I have a brief statement to make of a valedictory kind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Now that the date for the general election is known, I hope that the House will allow me to end my Speakership by expressing, briefly, a word of appreciation and thanks. It goes, first, to all hon. Members for their consideration and kindness to me, and also for their support. I am well aware that a good Speaker is a Speaker who called you today; a bad Speaker is a Speaker who did not call you today; and a very bad Speaker is one who did not call you yesterday. When I was rechosen as Speaker in 1987, the Leader of the Opposition came to my rescue by saying that, sadly, no hon. Member can be expected to be called on the day that he wants at the time that he wants and on the subject that he wants. I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that today. [Interruption.] I think that the public should know about it.
They should also know that it is a sad fact that, given the arithmetic, no hon. Member can fairly expect to be called more than four times a year in a major debate. All I can say is that I have endeavoured to be even-handed and fair. Some hon. Members will know that, if I feel that I have not been entirely just, I have sent them a little note saying, "What about a free kick on the next debate or during Prime Minister's Question Time?", and that happened today.
The Speaker carries a heavy burden and I shall always be in debt to my admirable deputies—the Chairman of Ways and Means, Harold Walker, Sir Paul Dean and Betty Boothroyd—for their loyalty, dedication and friendship. The House should know that Sir Paul Dean has served as Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Speaker for longer than any of his predecessors since the post was created in 1902.
I must also thank my personal staff—Mr. Bill Beaumont, who was my first secretary, and Mr. Peter Kitcatt, who is my secretary now—and all who serve so loyally in the Speaker's House. I thank them all for their support and assistance throughout the nine years that I have been privileged to occupy the Chair.
My thanks go also to the Clerks of the House, especially Sir Charles Gordon for his kindness and advice when I first stepped into the Chair in 1983, to Sir Kenneth Bradshaw and now to Sir Clifford Boulton, who I believe history will record as one of the great Clerks of the House. The Clerks serve not only Mr. Speaker, but every Member of the House. I thank them all for their help to me and to us all.
I am sure that the House would wish me to express also our gratitude to those who serve us here so faithfully. About 4,800 people work in the Palace of Westminster daily. On behalf of the whole House, I send my thanks to them all: to the Serjeant at Arms and his staff, to the police and the custodians, to the Library, to the Vote Office, to Hansard—as I have often said in the House, Hansard makes our speeches seem perhaps even better in print than they sound in the Chamber—to the Finance and Administration Department, to the Fees Office, to the Parliamentary Works Office, and not least to the Refreshment Department, whose members arrive early in the morning to give us breakfast and leave late at night long after we have departed.
Finally, I hope that I may be allowed to express my deep gratitude to my wife, Lyn. The House will know that she is the first "Mrs. Speaker" for 20 years. Without her support and assistance in my duties, I could not have carried the burdens of the Speakership, which are not confined to the Chamber. Together we have endeavoured to make the neutral territory of Speaker's House a place where party controversy is put aside and friendship is encouraged. In achieving that, we owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Speaker's Chaplain, the admirable Donald Gray, who in a very real sense has made the Palace of Westminster his parish.
I hope that all of us who are leaving the House at this election will reflect that, however modest our achievements may have been, it has been an immense privilege to be a Member of Parliament. I firmly believe that Mr. Speaker should always be elected for a constituency, as other hon. Members are. In that way, he is kept in day-to-day touch with the people who really matter, those who put us here to represent their interests. I am deeply grateful to my constituents in Croydon, North-East, who have elected me to serve them in Parliament on eight occasions since 1964.
After the general election, others will take our places and we shall soon be forgotten, but I hope that no Government in future will ever forget or resent the fact that, although they may have a right to get their business, if they have a majority, they must submit their policies to a group of elected representatives, many of whom will not agree with them. It is and will be Mr. Speaker's first duty in that process to ensure fair play. It has not always been easy, but it is an historic role on which rests the very foundations of our parliamentary democracy.
