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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to put on record my thanks to you for being a superb Speaker of this House, my thanks to you as a colleague in Parliament, and my thanks to your family for the way in which they have supported you through often very difficult times when many of the media have been very unfair on you. Your two sons are getting good at football. I did some kicks with them in Speaker’s Court the other day and I was very impressed, actually; they are coming on well. And I know you support the same club as me.
In your role as Speaker, you have totally changed the way in which the job has been done. You have reached out to people across the whole country. You have visited schools, you have visited factories, you have visited offices; you have talked to people about the role of Parliament and democracy. I have never forgotten you coming to City and Islington College in my constituency and spending the morning with me talking to a group of students, all of whom had learning difficulties, and we discussed with them the roles of democracy and Parliament.
You have taken absolutely on board the words of Speaker Lenthall that you are there to be guided by and act on behalf of our Parliament. This Parliament is the stronger for your being Speaker. Our democracy is the stronger for your being the Speaker. Whatever you do when you finally step down from Parliament, you do so with the thanks of a very large number of people, and as one who has made the role of Speaker in the House more powerful, not less powerful. I welcome that. As somebody who aspires to hold Executive office, I like the idea of a powerful Parliament holding the Executive to account; it is something I have spent the last 35 years doing myself.
So, Mr Speaker, enjoy the last short period in your office, but it is going to be one of the most dramatic there has been. I think your choice of timing and date is incomparable and will be recorded in the history books of parliamentary democracy. Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Labour party I thank you for your work in promoting democracy and this House. Thank you.
Thank you. I just say to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, that he is very much more experienced and senior than I, but I think that as Back Benchers in our respective parties we did have quite a lot in common. Certainly, speaking for myself, as a Back Bencher, and frequently as an Opposition Front Bencher, I found that I had a relationship with my Whips characterised by trust and understanding—I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like, perhaps for the first time, to associate myself wholeheartedly with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition. Since you entered the House of Commons in 1997, it has been clear to everyone who has seen you work as a diligent constituency MP, an effective Back Bencher, and also a tenacious Front Bencher in your time, that you love this House of Commons, you love our democracy, and your commitment to your principles and your constituents is unwavering and an example to others.
This evening I shall vote with many of my colleagues for an early general election. I hope you will not take that personally, Mr Speaker, because I have no wish to prematurely truncate your time in the Chair. However controversial the role of a backstop may be in other areas, your role as the Back Benchers’ backstop has certainly been appreciated by individuals across this House. I have spent much, though not all, of the last 10 years as a member of the Executive, but I have also been a Back Bencher in this House, and I have personally appreciated the way in which you have always sought to ensure that the Executive answer for their actions. History will record the way in which you have used the urgent question procedure and other procedures to hold the Executive to account and have restored life and vigour to Parliament, and in so doing, you have been in the very best tradition of Speakers.
From time to time, those of us on the Government Benches might have bridled at some of the judgments you have made, but I have never been in any doubt that you have operated on the basis that the Executive must be answerable to this House in the same way as this House is answerable to the people. You have done everything in your power to ensure not just the continued but the underlined relevance of this place. Your love of democracy is transparent in everything that you say and do, and as such, I want, on behalf of myself as an individual and on behalf of the Conservative party, to thank you. As a fellow parent of pupils at a distinguished west London comprehensive, may I also say how important it is that discipline is maintained in this House? Your energetic efforts to do so are appreciated even by those of us who may not always be the best behaved in class.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. That was characteristically generous and gracious of him. At the risk of inflicting some damage upon his otherwise flourishing political career, I have on more than one occasion paid public tribute to the quality of the right hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why he does not complain about urgent questions being granted, to which he has at short notice to answer, is that he is quick enough, bright enough, sharp enough, fair-minded enough, articulate enough and dextrous enough to be able to cope with whatever is thrown at him. I do not want this to become a mutual admiration society, because I am not sure whether it would be more damaging to him or me, but I thank him for what he said, for the way in which he said it and for the spirit that his remarks embody.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not seek for a minute to challenge your decision, not least because you would rule me out of order, but I have to say that I regret it and respect it. I say that for this reason. When the history books come to be written, you will be described as one of the great reforming Speakers of the House of Commons. You have indeed been the Back Benchers’ friend and supporter, but in every decision you have made, you have put one consideration above everything else: your wish to enable the House of Commons to discuss matters and to express a view.
There have been occasions when some in the House have taken umbrage at decisions that you have reached, but you have stood by your beliefs and principles, and many Members of this House are eternally grateful to you for having stood up for our rights, enabling us to debate and then to vote on something. The fact that the Speaker decides that something should be debated is not the Speaker saying that the House should agree it; it is the Speaker saying that we should be able to cast our vote. That is why we will regard you in that light for many, many years to come. Thank you very much indeed.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I—as an elector in the Buckingham constituency, not least—offer an expression of thanks to you for your work as a constituency Member of Parliament over the past 22 years? Talking to neighbours and acquaintances in all parts of the Buckingham constituency over the years that you have represented it, I have been struck by the fact that men and women of very different political persuasions, and indeed those of no particular party affiliation, are united in their appreciation of the fact that you have never allowed your considerable duties as Speaker of the House to detract from your responsibility to represent their interests in Buckingham and to respond to the concerns that they raise with you. Colleagues in all parts of the House will speak about your record as Speaker, but those of us in Buckinghamshire will know how you have continued to speak on and champion local interests and local issues.
