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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:03 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 12:03 pm, 31st October 2019

On a personal note, Mr Speaker, you know that I met you before you were a Member of Parliament, and I can remember what an irritating young man you were at that time. [Laughter.] You were clever, and you knew it, and a bit arrogant with it, and you wanted to tell me just how right you were on every political issue—this is before you were in Parliament. Over the years, I have got to know and like you a great deal, and I hope that I can count you as a friend. You actually like my ties, which is something that recommends you to me.

When I chaired the Education Committee, I remember that you asked me to come to your constituency, and then much later, you asked whether you could come to Huddersfield to see what sort of constituency I represented. I have told the House this before. I met you at Wakefield station. You got off the train and said, “It’s a hell of a long way, isn’t it?” Of course it is—it is nearly 200 miles to Huddersfield. We had a fantastic day together. I think you have learned a great deal from going to people’s constituencies and finding out what the journeys are like and how vulnerable we are when we are travelling. I think you woke up to that on that day and have been such a good influence ever since—remember this was just after Jo Cox was murdered. It was also the day after the referendum, so it was an auspicious occasion.

On a more personal note, you know I have a large family: three daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren. A few years ago, we were wondering what to do on Boxing Day. We were all down in London for a big reunion and thought we would go to London Zoo. Of course, the favourite place to go was the penguin pool, and who did we find there? You, your wife and your children. It gave a flavour of you as the great family person we all know you are. We love that you and Sally have been living here with your family. The kids seem to have grown up really wonderfully even in this strange environment. I congratulate you on all that.

You are very easy to get on with, and you are a very good friend, so may I have the privilege of giving you some careers advice? I give a lot of careers advice. I am told it is one of the things I am quite good at: helping people to identify their talents and moving them on a bit. Now, I did not realise that you are a very good manager. I recall the dark days in this place before you became Speaker. It just needed management. From those early days, you built up a great team of people around you. It was not easy, but you made changes in a place that was desperately badly managed. We had inherited a crazy system, but you came in and transformed the management of this place. I think we will look back on the Bercow years as great years for Parliament. It is more efficient and sensitive in so many areas—families, children, women and diversity—and you will be remembered for all that, but you will also be remembered for bringing this place back to life. We were in deep trouble and you helped us to save it and led that saving process.

I want to repeat something I said earlier about what you went through at a certain stage in your career and how the press treated you—not just the red tops, but The Times, The Daily Telegraph, people who used to be MPs. Political sketch writers used to be funny—not some of those who hounded you. We know who they are. They stimulated on social media some ghastly stuff that you and your family had to put up with, and I am proud that you stood up to it. It didn’t get you down and you are still here, a robust champion of everything you did.

The careers advice comes now. You are still very young. I hope to be re-elected as the Member for Huddersfield, and if I am successful, I will miss you, but you are only in your mid-50s, I think, which is just the time to start a brilliant new career. I won’t talk about Frank Sinatra. His voice, though I loved it, had gone by then. You are in the prime of your life and I see you making a contribution greater even than the one you have made up to now. I say to the Leader of the House: it would be an absolute insult to the House if the tradition that the Speaker is offered a seat in the House of Lords was not respected. I was worried this week when the Prime Minister failed to pay a warm tribute to the Father of the House. I hope that that kind of pettiness will not go to a repudiation of a long tradition that our Speaker, when he retires from this place, is offered a place in the House of Lords.

Even if that happened, Mr Speaker, you have your talent—that of mimicry, your voices and all that stuff. Yesterday, I was phoned by ABC, which said, “Would your Speaker be interested in doing a programme? We love him in America.” I said, “No, we want him to have brand new television programme about politics called ‘Order, Order!’” So, Mr Speaker, I want you to stay in politics, do a really good job on the media and bring that to life in the way that you have brought this place to life. But whatever you decide, Godspeed.