mr Speaker, have challenged the House in respect of the rights of Back Benchers. There are people in the House who have benefited from that at times but who, now that time has moved on, perhaps do not quite appreciate how you have stood up for the rights of this House and for those of us who have wanted to stand up for our constituents.
In particular, I want to pay tribute to you for standing up for the people of the 48% who voted in 2016 to remain in the European Union. If people had listened to the Government’s views on the outcome of the referendum, which we all respect, they would have believed that it was a resounding victory, and that the country was not split at that time. But, indeed, the country was split, and it was for this House to stand up and hold the Government to account and to speak up for the views of those people who wanted to remain in the European Union, or who wanted, in leaving, to retain as much of our relationship with the European Union as we could. Without your strength of character, Mr Speaker, to stand up to an Executive who were prepared to try to ride roughshod over those of us who wanted to hold the Government to account, we would have been in a very different place now. That is a tribute to you, and your actions during these very trying times have earned you a place in history. You deserve enormous credit for that. I will always admire you for what you did, because, at times, it was very difficult for you. You were out there as an individual having to stand up to those people. I understand that you have an excellent team around you, but you did it none the less, and you did it for us. For that, I will always be grateful.
I am also grateful to your team. I do not do this very often, but I pleaded with them to ensure that I was called at Prime Minister’s questions to raise something on behalf of a disabled constituent who had had their personal independence payment taken away, and was about to have their car repossessed on the Thursday after that Prime Minister’s questions. I did not think that I would be called, Mr Speaker, but because you had been generous with time at Prime Minister’s questions—you allowed it to overrun—I was called right at the tail end. I always seem to get called at the tail end, but if you are patient, you get there. I thanked you, Mr Speaker, when I was interviewed on the radio subsequently about this issue. As a consequence of my being able to raise that matter at Prime Minister’s questions—because you heard my plea and called me—the life of my constituent was completely transformed in a moment. That is the power of being in that Chair, and I pay tribute to you for how you stood up for us Back Benchers so that we could stand up for our constituents. My constituent’s PIP was reinstated and they did not have their car repossessed.
Your inspired appointment of Rose Hudson-Wilkin was, again, a testament to your strength of character, and to your determination to modernise and to take us forward as a House of Commons, representing all the people. I pay tribute to Rose. She has an amazing career ahead of her and will be a very influential person in our society in whatever role she goes on to do when she ceases to be Chaplain to the Speaker of the House.
Mr Speaker, you came into the House in 1997, the same time as me. You have a constituency in the home counties; I have one in London. No doubt schools from your constituency have frequently visited this place and you have taken them round on tours. But on rainy days, when they wanted to have their packed lunch, children used to be told that the Speaker of the House and the Serjeant at Arms did not allow packed lunches to be eaten in Westminster Hall. There was no cafeteria down there, and when we got one, it was not accessible to schoolchildren, because they had to buy something to be in there. This was an appalling place for young people to visit in terms of how they were welcomed, although they were awestruck as they were taken around the place and no doubt educated by all the MPs who were boring them to tears with the details of the House. None the less, it was important that they were here. They were inspired by the House, but it was very unwelcoming to them.
The changes that you have made in opening up the Education Centre and making this place feel welcoming to young people have been inspired. I want the Speaker who follows you to do more of that, and it is a mark of the way that you have brought modernisation and change to this House. You have earned your place in the history of this House and I wish you all the best for your future.
Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to pay tribute to you today. I have known you for the best part of 30 years, and I echo everything that has been said in the Chamber today. I will not repeat those tributes, but instead add to them by saying things that have not been said.
I thank you for your patriotism, for being an upholder of tradition and for being a lover of your country. You are a patriot. The Mother of the House said that you were politically correct, but on those issues you have never been politically correct. It was you, Sir, who supported the long-running campaign to ensure that the flag of our country was flown from the Victoria Tower every single day of the year. Members will recall that it used to be flown only when the House was sitting. In the early part of 2010, the House agreed, with your support, Mr Speaker—a statement was made in the House—that the flag would fly permanently, 365 days of the year. That is, I think, a subject of pride in our country and it is appreciated by many.
It is also you, Mr Speaker, who has upheld the tradition of St George’s day for England. When we celebrate our traditions for England, Speaker’s House has been opened to the Royal Society of St George and to organisations that celebrate our English heritage. I thank you, Sir, for allowing the St George’s day organisations to come to Speaker’s House to celebrate 23 April.
I also remember that it was you, Mr Speaker, who allowed the tradition—the sad tradition—of crests of MPs who have been assassinated and murdered to be displayed in this Chamber. For a very long time, the crest of Airey Neave was in the Chamber, but the previous Speaker was not in favour of additional crests. You may recall, Mr Speaker, that Lord Howe of Aberavon and I came to see you and asked whether we could have a crest in memory of the late Ian Gow, who was murdered. You were very supportive of that, and that led to crests being put up not only for the late Ian Gow, but for Dr Robert Bradford, Jo Cox, Sir Anthony Berry and others who were killed by Irish terrorists. It was you, Mr Speaker, who allowed that tradition to be reinstated so that we could remember Members of Parliament who were so cruelly taken from us by assassination and political murder.
The diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen was a great celebration for the whole of Parliament, but it was Mr Speaker who opened Speaker’s House for a wonderful celebration for representatives of all Her Majesty’s realms and territories. Indeed, how can we forget the renaming of the Clock Tower to the Elizabeth Tower? There are many things that you will be remembered and thanked for, Mr Speaker, but from my personal point of view, it will be your kindness, your friendship, your understanding, your willingness to deal with issues as they arose, and your being on the side of Back Benchers who need a voice—you have always made sure that we have had that voice.
Mr Speaker, you have been a wonderful champion of this House. You have promoted the Mother of Parliaments, and I believe that you will be remembered for many years to come.
May I start by saying what an honour it is to sit next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) who will be sadly missed? I completely associate myself with the remarks that were made by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
I want to say something rather different, Mr Speaker. I want to take you back to a trip that we made together to Sudan. I know that you agreed to go at quite short notice: we needed a Conservative Member and you agreed to come on that trip. I had never been to Sudan—and this was pre-secession—without getting unwell. When we say that someone looks green, we are usually greatly exaggerating, but I can assure Members that, when we flew round on that trip, I looked at you and you were green—you were absolutely unwell—but you carried on and we got to Nyala, which was, at that time, the heart of the struggle for Darfur. As we got there, all the lights went out, but it was wonderful because our hosts said, “Don’t worry, we’ll go to the local takeaway and get you something to eat.” I remember that we had not had anything to eat all day; we probably did not want anything. I am a vegetarian and could not eat the food that they brought back, and I am eternally grateful to you for being there, because you did eat it.
The great tribute that our hosts paid us was that we were to share the President’s bedroom, so you and I went to the President’s bedroom—and that was fine. But we were then able to take advantage of using the President’s toilet. Now, I do not know whether or not it was a Sudanese tradition, but the President’s toilet had previously been used. And I now know why you are such a steadfast Speaker, able to sit in the Chair for nine hours. It is because you and I decided that it was one ask too many to use the President’s toilet, and waited. Dare I say that the constitution of this Speaker was built in that President’s palace in Nyala?
People do not realise that making such trips—visiting the trouble spots of the world—is part of our role and responsibility. You did that, and I hope that you will do so in the future, because you will be welcomed and admired. People will see you not only as the former Speaker—unlike in the States, where people are always referred to as Congressmen and Senators, even when they are no longer in office. It has been an honour to call you a friend, and that trip will always stand in my memory even though I have been a number of times since. Long may your life continue, and I hope that future toilets will be slightly better than the one we were asked to use on that occasion. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I thought I had missed the tributes to you, Mr Speaker, but I am delighted that I have not. By the way, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew). I fear that I lack your constitution, Mr Speaker, because I have been dying for the loo, but I also wanted to get in, so I am holding it in for the moment. I actually came to the Chamber to follow your advice to persist, persist, persist. I am following up on a point I made earlier in the week, to get an answer from the Leader of the House—if he wants to give one—on whether the Government would allow a future debate on Huawei and the importance of 5G, but I am very happy to ignore that request if you feel that it would be inappropriate at this moment.
That is very kind of you, Sir, because I fear that I might—not for the first time—have misread the Order Paper. However, it will make you happy to know that since “Erskine May” has been available online, I have been reading it in bed every night. Indeed, I was going to raise a point of order to ask why paragraph 12 of chapter 20 consisted of not one paragraph but two, but the Whips advised me against it; I think it was during the Saturday sitting and we were all very keen to get away.
Mr Speaker, your support for Back Benchers is always important and incredibly welcome, and your calling Ministers to account is excellent because scrutiny always strengthens. Any good Minister always appreciates being called for an urgent question, because it gives them the chance to explain the Government’s position. If a Minister is happy to explain the Government’s position, they are confident of the Government’s position. And if they are not, there should be questions about why they fear being called. I thank you for that, and I hope that the tradition of UQs will continue under all future Speakers; it is very important that it does.
Likewise, the Education Centre has been superb. The excellent teacher at Ryde Academy on my Island often brings the kids down. In fact, the most trying interviews that I have are often with primary and secondary schoolchildren from my Island, who test me and my knowledge as best they can. Long may that continue.
Some of my constituents have specifically written to me to say how much they will miss you, but specifically to say that they will miss you chastising me. One of them told me that so often has that reprimanding and guidance become that they regularly look forward to me being told off by you on a regular—indeed, almost weekly—basis. You have brought joy to many people—occasionally to myself, but very often to my constituents, especially if you have been beasting me.
On the point of persist, persist, persist—if the Leader of the House has a chance to answer—5G is very significant issue, and there is very little public and parliamentary debate about it. What can we do about it, and can we have debate before decisions are made so that we can give our opinion and say what we think the options are?