I know, too, that you will be missed among the somewhat eclectic team of right hon. and hon. Members representing the county of Buckinghamshire. It is perhaps a good measure of the fact that in this place, despite frequent clashes and disagreements, we can still manage to get on. Those Buckinghamshire parliamentary meetings bring together not just you and me but my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan and both my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve and my hon. Friend Mr Baker in a spirit of harmony, at least on county matters.
I thank you for what you have done for us locally and, if I may say so as a former Leader of the House, for what you have done to communicate more to people, particularly to schoolchildren and students around the country, about how this place works and the constitutional significance of Parliament in defending the liberties and debating the interests of the next generation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I want to observe—others will bear testimony to this, in the light of what he has just said— that the right hon. Gentleman was, frankly, an outstanding Leader of the House of Commons. He is one of the most co-operative and collaborative colleagues whom one could hope to meet. He gets things done, he is extremely personable, and I think it is fair to say that he works based on periodic political difference but continuing personal amiability. If others of us were able to model ourselves on the way in which he has gone about his work over the last 27 years as a Member of Parliament, we would probably be doing better. I thank him for what he has said.
We must proceed before too long, but I do apologise very sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman—the leader of the third party in this House—for failing to see him at an earlier point, which I should have done.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of those of us on the SNP Benches, may I say that we will be sad to see you leave office at the end of October? It is fair to say that you have shown considerable grace and purpose—not just to us, but to Members across this House. We are eternally grateful for the way in which you have conducted yourself, particularly over these last few months—at a time, let us be honest, of constitutional crisis for all of us—and for the way you have facilitated Back Benchers, in particular, in being able to hold the Executive to account and, indeed, in making sure that those of us whom people send to this place are able to do our job to the best of our endeavours in representing their interests.
Like the Leader of the Opposition, we are grateful that you will be with us until the end of October, and we look forward to the guidance and supervision you will give to our affairs over the coming weeks. You have been a great friend to many of us in this House. We wish every good wish to you and your family for the coming period. You will always get a friendly welcome in Scotland, and indeed we would love to see you up in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Mr Speaker, thank you very much on behalf of all of us.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, at the beginning of this Parliament, you asked me if I would propose you for the Chair, and I was very pleased to do so. I made the immortal statement:
“I think he annoys Members on all the Front Benches from time to time, which is probably testament to his even-handedness.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 626, c. 4.]
I think there was not a dry eye in the House, because that was true.
I have to add my voice to that of my Buckinghamshire colleague, my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington, for the simple reason that, as a colleague in Buckinghamshire, you have been absolutely superb. Speaking as the only female representative of a constituency in Buckinghamshire, I sometimes find it necessary to keep some of you boys under control, because you do not always quite see eye to eye—with me.
I rise to my feet to say a big thank you to you for something else you have done in your time as Speaker. You have hosted events for more than 1,000 charities in Speaker’s House. You have been a true champion of people with autism. Today, as the all-party parliamentary group publishes a report on the 10 years since the Autism Act 2009, I pay tribute to everything you have done, particularly for charitable works, but also for people and families with autism.
I have one great regret, knowing that you are going to stand down. I will lose a great champion in my fight against HS2, and I very much hope that when you retire from the House, whatever you do, you will continue to join me in the fight against HS2 and continue, most importantly, to champion those people with autism and their families.
I thank the right hon. Lady for what she said, and for all the good fellowship that she and I have enjoyed over the 22 years I have been in the House with her.
It is as matter of seniority as well as a magnificent tie. I call Mr Barry Sheerman.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I remember that when I first met you I went home to my wife and said, “I’ve met this really bumptious, self-opinionated, right-wing, objectionable character.” I could say that you haven’t changed, but the fact of the matter is that you have been an exemplary Speaker. You have been Parliament’s Speaker. I have been here quite a long time, so I have seen people organising the Speaker’s election—usually the Whips. You broke that tradition—we broke that tradition, cross-party. We wanted you, and we denied the Whips their choice, and we got you. Those of us who have been around this place for some time do not regret for a moment that we got Parliament’s Speaker. You have proved that we were right in our choice.
You have been magnificent in the way you have gone around the country. I remember the occasion—we planned it well in advance—when you chose to come to Huddersfield for the whole day. Unfortunately, it was the day after the referendum. It was quite an interesting atmosphere. I remember you getting to Huddersfield and saying, “This is an awfully long way, isn’t it, Barry?” However, you did get about, and you saw how constituents worked. You came to the University of Huddersfield, and you did the job well.
You also, as Speaker, have been the champion of the Back Bencher. The people on the Front Benches—the Whips—love to have their own way. You were determined to let people like me—a Back Bencher—and other Back Benchers have their say. There has been a renaissance of Parliament under your speakership. I hope only that we get someone half as good as you when we single-mindedly, happily, diversely, and democratically choose your successor. Thank you for everything you have done for parliamentary democracy.
Bless you, Barry, for what you have said. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members will forgive me? I call Mr Dominic Grieve.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As another Buckinghamshire MP, I could not fail to rise to say words of thanks to you for what you have done.
You may recall—it is perhaps worth recalling—that when you were first elected Speaker I think I was the only person in the Chamber who did not stand to applaud you. That was for two reasons. First, I rather disapprove of these displays and, secondly, my preferences lay elsewhere. I think I also indicated to you subsequently that I would do my very best to support you. As the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate that in the extraordinary times in which we live, your leadership of this House has been, in my judgment, exemplary in standing up for the rights of Back Benchers. You will undoubtedly go down as such, setting a benchmark that , built on by future Speakers, will enable the House to operate very much better.