So I take my leave. In doing so, I express again my thanks to the whole House and to the staff of the House for nine busy and happy years, years during which I have consistently endeavoured to uphold the dignity of Parliament and the rights and the privileges of Members to represent the interests of their constituents here in the forum of the nation.
With the permission of the House, I beg to move.
That this House tenders its warmest thanks to the right hon. Bruce Bernard Weatherill for the skill and distinction with which he has maintained the traditions of the Speakership through momentous changes in the practices of the House; thanks him for the genial and wise exercise of his authority; records its appreciation of his fairness and tolerance in dealing with all Members; and unites in wishing him a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair and from this House.
For almost the last eight years, Mr. Speaker, every formal speech or intervention which each of us has made in the House has been directed to you. In many of those cases, you have been the innocent medium for a message targeted elsewhere. On this occasion, however, I—and I know others if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye —wish to speak to you directly and personally.
The end of this Parliament is an especially momentous one, marked as it is by the departure of so many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is made all the more momentous by the departure of our Speaker.
There is no office within the House more important than yours, Mr. Speaker. It is an august and ancient role. You are, I understand, the 154th Speaker. More than 600 years of history loom at your back—at your back, but never on your back. That sense of the past could easily have overwhelmed a lesser man. However, we in the House know that it has not done that to you. It has not prevented you from developing your historic position to respond to the conditions of the present, and you have always done so in your own very individual way.
As no one knows better than you, Mr. Speaker, you have to govern the House in accordance with a host of rules, some laid down in the minutest detail, some apparently set in stone. But so much of the smooth running of the House depends on a wise interpretation of those rules. You have provided, over many years, the necessary wisdom to keep the House on the right path.
You have known when to turn a blind eye and when to be eagle-eyed. You have known when to be stone deaf and when to swoop on a muttered sedentary interjection at 50 yards. You have known when to exercise a short rein and when to use a long lead.
Above all, Mr. Speaker, of vital importance to the House, you have preserved the rights of the individual Member, however new, however junior, and from whatever party. Your impartiality has shown that, despite your long and honourable service in the Whips Office—an institution for which I retain the greatest affection—you have shown that one need not be terminally tainted by that pit of partisans when one leaves it.
When you were first elected, Mr. Speaker, my noble Friend Lord Colnbrook, then the hon. Member for Spelthorne, said of you as Deputy Chief Whip:
never … did I hear him get angry, lose his temper, or even raise his voice, even though sometimes the provocation was great".— [Official Report, 15 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 3.]
I think that even after eight years, Mr. Speaker, I can say the same: you never got angry, never raised your voice and never lost your temper—well, as W. S. Gilbert might have put it, hardly ever.
It has been your privilege, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps sometimes your penance, to preside over our first televised proceedings. You were the first television Speaker and, as a result, you have become a star—if not of stage, certainly of screen. Your appearance, your voice, are known throughout the world, and in wig and knee breeches you are recognised from Perth to Patagonia, from Teesside to Tuvalu. Most tellingly, not only are you known: you have become respected all over the world as well.
The arrival of television must have added immeasurably to your responsibilities, but you have borne them lightly and with dignity. I believe that your performance has enhanced the reputation of the Mother of Parliaments in scores of countries and among hundreds of millions of people around the globe.
The job of Speaker is a lonely one. You have had to shun the camaraderie of the Tea Room and the Smoking Room in almost monastic fashion, and it must therefore have been all the more important that you had the active support of Lyn, "Mrs. Speaker." Your joint hospitality in Mr. Speaker's Apartments has been a notable feature of your time in residence here, bringing immeasurable pleasure to all of your many guests. May I, Mr. Speaker, through you, tender our thanks to Lyn as well as to yourself?
Closer to home, it is not only we who will miss you, but your constituents in Croydon, North-East, whom you have served loyally since 1964. Despite the pressing demands of your Speakership, I know that your constituents have had no cause to feel neglected.
