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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham 1:13 pm, 31st October 2019

Time does not allow me to do justice to all the amazing work that you have done in the service of this Parliament, Mr Speaker. Before I came to Parliament, I was a young barrister, and I was told, “Brevity is a virtue, not a vice, so keep it short.” You have applied that rule when we have all spoken.

I wish to cover three things: accessibility; the way you have treated Back-Bench Members of Parliament; and wellbeing. First, on accessibility, all Members of Parliament are among equals in this place, and you have applied that rule. As a young Member of Parliament, many years ago, when I thought I needed to talk to the Speaker, I contacted the Speaker’s office and said, “I would like to speak to the Speaker of Parliament.” I was told, “Thank you, Mr Chishti,” and within minutes the Speaker could be reached on his mobile phone in his constituency. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the brilliant team around you—I see one of them standing there, and there are others. Members of Parliament judge the moment when they need to speak to our Speaker—you are our Speaker—and accessibility is key for Members of Parliament and for anyone when they want to reach a person in a position of responsibility. You, Mr Speaker, has have always ensured that.

Secondly, Mr Speaker, you have been the champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament. We all have our own cases. One thing on which I can never compromise —I never have throughout my time in Parliament—is freedom of religion or belief. I came to this country as the son of an imam. My father was an imam, my grandfather was an imam and my uncles were imams. I came to Gillingham in 1984, and we could practise our religion openly and freely at every level. Morally and ethically, it would be wrong for me not to stand up at any level when I see individuals of minority faiths being persecuted.

In 2014, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, to ask for an Adjournment debate on the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where they are used to target minority faiths, and the case of Asia Bibi, who was on death row. Before the case came up in the media in the past year, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, and you gave me the chance to raise it on the Floor of the House. And it was not just then, because you know what matters to Members of Parliament. We all champion different issues, and you have been absolutely brilliant in realising what issues matter to Members of Parliament. When I resigned from the Government in November 2018—the Government did not agree with my view on the Asia Bibi case, so I stepped aside—I wanted to question the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, but I was not listed on the Order Paper. I was sitting on the Bench right there, and although I am slightly short, I was still bobbing up and down. You, Mr Speaker, called me so that I could raise my issue with the person who had to make the final decision. You have been absolutely amazing as a champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament.

Thirdly, there are some outside who do not see Members of Parliament or those who work here as fellow human beings. We are all human beings, and we all suffer from the same challenges that every other citizen in our great country suffers. We all have challenges and issues that arise. I wish to touch on the work that you, Mr Speaker, have done on the wellbeing of Members of Parliament and of those who work in this great Parliament. I cannot thank you enough for the way you have dealt with those issues with compassion, decency and complete regard to human dignity. You have put in place a system with the brilliant Dr Madan. It is a clinician-led approach, and I thank Dr Madan, because often those who do the work behind the scenes do not get the credit. They do an amazing job. If everyone applied your approach, Mr Speaker, of making sure that those who work here, at whatever level, get support when they need it—and quickly, swiftly and appropriately—individuals could go on and be better than before. That comes down to individuals in responsibility taking such decisions.

I was very fortunate to represent the Prime Minister in the Holy See at the canonisation of Cardinal Newman. I did not know much about Cardinal Newman, but when I was there I listened to people speak about that great man’s values. One of the hymns was “Lead, Kindly Light”, which has the lyrics:

“I do not ask to see

The distant scene;
one step enough for me.”

In the 10 years for which you have sat in the Chair, Mr Speaker, every step that you have taken has been for the betterment of this Parliament. Thank you, Sir.