As for Buckinghamshire, Mr Speaker, you will undoubtedly be missed. I sometimes think in the troubled times in which we live, it is time to return to those 17th-century practices of setting up county associations and deciding to keep the rest of the world out, because we would then find that we agree with each other 100%.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he said. I regard him as a quite exceptional parliamentarian, so to receive a tribute from him means a great deal to me, and I think he knows that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am one of those who originally supported you when you stood, in quite troubled times and unexpectedly, to be the Speaker. I did so because you had already demonstrated to me and to others that you were open-minded enough to have gone on a journey. People have not expressed this particular part of you yet in these points of order, but your commitment to equality, women, LGBT people and the disabled, to ensure proper inclusion for everyone in our country and in our politics, is perhaps the thing that has most impressed me.
We worked together behind the scenes when I was shadow Leader of the House. I know how committed, in very difficult times, and wrestling with a rather conservative and hidebound institution, you have been. For that reason alone—for your determination, your judgment, your confidence in your judgment, your deep understanding of the way our Parliament works and your willingness to stand up for the rights of Back Benchers against some of the most ferocious behaviour by Government—you will be remembered as one of the great reforming Speakers.
I hope that, as you get your evenings back, and as you will be able to make a choice about which chair you sit in and for how long—
Well, Mr Speaker, I was not going to mention your bladder, and I am still not.
I hope that as you look back and reflect on all these tumultuous times you will look back with satisfaction on the role you have played, because you deserve to do so. You have been an outstanding Speaker and I wish to add my thanks to the spontaneous tributes we are hearing now. Thank you.
I thank the hon. Lady. Put simply, I have been very lucky. If you do for a living something that causes you to jump out of bed in the morning looking forward to the day ahead, then frankly you are blessed.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been an extraordinary Speaker—an outstanding Speaker. Over the past few weeks, I have very much disagreed with your interpretation of certain Standing Orders, but for the 14 years I have been here you have transformed this place. You used to sit behind me on the Opposition Benches heckling the Government like mad—and then I hear the nerve, Sir, of you telling us off for heckling! I hope, when we forget the Brexit period, you will be remembered for completely transforming this place and allowing Back Benchers to do their job, and for allowing new Members the opportunity to fulfil a career as a Back Bencher while not necessarily wanting to be a Minister.
The hon. Gentleman speaks from personal experience as a parliamentarian who is always ready to speak truth to power. I identify with him. What he says, not least in the light of some of his recent disagreements with me, is big of him.
May I just add a couple of points that have not been mentioned? First, without your family-friendly reforms to this place, particularly the opening of the nursery, your willingness to introduce proxy voting, and allowing babies and young children into the Lobby, I and many others in this place, mothers and fathers alike, would not have been able to carry out our duties and to carry on being Members of Parliament. I thank you enormously for those changes and reforms.
In your time as Speaker, probably the most difficult event was the murder of our friend, Jo Cox. You gave leadership to this whole place, to our collective grief and to the grief of her community and her family, visiting her constituency the day after her terrible murder. I know her family would want me to thank you from the bottom of their hearts for your leadership at that very, very difficult time for this House.
Thank you. As everybody here knows, Jo was very special, and she will remain in our hearts for as long as we live.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As a Buckinghamshire colleague, it has been a huge pleasure and privilege to work alongside you to further the interests of our constituents—I say “our constituents” because I fondly remember occasions on which I have needed to speak in this place on your behalf, and it has been my privilege and pleasure to do so. It would be graceless of me, of course, to refer to anything where I might possibly have disagreed with you, but I just say that it is perfectly plain to me that you love this place and this Parliament, and I am grateful for all your service.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; he is a conviction politician, and that deserves respect.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I express thanks from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches for your decade of service in the Chair.
Very often, to those outside, Parliament can appear stuffy and out of touch. Some of the initiatives that have come in on your watch, including the Wright reforms, with topical questions, and your willingness to grant urgent questions have meant that when people talk about issues outside this place we can discuss them in a timely way in the House, and that has been important.
I was very moved by your tribute to your wife and children, because the families of all of us in this place put up with a lot for us to do the jobs that we do. I echo the comments of Lucy Powell about the reforms that you have made possible, including the parliamentary nursery, babies being able to be in voting Lobbies—indeed, your forbearance in not asking me to leave when I brought baby Gabriel into this House—and the proxy voting reforms, which have already made such a difference for Members with small babies during these rather intense few months of parliamentary debate. Those reforms have been truly important and you have been a truly modernising Speaker. As I am sure you would agree, there is much more to do, and I hope that whoever is your successor will continue in that tradition.