As this is a statement, I probably should have been replying to everything, but I think, in the broad context, it was better not to have done. But 5G is of course a matter of concern and one that the Government take very seriously, and the security and resilience of the UK’s telecom networks are of the greatest importance. I obviously cannot promise debates at the moment, because we will have Dissolution on Wednesday, but the general election is coming up and I have a feeling that this is a matter that will be of interest to many people, who will want to ensure that we have a safe and secure system. The Government have not yet made a decision on the matter, and that is an important point to underline. In spite of press reports to the contrary, a decision will be made in due course. I think that a wide debate among the British public is the best thing that we can have; we should always trust the people.
I do not intend to speak for too long because some wonderful compliments have been paid, and it is sometimes hard to sit and listen to people complimenting you—that is very human. I would just like to say thank you. Thank you for the first handshake and words when I took my oath; the lovely note after my first speech; and the tea morning for the new entrants held by Rose and yourself in your chambers. I also thank you and your staff for the huge help that you have given with regard to Grace’s Sign and the Any Disability symbol, and for the J. P. Mackintosh lecture that took place in Speaker’s House, which was gratefully received by his family and the people of East Lothian. For all that and so much more, thank you.
Mr Speaker, I can see that you are saving the best till last. It is a huge pleasure to say thank you this afternoon. I wonder, though, whether when we bump into each other again in years to come, I will feel as I did that time I jumped off my bicycle and a man 6 feet taller than I looked at me and said, “Hello, sir. I notice you haven’t polished your shoes today.” It was the academy sergeant-major from Sandhurst and I was wearing trainers. He was pointing out what he knew then, which is that standards matter, and you have defended the standards in this House religiously. For that, I can only be extremely grateful.
Defending the rights of parliamentarians is not actually about defending 650 people who may or may not have an opinion on a subject. It is about defending the very principle of democracy in our country. It is about defending the very principles of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and individual liberty. And it is absolutely about defending the foundations of the economy and society that we have built with much care and many failures, but over many, many decades. For that, I am hugely grateful.
On a personal basis, if I may, there is another thing for which I would like to thank you. You have not only introduced us to a wonderful chaplain, who is here and to whom I pay huge personal thanks and tributes, but you have also introduced a new chaplain in Father Pat Browne. To have a Catholic chaplain in this House and to have a regular mass on a Wednesday afternoon is an act of extreme kindness to many of us in the Catholic community in this place, but it also reflects the fact that this House does not now legislate for the exclusion of one religion, does not now silence one form of worship and does not now reject the individual practice of so many people in these islands.
I know that you have been on a journey, Mr Speaker. Some people have spoken of your origins on one wing of the party, and your arrival at the seat in which you now find yourself—the defender of many liberties, which would have surprised others 20 or 30 years ago. Many of us have been on a journey. I see the Leader of the House sitting there on the Front Bench. When I used to sit next to him, he was a guardian of the purity of this House, but he has gone with the speed of a whippet from the purity of the Vestal Virgin to the Whore of Babylon deep in Executive power.
We have all been on various different journeys, Mr Speaker, and I am delighted that your journey has taken you to where you are now. I am personally grateful that the past four years, particularly the two in which I had the privilege of chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee, have been under your speakership. You have enabled those of us who are very new to this place to have a voice and, I hope, to represent some of the views that need speaking up for in our House. Even if we may sometimes chunter when criticised, almost certainly justifiably, that might give us cause to remember that your defence of this House means that sometimes we are in the wrong, too.
May I, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, thank you, Mr Speaker, for all that you have done as Speaker?
May I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who sits behind me so regularly, very often in her colour of red? I said to her this morning before we came into the Chamber that she has often been the conscience of many in this Chamber with regard to human rights issues. When she has spoken here on human rights issues, I have been more than pleased to join her in those opportunities to speak out and speak up for those across the world who do not have a voice. We in this House are very privileged to be the voice for them.
When I came here as a new Member in 2010, Mr Speaker, as I said earlier, I was just a tad nervous and maybe a wee bit apprehensive. I never, ever thought that I would be in the House of Commons. It was a dream, perhaps, but not something I really thought would happen in my life, and it did. I vividly remember meeting you. You shook my hand with a very welcoming and generous introduction. At once, I felt the warmth that you exuded then and you exude now, and that put me at ease in this House. I was not put at ease when I made my maiden speech, because I was as nervous as can be about that, but once I had got that speech over with, I realised that you could do it.
As I learned the rules and regulations of the House under your guidance, Mr Speaker, you occasionally chastised me, always rightfully and always justly. I found out that the word “you” can only be used for your good self. I am not quite sure whether I have learned that yet, but I am trying hard and I will endeavour to do so over the next period.
As the Back-Bench champion that you are, Mr Speaker, we in this House, and I, have felt that our views would always have an opportunity to be heard. To quote you, the voice of Strangford must and will be heard. It was heard in this House, and we thank you for that.
Your choice of Speaker’s Chaplain, which we will have a chance to refer to in a few moments—I wish to do that as well—was right and appropriate, as was your choice of the Serjeant at Arms. I supported both those choices. I thank you for all your team’s support. Peter, Ian and Jim are always kind and courteous and undoubtedly a great team.
Behind every great man—and I believe, Mr Speaker, you are a great man—is a great woman. You have been very blessed and very privileged to have at your side, as your wife, Sally. Her support for you was and is vital. I thank Sally and the children for the support they give you. I know myself how important it is to have a family behind you to give the support that you need.
I believe that the future for you, Mr Speaker, will be successful; it will be incredible. I am a great believer, as you know, in the power of prayer, and always have been. Your chaplain will know that as well. I believe that with prayer we can move mountains. Every morning I pray for you, Mr Speaker, and I will continue to do so in the time when you are not in that Chair and have moved on to other jobs. You will not be forgotten in this House, certainly not by me. I will miss you, not least for the Adjournment debates that you and I shared on many occasions. Not having you present will be a minus for me, but I hope that there will be someone else there who can take your place.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kindness, for your friendliness and for the wise guidance that you have given to me and many others in this House. I wish you Godspeed. I thank you for all that you do and did, and wish you every success for the future. Thank you so much.
Mr Speaker, I am coming to you. But, first, for the Leader of the House, William Morris said that
“the very foundation of refinement”
“green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside.”
My constituents in Market Deeping seek just those things, as they crave open spaces. I hope that the Leader of the House, in the time available—for there are two more days, after all—will allow time for an urgent statement on how planning policy guidance can be altered, so that open spaces are provided for communities such as those in the Deepings and future generations have the chance to choose to work, play and rest in them and enjoy them at their leisure.
Now to you, Mr Speaker—my friend. My wife said to me, “How will you manage when John goes?” I said, “I have no idea, I suppose will have to compete on equal terms.”
John Ruskin said that
“no cultivation of the mind can make up for the want of natural abilities”.
You, sir, have no such want. Indefatigable, irrepressible and incomparable you certainly are, but much more than that: in a time in which our politics is an unhappy marriage of hysterical hyperbole and technocratic turgidity, you have brought theatre to this place, and life and art to your role. Some of those on the Conservative Benches see that art as a sort of Jackson Pollock with a touch of Damien Hirst, but I see you more as Van Gogh, with a vibrancy and vividity, a colour and theatricality, which reveals rather than conceals sensitivity and deep humanity—for those are your qualities.
Many people have spoken of your achievements, the Education Centre and the change in balance between the House and the Executive prominent among them. The business of making this place alive and relevant, and giving our proceedings that very theatricality which gives life to our democracy, will be your most lasting legacy. That is why you are so widely known outside this place—and widely admired, by the way, too. I thank you profoundly for that. As our polemic has become increasingly strange, brutish and cruel as a result of social media—I have never seen it myself, but I understand that it takes place on computers and other sorts of devices—you have stood proud from that.
I thank you for all you have done. and I thank you for your friendship, which, of course, I hope and trust will endure long beyond the roles we now play. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Good heavens, Mr Speaker—our right hon. Friend was as beautifully eloquent as ever. On his request for a debate or a statement on open spaces, I could bring his attention to the Adjournment debate that will take place on Tuesday, to which I will be responding. The only drawback is that it is primarily for right hon. and hon. Members who are retiring—a category into which I hope he is not tempted to fall.
First, I need to say that I will not be here for the tributes to the chaplain, but the House’s loss is Canterbury’s gain, and I am thrilled that I will get to see much more of Rose Hudson-Wilkin in my constituency; that is brilliant.
Mr Speaker, it is so difficult to put into words what seeing you in the Chair means to people like me on the Back Benches. Some of the speeches today have been incredibly moving. I need to find a new word for kindness, because when we look at today’s Hansard, that is the word that will come up the most.
I do not know how to express my gratitude for how immensely patient and lovely you have been; I do not want to get too emotional. My father has Alzheimer’s, and his recent memories are not that great, but he will never forget and never stops talking about the day that I was sworn in and how kind you were to my very ordinary family, who had never set foot in a place like this. You made an effort to wave to them and mention them, and my dad was talking about it even yesterday, when we were at a family funeral. It meant a great deal to him and my family, and that is something I will never forget.
When those of us here—especially women and Back Benchers—who are pretty terrified of this experience get up and talk about things that are personal and make us vulnerable, we can stand here and look at you, and you are a bit like a lighthouse in a stormy sea. During the speech that I made recently, when I felt very vulnerable, you kept me going. I just kept concentrating on you, and I knew that you were there, emotionally holding my hand; you have done that physically as well, which is lovely. I do not know how to thank you enough, but I am trying to say thank you. I will never, ever forget your kindness. Thank you very much.
Mr Speaker, this is a very special day for you. I was not going to speak, but I want to put on record a couple of my times with you.
As I mentioned to you on shaking your hand when I took up my place here in 2015, we had a tea together many years ago—perhaps when you were in a different place politically, but we will put that aside.
There is one kindness you have given me. You have earned me a few pennies while I have been in the House. I am not always the first to be called or the last, but I have earned many a good coin from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), because we often have a little bet as to who will be up last. I am grateful to you for adding to my wealth and detracting from the wealth of my hon. Friend.