In future, you will have more time to spend on the good works that you support, on your favourite golf and tennis, and on the hobby that you list in "Who's Who"—playing with your grandchildren. I know how much you must look forward to that. None the less, I suspect that you will be sad as you prepare to lay down the Speakership. We, too, regret your going—but you have made your decision and we must respect it. As you depart, I hope that you know that you do so with our respect, admiration and affection. You, Mr. Speaker, may miss the House; we, Mr. Speaker, shall certainly miss you.
Five years ago, Mr. Speaker, I was happy to congratulate you on your re-election to the Chair. Now it is my privilege to second the motion thanking you for your impeccable service to the House, and wishing you a long and happy retirement with your beloved family.
In the past five momentous years, the House and the office of Speaker have seen historic changes, including, as the Prime Minister has said, the welcome decision to televise our proceedings. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, in the most fittingly non-partisan way, worked for that decision yourself. You did so because of your strong commitment to democracy, your faith in the qualities of the House of Commons and your determination that our proceedings should be seen as well as heard.
There were some who warned that television would merely increase the House's ability to make a scene and to act like a herd, but—thanks in large part to your authority and the gracefulness with which you have exercised it—the transition to television has been achieved successfully. Indeed, so successfully has that transition been achieved that the House of Commons has changed neither for the better nor for the worse—that is the greatest accolade that could possibly be offered.
As an added bonus, Mr. Speaker, you have become transatlantically illustrious and a television star whose ratings in the United States, according to one of our newspapers, are better than those of "Dallas". From Croydon, North-East to South Fork is one small step for man, but one great step for mankind.
We all have cause to be grateful for the great qualities that you have brought to the Chair: a necessary sternness, mixed with essential good humour, dignity of presence combined with a complete lack of self-importance, and briskness coupled with sometimes superhuman patience. During the years of your Speakership, I have not had to jostle much in order to catch your eye, so perhaps I can say without fear of being contentious that the House congratulates you on your selection throughout the years of hon. Members to speak.
That selection depends on a computer, which is inanimate and fallible, and on an instinct for fairness, which is humane and, although not completely infallible, like democracy, is the best system we have. Any rare feelings that may exist among hon. Members that, as you yourself have acknowledged, your selection might on occasion have been marginally less than perfect must surely—like some economic forecasts—be blamed on the computer.
Like many Members of the House, I have valued your personal friendship and generosity of spirit. We also cherish the resilience of a Speaker who draws public attention as frequently as he can to his conviction that, in your own words,
behaviour in this House is better than it's ever been in history and we must never perpetuate the dangerous myth that it has got worse".
When the House has such a stout defender, the least we can do is always to ensure that that dangerous myth never becomes an even more dangerous truth.
You have brought unique distinction to your office, Mr. Speaker. In time, there will probably be other Speakers of the House of Commons who are vegetarians; it is likely that there will be other good tennis players and other good golfers; but it is stretching imagination a little too far to think that there will be another Speaker who will combine those characteristics with a capacity for meditation, the ability to speak Urdu fluently and the talent to measure, cut and run up a suit for any poorly clad Member—truly a Jack of many trades and master of all that really matter.
You will shortly take your leave of us. Our sadness at your departure is mitigated only by the knowledge that you will derive huge enjoyment from having more time for yourself and for your interests and particularly from having more time to spend with your grandchildren. The real trouble is that you do not go alone. You take from this place "Mrs. Speaker", your beloved wife Lyn, who has shown such qualities of tolerance and kindness that she has won the affection and admiration of all who have come to know her. You and she are true partners, and this generation of parliamentarians is fortunate indeed to have had the benefit of knowing two such very fine people.