Finally, you have been an absolutely unstinting guardian of parliamentary democracy at a time when people feel the need to take to the streets to argue to defend our democracy. I think back to my first term in this place, between 2005 and 2010. If you had asked me at the time to pinpoint the most important vote that I cast in those five years, I am not convinced that I would have chosen that vote in 2009, but choosing you to be Speaker of this House was arguably the most important vote cast for the future of our country and our parliamentary democracy. I am very glad that I and others in this House made that choice.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. So far, we have mainly heard from distinguished Members on the two Front Benches or immediately prior Members, but I speak on behalf of the permanent, or semi-permanent, Back Benchers, who either by their own wish, or in my case because nobody has ever asked me, have not joined the Front Bench team in recent years. Although I have not followed you in your political journey and on many occasions you have absolutely infuriated me, I have to say, on behalf of Back Benchers, that there is one thing that nobody can ever take away from you: you have been determined to give a voice to those people in this place who want to ask real questions of the Executive. For this, we will always be grateful.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He was, of course, a talented Minister but I have always thought, because I know that his career came to a premature end, that he suffered from the notable disadvantage, as a member of the Government, of not only holding opinions, but feeling inclined, with notable frequency—whether wanted or not—to express them. That seemed to me why he was removed from the Government, but the Executive’s loss was Parliament’s gain.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to add our party’s thanks to you. You have always been the Back Bencher’s champion. You have called me as often as Mr Sheerman. You often chastise me gently for saying “you”, but can I say that you have done excellently for Back Benchers? I will try hard not to use that word on other occasions. You have called me to order a few times, but gently, with your humour, kindness and good will, have enabled me to learn the protocols of this House in a way that I hope will stay with me for some time to come. Even with my Ulster Scots and my accent, you always seem to understand me.
You mentioned Sally and your children. The most important thing for us all in the House is the sanity we get when we go back to our families. They are incredibly important. As you know, I turn up for the Adjournment debate every night, and you are always here as well. I will miss you when you are not here. Whatever you do in this world, I know that you will do it well. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Godspeed and God bless.
Colleagues, I hope you will forgive me if I say this very publicly to Jim Shannon. I bet others have noticed it—I certainly have, ever since he came into the House and we got to know each other. The hon. Gentleman is a person of strong religious faith. As it happens, I am not. I have always been proud of my Jewish roots and my Jewish identity, but I am not a practising religious person. What I admire about the hon. Gentleman—and it makes him a most lovable figure in the House of Commons—is that he radiates warmth, empathy and compassion. He is one of those people of faith who do not spend time preaching it but live it.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Such is the length of our relationship and our friendship, which has been long suspected and about which I think we can now come clean, that I rushed here from Lincolnshire when I heard the news of your imminent departure. In an age of technocratic turgidity and mechanistic mediocrity, you have brought colour and style to this place. No one could deny your eloquence or your extraordinary, encyclopaedic grasp of facts, of which we are all envious. I do not know how you manage to remember not only facts about our constituencies but our birthdays, wedding anniversaries, children’s names—what don’t you remember, Mr Speaker?
You have given life to this place in a way that few could ever have managed and few of your predecessors achieved. You have made this place far more interesting than it would have been without you. But there is something else that is rarely said about you, and it is this. I fully recognise your sensitivity and humanity. There are countless acts of kindness that you have shown Members of this House that are never publicised—because they would not be by their nature—and to which it is only fair now to draw attention. When Members have had difficulties of one sort or another—the trials and tribulations which are the inevitable consequences of life here—you have always been there for them. That work as our Speaker needs to be recorded and celebrated, and acknowledged today. I will miss you not only for your indulgence, of which I have been a frequent beneficiary, as you well know, but for your character and style, and that will last long after you leave the Chair, as I hope our friendship will.
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that our friendship will endure for a long time to come. Among other things that we have in common, we share a passion for, and a slightly obsessive preoccupation with, historical statistics relating to tennis.
By the way, I have never lost any sleep over a work-related matter, because it is not worth doing. The nights without sleep that I have tended to experience over the years, and doubtless will do so in the future, have ordinarily been during either the US Open or the Australian Open, when, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, my normal practice is to forgo sleep if the alternative is the opportunity to watch my all-time sporting hero, Roger Federer.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You and I first came across each other well over 40 years ago, when we were both members of the Conservative party as students. I could not possibly repeat the language of Mr Sheerman, but I do endorse the “right-wing” bit. I, of course, was what was known then as a proud wet, and was certainly on the pink liberal wing of the Conservative party. Although our journey and our route have been somewhat different, I rather suspect that we are back together in our new place, and that will be interesting, as will all that follows. But I remember that when you were a student, you had a huge passion for politics and for Parliament, and, of course, you were hugely eloquent even then. All those things have served you well for many years, in your role as a Member of Parliament but also in your role as Speaker, but, most important, they have served this place hugely well.
I will not repeat, but will just endorse, all the fine tributes about the great reforms that you have made to this place, especially on behalf of women, but also on behalf of all the young people in my constituency and the children who have come to this place in a way that previous generations certainly did not, who have learned so much and who have felt engaged.
Finally, I want to apologise on behalf of the small group of us who, by virtue of our appalling behaviour, found ourselves founder members of the “Three Bs”. When I come back, as I think I will at some stage—[Interruption]—yes, that is right, if we have any such general election—I will bring you the little badge that I have with the three Bs, which stand for “Bollocked By Bercow”. I am very proud of my membership of that club. But, on behalf of my merry band—and, indeed, all of us—I thank you for everything that you have done, and the great service that you have given to this place.
Bless you, and thank you.
We are running out of time—
As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, we have got until October, but first of all we must hear from Mr David Lammy.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Much has been said, obviously, by Members of Parliament in this place, but I want to put on record what I suspect are deep thanks in huge parts of the country, and to echo absolutely what has been said by, in particular, my hon. Friend Ms Eagle.
I was in the House after the riots of 2011, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for helping to recall the House to debate that very important subject. I also thank you for, most recently, after a scandal that involved people with Caribbean backgrounds, granting my urgent question that allowed the revelation of that scandal. So many issues concerning minorities in this country could so easily have remained on the fringes, as has been the case during previous decades in our country—thank you for putting them at the centre of the action in this Parliament.