I had a very difficult experience at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, which you took a great interest in throughout. The day after my acquittal, there were business questions. I came to speak to you at the Chair, to tell you that I had rather more to say than is appropriate at business questions. You allowed me, on that very special day for me, the opportunity to explain in far more minutes than one would usually allow for business questions what I had been through and the annoyance thereof.
There is lots that I have not agreed with you on over the last few years, but I will never forget your fairness to me and to others in the House who face difficulties. That was an opportunity to put on record in this great international public space what I had been through and the annoyance that I felt. I thank you for that occasion probably more than for any other since my time in the House, and I wish you every great success in the future, a long life and much happiness.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess)—the great city of Southend—was right when he said that today is a day when the House comes together to say a fond farewell. There are so many to whom we can say a fond farewell. Indeed, some of them are in the Chamber: my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). I want to add a fond farewell to the remarkable right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). She is a truly outstanding parliamentarian who was prepared to put the national interest over narrow party political interest. She is lionised by Jaguar workers and Land Rover workers, as we have worked together to defend the interests of our manufacturing base against the background of Brexit. She will be sorely missed.
Mr Speaker, yours has been a remarkable trajectory, from being a member of an organisation so right-wing that even Norman Tebbit abolished it, to being a fully paid-up Macmillanite, to I know not where. I know not where because you do not wear your politics or your prejudices on your sleeve. You are truly impartial.
In 600 years of our parliamentary democracy, there have been few champions of Parliament as great as you, writing a noble chapter in the history of Parliament and, crucially, enabling Parliament to hold the Executive to account. That may sometimes be frustrating for those on the Treasury Bench. There have been times when the right hon. Member for Downton Abbey, the Leader of the House, has expressed his concerns and frustrations, but you have allowed Parliament to hold the Executive to account. You have done that without suffering the fate of some of your predecessors, who literally lost their heads.
You have been a great champion of parliamentarians. There is no question about it: our country is deeply divided. Sadly we see a politics of hate on the march, sometimes manifested in attacks on parliamentarians. You have been a champion of parliamentarians, including on that front. You have also been a champion of reaching out to the country. In troubled times, you have truly been a bridge over troubled waters.
You have been a champion of opening up Parliament. You have built a brilliant team, including the wonderful Rose, reflecting the rich diversity of our capital city and our country. You have also been a champion of opening up Parliament to young people. I will never forget your powerful addresses at the four Erdington Youth Parliaments. I remember meeting a group of apprentices from the Erdington Skills Centre the week after, and one of them said, “That bloke Bercow, he’s really something, isn’t he?” As a consequence of what you have done, tens of thousands of young people have come to the cradle of our democracy, and they have loved every moment.
You have a remarkable, Shakespearean turn of phrase and a rhetorical flourish the like of which I have never heard. You are also humble, reaching out to those suffering difficulties in their life or in their career in Parliament. So many Members here today will never forget your kindness when kindness was desperately needed.
You are not just one of Parliament’s greatest Speakers, who in centuries to come will be remembered like some of the great figures of the past. You are a profound family man, but also—forgive me for saying this—you are just a plain, decent man. We will never, ever forget you.
Mr Speaker, before turning to you, I want to make one point. There has been unconfirmed bad news about my constituent Amelia Bambridge. Everyone wished that she would be found alive and well. I ask that people use sensitivity and common sense and avoid circulating distressing images.
May I say, Mr Speaker, as technically the longest-serving Conservative Member of Parliament, although the Father of the House properly holds that title, that all of us, from me to the most recent person elected to this House, acknowledge all the good that you have done and the good that has been done while you have been Speaker?
I have to warn those who want to write you off in retirement, Mr Speaker, that in 1656 Cromwell found out that a unicameral Parliament was a bad idea and he created the Other House. Those at the time could not decide on the title, which is why we use the expression “the other House” for the House of Lords. In the last 363 to 361 years, we have relied on some of the words that Speaker Lenthall used. He actually went from this Chamber to the Other House and then came back as Speaker, and that course is open to you if you want to break precedent in more ways than you have already.
When a decision was taken in the Chair by you, Mr Speaker, I submitted to the Clerks an early-day motion giving a direction that it should not happen again. They, I think humorously—I assume it was humorously—asked me how I could do that. I said, “What are the only words people can remember of a previous Speaker?” The answer was Lenthall’s words that he could only do as the House “directs”. If that is true, putting down a motion to give a direction to the occupant of the Chair would seem perfectly proper and the motion was accepted.
I want to say, Mr Speaker, that although you were not my first choice in the year that you were elected as Speaker, I honour you. I praise Sir George Young for asking you, and you agreeing that he could have his party in your House. I think that shows the mood and the friendship that exist in this place, and that has continued strongly with you as Speaker.
I explained to my constituents that had they chosen you rather than me in Worthing West in 1996, they could have been represented by the Speaker for the last 10 years. When one of them said that your tenure of 10 years seemed rather longer than the nine years, I said, “He did say he was going after nine years, and 10 years is after nine years, isn’t it?” If any pedant uses the word you actually put in your letter, I shall criticise them for being too pernickety.
I have dragged you to the Chair twice, Mr Speaker. We do not have to drag you out of it because you have chosen the time to leave. As people heard me say privately a year ago, I think you deserve a margin of appreciation. Those who would want to make a great fuss about the time you have been in the Chair are wrong. However, at some calm period, we may wish to discuss whether the normal expectation should be that the Speaker will do up to nine years, as you had once indicated.
It would also be a useful idea if we could have a debate, in some period of calm, about whether we should have a regular discussion—perhaps every two years—on the way the Chair is occupied and how decisions are made. It is one of the areas where we can contribute, and the occupant of the Chair and the Procedure Committee can consider whether anything can be done.
There are a few things that people do not know about what you do, Mr Speaker, but it is worth mentioning the one referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) about your relationship with your own constituents. During the Select Committee considering objections to HS2, we went around with you on a number of occasions, and I think people who only see you in public will not know what you are like in private with your constituents. The Speaker is knowledgeable, he is calm, he is reasonably quiet and people trust him. That is what people can ask of their Members of Parliament, and the service you have given to them should be remembered in these tributes today.
There are other things I could say, but I think the best thing to do is to say that the good you have done should be remembered—and you have acknowledged the good that we have done—and were there to be a signal honour motion, we hope that it would be passed with acclamation. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for occupying the Chair.
I beg to move,
That this House—
(1) approves the First Report of the Committee on Standards, Keith Vaz, HC 93;
(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 99 and 101; and
(3) accordingly suspends Keith Vaz from the service of the House for a period of 6 months.
Today’s motion follows the publication of the first report of the Committee on Standards of this Session on the conduct of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I have been asked to say that he cannot be here today to listen to this because he is currently in hospital. The report was agreed by the Standards Committee following a process of investigation and consideration by recognised due process, and it was published on Monday 28 October. The Government have sought to schedule a debate as quickly as possible, as is the usual practice.
It is always regrettable when a motion such as this is before the House. The matter before us today has been investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and it has now been reported on by the Committee on Standards. I thank the former commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, and the current commissioner, Kathryn Stone, for their work. I also thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), the Chairman of the Committee on Standards, and the other members of the Committee for their work in producing this report.
The motion approves the report of the Committee on Standards, endorses the recommendation of the Committee and proposes that the right hon. Member for Leicester East be suspended from the service of the House for a period of six months. I commend this motion to the House.
Break in Debate
May I add my own warm tribute to you, Mr Speaker, because you have been an exceptional Speaker throughout my time in Parliament? I am sorry to contribute to this short debate, and I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this motion before Dissolution next week.
I assure the House that the Committee on Standards has taken the greatest possible care with all the information that was put before us. We have done our best to focus only on issues that pertain to this House’s code of conduct, and not on extraneous matters of personal and private conduct. Neither have we wanted to put any information into the public domain, other than where that has been absolutely necessary to explain the reason behind the Committee’s decision. The decision is unanimous, and we have accepted the recommendations of the current commissioner. We are grateful to her for her work, and for the work of the previous commissioner. I wish to put on record my thanks to all colleagues on the Committee, and to my Clerk and his staff.
Subsequent to our report, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) put some information on his website. I assure the House that all the points raised in that posting are addressed within the Committee’s report. I and my Committee appreciate that constitutionally, no Parliament can bind the actions of the next Parliament, but our view—we have placed this on the record in a letter to the Leader of the House which is published on the Committee’s website—is that should the right hon. Gentleman be returned to the House at the forthcoming election, we urge the incoming Parliament and the new Leader of the House to pass a resolution as quickly as possible to ensure that the full period of the proposed sanction is served. I am grateful for the chance to contribute this afternoon.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Although I am the originator of the complaint to the Committee on Standards in September 2016, I rise more in sorrow than anger to comment on these matters. I, too, wish to thank the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, for her diligent work on our behalf, protecting the reputation of this House. I also thank her predecessor, Kathryn Hudson, and all elected and lay members of the Committee on Standards.
After 37 months we have the report. It is 69 pages long, and it makes grim reading for those colleagues who have taken the time to wade through it. The recommendations of the Committee include the longest suspension to be handed out since records began—six months—which in normal times would trigger a recall. The Committee also said that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) should not be offered a former Member’s pass when his time in this House ceases.
It is clear why this investigation has taken so long, and the delays, deflection and confusion that the Committee believes the right hon. Gentleman to have conducted, have been quite damning on his character. He sought to drag out these proceedings so that if he does not stand at the next election, none of the punishment will be meted out to him, and he will have avoided a suspension. If the House decides to accept the recommendations, they will be in place for only a few days, not for six months, and there will therefore be no recall. Effectively, the only censure that he will face is that of not having the privilege of a former Member’s pass when he ceases to be here.
I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman is not present, but the Chair of the Committee on Standards hinted at a statement that he put on his website immediately after the publication of this report. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, and to inform the House, I would like to read the statement that was posted on his website on 28 October, shortly after the release of the report by the Committee on Standards into his conduct:
“The events of 27th August 2016 were purely personal and private, and occurred in circumstances where neither Mr Vaz’s public nor his Parliamentary role were engaged.