The Prime Minister said that the office of Speaker is a lonely position. I think that that may be less the case in your Speakership because of the relationship that you have with your wife. A previous Speaker, who shall remain utterly anonymous, had been in office but a few weeks when a faithful old friend of his, a long-time journalist in the House, visited him for supper. There were just the two of them. This nameless Speaker, who was teetotal, said to the journalist, "Well, there you are, Ian"—I call him Ian for want of a better name—"there's the cabinet; you know more about these things than I do." Naturally, I am faking his accent completely. Ian said to him, "Is it the case, Mr. Speaker, that, even after these weeks of pressure and loneliness in this place, you still haven't been tempted, as other Speakers may have been, to try a little tipple yourself?" The anonymous Speaker said, "Well, do you know, I've once or twice taken a little drop of whisky with a little hot water and a bit of sugar and, you know—I like it."
We say thank you, Mr. Speaker, to you and your wife. We say thank you to a very distinguished Speaker and a very good man. We wish you many years of active and fulfilling retirement. The whole House will agree with me when I say that you have most certainly earned it.
I need add very little to what has already been said by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). They have said much of what I should have liked to say. Therefore, I can restrain myself and merely say that I wish to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends on this Bench with all that they said.
There is, however, one matter to which I believe I ought to draw attention. One of the jobs of the Speaker is to ensure that, between the two great juggernauts that we often believe conspire to dominate matters in this House, the voices of Back Benchers, especially independent Back Benchers, and the other parties in the House, are clearly heard. I know that you have set that as a particular task of your Speakership.
Both my colleagues and I—and, I suspect, many other Back Benchers as well—are grateful to you for your work to ensure that our voice has been heard. We know of some of the battles that have been fought on that matter. Of course we have had our disagreements from time to time: it would be remarkable if we had not. It may be one of the qualities of a good Speaker that he should come under pressure from all sides, but submit to none.
One of the special qualities, commented on by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, that we have all enjoyed under your Speakership is the friendly, family atmosphere that you and "Mrs. Speaker" have created in Mr. Speaker's House. Those of us—it must be a majority if not every hon. Member—who have enjoyed your hospitality remember those occasions with great affection.
My colleagues and I join others in expressing our respect and affection and we extend our warmest wishes to you and "Mrs. Speaker" for your future. You may be assured that you carry with you the gratitude of the House and, I believe, the respect of the nation.
As the Father of the House and one who has sat in this place for 42 years under the eagle eye of seven Speakers, I wish to say a few words on behalf of Back Benchers wherever they may sit. I recall that it was Sir Winston Churchill who once said that parliamentary government was the worst form of government ever devised by mortal man. He then paused, and one can imagine the sly chuckle and the glint in the eye, before saying, "save all the others."
If our system has endured down the centuries and is widely admired around the world, it owes a great deal to the way in which the occupant of the Chair exerts quiet but effective authority. It was Edmund Burke, one of our greatest parliamentarians, who wisely remarked in his "Reflections on the Revolution in France":
Good order is the foundation of all good things.
I sometimes wonder what a rabble we would be if it had not been for you, Mr. Speaker, and your distinguished predecessors, one of whom, early in my career here, warned me by saying that the hon. Member should not "engender more heat than he can contain." I have tried to observe that wise advice ever since.
I must say how greatly all of us, without exception, have admired your gentle authority, your good nature at all times, your complete lack of stuffiness, your fairness —an important quality in an assembly such as this—and your very special brand of humour which has so often helped to smooth away a prickly situation. Wherever we sit in this place, Mr. Speaker, we are deeply grateful to you and we humbly forgive you for not always calling us when we desired to speak, although that may sometimes be to the advantage of the House.
I am sure that your gracious lady must have been a strong contributor to the special qualities to which I have referred. You have been very fortunate in Lyn. We warmly wish you and your dear lady a fruitful, happy and long retirement.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad that you did not rule the motion moved by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition out of order because it has given me an opportunity briefly and sincerely to express the thanks of all who represent Northern Ireland in this place. I wish to place on record our appreciation of your recent visit to Northern Ireland. That was a landmark for everyone concerned.