Thank you, also, for appointing Rose Hudson-Wilkin as the Chaplain when the establishment might have preferred a different choice. Yes, the role of Speaker is to be part of the establishment, but it takes a giant—and, of course, you are not a giant—to stand up to that establishment and never be cowed. The next Speaker will have very, very big shoes to fill.
That is extraordinarily eloquent and generous. I do not want to comment on anything the right hon. Gentleman has said about me but I want instead to endorse in triplicate what he has just said about the Right Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, a great servant to Parliament, in her place in the Under Gallery now, a source of comfort and inspiration to me for the last nine years. There has not been a single day when I have not felt delighted and reinforced in my insistence, and it was my insistence, that Rose should be appointed to that role. There is always scope for legitimate difference of opinion, but there were people—part of what I have to say outside of this place I will call the bigot faction—who volunteered their views as to what an inapposite appointment I had made with all the force and insistence at their disposal, which sadly from their point of view were in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the subject matter under discussion. They had not met Rose, they did not know her, they could not form a view; they had a stupid, dim-witted, atavistic, racist and rancid opposition to the Rev. Rose. I was right, they were wrong: the House loves her. [Applause.]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to say a huge thank you for all that you have done for Back Benchers and for democracy, especially throughout this time as we discuss Brexit. I also want to thank you for all the firsts you have done in the House. In the Stonewall list of LGBT+ employers, Parliament has moved up now to 23rd; I think we were down in the 70s and 80s before. Parliament has been ranked as one of the best 100 employers at the race equality awards; that is because of your guidance and leadership, Mr Speaker. And thank you for appointing Rev. Rose; I think she is in the corner crying, with the rest of us. Thank you so much, Mr Speaker; she has been amazing, as have you.
We have also had the first Muslim Serjeant at Arms and the first female Clerk Assistant of the House, and young people being allowed to debate in this Chamber has come under you, Mr Speaker. There are also all the charity events that you have held in Speaker’s House—such as for British sign language and the Windrush—and being able to raise the flag for International Women’s Day outside Parliament for the first time, and Black History Month. I could go on about all that you have done to modernise this place, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr Speaker.
I hope you can just bear with me, Mr Speaker, because equality is a theme that you have championed. Following last week’s resignation, I am deeply concerned that the position that I shadow, Minister for Women and Equalities, remains vacant, and that, with more than half of the current Cabinet opposed to equal marriage, this brief has been undermined deliberately to roll back the hard fought-for rights and protections. Mr Speaker, being a bit of a “girly swot”, I have calculated that when the next person is appointed they will be the 10th to be appointed to the brief since 2010. The post has moved Departments four times, and a new Minister would be the fifth I will have shadowed in just two years. [Interruption.] Government Members may groan, but they do not feel even half the pain that we feel on this side of the House.
Trump recently described Boris Johnson as Britain’s Trump and he was grinning like a Cheshire cat. In the United States we have seen what can happen when a racist and sexist is placed in charge of a country: implementing a Muslim ban on people arriving and leaving the country, banning trans people from serving in the military, pushing to allow businesses to turn LGBT customers away and making it easier for LGBT people to be sacked, or telling “the squad”, a group of four elected Congresswomen of colour, to go back to their countries. Our Prime Minister is modelling his campaign on his mate Trump. This is proven by the fact that No. 10 recently carried out a so-called culture war on polling on trans people. It is a disgrace to equalities, and is so obvious that the Tories do not care about this brief. Women have suffered 87% of the cuts, and we have seen a 375% rise in hate crime. We cannot allow this kind of hateful and divisive politics to continue to infect the UK. If any Government is in need of a Minister to fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, it is this one.
Mr Speaker, with your commitment to equality, I wonder if you can shed some light on this. Do you know when the Prime Minister will stop passing this vitally important brief around like an inconvenience, and when he will start treating the Women and Equalities brief with the respect that it deserves and appoint a full-time Secretary of State to the brief, and a Department, just as Labour has pledged to do?
The hon. Lady has said what she thought; it is on the record and people can make their own assessment of it. Let me just say that I do regard the portfolio as a matter of the utmost importance, and one of the encouraging phenomena of recent years has been the emergence of an apparent consensus across the House as to the importance of this set of issues. That is precious, and it should be cherished. It would be perilous if it were lost or put at risk. I very much hope that in the very difficult circumstances that we now face, there will be a replacement Minister soon. This is not a matter for me, but I feel very confident that an appointment will be made before very long.
These issues have to be focused on with a relentless tenacity. You cannot just take them for granted or think, “Job done.” Sadly, all too often, we observe people in very, very, very senior positions around the world who do not appear to be adequately conscious—if conscious at all—of the scale of their responsibilities. With power comes responsibility. For example, we do not want to hear and we utterly deprecate the use of language such as “Go back” as a political tool. The Government rightly criticised this; it is unacceptable and it should not be ignored. It has to be called out. We need a focus for these issues, and the existence of a Minister is a part of that focus, mirrored by the Select Committee that scrutinises the Minister’s work. We have an excellent Women and Equalities Committee—it is to the great credit of the Government that they established it—and it is important that it should have a Minister to scrutinise.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am thankful to my hon. Friend Dawn Butler on our Front Bench for slightly changing the tone, because I have an actual point of order. I too wish to associate myself with all the comments that have been made. I have been called over the years to criticise you and also to defend you. Had I known what I have found out today about HS2, the latter would have been harder to do. I had no idea that you were against HS2, which will obviously revolutionise the place where I live. Anyway, that is not my point of order.