Mr Vaz has never bought, possessed, dealt with or used illegal drugs. He has a cardiovascular condition which would mean that were he to consume any non-prescribed drugs he would in all likelihood die. The Commissioner has confirmed that Mr Vaz has not committed any criminal acts. The referrals made (including by Andrew Bridgen MP) were a waste of police resources.
The transcript of the recording which the Committee and Commissioner rely on has been completed discredited by a highly qualified forensic scientist, who has cast considerable doubt on its reliability. She stated: “Overall the transcript supplied to me fell significantly short of what is expected in terms of a transcript intended for use in legal, disciplinary or similar proceedings and it cannot be considered a reliable evidential record of the speech content of the questioned recording.
Mr Vaz has cooperated at all stages of this process. At no stage during the inquiry has either Commissioner stated in writing or otherwise that Mr Vaz has been uncooperative. Commissioner Hudson stated in terms that Mr Vaz has been helpful. Mr Vaz vigorously rejects the allegation that he has failed to cooperate with the inquiry: to the contrary he holds the standards system in the highest regard and with the highest respect.”
There are then some links to reports from the inquiry that are available on the parliamentary website, and it indicates where people should look in the report for various information that the right hon. Gentleman regards as evidential to support his statement. The statement concludes:
“Keith Vaz has been treated for a serious mental health condition for the last three years as a result of the events of 27th August 2016. He has shared all his medical reports in confidence with the Committee. He has today been admitted to hospital and this office will not be making any further comments.”
I have read the report, and there is no apology from the right hon. Member for Leicester East. There is no hint of apology, no hint of regret, and a complete denial of the unanimous conclusions of the Committee on Standards. That may hint at his state of mind—he is in complete denial about the level of dissatisfaction that the public feel with the behaviour of some Members of this House, and he has certainly detracted from our reputation.
Many tributes have been paid to you today, Mr Speaker, and I wish to add my own. If you had acted on the letter that I wrote to you in September 2015—a year before the incident involving the then Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—in which I raised my concerns that if the actions and activities of the right hon. Gentleman came to light, they would risk seriously damaging—
Mr Speaker, I thank you for your advice, as always. For the past 10 years you have advised me on many occasions, but had you waited for my conclusion, you would have seen that I was going to extol your decision not to get involved in this matter. Had you done so, we may well have protected the reputation of this House, but I doubt that we ever would have got to see the full report that is now before us.
Despite this report being public knowledge—it has been available for Members to read for several days—the right hon. Member for Leicester East remains a member of the Labour party. He has the Labour Whip. He is still a serving member of the Labour national executive committee and he is still currently the candidate for Leicester East at the forthcoming election. That, of course, is a matter for the Labour party, and it is also, I believe, a matter for the public we all serve in our constituencies, not least in Leicester East. I believe—I think that many other people do—that Leicester East deserves rather better, Mr Speaker.
We can recall what we have done in the past and the way we have voted. We will all be held to account for that very shortly, on 12 December. Only a month after the right hon. Member for Leicester East rather reluctantly resigned, following the rent boy and cocaine scandal, from the chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee, he was nominated by the Labour party to serve on the Justice Committee. That was only four weeks after he had considered himself unsuitable to continue as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
Thank you once again for more help and advice, Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker, I will bring my remarks to a conclusion, but it is clear to me, and it will be clear to the public, that to the fag-end of your tenure in that Chair, you are defending the indefensible and your very close relationship with the right hon. Member in question. The House can come to its own conclusions. The Standards Committee has come to its own conclusions. And, Mr Speaker, the public will come to theirs. Thank you very much.
I, and I hope the whole House, wish that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) recovers and that his health is restored.
I strongly support the motion, which says that the House
“approves the First Report of the Committee on Standards …HC 93”,
and that we endorse
“the recommendations in paragraphs 99 and 101”
and the suspension from the service of the House for a period of six months.
I served with others on the Standards Committee in the early 2000s, when Elizabeth Filkin was the Standards Commissioner. She was badly treated by the House and treated even worse by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Paragraph 97 of the report states:
“Mr Vaz has previously been found to have been in serious breach of the Code and in contempt of the House. In 2002 the Standards and Privileges Committee found he had recklessly made a damaging and untrue allegation against another person, which could have intimidated them, and had wrongly interfered with the House’s investigative process: in particular that ‘having set the Commissioner on a false line of inquiry Mr Vaz then accused her of interfering in a criminal investigation and threatened to report her to the Speaker’”.
It goes on to other points that he made.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) rightly read out some of the words on the right hon. Gentleman’s website, which are totally contradicted by the report that I have in my hand. I think that someone who has done that after the report has come out should have the suspension doubled to a year.
I say this: this is not a party point, but the right hon. Gentleman should not be nominated. If he is nominated, he should not be elected, and if he is elected, he should be suspended for a very long time.
I had not intended to participate in the debate, but I am a member of the current Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will recognise, serving on the Standards Committee is one of the less pleasant responsibilities that falls to Members, but that is the position I have been in for quite a long time. I can recall a time when we passed sentence, in a sense, on my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), saying that she should make an apology to the House. I was in the House when she made her apology, and I recall the sense of outrage that her apology was not as full as some people might have wished. As a result, she suffered additional penalties in her constituency—it was a long time ago and I am sure that has all been forgiven.
In that context, when I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) reading out what is on the website of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), it filled me with horror, because it is totally contradictory to the findings of the Committee. What does not come across in a report such as this is the detail that has been gone into by the members of the Committee—including lay-members, who do it for love, really—the commissioner and her predecessor. An enormous amount of work has gone into this, and we reached a conclusion:
“We are satisfied from the evidence we have considered that Mr Vaz did on 27 August 2016 offer to procure and pay for illegal drugs for use by a third party.”
Paragraph 54 states:
“On the basis of the evidence supplied by the audio-recording and the transcript, we reach the following conclusions germane to the Commissioner’s findings…that Mr Vaz’s explanation of the incident on 27 August 2016 is not believable…that on this occasion Mr Vaz expressed a willingness to procure a Class A drug, cocaine, for the use of another person…that on this occasion Mr Vaz engaged in paid-for sex. We consider that the evidence supporting these conclusions is compelling.”
On that basis, I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) in asking whether it would be reasonable, if the right hon. Gentleman is returned following the next general election, for the Standards Committee to revisit this issue, having regard to what is on the website now. I commend the work of the Standards Committee and particularly that of its Chair, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but it seems to me that what is on the website is designed to bring the work of the Standards Committee into disrepute.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On that point, we notice that the motion is in the name of the Leader of the House, so were the person concerned to be re-elected, we would not have to wait for the re-establishment of the Standards Committee. The Leader of the House could re-present a motion in the same terms, and if, subsequently, the Standards Committee wanted to take further action, that would then follow.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It might help the House if I explain that the Standards Committee has specifically asked that the next Leader of the House—or me, if I continue in office in the new Parliament—bring the suspension forward as soon as the House reassembles, so that it is not, in effect, only a two-day suspension. That has been specifically requested by the Committee.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My understanding is that in the event that the right hon. Member is returned, we would like the next Leader of the House to bring forward a motion to continue the suspension, but neither this Parliament, this Leader of the House nor any Member of this Parliament can compel that. It would be a matter for the next Parliament. In so far as the next Committee is concerned, any Member is at liberty to make a complaint about the conduct of a Member at the time that he was serving as a Member. We have recently introduced new provisions around historic cases, but the Committee would be a new Committee, and would not be able simply to pick up an old case conducted by our current Committee.
I beg to move,
That this House congratulates the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin on her twenty-eight years of ordained ministry in the Church of England, nine years of which have been in the service of Mr Speaker and this House as Chaplain to the Speaker, the first woman and the first BAME holder of that post; expresses its appreciation for the generous, ecumenical and compassionate spirit of her work among hon. Members and staff of the House; and wishes her every success in her forthcoming ministry as Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, to say we are moving on to a really happy discussion. It is a great honour to move the motion and give the House the opportunity to pay tribute to the Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. I would like to thank her on behalf of the whole House for her service.
“Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.”
These are the beautiful uplifting words that the reverend prebendary reads to us in her strong, resonant, resounding voice every morning when we meet in private to send up our petitions to God. It is when your chaplain, Mr Speaker, creates an atmosphere of prayerfulness that allows right hon. and hon. Members to set their souls at ease with God as they prepare for the business ahead of them. She does so in a way that would move the heart of the most stony-hearted atheist to feel there is a true and a divine presence. To achieve this through the power of speech and the use of language is a great achievement, and one that has daily been the triumph of your chaplain, to the benefit of Members of Parliament.
It is not only liturgically that your chaplain, who is now retiring to go on to greater things, has been a major asset to this place, Mr Speaker; it is also in her pastoral work, for the chaplain has been a help to many Members, in counselling, guiding and supporting them through difficulties in their lives and giving them succour as a true shepherd to her flock. She has worked closely in a spirit of ecumenism with Father Pat Browne and has not been in any sense narrowly sectarian. Anybody who has had dealings with your chaplain or who has met her has found it a help and benefit. What more can possibly be asked from someone in clerical orders?
It has been 359 years since the first Speaker’s Chaplain, Edward Voyce, was appointed in 1660, and while it is of great significance that the reverend prebendary is the first in the intervening three and a half centuries to be a woman and the first to be from an ethnic minority, I look forward to the day when we no longer have to remark on the race or sex of the Speaker’s Chaplain. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but Lord looks at the heart. She is a person of God—the highest calling of all. Dare I say it, but the calling to God is a higher calling than the calling to political life, and all that matters is that calling?
For the chaplain, it has always been very simple. God’s calling has made her who she is, and she has followed her calling with the calm confidence we all admire so much. Her key responsibilities, in addition to pastoral care and daily prayers, have included running a weekly eucharistic service in the chapel and performing weddings, marriage blessings and baptisms for Members and their children. She has also led many services to celebrate the lives of those who have died during their service to Parliament. I think many of us would particularly like to thank her for her part in the commemorative ceremonies and her support following the loss of a dear colleagues, Jo Cox and PC Keith Palmer. We will never forget the bravery and passion of all those who have worked in this place, and we will never forget the chaplain’s dutiful care to her flock.
