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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:44 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 11:44 pm, 31st October 2019

Mr Speaker, I do not intend to repeat the warm and generous tributes that have been paid to you and your speakership today, except to agree wholeheartedly with all of them. There have been some extremely good summaries of the particular flavour that you have brought to the speakership.

Mr Speaker, you took over in very difficult times—right at the height of the controversies about expenses—when the House had to regain a great deal of good will from the public. You did so in a way that I think few would have expected, given where you began your political career. The thing I saw most quickly about you was that, although you had a respect for tradition, you also had a very open mind about how it needed to change. I referred to that in my own maiden speech, when I came into this House in 1992, and it is a rare combination. It is particularly rare, I suspect, coming from someone who began his life in the Federation of Conservative Students.

It was clear, Mr Speaker, that you had not only the capacity but the desire to go on a journey, and many of us noticed your particular commitment to your principles as you grew into them when you resigned from the Conservative Front Bench because you objected to being whipped to vote against the equalisation of the age of consent. It was nasty for anyone, in what was then a rapidly modernising social situation, to be expected to do that for their party.

The journey that you have taken on matters of equality, Mr Speaker, has been noticed by all of those who were oppressed by not having access to it. It has been celebrated, and the LGBT community in particular owes you a great deal. You have been an untiring and unfailing champion for women’s rights, for the rights of those who have disabilities, and for LGBT and BAME people. That commitment has been shown in many of the decisions you have taken in your executive role. I was privileged to be able to serve with you on not the most glamorous of committees—the Speaker’s committee behind the scenes—as you drove forward some of the modernisation that you have been responsible for, as Members on both sides of the House have pointed out in their tributes to you today.

Mr Speaker, the reactionary resistance that you faced in driving that change—for example, on the education department, or to allow the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber—had to be seen to be believed. However, if I may say so, you have driven a coach and horses through that resistance and achieved real and lasting change, which—when you are finally in your bath chair, and I know that will be a very long time from now, watching Roger Federer still winning the veterans trophy at Wimbledon—I think you will be able to sit back and reflect very much on.

I have a couple of other points, Mr Speaker. One is that I have always loved your use of language and command of the House. You are never one who is content to say “medicine” when you can say “medicament” or “suitcase” when you might say “portmanteau”. Many of us have enjoyed that aspect of your time in the Chair.

There is one place still far too hidebound by tradition that needs your open and reforming zeal, Mr Speaker, in order that we might deal with it. This is a question for the Leader of the House: why on earth does the right hon. Gentleman not get up now and say that he recognises the absolute ability you have shown to drive change in fusty-dusty organisations and send you where you belong—to the House of Lords?