Mr Speaker, I know because of everything that has been said today that you encourage people like me to stand up and say when we think things are wrong and when we think things can be improved in Parliament. I love Parliament just as you do, and I wish for it to be in its healthiest form so that people can once again trust us, because there is a lack of trust in the country of this place at the moment. I wonder if you could help me to understand, in cases where Members of this House are found, and proven, to have committed what I would call, in certain cases, violence against women and girls —regardless of whether they do it on Parliamentary time or not—or where a Member of this House is in court for crimes that are violent or abusive, what protections we put in place for the vulnerable people who go to see them in their surgeries? When I worked in the voluntary sector, or if I was a teacher, a doctor or a police officer, I would not have been allowed to see the public during a period in which an investigation was ongoing into me and the potential abuse of vulnerable people. I have deep concerns about the safeguarding of the people of our country and about how the laws around vulnerable people do not apply to this place.
I take very seriously what the hon. Lady has said, which bears solemn reflection. Rather than giving some ill-judged response on the hoof, I would prefer to discuss the matter privately with the hon. Lady, which I make the genuine offer in the near future to do.
We do a lot of things much better than we did, but as the leader of the Liberal Democrats pointed out—I nodded vigorously as she made the observation—there is still a lot more to do. I like to view—I say this not least to those are observing our proceedings—the cup as half full, rather than half empty, but there is a fine line between being proud of what has been achieved and being satisfied. Being proud of what has been achieved is very often justified, and we should not rubbish ourselves. Being satisfied is usually a very, very bad idea, because it is the shortest possible route to complacency, for which there is no justification. We need to do better.
I have come to know Jess Phillips over the past four years, and I have learned a lot from her. She is one of the most authentic politicians and best communicators that one could hope to meet. Apart from anything else—I hope I carry my colleagues with me in making this observation—she has got guts and character to burn.
Thangam Debbonaire was the loudest, and she also has the biggest smile.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. So many things have been said about you that I hope you will accept that I will make my tributes to you in private. I hope that we can continue to be friends, even though I am a Whip and you have said some rather interesting things about Whips.
I actually wish to make a point of order, which is that I asked the Leader of the House last week to apologise for comparing a whistleblower who felt that it was in the national interest for him to reveal details about the possible impact of a no-deal Brexit on very ill people—I am so sorry for not giving you advance notice of this—with a disgraced former doctor who made up evidence about the MMR immunisation, but he refused to do so. As a result of a decrease in MMR immunisations, herd immunity to measles—a deadly disease—has gone down in this country. The Leader of the House has since apologised in public, but that is of course not on the record. In making my point of order, I hope to put it on record that the Leader of the House has apologised, but I seek your guidance on whether he can be asked to come to this House to put on the record, with equal measure, his apology for what he said about a distinguished man to whom we should be grateful.
The hon. Lady has made her point with vigour and alacrity, and it is on the record. If she wants to obtain, almost in real time, an electronic copy of what she said and to deliver it to the office of the Leader of the House, she may well elicit a response. The Leader of the House of Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg, is somebody I have known for a very long time. I have sometimes agreed with him and sometimes not, but I have found that the right hon. Gentleman, though he has delivered some extremely waspish and widely objected to comments on this occasion, has invariably been widely regarded as courteous. He is a polite man and a gracious person, and his characteristic generosity of spirit could serve him well here. He has apologised outside the House—that is my understanding from the media—and it is perfectly open to him to do so in the Chamber. It is not for the Speaker to instruct him to do so. It is incumbent upon a Member who has erred in this House to correct the record.
This is a matter of opinion, rather than of fact, but if he has apologised outside the House and can be cajoled, exhorted, charmed or persuaded by Thangam Debbonaire and me to beetle along to the Chamber to give us a sample of his contrition and humility, who knows? He may well be widely praised.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very saddened, on behalf of Plaid Cymru, to make this address to you today. We are eternally grateful to you for making a point of ensuring that the various and multifarious voices of this House are heard. There is such a variety, and earlier you mentioned the importance of Members of Parliament and their role. We need to remember in this place that every Member of Parliament is returned in exactly the same way by their constituents. Whichever party we stand and speak for, we are all here equally. I only hope that your successor will follow in your footsteps, because it has meant much to us. Rydan ni’n ddiolchgar i chi o waelod ein calonnau. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you. That was a very beautiful tribute, and I appreciate what the right hon. Lady has said.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would be remiss of me not to say, on behalf of all the Unionist Members of this House, a huge and hearty Ulster thank you for the work you have done in this House, both in chairing these proceedings and, of course, in your 22 years as a Member of Parliament.
We thank you for your kindness outside the Chamber, as well as inside the Chamber. You have called one Member from Northern Ireland more than anyone else in the whole House—he obviously catches your eye better than the rest of us—and I know my hon. Friend Jim Shannon has already thanked you.
Will you pass on a huge thank you to your staff? You have opened up the facilities of this House to Members of Parliament for charitable groups and for other activities, and your staff have been very obliging in assisting to ensure that issues of importance to them are properly advocated in this House.
Your comments were very Burkean in that you said it is not for us just to give of our industry but of our judgment. Each of us has different judgments on all sorts of matters. You, sir, have been able to respect those judgments, even though, at times, they are very different from the views you hold and, indeed, very different from the views held by other Members of this House.
I know that nationalist Members from Northern Ireland who sat in this House would also like to be recorded publicly as thanking you. Even though nationalists no longer take their seats here, which is a shame, I know those nationalist Members who previously represented their constituents in this House would also like to say a word of thank you for the work you have done as Chairman of these proceedings.