The chaplain has always shown her devotion to those who need her, whether in Montego Bay or on these shores, and I know so many people in the parliamentary estate feel that her remarkably self-possessed view of life has sustained them through difficult times. We will never forget the chaplain’s trust in God’s grace, which has, I think, helped give her the courage of her convictions to speak out during her ministry. We should all seek to live by her words on the importance of improving the culture in Westminster and making this a place where everyone is treated as they should be.
It only seems suitable to end with words from the 1662 Prayer Book—that great book of liturgical beauty, that ornament of the Church of England and, speaking as a Catholic, that bit of the Anglican Church of which I am possibly the most jealous; some of our translations are nothing like so beautiful. Leaving that to one side, it seems suitable to end with words from the Prayer Book:
“Almighty and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels: Send down upon our Bishops and Curates, and all Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing.”
I hope, Mr Speaker, that as your chaplain moves to Dover, the continual dew God’s blessing will rain down upon her.
I thank the Leader of the House for a really wonderful tribute to Reverend Rose. Before I pay tribute to Reverend Rose, I want to refer to your statement yesterday, Mr Speaker, on the new Speaker’s Chaplain. We welcome Reverend Canon Patricia Hillas, who will be with us shortly. I am sure she will do the same wonderful job as Reverend Rose has done. I was sorry to miss mass yesterday, when Reverend Rose and Father Pat were together. They have made a formidable team in our darkest hours.
We wish Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin—I am sorry she is not here in the Chamber, in her usual place—a heartfelt farewell. Reverend Rose arrived in the United Kingdom to join the Church Army as an 18-year-old young woman, displaying the Windrush generation’s adaptability. It did not take long for Reverend Rose to flourish, and in 1994 she was ordained to the priesthood, at the point where women had only recently been allowed to be priests. She continued to splinter the glass ceiling spectacularly given the context of the male-dominated area she was called to—not only for women, but crucially, and seemingly effortlessly, for women of colour.
It is no surprise to those of us who know her that, while holding the prestigious position of 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons—as you heard, Mr Speaker, in tributes to you, a well-deserved appointment—and being one of the three chaplains to Her Majesty the Queen, she is much loved by her congregation at Holy Trinity church, Dalston, and at All Saints church, Haggerston, where she has worked for over 16 and a half years.
If you ask Reverend Rose, I am sure she will say that her pastoral missions both here and in Hackney share a common thread, and that is to make sure that everyone is well spiritually and everyone feels good enough to do their jobs well. The Leader of the House was right: when she says prayers, which she does every day, I often feel as though I have never heard those prayers before. She has an amazing way of making you feel that that is the first time you have ever heard those important words. Reverend Rose will tell you that prayer is at the heart of what she does.
Reverend Rose has always been a visible presence and is often seen around Parliament, as she says, “loitering with intent”, comfortable in her own skin and “in her hair”. I know that she has sought out hon. Members when they have faced difficulties. We have not had to go to her; she comes to us, and she makes sure that she counsels us in the appropriate way.
But what Rose has always been keen to emphasise is that in all she does she feels connected with—rooted to—her past in Jamaica, her grandparents and their grandparents, with sacrifices, ideas and hope passed through stories flowing from one generation to the next. She says that such a foundation will be an integral part of success for the next generation of young black people growing up in the UK, on the basis that “they survived, so we must thrive.” Yes, she has a way with words.
True happiness, Reverend Rose maintains, flows from where you come from, where you are rooted and the depth of spirit that tells you who you are. She poses questions: why should women be seen and not heard? Why not live in this world and not in the past? Why should not women be in leadership? Why should people of colour not be seen in all walks of life? But a good leader, she says, acts with integrity and loves the people whom they serve.
We certainly have felt the warmth of the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin’s spiritual leadership while she has been in Parliament, and at a very exacting period of our history. In an interview with The Observer, she revealed that her secret prayer was that she would like to see a more civil attitude among MPs. She warned that the world was looking in, and she would like to see a change in the way we MPs handled listening and speaking to one another. I think that it is a work in progress. Perhaps, when she is looking back on us from Dover, she will see that we have achieved her aims.
I have seen Reverend Rose sitting through many debates, particularly the European debates. Rose, we shall miss having you with us, guiding us gently but—in the words of Labi Siffre—with “something inside so strong” so that we learn to deal with our individual experiences through the way in which we respond to them, and, in the case of us women, teaching us to respond to high barriers by becoming taller.
We wish you, Ken, your two daughters and son all the very best in your new role. We know that you will continue, as Bishop of Dover, with your own mantra: to achieve, to excel, to overcome obstacles—that no limitations will rule your efforts. As we have already witnessed, we know you will go on to greater things and are proud to have crossed paths with you. A true pilgrim’s progress, from Jamaica to Canterbury. As Aretha Franklin would say—respect! Reverend Rose, we thank you. You were there for us when we needed you most.
As parliamentary warden of St Margaret’s church, Parliament Square, may I join in supporting the motion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? The only thing that surprised me about his speech is that he did not mention—although the motion does—that Rose Hudson-Wilkin will be the Bishop in Canterbury, where my right hon. Friend married his wife, with a number of people presiding, and he managed to incorporate in this presently Anglican cathedral a Roman Catholic mass. I think that it is almost coming home time for him.
May I say how much I welcomed the words of the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)? Watching Rose Hudson-Wilkin work with John Hall as Dean of Westminster, with Andrew Tremlett and with Jane Sinclair, who have been the rectors at St Margaret’s, and in her sharing of the monthly parliamentary communion and the breakfast in your house, Mr Speaker, we have seen closely in private what she is also well known for in public. I add that it was a delight to meet her grandchildren at the reception in your house, Mr Speaker; they are a tribute to the modern generation in this country, and if some of them were to come here not perhaps as Speaker’s chaplain but as Members of Parliament it would be a delight, especially if I could remain here to welcome and join them.
I want to end with some words that will be familiar to Rose Hudson-Wilkin:
“Our vision is for everyone, everywhere to encounter God’s love and be empowered to transform their communities through faith shared in words and action.”
She says she comes from Montego Bay; I say she comes from the Church Army, and those words are the Church Army dedication. I thank her for her dedication to us.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will not mind if I start by briefly expressing my thanks to you for your service in the Chair and wishing you all the very best for the future. You have been a source of encouragement and sound advice to many of us in the Scottish National party, and I have been particularly grateful for your support in my role as Chief Whip. Of course, for Scottish National party Members, staying at Westminster is not a long-term ambition, but the role that you have played and the reforms that you have introduced have certainly made our time here more tolerable.
As others have said, Mr Speaker, one of your most significant legacies and early decisions is the appointment of Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin as your chaplain. I remember as a younger, keener but casual observer of business in this place reading some of the coverage and criticisms of that appointment at that time, but, as you have previously said, Mr Speaker, those critics were wrong in every single respect.
From the start, SNP Members here have found that Rose brings a presence of welcome, comfort and reassurance. There are some who would question the value or relevance of starting the parliamentary day with Prayers, but of course participation is voluntary and, as the Leader of the House alluded to, I do not think that anyone, believer or non-believer, who has had the privilege of experiencing the prayers led by the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin could doubt their value. No matter how tense the day may be, no matter how important or portentous the business to come, her tone and eloquence at the start of each day have a levelling effect and remind us all that ultimately we are all equal—for believers, we are equal in the sight of God.
Prayers, especially in recent times, have provided some memorable moments, even if they have not always been visible to the public. The Rose’s choice of texts often matches with uncanny ability the occasion of the day and hits the right note. At the start of our proceedings on the historic Saturday sitting a couple of weeks ago, she began with St Paul:
“Do not be anxious”.
That was the moment that broke the ice, and chuckling could be heard across the Chamber.
By leading those prayers, Rose has ministered to the House collectively. Her presence in the Under Gallery, literally praying for us as we have taken part in some of the biggest and most historic votes of recent years, has not gone unnoticed. She has also ministered to many Members individually as a chaplain, especially at times when tragedy has struck Parliament and the House. She has also built strong ecumenical relations, forging, in particular, a firm bond with Canon Pat Browne He may officially be titled the Roman Catholic duty priest to the Houses of Parliament, but to the Catholic community in Westminster—and, I believe, to many others—he too is undoubtedly a chaplain, and early-day motion 71 congratulates him on his 10 years of service. He invited Rose to address us at mass in the crypt yesterday—it is, after all, the chapel of her chaplaincy—and her reflection was once again on that admonition to not be anxious but to trust in God. We hope that that is what she will do as she takes on the role of Bishop of Dover. Once again she is breaking down barriers and conventions, as she has done here in Westminster, and as you have done, Mr Speaker, in appointing her.
We will warmly welcome, in due course, Canon Tricia Hillas. She brings considerable experience of promoting diversity, inclusion and ecumenism, all of which means that we can have every confidence in her as a worthy successor to Rose.
Rose said to us last night that, although she was leaving this place, she would carry us in her heart and in her prayers. She can be assured that we will do the same for her, in ours. This morning, at Prayers, she invoked the priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers:
” The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you”.
Perhaps, in return, we can invoke the old Irish blessing:
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
I have always thought that the job of the Speaker’s Chaplain is rather like the job of the person known as “the bish” on one of Her Majesty’s warships. That person prowls around the lower decks, surrounded by heathens and heretics, waiting for somebody to call upon him. I guess that this place, particularly in the last few months, has been just a little bit like that. But the wonderful thing about Rose is that she has always been there to be called on when she is needed, and through some very stressful times for everyone on both sides of the House she has been a tower of strength.
You guys and girls have come to say goodbye to Rose. I have come to say hello. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) said, the Bishop of Dover is the Bishop in Canterbury. Let me also say, just as an aside, that earlier today, during questions to the Church Commissioner, it was asked, “How does the Archbishop of Canterbury manage when he has so much to do, not only at home but overseas?” The answer is, of course, that he is not the Bishop in Canterbury. That will be Rose, and I know that she will be a tower of strength to Archbishop Justin, as she has been to this place.