I thank you sincerely for all that you have done to see that Northern Ireland Members have their opportunities. I hope that you and "Mrs. Speaker" will return to see us in Northern Ireland very soon.
There is one important aspect of your Speakership which needs to be placed on record, I hope as a guide for the future. All the holders of your office have been invested, by the tradition of the House and by Standing Orders, with authority. But, up until 1983, for longer than anyone can remember, the election of Mr. Speaker had been largely a fiction. The Speaker had been imposed on the House by the Government of the day.
In 1983, the House brought back to itself the reality of an election, and no edition of "Erskine May" shows that. It is that which has given your Speakership an additional authority. We chose you, you were not imposed on us, and the Back Benchers re-elected you in 1987.
Just as you continued so much of the good work of Speaker Thomas, who brought back to the Chair the reality of decision in so many spheres in which it had fallen away from the Chair into other unelected hands, so you also, on being elected, stated that you would sign each day in your own words, and place with the Votes and Proceedings, any rulings given in private that could be called into precedent. You thereby destroyed the evil system of having private rulings unknown by Back Benchers which could then be trotted out to astonish the House and often to pervert it. In continuing that, you have now established as a rule what could otherwise have been taken as a benign idiosyncrasy of one Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, may I also pay my tribute to your wife, who has brought good taste, energy and good humour to her very original and excellent concept of the duties of a Speaker's wife? You have made a most excellent team and we are all so glad to see you go while still possessing all your faculties.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the nationalist parties in the House, may I add our own warm wishes and endorse the motion so eloquently propounded by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition.
This Bench has not always been your most peaceable one and from time to time we nationalists have been extremely restless. However, we have been very grateful to you for recognising the specific viewpoint that we have wished to express democratically and for the courtesy with which you have listened to it.
I wish you and "Mrs. Speaker" a very long, happy and healthy retirement. I assure you that there will always be a warm welcome for you in Wales and Scotland. During one of your early visits you may, perhaps, wish to offer us some advice on the running our new Parliaments in those nations.
I join the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and all hon. Members in expressing, on behalf of my colleagues, our deep appreciation of your kindness and thoughtfulness during your period of Speakership.
When I came to the House in 1983, you took over the office of Speaker, and I can honestly say that I have been treated very fairly by you. I should also like to express to you the deep appreciation of my constituents, bearing in mind that my constituency has suffered as perhaps no other constituency in the United Kingdom has suffered from the violence of terrorism. I should like to thank you for your thoughtfulness in allowing me to express their worries, concerns and fears.
I trust that "Mrs. Speaker" also knows that she has a place of great affection in the hearts of the people of Northern Ireland. Your recent visit to Hillsborough and to the Province was deeply appreciated. I trust that you and "Mrs. Speaker" will have a long retirement and much happiness and that you know that you are always very welcome in the Province.
As usual, I rise with some diffidence in your presence, Mr. Speaker, because I feel that I have to express my great admiration for the way in which you have conducted your unique office over the past eight or nine years. You and I have had a number of clashes, and I have always been wrong—I absolutely accept that—but all those exchanges have ended in happy and felicitous comments between us, in or out of the Chamber. I have absolutely no complaint about the fact that it has been easier to catch your eye today than it has been on other occasions.
You have been an extraordinarily impartial and fair Speaker—so fair and so impartial that I have never been able to discover over these last nine years whether you admire me and approve of me—as I am sure that you should—or whether you think that I am a total berk.
I do not want a vote taken on that.
Speakers come in all qualities. You have sat under some of lesser quality, and we have sat under one or two whom I could name, but who shall remain anonymous—I cannot do accents very well anyway—and who were less than admirable. You have been a remarkably fair, friendly and —if I may use such an improper expression—lovable Speaker. I want to thank you immensely, and I wish you and your wife and you and your thimble a very happy future. May I finish as we usually do when exchanging our greetings by putting my hand on my heart, Sir, and wishing you very well.