From your many visits to Northern Ireland, I know you have a soft spot for Belfast and for the people there. I am sure you will receive a rousing reception in some places and a less rousing reception in other places, but you will be welcomed back in Belfast.
The one thing that will probably disappoint you most is that you are not the Speaker who will oversee the restoration and renewal of this building. I know that is a personal passion of yours, but maybe as we enter into a new dispensation, free from Europe, we will have a fresh, new Parliament to sit in.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says but, above all, I am enormously appreciative of his remarks about the team in the Speaker’s Office, to whom I referred. They have been steadfast, unwavering, efficient and magnificent, all of them, and I have worked with many of them for several years in succession—a point of absolutely no interest to the bigoted faction who form their view and do not want any facts to get in the way. They will not write about it. They will scribble their bigoted drivel, because that is what they do. When their grandchildren ask, “What did you do for a living?”, they will say, “Well, I scribbled my bigoted drivel for some downmarket apology for a newspaper.”
Calling it a newspaper is probably a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, but they will not mind—they are probably very proud. Trashy articles by trashy journalists for trashy newspapers. It goes with the turf. It is downmarket, substandard and low grade. There is no intellectual weight to it, but that is what they do. It will always be about ad hominem attacks, because that is what makes their world go round.
But the fact is that the people who work in my office have been outstanding. I know their worth. We know the strength of our relationship, and the person standing on my left is one of several who have worked with me for many, many years and has worked with me throughout the 10 years I have been in post as Speaker. He was in the office for a decade before. He was educated at the university of life. There is not a pompous bone in his body. He would not know the meaning of the word “snobbery” if it hit him over the head, but he is absolutely brilliant, and I am grateful to him—Peter Barratt.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for being one of the great reforming Speakers; it is you who is trying to take back control for this Parliament, and others should learn from your example. You have also been a great champion of Select Committees, and, as Chair of the Liaison Committee, I would like to thank you for that. You have also been a champion of allowing Back Benchers to hold the powerful to account. That is what my point of order is about now, and it is further to a previous point of order. Not only are NHS staff entitled to raise genuinely held concerns about patient safety, but they have a duty to do so, and they must be able to do this without fear of intimidation or bullying from people in positions of power, including Members of this House. Last week, the Leader of the House made highly offensive comments about Dr David Nicholl. I reiterate: unless the Leader of the House comes to this place to make an apology from the Floor of the House, what message does that send to NHS whistleblowers and what does it mean for patient safety?
I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. She is an extremely distinguished denizen of the House, both in respect of her constituency work and of her chairing of very important Committees—the Health and Social Care Committee and the Liaison Committee. She speaks with considerable authority and gravitas by virtue of those roles and the reputation she has garnered. I do not want to pick an argument with the Leader of the House—he and I get on extremely well—but points have been made and the hon. Lady has underlined them. If she is dissatisfied, my advice to her is the advice I regularly give to Members wanting to know how they can take a matter forward—the word begins with “p” and ends in “t. My advice is: persist, persist, persist. There is nothing to prevent her from returning to the matter when we come back after the conference recess. On the Conservative Benches, Dr Lewis, who is not in this place—I believe he is chairing various Committees this afternoon or attending Committee meetings—taught me decades ago that in politics quantity, persistence and, above all, repetition are at least as important as the quality of your argument. It is not good enough to have a good point and make it once—you have to keep going. If I may say so, at the risk of causing some disquiet on grounds of courtesies, I would suggest to the hon. Lady that she should follow the Churchill adage in pursuit of her cause: KBO—keep buggering on—at all times.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I, of course, associate myself with all the remarks we have heard about your stepping down. I shall not embarrass you by throwing more compliments at you. May I reinforce the point that my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire and the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston, have made? Last week, the Leader of the House was disgraceful and irresponsible in his comments about Dr Nicholl, and he should come to this Chamber to apologise from the Dispatch Box. That would be the courteous thing to do. More importantly, do you agree that if the Government are confident that they have a system to ensure our constituents and patients will get timely access to medicines, they should publish the analysis now, so that we can scrutinise it in this House of Commons in the time we have left?
I feel sure that we will return to both issues erelong, if the hon. Gentleman’s legendary indefatigability does not desert him in the weeks and months ahead—it will not, and therefore we will hear more on those subjects.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Most Members have served under you for a lot longer than I have, but it would be remiss of me not to thank you now for supporting me at a time when my life was in danger. I will not go into the details, but I wanted to thank you for providing me with a lot of protection during a very dark hour in my life. While we are talking about life and death, I also want to thank you for supporting my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe by giving her case a lot of priority in the House, by granting urgent questions and allowing debates to come forward. Most importantly, you went to see Richard Ratcliffe when he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, and you also saved his life at the time. Throughout your career you have looked after Parliament and democracy, but along the way you have also saved lots of lives, which people might not know about.