But Rose is coming to east Kent, and I have warned the lady who is going to become Bishop Rose that one of her first duties will be to visit the wonderful constituency of North Thanet, and to spend a couple of hours on Margate’s seafront—in January, when the rain and the wind and the snow will almost certainly be horizontal. That is when we in Margate celebrate the Blessing of the Seas. That is the occasion, on the feast of the Epiphany, when we throw a small Greek Cypriot boy into the freezing waters of the North sea and—so far without success—try to drown him. The Bishop of Dover—the Bishop in Canterbury—plays a key role in that event. Rose, we are looking forward enormously to welcoming you to east Kent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this tribute, but I regret that I was not in my place to take part in the tributes to you, Mr Speaker. I should say that I was not here for your tributes because I was adhering to your rule that we cannot just beetle into the Chamber after the start of a debate, although I realise that you might not have been adhering to that rule quite so strictly today as on other occasions. Had I been here from the start, or had I had the opportunity to participate, I would have said that one of the things you have done, with which I would like to associate myself in every way, is to give steadfast support to Rose. Not only before I joined this House but subsequently, on a number of occasions, I have heard you stand steadfastly and resolutely against racism associated with her as an individual, and against gender bias and gender discrimination. What you have exuded with your appointment of Rose as Speaker’s Chaplain is what I hope we as a House embody. I have never heard a Member of this House—maybe they did previously— criticise Rose. I think she is wonderful. She exudes a faith that I do not talk about often but that I hold personally and privately.
The shadow Leader of the House, who is also a wonderful lady, said that she was sorry that Rose was not here. I think that that embodies Rose’s character. She was here during your tributes as a steadfast support for you, Mr Speaker, but she is much too humble to be here for this. She exudes the Christian strength that we should all embody. I have been here four years. On occasions I have gone to Rose, tapped her on the shoulder and shared with her the difficulties that some of my colleagues have been facing. I know, without asking, that she then went to see them. She provided the strength, the assurance and the love that she exudes on our God’s behalf.
The Leader of the House mentioned the comfort that we get from liturgy. There is huge comfort from liturgy, but depending on who gives it, it can often appear repetitive. That has never been the case during Prayers in this House. I remember the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is not in his place, talking about her beautiful intonation. The poetry she injected into scripture brought it alive for us. As somebody from Ulster Protestantism who knows how important Sunday morning is, I did not think I would skip into those Anglican ways of believing that coming into this Chamber for Prayers was important. Not only is it important, but it has provided huge comfort for me. Not every day, but on the days when we are facing difficulties collectively and on days whenever, nationally, we know that politics is in a bad place, just coming here for those three or four minutes and hearing the Word expounded in such a beautiful way is a huge source of strength.
I have never spoken publicly before, and I probably will not do so again, about the difficulties that my wife faced when my son was born. Those difficulties meant that public baptism at the front of church was not an option. So, two years after he was born, Rose baptised him here, very privately and very personally. As a two-year-old, when the light of life was passed, he blew it out. When solemn prayers were being shared, he was trying to run around. Rose just put her arm around him and held on there during all those precious moments. She has been precious to me and to my wife, and I know she has been precious to many in this House. For my part, Mr Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to speak so early and for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate and to thank Rose from the bottom of our hearts.
Break in Debate
As I have listened to the successive tributes, I have been looking at my page of notes of all the things that I wanted to say in order to show appreciation for everything that Rose has brought to this place during her years of service here, and I have been having to cross them off one after another, because the heartfelt speeches so far have really encapsulated everything. But, as we know, Mr Speaker, in politics, everything may already have been said, but the show is not over until everyone has said it.
I wish to try to say something that has not been said explicitly from a slightly unusual perspective in this context. What I mean is that most of the tributes that have been made so far have clearly come from people blessed with deep religious belief, but, sadly, I am not such a person, having had my religious belief holed below the waterline when I read too much for someone at a young age of some of the things that had happened in British and European history in the first half of the 20th century.
If, as some people say, religion is irrational, then also agnosticism can be irrational, too. What do I mean by that? I mean that somebody who does not have a particular religious belief is nevertheless hugely touched and impressed by those people who do, and particularly by those people who do and who put it into practice by praying on one’s behalf. At the risk of slightly embarrassing him, and I suspect that he will be the next to be called, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has a habit of sending little notes to colleagues on the eve of elections—[Interruption.]
As I was in mid-sentence saying, the hon. Gentleman has a wonderful habit of sending little notes to colleagues at election time and at other times when he thinks that they may need a little bit of encouragement saying, without any sort of patronising air, but with an air of true Christian love, that he is praying for them and their welfare. As someone who is not blessed with deep religious faith, I know how much I deeply appreciate that, and that is, I am sure, one of the reasons why he, irrespective of politics, is loved and respected in all parts of this Chamber. Rose Hudson-Wilkin falls into, from my perspective, exactly the same character. It must have been very daunting for her to descend into this pit of monstrous egos, but she carried it off tremendously. She has never talked down to us or scolded us. She has gently guided us. As has been said, she has given hints through the choice of appropriate prayers and appropriate language, and through the putting forward of a philosophy of righteousness, encouragement and love from which we all have benefited, whether we are religious, whether we have faith or whether we lack it. For that and for her kindness to all who work in this place, I thank her.
Break in Debate
I want briefly to add a personal note of thanks and tribute to Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Rose married Anne-Louise, my wife, and I about 18 months ago. She did that with great charm, great style and joyfulness, and great Christianity. She showed great care and sensitivity to us in preparing us for that wedding, and also to our families, and, in particular, Anne-Louise’s two children, who had lost their own father tragically. The care that she showed has always stuck with us. Since then, particularly in the past few months, when Anne-Louise, sadly, has been unwell, Rose’s continuing support and prayers, and the kindness that she has shown to our family, mean more to us than words that I can say in this Chamber could ever adequately convey.
I also want to say a quick word about Rose’s husband, Ken, who has been a great support to her, and who I, as Chair of the Justice Committee, had the pleasure of meeting when he was working as a prison chaplain. He, too, has been a great servant of God and of the broader community, and a great witness to his faith. That enables me also to say how valued the work of the prison chaplaincy service is by many in difficult times of their lives.
Anne-Louise specifically asked me to come here today and say that she is still in hospital but on the mend, and that Rose’s support has meant more to us than anything. For those of us who do have a Christian faith, she could not be a better pastor and shepherd. For those who do not have such a faith, there could be no better ambassador. Dover will gain immeasurably from her arrival as its suffragan bishop.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I wish you every success and your family every happiness for the future. It might not be so easy for me to see directly eye to eye with your successor; that might be more of a physical challenge for some of us. I wish you well and hope that all goes happily for you and your family in the future. In the end, we ought to remember that the things that bring us here in our desire to serve our communities are more important than the things that may divide us on political grounds.
It is a pleasure to join these tributes to Reverend Rose. Only a remarkable lady could have come from Montego bay to the position of your chaplain, Mr Speaker, and those of us who have heard something of her journey realise how remarkable it has been.
I am one of those who has regularly attended her morning communions, followed by breakfast in your apartments, Mr Speaker. One of the great beauties of those occasions is that, as the Leader of the House said, the service is based on the Book of Common Prayer, which is vastly superior to all that has followed. We have heard a wide range of speakers from the community, and Rose has introduced us to many people who have shared with us the challenges of their ministry or work, which has been exceptionally valuable. On those occasions, Rose has also invited individual Members to describe their faith journey, and I have found those sessions to be of particular value.
I also want to talk about Rose’s wider ministry. Last year she came to my parish church in Grimsby, St Giles with St Matthew, and I learned that she has visited other Members’ constituencies—or, in my case, the neighbouring constituency—to preach at their parish church. It was a wonderful occasion, and I know that the whole congregation greatly appreciated it.
As we heard earlier, Rose has varied the Prayers that she says at the beginning of our daily sessions. I am sure that that has caused a few ripples here and there, because the exact prayers that must be said are probably laid down in statute, but it has been extremely helpful and valuable. She is not in the Chamber at the moment, but when I popped out a short while ago, she was providing pastoral care and comfort to a Member. That just shows her devotion to her calling, which I think we would all want to place on record.
Mr Speaker, if you will indulge me for an extra minute or two, I would like to say a few warm words about you. We first met when I was the constituency agent in Gainsborough. I drove you around on various visits, one of which was when I was studying at Lincoln University, and you spoke to the politics group of which I was a member. I can assure you that that went down particularly well. You returned to Lincoln University two or three years ago to give an address. You spotted me in the audience and spoke very warmly about me as a Member. My wife said to me, “He’s going a bit over the top, isn’t he?”, and I said, “John going over the top? No, never!” I greatly appreciated that.
You have called me relatively early in the proceedings. One or two of us at this end of the Chamber have, on odd occasions when we have been bobbing up and down, thought that your eyesight may be failing. You have always been particularly courteous to me, and I thank you for that. In particular, this occasion calls for our thanks to Rose. May God go with her.
I shall be very brief. Throughout the time that Rose has been the chaplain to the Commons, it has been abundantly clear that her pastoral skills are outstanding. Those of us who have gone to the monthly communion in St Margaret’s have come to value her fellowship and her company. In addition, we have had the benefit of seeing her around the building and enjoying her pastoral support at times when some of us have needed it.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I have had Rose visit my parish to preach, during a time when we had an interregnum between priests. She was something of a star attraction, which showed just how extensive her reach had become in using her chaplaincy of the Commons to spread the gospel and the word that she wanted to put forward in her own way. I will be very sorry at her departure, but I am delighted that the Bishopric of Dover will be available to her, where I am sure her pastoral skills will be used to full measure. I wish to use this opportunity—on behalf of both myself and my wife, who got to know her—to wish her farewell.
