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Tributes (Speaker Weatherill)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 10th May 2007.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 12:50 pm, 10th May 2007

I am very glad to be able to pay this short tribute to Speaker Weatherill.

Speaker Weatherill was my first Speaker. I entered the House in 1987 alongside the late Member for Tottenham, the former Member for Brent, South, and the current Member for Leicester, East. It is a long time ago now, but we were regarded with extraordinary trepidation by the House authorities, not least our own party managers. We were considered the very last word in black and ethnic extremism. The particular concern of the House authorities was that we would turn out to be the equivalent of the 19th-century Fenians and submit the House to endless disruption, all-night sittings, chaos and so on. I clearly remember that Speaker Weatherill went to enormous trouble to make us feel welcome and involved, even to the point of sharing a few late-night glasses of port with the late Member for Tottenham. The point of that was not just his courtesy, but that what he taught us was that every Member of the House was the equal of any other—that we were all primus inter pares. That reflected not just his kindness but his concern for the House as a living, democratic institution in which everybody ought to feel able to make a contribution; and I think that all of us, in our different ways, made some contribution to the House over the years.

I want to recognise and remember Speaker Weatherill's care for the House, not as a mausoleum but as a constantly evolving reflection of and avenue for the democratic process. Of course, as everyone has said, he was a tremendous supporter of the rights of Back Benchers, and I am glad to be able to pay this tribute.