It is a mark of your distinction, Mr. Speaker, that there is still one thing left to mention which has not yet been said, and that is the way in which you launched the magnificent appeal for the moneys that were successfully raised to completely refurbish St. Margaret's, the House of Commons church, which now sits as a jewel in Parliament square. It is appreciated by people inside and outside the House, and it is a living memorial.
As one who, from time to time, has given you no end of bother, Mr. Speaker—and I have to say in all honesty that there have been times when I have not been too pleased with you, either—may I join in these tributes to you on your retirement?
I do not know what on earth I shall do for exercise after you and I have left the House, because the number of times I have stood up and down without being called in the past nine years is beyond counting. Every time you leave me to the last, I am reminded of the great story of the Scottish islands Member who was always being called last. He goes home to his constituency for the summer recess and decides to visit one of his island communities, travelling by one of our famous coastal puffers. As the vessel approaches the harbour, it is held up just outside. The harbourmaster shouts to the skipper, "What's your cargo?" The skipper shouts back, "Manure, two dozen sheep and the local MP." The hon. Member says, "Called last again."
You have not called me last this time, Mr. Speaker, but you have called me for the last time. May I leave the House and yourself with another story? I am making a confession about my retirement, because yesterday I went down to the hairdresser—as you can see—to get my hair cut. He asked me what size of majority I had and I said, "Oh, 14,500." "You'll be all right, sir," he said. I said, "No trouble, no trouble." I was damned if I was going to tell him that I was retiring, because he would have expected a big tip instead of the usual 10p.
So, Mr. Speaker, you go with all my good wishes to yourself, your good lady and all your immediate family.
Over the years when we have had delegations to this country from all parts of the world, we have invariably asked you, Mr. Speaker, if you would be kind enough to meet them to speak to them, to entertain them in Mr. Speaker's House or, on their last night here, to give them a grand dinner at your table. You have never failed to assist us in that way.
I know that I speak for all IPU members, past and present, when I say that you have enabled us to give to our visitors from abroad a memory that they will never forget. We will never forget the way that you have helped us to do that. Thank you.
If I may, I shall speak for a moment as a former Clerk in the House of Commons. I have been asked by my former colleagues and members of the staff of the House of Commons to express on the Floor of the House their deep appreciation to you, Sir, and to "Mrs. Speaker" for the kindness, care and consideration that you have given to them. It is not a tremendous secret that there have been Speakers who have not commanded the complete respect of those who worked for them. I can say, Sir, that you have commanded their complete respect.
I know that we are a dwindling breed, but I should like to add a word about the Burma Star Association and the forgotten Army. There are not many of us left, and I hope that we are not completely forgotten, although probably we are. It is an important part of my life, my father's life, my brother's life and, I know, of your life, Sir. You have been a wonderful Speaker. All of us who have been your servants and have served under you admire you and thank you.
I have previously had occasion to express the appreciation of the executive of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for the help, leadership and inspiration that you, Mr. Speaker, have given to the CPA United Kingdom branch in this House. The vast proportion of the membership of this House has participated to some extent in CPA affairs as it has in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Your generosity in this respect, in terms of both helping us to go abroad and receiving incoming Commonwealth parliamentarians, is a source of enormous gratitude from us all.
The leadership that you, Mr. Speaker, have given to the presiding officers across the Commonwealth is also enormously appreciated. The 41st parliamentary seminar is now taking place in the Palace of Westminster—the eighth in which you have participated as Mr. Speaker. You also participated in earlier seminars in earlier incarnations. We are all enormously grateful for your contribution and wish you well.
That this House tenders its warmest thanks to the right honourable Bruce Bernard Weatherill for the skill and distinction with which he has maintained the traditions of the Speakership through momentous changes in the practices of this House; thanks him for the genial and wise exercise of his authority; records its appreciation of his fairness and tolerance in dealing with all Members; and unites in wishing him a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair and from this House".