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Politics can be cruel. A young lad came up to me in Tonypandy the other day. He could not quite place who I was, but he knew he had seen me somewhere, maybe on telly. I said, “Well, maybe it’s because I am the MP for the Rhondda,” and he said, “No, that’s Chris Bryant—and he’s much younger than you.” For the record, I am 57, older than John Bercow.
Politics has, however, felt especially cruel in the past few years. Many of us feel battered and bruised, and many of the public feel that Parliament has been a bit of a bearpit, but we speak as we find and my personal experience from earlier this year, when I was wandering around looking like I was auditioning for the part of the monster in “Frankenstein”, was that there are untold, countless moments of personal, enormous generosity in this House, and most of the country would be enormously proud of the way we do our business if only they knew.
The truth is that politics is an honourable profession. Every single one of us in this House entered politics because we wanted to change the world for the better, and often the individual campaigns that we run touch millions of lives: just think of the campaign to get Brineura for children with Batten disease; think of the work that has been done on getting an inquiry on contaminated blood, or for that matter on children’s funerals or on people trafficking. There are so many different campaigns, including the one I dedicated myself to on acquired brain injury and melanoma. That is why it is so important that we revitalise and stand up for parliamentary democracy and return to the rulebook—stitch it back together.
I am standing because I love Parliament—I believe in parliamentary democracy and I want to do things properly. That means being a Speaker who has absolutely no favourites, who believes in standing by the rules, who is completely impartial, and who knows “Erskine May” inside out and back to front—I have it lying by my bedside—[Laughter.] All right! It means being a Speaker who is an umpire, not a player.
This is one of the most demanding jobs in British politics. For centuries it was said that it could be done only by a top-rate lawyer, and that is because the decisions that are made by the Speaker are of constitutional significance. You have to be quick on your feet. You have to be able to defend the decision and explain it in plain English.
There are things I want to do. I want to get Prime Minister’s questions back to 30 minutes. I want to publish a speakers list for debates so that you know when you will be called, and if you do not get called today you will get called first tomorrow. I want to call colleagues according to their relevance to the subject, rather than according to some idea of seniority. I want to stop the clapping—[Applause.] Yes, very funny! Can we return to waving the Order Papers? That is the traditional way. For that matter, I also want to stop the hectoring and the addresses to the Gallery.
I want to make sure that every single MP, their families and, importantly, their staff are safe in their constituency offices and in their homes. I want to make the timing of the parliamentary day more predictable, I want to increase the human resources department, and I want to—no, I do not just want to, I will sort out the wi-fi and the mobile signal.
Let me end with three Speakers from the past. The first is Betty Boothroyd, who, when she stood for Speaker, said:
“I say to you, elect me for what I am and not for what I was born.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 207, c. 15.]
I was taught as a child to judge somebody not according to the colour of their skin, their religion, their gender or sexuality, what school they went to, what accent they spoke with or what part of the country they were from, but according to the strength of their character and whether they could do the job well. I hope you will all judge me in exactly the same way today.
The second speaker is Speaker Onslow who, in the 18th century, was the first speaker to say that he would
“be respectful and impartial to all.”
That will be my motto.
“I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak, in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am”.
That is all I ask: the chance to serve.