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Tributes to the Speaker

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 1:54 pm, 31st October 2019

Sir David Amess—the great city of Southend—was right when he said that today is a day when the House comes together to say a fond farewell. There are so many to whom we can say a fond farewell. Indeed, some of them are in the Chamber: my right hon. Friend Ann Clwyd and my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham. I want to add a fond farewell to the remarkable right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). She is a truly outstanding parliamentarian who was prepared to put the national interest over narrow party political interest. She is lionised by Jaguar workers and Land Rover workers, as we have worked together to defend the interests of our manufacturing base against the background of Brexit. She will be sorely missed.

Mr Speaker, yours has been a remarkable trajectory, from being a member of an organisation so right-wing that even Norman Tebbit abolished it, to being a fully paid-up Macmillanite, to I know not where. I know not where because you do not wear your politics or your prejudices on your sleeve. You are truly impartial.

In 600 years of our parliamentary democracy, there have been few champions of Parliament as great as you, writing a noble chapter in the history of Parliament and, crucially, enabling Parliament to hold the Executive to account. That may sometimes be frustrating for those on the Treasury Bench. There have been times when the right hon. Member for Downton Abbey, the Leader of the House, has expressed his concerns and frustrations, but you have allowed Parliament to hold the Executive to account. You have done that without suffering the fate of some of your predecessors, who literally lost their heads.

You have been a great champion of parliamentarians. There is no question about it: our country is deeply divided. Sadly we see a politics of hate on the march, sometimes manifested in attacks on parliamentarians. You have been a champion of parliamentarians, including on that front. You have also been a champion of reaching out to the country. In troubled times, you have truly been a bridge over troubled waters.

You have been a champion of opening up Parliament. You have built a brilliant team, including the wonderful Rose, reflecting the rich diversity of our capital city and our country. You have also been a champion of opening up Parliament to young people. I will never forget your powerful addresses at the four Erdington Youth Parliaments. I remember meeting a group of apprentices from the Erdington Skills Centre the week after, and one of them said, “That bloke Bercow, he’s really something, isn’t he?” As a consequence of what you have done, tens of thousands of young people have come to the cradle of our democracy, and they have loved every moment.

You have a remarkable, Shakespearean turn of phrase and a rhetorical flourish the like of which I have never heard. You are also humble, reaching out to those suffering difficulties in their life or in their career in Parliament. So many Members here today will never forget your kindness when kindness was desperately needed.

You are not just one of Parliament’s greatest Speakers, who in centuries to come will be remembered like some of the great figures of the past. You are a profound family man, but also—forgive me for saying this—you are just a plain, decent man. We will never, ever forget you.