Finally, I would just say that Rose was of course your choice, Mr Speaker, which I seem to remember attracted some controversy at the time. As we consider the end of your career here in the House and of your period as Speaker, I would just like to repeat my thanks to you. It is abundantly clear that if you have ruffled feathers, but there are some feathers you ruffled for very good reasons. Ten years on, those who look back will conclude that our proceedings and our life in this House were enhanced by many of the things that you did.
At the beginning of my short address, perhaps you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to thank you for and congratulate you on your work. I think we have known each other in excess of a quarter of a century. You have visited my constituency, and you were very helpful to me when I was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. You have championed Back Benchers; I have a long record of being one. I would like to thank you and wish you well for the future.
Mr Speaker, you very kindly allowed me to use your state rooms on the occasion of my wedding reception on 7 February 2015. Mentioning that leads me seamlessly into thanking Rose for her work, because she did me the great honour of marrying my wife Annie and me on that date in the chapel downstairs—St Mary Undercroft. What a wonderful day it was. No one who attended will ever forget it. It still gives us strength and fills us with great affection when we look back at it. I well remember that I had to be interviewed separately, Annie had to be interviewed separately and then we had to be interviewed together before Rose recommended to the Dean of Westminster that we should be allowed to be married, and it was a wonderful occasion. That is my personal recollection.
It has also been wonderful to see Rose in action over the past 10 years. I have attended many services. I tend to go to the one at 12.45 pm in the chapel downstairs, which is immediately after Prime Minister’s questions, and it is a welcome contrast from that experience to hear Rose tell us about Christianity, peace, love and how important the way we treat each other is. I hope that one of her many legacies, as she goes, will be for us to remember that how we treat each other is very important. Personally, I will never say anything in this Chamber in a tone or in words that I would not say outside it to the person I am talking about or to, and I hope that we could all try to do that as we move forward. I think the public would really like us to take on the lesson that Rose has taught us.
It hardly seems credible that, 25 years ago, there was a terrible split in the Church of England about whether to ordain women. That seems incredible thinking back. I was very much on the side of ordaining women because I believe that the person who should get the job is the one who is best qualified and best able to do that job, regardless of whether they are a man or a woman. I am glad the right side won in that debate, because we would have been deprived of the services of Rose if that debate had gone the wrong way. Many years on, when it came to the question of women bishops, it was hardly a debate at all—quite rightly—and that has enabled Rose to move on to be appointed as the Bishop of Dover.
I would like to thank Rose for all the enormous work she has done in this place, and the messages she has instilled in us about Christianity, the beliefs and what it means to be Christian. I would like to wish her all the very best as she goes forward.
Break in Debate
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you indulge me for a moment? I have a bit of FOMO—fear of missing out—because as a Front Bencher I have not been able to say thank you for everything that you have done in the House. I thank you for all you have done on issues of equality and for not shying away from talking about race. I thank you for all you have done on LGBT+ issues, and for making this House more inclusive. Thank you for opening your state rooms, so that small organisations that thought the Houses of Parliament did not care about them could come to some of the grandest rooms in the Palace and feel valued. Thank you for all you have done.
I also want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for bringing Reverend Rose into the House. Hearing everybody’s testament on how she has touched all our lives has been very moving. She has touched my life in many ways. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) spoke about Labi Siffre. Reverend Rose and I talk often about this song and I just wanted to say the first verse:
“The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The further you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide
To turn your face away
No matter ’cause there’s
Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone, oh no
There’s something inside so strong”.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for being so strong. I thank Reverend Rose for all that she has done for the House, for me and for everybody. Thank you.
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill:
(1) (a) Proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be taken at today’s sitting in accordance with this Order.
(b) Notices of amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules to be moved in Committee of the whole House may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.
(c) Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(d) Proceedings in Committee of the whole House, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings up to and including Third Reading shall be brought to a conclusion (so far as not previously concluded) six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put
(2) As soon as the proceedings on the Motion for this Order have been concluded, the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill shall be read.
(3) When the Bill has been read a second time:
(a) it shall, despite Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order), stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put;
(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.
(4) (a) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee of the whole House, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
(b) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.
(5) If, following proceedings in Committee of the whole House and any proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, a legislative grand committee withholds consent to the Bill or any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill, the House shall proceed to Reconsideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(6) If, following Reconsideration of the Bill—
(a) a legislative grand committee withholds consent to any Clause or Schedule of the Bill or any amendment made to the Bill (but does not withhold consent to the whole Bill and, accordingly, the Bill is amended in accordance with Standing Order No. 83N(6)), and
(b) a Minister of the Crown indicates his or her intention to move a minor or technical amendment to the Bill, the House shall proceed to consequential Consideration of the Bill without any Question being put.
(7) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (1), the Chairman or Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions in the same order as they would fall to be put if this Order did not apply—
(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;
(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;
(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;
(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded; and shall not put any other questions, other than the question on any motion described in paragraph (18)(a) of this Order.
(8) On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(9) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (7)(c) on successive amendments moved or Motions made by a Minister of the Crown, the Chairman or Speaker shall instead put a single Question in relation to those amendments or Motions.
(10) If two or more Questions would fall to be put under paragraph (7)(d) in relation to successive provisions of the Bill, the Chairman shall instead put a single Question in relation to those provisions, except that the Question shall be put separately on any Clause or Schedule of the Bill which a Minister of the Crown has signified an intention to leave out.
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(11) (a) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(12) Paragraphs (2) to (11) of Standing Order No. 83F (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (11) of this Order.
(13) (a) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly.
(b) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (a) shall thereupon be resumed.
(14) Paragraphs (2) to (9) of Standing Order No. 83G (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings on further messages from the Lords) apply for the purposes of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph (13) of this Order.
(15) Paragraphs (2) to (6) of Standing Order No. 83H (Programme orders: reasons committee) apply in relation to any committee to be appointed to draw up reasons after proceedings have been brought to a conclusion in accordance with this Order.
(16) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.
(17) Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
(18) (a) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken, to recommit the Bill or to vary or supplement the provisions of this Order.
(b) No notice shall be required of such a Motion.
(c) Such a motion may be considered forthwith without any Question being put; and any proceedings interrupted for that purpose shall be suspended accordingly. (d) The Question on such a Motion shall be put forthwith; and any proceedings suspended under sub-paragraph (c) shall thereupon be resumed. (e) Standing Order No. 15(1) (Exempted business) shall apply to proceedings on such a Motion.
(19) (a) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.
(b) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(20) No debate shall be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.
(21) Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(22) No private business may be considered at today’s sitting after this Order has been agreed.
I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that I do not wish to detain the House unduly. I hope that the House will support this business of the House motion so that we can move on to consider the stages of this Bill. This is a straightforward business of the House motion that will facilitate consideration of a short Bill, so that the House can agree the date of a general election. The motion sets aside up to six hours for consideration of the Bill, including up to four hours for the Second Reading, with the remaining time for Committee of the whole House and remaining stages.
To have a pre-Christmas election on 12 December, this Bill will need Royal Assent by 5 November for the House to dissolve just after midnight on 6 November. That general election timetable allows for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill to pass before Dissolution to ensure the Northern Ireland civil service can access the funding it needs to deliver public services and proper governance. The situation facing a number of Northern Ireland Departments has become critical, and the Bill is needed to allow the Northern Ireland civil service to continue to access the cash needed to deliver public services.
To ensure that the Bill receives Royal Assent to allow for Dissolution on 6 November and allow the 25 working days for the administration of the poll, it needs to proceed quickly. We have therefore proposed in the business motion that all Commons stages of the Bill happen today.
The Bill before the House is only two clauses long so is a very short Bill. It is also a simple Bill in that it seeks only to set the polling day as 12 December. The House should not therefore be disadvantaged by considering all stages of the Bill in one day.
Turning to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), the Government’s business motion provides for an efficient timetable for the consideration of this Bill, which is a straightforward piece of legislation for an election on 12 December. Of course, the Government recognise that the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker or Chairman of Ways and Means; however, it is entirely standard practice in this House for amendments not to be taken from Back-Bench MPs on Bills as simple as this one where an expedited timetable is required. While it may not be a wrecking amendment in itself, there is no doubt that it is a gateway to amendments that could seek to obstruct the Bill. The Bill is simply designed to give effect to what all four of the biggest parties in this House have now said they support—a December general election—nothing more, nothing less.
It will not be a point for oration when I get down to the business that the Leader of the House has announced. I join the shadow Leader of the House in saying that we must stop meeting like this for these impromptu business statements. However, we will all miss them and the Leader of the House’s genuinely individual style as he announces emergency business statement after emergency business statement. We look forward to the next enthralling episode tomorrow, when we will all be congregated again, and the three of us will obviously enjoy the get-together that we have been experiencing over the past few weeks.
The SNP has no problem with or objection to the business announcement, and we look forward to the debate on Grenfell. I also look forward to our continuing get-togethers, which have become a regular feature of our time in the House. Finally, we are pleased that the Bill passed this evening. It is worth saying that, under the last Division result, the Prime Minister would have had the two-thirds majority that he was trying to secure—[Interruption.] I see the Leader of the House laughing and grinning there. The SNP is looking forward to this election and to coming back in increased numbers to ensure that we will oppose the Government’s hard Tory Brexit. We will continue to fight for Scotland’s right to choose Scotland’s future.
Mr Speaker, I would like to ask about business other than Brexit, unless you are looking very wearisomely at me. I would like to ask about Huawei, because climate change, Brexit and whether we allow Chinese high tech into 5G are the big, critical decisions that we are going to be making in the next decade or two, but there has been no public debate and no parliamentary debate to speak of on these very important issues. Will the Leader of the House address my point?
I have to be honest with the Leader of the House: when, last week, Parliament rejected the programme motion but not the withdrawal agreement Bill on Second Reading, it was not an invitation to get quicker with programme motions. How can he publish a programme motion for a Bill that he says is going to go through all stages in the House in one day tomorrow but not the details of the Bill so that we can properly scrutinise it? Does he not understand that the biggest challenge that this House is giving to this Government is that we want to see the detail before we do the deal?