I appreciate what the hon. Lady has said. I had not met Richard Ratcliffe before. Visiting him and spending a little time with him was an honour, as anyone who has met him will know. He is a quite remarkable human being. The sooner that Nazanin is freed so that she can be reunited with her daughter, husband and wider family, so much the better. It is intolerable beyond words that she has been denied her freedom by an act of dictatorial barbarity. We will go on and on about this for as long as it takes for humanity to prevail over barbarism. It would be good if this message was repeated much more widely, and not just in this place by conscientious politicians but in parts of the media that, frankly, are not terribly interested—it is about time, if they have any sort of moral compass, that they took an interest.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you for all that you have done to give us the opportunity to hold to account not only our own Government but other Governments, in respect to human rights violations and standing up for democracy? One example is when you agreed, at the request of the then Leader of the House and mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, to host the Women MPs of the World conference in this House. We heard incredibly moving contributions from women who have risked their lives and lost family members in order to stand up as parliamentarians in their countries. The power of this House to do good, and not only in this country but around the world, remains undimmed, despite and notwithstanding our current difficulties. It is important that we remember that this House, at its best, is a source of inspiration around the world, and that is in no small part thanks to all that you have done. Thank you, Mr Speaker. We will miss you, and we wish you the warmest regards for the future.
I think that Ms Harman has done huge and invaluable work on this front. She knows the issues and she feels them. She is, of course, as the hon. Lady knows, a stellar progressive change maker, and she has charted that course since she entered the House on
I know that Jack Dromey will be very proud of what I have just said about his wife, and he is looking even happier than he otherwise would. I will come to him, but it would be a pity to squander him at too early a stage of our proceedings when we have only been going for an hour and a quarter or so, so I will come to him momentarily.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for breaking one of your own rules—perhaps not a written one—as I have only just come into the Chamber, as you noticed. I want to apologise and explain that I was off the parliamentary estate. I had not known that you were about to make a statement, but as soon as I heard, I came back as fast as I could.
I want to thank you very seriously for your incredibly strong sense of fairness. As an MP from a party of just one in this place, it is very easy to feel somewhat marginalised from time to time, and I have so much gratitude for you that you have always included the Green party, recognising that I may be only one in here, but I represent a party out there. I thank you for your incredibly strong sense of fairness and justice and thank you for your reforming zeal in this place. We still have a long way to go, but thanks to you, we are a long way down that path.
The hon. Lady may recall that she once asked me if it would be all right if she included on the dust jacket of a book she was about to publish a tribute that I had paid her. I said to her that I was more than delighted for her to use that tribute on the dust jacket. My rationale was very simple: I had said what I said in public. I said it because I meant it, and I meant it so I said it, and, having meant it and said it, I was more than happy for it to be reproduced. I rather trust that that will continue to be at the hon. Lady’s pleasure. She is a superb parliamentarian and I think that that is recognised across the House. Without a vast infrastructure to support her, she is indefatigable, irrepressible and astonishing in her productivity and in the sheer range of her political interests. She is a fine parliamentarian. Also, because she is the only member of her party at the moment in this House, she is in the happy position of being leader and Chief Whip of her own party and, I think, of invariably agreeing with herself.
I thank colleagues. I know that we have taken a long time, but finally, we have time—frankly, we would have more time if we were not disappearing for a rather excessive period—for Jack Dromey.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I echo the tributes that have been paid to you? You are one of history’s finest Speakers with a lasting legacy, and dare I say that, in addition to everything else that has been said, you are one plain, decent man of immense integrity?
I rise on another matter: the truly right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) is leaving this House, because she has suffered shameful harassment and intimidation, including threats against her personal safety and the safety of her staff. Yet, Mr Speaker, there seems to be in this House those who are oblivious to the consequences of their actions. They use language that scars the public discourse—toxic talk of “traitors”, “collaborators”, “conspirators” and “surrender”—that demeans democracy, that fans the flames of hate and hate crime and that puts the public and Members of this House at risk. Women in particular often suffer shameful treatment. Is it in order in our great Parliament for language—hateful language—ever to be used that can then have tragic consequences, as recent history has told us?
There is a fine balance that has to be observed. Free speech is important, and one does not want to suppress the right of Members to hold and express, with considerable force and sometimes ill judgment, opinions very sincerely believed. But each and every one of us has in this place to weigh his or her words and to understand that we are in leadership positions. Words count. Words matter. Words make a difference. Words can cause great personal hurt and also be the trigger for actions by others.
I have become increasingly conscious in recent times—from Members on both sides of the House—of the escalation in hostile communications to Members and sometimes to their families. I underline that we have to call out unacceptable behaviour, including the issue of language that can induce threats or that constitutes a threat in its own right. We have to recognise also that there are some people who are so deprived of a moral compass that they think that, because they believe a particular thing strongly about a Member, that somehow justifies them subjecting that Member and his or her family to vituperation, abuse, intimidation or worse. It does not. It cannot. It will not.
I remember being shocked when the Leader of the House of Commons was faced by aggressive demonstrations outside his home, with people saying to his family, “A lot of people disapprove of your dad.” That could have been deeply frightening to family members and young children. Other Members, on both sides of the House, have also highlighted their experiences or the experiences of their family, or of their constituency or parliamentary staff; and up with this we cannot put. We simply have to say that it is wrong as a matter of principle and that if we need to do more and better, including the investment of greater resources and an improved mindset within the police service and the House authorities, we will do that. I hope that Jack Dromey will forgive me if I say that I have done my best but not enough and that more will need to be done in the period ahead. Some of the responsibility for leadership on that front will lie with the next Speaker.
It would be a good thing also if those who constantly prate about their rights to free speech—to publish or be damned, and say exactly what they think—were to ask themselves, “Is what we are about to produce likely to spark intimidation, harassment or violence?” and if those who put up pictures of parliamentarians on the front pages as though they are somehow public enemies because they have dared to hold and express a view that differs from that of the newspaper concerned started to realise just how desperately dangerous that is and to exercise a modicum of responsibility. Those people have got to learn to operate at the level of events. Thank you, colleagues.