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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 1:37 pm, 31st October 2019

Mr Speaker, I can see that you are saving the best till last. It is a huge pleasure to say thank you this afternoon. I wonder, though, whether when we bump into each other again in years to come, I will feel as I did that time I jumped off my bicycle and a man 6 feet taller than I looked at me and said, “Hello, sir. I notice you haven’t polished your shoes today.” It was the academy sergeant-major from Sandhurst and I was wearing trainers. He was pointing out what he knew then, which is that standards matter, and you have defended the standards in this House religiously. For that, I can only be extremely grateful.

Defending the rights of parliamentarians is not actually about defending 650 people who may or may not have an opinion on a subject. It is about defending the very principle of democracy in our country. It is about defending the very principles of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and individual liberty. And it is absolutely about defending the foundations of the economy and society that we have built with much care and many failures, but over many, many decades. For that, I am hugely grateful.

On a personal basis, if I may, there is another thing for which I would like to thank you. You have not only introduced us to a wonderful chaplain, who is here and to whom I pay huge personal thanks and tributes, but you have also introduced a new chaplain in Father Pat Browne. To have a Catholic chaplain in this House and to have a regular mass on a Wednesday afternoon is an act of extreme kindness to many of us in the Catholic community in this place, but it also reflects the fact that this House does not now legislate for the exclusion of one religion, does not now silence one form of worship and does not now reject the individual practice of so many people in these islands.

I know that you have been on a journey, Mr Speaker. Some people have spoken of your origins on one wing of the party, and your arrival at the seat in which you now find yourself—the defender of many liberties, which would have surprised others 20 or 30 years ago. Many of us have been on a journey. I see the Leader of the House sitting there on the Front Bench. When I used to sit next to him, he was a guardian of the purity of this House, but he has gone with the speed of a whippet from the purity of the Vestal Virgin to the Whore of Babylon deep in Executive power.

We have all been on various different journeys, Mr Speaker, and I am delighted that your journey has taken you to where you are now. I am personally grateful that the past four years, particularly the two in which I had the privilege of chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee, have been under your speakership. You have enabled those of us who are very new to this place to have a voice and, I hope, to represent some of the views that need speaking up for in our House. Even if we may sometimes chunter when criticised, almost certainly justifiably, that might give us cause to remember that your defence of this House means that sometimes we are in the wrong, too.