Break in Debate
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to put on record the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) has been re-selected this evening, despite an appalling attack by members of our party. I am delighted she remains a Labour candidate at the next general election.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the question I just raised with the Leader of the House, he indicated that the Bill has not been made available and will be published only tomorrow, which obviously gives Members little opportunity to look at it and to craft amendments in ways that might make them selectable or considerable at the stage at which that is appropriate. Will you confirm, first, that you and the Deputy Speakers will consider manuscript amendments at the appropriate points? Secondly, I make an appeal to you and the Deputy Speakers. A number of amendments have already been discussed today, including votes at 16, which is certainly an issue I would like to address, and a growing number of Members from across the parties wish to support it. Will we have opportunities to put amendments down and to have them considered in the proper way?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your exacting interpretation of what good scrutiny is, I think it is worth placing on record that the programme motion the Government have tabled tonight explicitly excludes amendments being tabled by Members who are not members of the Government and Ministers, because it does not include one of the normal parts of our Standing Orders. Could you, Mr Speaker, perhaps give some guidance to those of us who are deeply concerned to see the Government play this trick yet again, having seen them play it with Northern Ireland legislation in months gone by, on how we might remedy it, so that the House can come to a view tomorrow as to whether changing something as serious as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 in this way will be done with effective scrutiny?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There is, in a sense, a developing theme here. I do not know whether you have had sight of the Bill. The Table Office has had no sight of the Bill. The Leader of the House has beetled off, so we cannot ask him about these things and he has not said when the Bill will be available. If proceedings are to start tomorrow at 11.30 am, at what point will hon. Members have the opportunity to actually see the clauses that we are being invited to supposedly amend with only a couple of hours’ capability to do so? May I urge you, Mr Speaker, to please make representations to the Government that they publish the Bill this evening, so that at least we can digest it overnight and try to figure what potential there is for amendment and where that is necessary? I cannot remember, in all my time since coming into Parliament in 1997, a Bill being not available the day before being rushed through in this way. I do not know whether you can recall such a circumstance, Mr Speaker.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for allowing us to make points of order on this very important issue. The Leader of the House did say that amendments would be allowed at Committee stage. Is it your view that amendments will also be allowed on Second Reading? If they are allowed at Report stage, there will be an adequate amount of time between Second Reading changes, potentially, and laying amendments at Report stage that may be required as a subsequent measure to Second Reading.
With regard to thin ice, supporters of the Cooper-Boles and Benn Acts know that it is the thinnest of thin ice for people to complain, having abused the constitution, in my view, to push those Bills through. The Benn Act, in particular, was a fundamental change of approach to our understanding of how the constitution works between the Executive and the legislature, so I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to reiterate my comments: people should be consistent in the way they look at our constitutional processes, and not find that one thing suits them one day and the next day it does not.
The question of the Conservative party website probably falls outside my formal remit, but the deal has passed its Second Reading. That is a passage through Parliament and an indication of Parliament’s assent; it is not, however, an indication of the complete legislative programme. I do not think that is an unduly difficult concept, but if people reading and paying attention are now aware of that and wish to make donations, they will of course be very welcome. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that point so that I can give further publicity to the marvellous work that the Conservative party is doing. The point of it is that the deadline is the 31st, which we are all working towards. That deadline was set by the European Union, not by the British Government; the British Government accepted the European Union’s offer.
The right hon. Lady again raises the question of the CRAG Act. The issue with that Act is that it allows a treaty to be laid on the Table for 21 days, but it is then subject to no vote or legislative procedure. The agreement with the EU is being brought into legislation, which provides much more scrutiny than the minimum provided by the CRAG Act—really and truly. Under the CRAG Act, the Government do not have to provide any time for debating a treaty; they just have to lay it on the Table. Under this procedure, there would have been time, had the programme motion been carried, for debate on the issue.
The right hon. Lady questions the economic analysis that it is self-evidently in our interests to leave the European Union. This is a matter of routine economic debate. I think it is enormously in our interests to have the opportunity to be in charge of our own future—to allow the wisdom of this House to decide economic policy, rather than delegating it to tiresome bureaucrats, seems to me self-evidently to be in our interest. That is sufficient economic analysis. If Members think that poking through economic models to come out with gloomy forecasts will convince anybody, they have another think coming.
The right hon. Lady then went on to Monday’s business, the Environment Bill, which is indeed a very ambitious statement of environmental improvement. I should point out that the reason why the target is not in the Bill is that the target has already been brought into law—that was one of the last acts of the previous Government.
The right hon. Lady was concerned about Brexit uncertainty; we would not have any Brexit uncertainty if the Labour party had voted for the programme motion. Brexit uncertainty would have vanished—it would have disappeared and gone into the ether—as the Bill would have become an Act, we would have left on 31 October, and we would have gone on to the broad, sunlit uplands that await us. Even as we enter November, there will be broad, sunlit uplands. If only the right hon. Lady had led her troops in favour of the programme motion. But now, because of the Opposition, there may be some uncertainty.
I am much looking forward to making tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain. I will not pre-empt them now, but your Chaplain, Mr Speaker, has been an absolute model of public service. I agree with the right hon. Lady that the ecumenism we have in the House is extraordinarily welcome. As a Catholic, I much enjoy the fact that we are allowed to use St Mary Undercroft for our services, as well as it being used for the services of the established Church. It is an enormous generosity on the part of the established Church to allow us to do that.
The reason why we are not having tributes to you, Mr Speaker, is that the matter was discussed and Mr Speaker modestly said that he felt that the tributes made on points of order were sufficient. However, I can give the House notice that in my statement next week I shall begin by making a tribute to Mr Speaker, so that we may do it in that context. I notice that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are looking thoughtful and thinking about how they will incorporate into their questions a suitable tribute to Mr Speaker.
Finally, on Mr Verhofstadt—well, Mr Speaker, you are the lucky one.
On Tuesday, the vast majority of the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the SNP all voted against the Bill and therefore against sovereignty and the clause to protect UK vital national interests, on which the Prime Minister rightly insisted. Those clauses would protect the whole of the United Kingdom and their voters from every political party from destructive European legislation, such as that on taxation and state aid, undermining UK enterprises, businesses, jobs and global trading. Will the Leader of the House join me in urging the entire House to support not only the Bill, but clauses 29 and 36, which will protect the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and voters from all political parties?
Break in Debate
My right hon. Friend makes an extraordinarily good and valid point, which relates to what I was saying about the Scottish National party—that it is very straightforward about its position, which is that it does not want Brexit. The Labour party is in a more difficult position because some of its voters want Brexit, particularly in the midlands and the north of England, and some of its voters, especially in Islington, do not want Brexit. Labour Members are torn between the two and are therefore using all sorts of formulations to try to persuade us that they want that which they do not want. What they want is to frustrate Brexit, and that is what they are trying to do.
It is a bit rich being lectured about abuse of the constitution by the Leader of the House, who was found to have illegally prorogued Parliament. Given that we have a Prime Minister who has a tortuous and difficult relationship with veracity, can we have a debate about standards in public life, one of which demands that the Prime Minister tell the truth?
Break in Debate
My right hon. Friend has probably been the leading politician in raising awareness of autism in this country. I must confess that as a Back-Bench MP, as I became more aware of it and the effect it had on my constituents, the more grateful I became for the work she has done. I will certainly take up her suggestion with the House’s diversity and inclusion team, and indeed the restoration and renewal project, to see whether there is more that we can do to make autistic visitors feel more welcome. Orderly matters are for you, Mr Speaker, but I think that the feeling that clapping is not welcome is widely shared—although it may simply be, on my part, the sadness that nobody has ever bothered to clap me. [Laughter.]
The Leader of the House talks of sunny uplands. He may not know this, but I came into politics hoping to bring sunny uplands to the people of this country and the people of my constituency. Actually, that did not include a Government and a country run by old Etonians, but that is just my personal prejudice.
In terms of next week’s business, could the Leader of the House leverage in something that really does concern my constituents and constituents up and down the country—the safety of town centres? There is something wrong when people are now afraid to go into town centres at night. Could we look at how, through the police, more co-ordination or the revival of youth services, something could be done to make sure that ordinary people in this country going about their business enjoying themselves on a Friday or Saturday night do not go in fear?
I might quibble on the hon. Gentleman’s general sunniness: it does not come across enormously to this side of the Chamber, but I may be missing something. He is absolutely right on town centres. Government policy is doing a great deal about this through the extra 20,000 police but also the £3.6 billion fund to help town centres. We all want to feel that town centres are places that people can go to safely and enjoy. If they were to visit North East Somerset, there are lots of town centres—I think of Keynsham, Radstock and Midsomer Norton—where they will have a very enjoyable and safe time.
In far off times, in far away places, young men were sent to islands in the sun to witness the first nuclear tests. A former Defence Secretary promised me— I take him at his word—that the Government would look again at the health condition and wellbeing of those nuclear test veterans, as well as a medal to celebrate and thank them for their service. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be brought to the House saying how the veterans agency that the Government have established will deal with those matters? Perhaps at the same time, we might hear whether that agency will be able to commission services from the NHS and elsewhere. It is time we gave to those who gave so much.
Break in Debate
My right hon. Friend raises a concern that all of us will have seen in our constituency surgeries, which is people trying to access mental health services in a timely manner. Funding for mental health services is increasing, which is important because it is more than treacle in this instance; it is a question of ensuring that the supply is there to meet the demand, and that is being tackled. It cannot be answered overnight, but it has universal support across the House.
Will the Home Secretary make a statement on immigration policy, specifically in relation to scientists, and particularly the case of Furaha Asani, a young academic who came to this country with a full scholarship to do a PhD on infection and immunity and who has since done cardio- vascular research at Leicester University? She is now being told that she will be deported to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she has never even visited, let alone lived. This is surely scandalous, outrageous and inhumane, and is the last thing we should do if we are to invite and encourage scientists to this country.
Break in Debate
I have a feeling I supported my right hon. Friend in bringing that Act forward, so I will most certainly take this up with the relevant Secretary of State to find out why on earth there is any foot dragging, which is most uncharacteristic of this Government.