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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 1:18 pm, 31st October 2019

I listened carefully to the opening statement by the Leader of the House and was interested to hear what he had to say. I always listen to him carefully. He chooses his words carefully and gives me the impression, at least, that he understands the meaning of them—after all, he is the only person I know who reads the words “lounge suit” inside his jacket and takes them as instructions for use. You, Mr Speaker, have challenged the House in respect of the rights of Back Benchers. There are people in the House who have benefited from that at times but who, now that time has moved on, perhaps do not quite appreciate how you have stood up for the rights of this House and for those of us who have wanted to stand up for our constituents.

In particular, I want to pay tribute to you for standing up for the people of the 48% who voted in 2016 to remain in the European Union. If people had listened to the Government’s views on the outcome of the referendum, which we all respect, they would have believed that it was a resounding victory, and that the country was not split at that time. But, indeed, the country was split, and it was for this House to stand up and hold the Government to account and to speak up for the views of those people who wanted to remain in the European Union, or who wanted, in leaving, to retain as much of our relationship with the European Union as we could. Without your strength of character, Mr Speaker, to stand up to an Executive who were prepared to try to ride roughshod over those of us who wanted to hold the Government to account, we would have been in a very different place now. That is a tribute to you, and your actions during these very trying times have earned you a place in history. You deserve enormous credit for that. I will always admire you for what you did, because, at times, it was very difficult for you. You were out there as an individual having to stand up to those people. I understand that you have an excellent team around you, but you did it none the less, and you did it for us. For that, I will always be grateful.

I am also grateful to your team. I do not do this very often, but I pleaded with them to ensure that I was called at Prime Minister’s questions to raise something on behalf of a disabled constituent who had had their personal independence payment taken away, and was about to have their car repossessed on the Thursday after that Prime Minister’s questions. I did not think that I would be called, Mr Speaker, but because you had been generous with time at Prime Minister’s questions—you allowed it to overrun—I was called right at the tail end. I always seem to get called at the tail end, but if you are patient, you get there. I thanked you, Mr Speaker, when I was interviewed on the radio subsequently about this issue. As a consequence of my being able to raise that matter at Prime Minister’s questions—because you heard my plea and called me—the life of my constituent was completely transformed in a moment. That is the power of being in that Chair, and I pay tribute to you for how you stood up for us Back Benchers so that we could stand up for our constituents. My constituent’s PIP was reinstated and they did not have their car repossessed.

Your inspired appointment of Rose Hudson-Wilkin was, again, a testament to your strength of character, and to your determination to modernise and to take us forward as a House of Commons, representing all the people. I pay tribute to Rose. She has an amazing career ahead of her and will be a very influential person in our society in whatever role she goes on to do when she ceases to be Chaplain to the Speaker of the House.

Mr Speaker, you came into the House in 1997, the same time as me. You have a constituency in the home counties; I have one in London. No doubt schools from your constituency have frequently visited this place and you have taken them round on tours. But on rainy days, when they wanted to have their packed lunch, children used to be told that the Speaker of the House and the Serjeant at Arms did not allow packed lunches to be eaten in Westminster Hall. There was no cafeteria down there, and when we got one, it was not accessible to schoolchildren, because they had to buy something to be in there. This was an appalling place for young people to visit in terms of how they were welcomed, although they were awestruck as they were taken around the place and no doubt educated by all the MPs who were boring them to tears with the details of the House. None the less, it was important that they were here. They were inspired by the House, but it was very unwelcoming to them.

The changes that you have made in opening up the Education Centre and making this place feel welcoming to young people have been inspired. I want the Speaker who follows you to do more of that, and it is a mark of the way that you have brought modernisation and change to this House. You have earned your place in the history of this House and I wish you all the best for your future.