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Mr Speaker, before turning to you, I want to make one point. There has been unconfirmed bad news about my constituent Amelia Bambridge. Everyone wished that she would be found alive and well. I ask that people use sensitivity and common sense and avoid circulating distressing images.
May I say, Mr Speaker, as technically the longest-serving Conservative Member of Parliament, although the Father of the House properly holds that title, that all of us, from me to the most recent person elected to this House, acknowledge all the good that you have done and the good that has been done while you have been Speaker?
I have to warn those who want to write you off in retirement, Mr Speaker, that in 1656 Cromwell found out that a unicameral Parliament was a bad idea and he created the Other House. Those at the time could not decide on the title, which is why we use the expression “the other House” for the House of Lords. In the last 363 to 361 years, we have relied on some of the words that Speaker Lenthall used. He actually went from this Chamber to the Other House and then came back as Speaker, and that course is open to you if you want to break precedent in more ways than you have already.
When a decision was taken in the Chair by you, Mr Speaker, I submitted to the Clerks an early-day motion giving a direction that it should not happen again. They, I think humorously—I assume it was humorously—asked me how I could do that. I said, “What are the only words people can remember of a previous Speaker?” The answer was Lenthall’s words that he could only do as the House “directs”. If that is true, putting down a motion to give a direction to the occupant of the Chair would seem perfectly proper and the motion was accepted.
I want to say, Mr Speaker, that although you were not my first choice in the year that you were elected as Speaker, I honour you. I praise Sir George Young for asking you, and you agreeing that he could have his party in your House. I think that shows the mood and the friendship that exist in this place, and that has continued strongly with you as Speaker.
I explained to my constituents that had they chosen you rather than me in Worthing West in 1996, they could have been represented by the Speaker for the last 10 years. When one of them said that your tenure of 10 years seemed rather longer than the nine years, I said, “He did say he was going after nine years, and 10 years is after nine years, isn’t it?” If any pedant uses the word you actually put in your letter, I shall criticise them for being too pernickety.
I have dragged you to the Chair twice, Mr Speaker. We do not have to drag you out of it because you have chosen the time to leave. As people heard me say privately a year ago, I think you deserve a margin of appreciation. Those who would want to make a great fuss about the time you have been in the Chair are wrong. However, at some calm period, we may wish to discuss whether the normal expectation should be that the Speaker will do up to nine years, as you had once indicated.
It would also be a useful idea if we could have a debate, in some period of calm, about whether we should have a regular discussion—perhaps every two years—on the way the Chair is occupied and how decisions are made. It is one of the areas where we can contribute, and the occupant of the Chair and the Procedure Committee can consider whether anything can be done.
There are a few things that people do not know about what you do, Mr Speaker, but it is worth mentioning the one referred to by my hon. Friend Sir Henry Bellingham about your relationship with your own constituents. During the Select Committee considering objections to HS2, we went around with you on a number of occasions, and I think people who only see you in public will not know what you are like in private with your constituents. The Speaker is knowledgeable, he is calm, he is reasonably quiet and people trust him. That is what people can ask of their Members of Parliament, and the service you have given to them should be remembered in these tributes today.
There are other things I could say, but I think the best thing to do is to say that the good you have done should be remembered—and you have acknowledged the good that we have done—and were there to be a signal honour motion, we hope that it would be passed with acclamation. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for occupying the Chair.