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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons) 12:21 pm, 31st October 2019

I do not think that the Leader of the House should be so shy today. He is an innovator—we have now had a statement that has become a debate. That has never happened before in the history of Parliament, so he is a great innovator and we look forward to his many more innovations.

I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd. Tony Blair never managed to say that correctly; according to him, it was always “Sinon Valley”. I first met her on a trip long before I was a Member of Parliament. She was already a doughty figure in the Labour movement when we went to Chile many years ago. As many Members have said, she has stood up for human rights—and for that matter sat down for human rights in Tower colliery. I know that her constituents, and mine in the Rhondda too, for that matter, have a great deal of respect for her.

As for you, Mr Speaker, I hope that you remember Tom Harris. Tom was not the most left-wing of Labour MPs. Indeed, on one occasion in the Tea Room, when he was trying to say that he was a leftie, I said to him, “Tom, the only vaguely left-wing thing about you is that you quite like the gays”—he decided he would have that on his tombstone one day.

It is not often that I speak solely about the LGBT issue, but I think it has been an essential part of your journey, Mr Speaker. There have been occasions when Speaker’s House has felt a bit like a gay bar night after night, which is wonderful, because change has come so quickly in this country, as has acceptance and diversity. You have played a very important part in that.

The main reason why I wanted to speak is that I want to say a very specific thank you. For centuries, as hon. Members will know, Members of Parliament and their very close relatives have been allowed to get married in St Mary Undercroft. Many have taken advantage of that and it has been a great delight to them. Of course, that was never available to gay MPs, and it still is not because of the rules of the Church of England. I fully understand that, although I did have to persuade Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, that he could not marry me, first because canon law did not allow it and also because the law of the land did not allow it.

When it was mooted that we should be able to find somewhere in the Palace of Westminster where gay and lesbian MPs would be able to form their civil partnerships, you, Mr Speaker, were the first person who leapt forward and said that you would do everything in your power to try to make it happen. I know this to be the case because you rang Chris Mullin to ask him what he thought about it. Chris Mullin has always been a very liberal-minded chap—he is always in favour of the modern world, diversity and so on—and he was very friendly to me and my partner, Jared Cranney, but I happen to know, because it is Chris Mullin’s published diaries, that he said that he thought that civil partnerships in the Palace of Westminster would be a step too far at that time. But you ploughed on, Mr Speaker, and what was particularly nice was that opening up the Palace to allowing civil partnerships meant that any member of the public could form a civil partnership in the Palace. We have now made that possible for several hundreds of people, I understand, which is a great delight.

I particularly remember Harriet—if you don’t mind my calling the Mother of the House that—chatting to Cilla Black, Sally, Pat Brunker and lots of other women from the Rhondda Labour party, with copious quantities of champagne and everyone enjoying themselves enormously. We were the first civil partnership in Parliament, and that was entirely down to you, Mr Speaker.