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I rise to give my final speech in the House. I stress that, notwithstanding the difficulties of the politics and the role of Parliament at this moment, my reasons for standing down are essentially personal. I have been here for 19 years, but it does not seem a minute since I gave my maiden speech. My enthusiasm for politics is undiminished and my commitment to the values that have always driven my political activity is still there. However, my birth certificate and the fact that last year I had to have a second hip replacement are timely reminders that we cannot always take it for granted that we will have time available to do everything else that we want to do in life that, unfortunately, being here precludes us from doing. I have therefore made the decision to move on.
Before I talk about more general issues, I would like to express a few thanks, as other Members have done. First, I wish to thank my constituency and its electors for re-electing me six times. I am a strong pro-Europe remainer. My constituency voted 70% for Brexit, but their undiminished support for me is both a reflection of the broadness of the views they have on many things and perhaps a salutary warning to the Prime Minister on his election strategy. I have been privileged to represent a genuinely multicultural constituency, one that is heavily industrialised. Behind those often unprepossessing facades, there are small businesses that are at the cutting edge of our manufacturing technology and drive the revival in our civil aviation and motor industries, which has made us the pride of the world and contributed a huge amount to our economy.
I wish to thank my family. I want to start by thanking my wife Jill for her unstinting support. As Sir Patrick McLoughlin said, such support is always there in public but it is often slightly more critical in private. Her support has always been valuable. I thank my stepson Danny, who always found me a complete embarrassment when he was a teenager. He is now a trade union organiser and a councillor to boot. I also want to thank my party for backing me all these years and the Co-operative party for its backing, too. I had a long spell as a Co-operative party organiser, and I have always been strongly committed to co-operative and mutual values. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity it gave me to work for the party and the backing it has given me here. In addition—not finally—I wish to thank Councillor Lorraine Ashman and Councillor Maria Crompton, who have been my assistants in West Bromwich for 19 and 18 years respectively. They are brilliant and their expertise is fantastic, and I know that, with the work they have done here for me, they have changed the lives of many individual electors in the constituency. I would like that recognised.
I said that my birth certificate told me it was time to go. That caused me to look back, and I realised that I have contested 10 parliamentary, one euro and five local government elections. I first worked in the 1964 election as a student Labour activist. I recall heckling Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Peter Walker, the father of Mr Walker—I keep reminding him of that—and Jeremy Thorpe. I will come on to more about him in a moment. I first contested a parliamentary election when I was just 24, in South Worcestershire, against a character that older Members may remember, Sir Gerald Nabarro. I went on to contest Nantwich a couple of times in the 1974 elections, and then the Wirral by-election. That brings me to what is possibly a unique niche I have in political history: I have contested two by-elections nearly 25 years apart and both on the retirement of the Speaker. It was Selwyn Lloyd in 1976 and, of course, Betty Boothroyd in West Bromwich West in 2000. I have to say that I remember the West Bromwich election a lot more fondly than the Wirral one, because 1976 was not a good year for Labour. It was even worse for the Liberals, though, because it was the height of Jeremy Thorpe’s problems. I remember exchanging pleasantries with him over a loudspeaker when he came to speak for the Liberal candidate during the campaign. I think I halved the Liberal vote and doubled the Tory vote. A week later, Harold Wilson resigned; I have always felt a bit guilty that I was perhaps personally responsible.
When I first contested an election at 24 years old, I thought I would get into Parliament as a fairly young man, but unfortunately I ran into a couple of problems. First, I have always been fundamentally committed to Europe, and at that time, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Labour party was fundamentally opposed to it. Secondly, I was always a multilateralist at a time when the Labour party was committed to unilateralism. I realised that my parliamentary prospects were evaporating in front of me. However, I was then lucky to be employed by the Co-operative party. That movement gave me the opportunity to continue in politics, albeit in another capacity, to be my own person and to promote my own values and ideals, notwithstanding the fact that I could not do it in Parliament.
I remember an interesting occasion in 1981, during the big deputy leadership contest between Benn, Healey and Silkin. I was rung up and asked to go to Liverpool, Wavertree to speak on behalf of Denis Healey. Now, in common parlance, in political terms that is a bit of a hospital pass. The debate was dominated by Derek Hatton and the Militant Tendency. I was debating a representative for Tony Benn and a certain person by the name of Doug Hoyle, father of the current Speaker. I remember that my powers of oratory and persuasion enabled me to get exactly no votes—there were 12 abstentions.
I am running out of time so will move on and make a couple of quick observations. It has been an immense privilege to work here. I have seen how Parliament has become more powerful vis-à-vis the Government. My five years as Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee was one of the most rewarding things I have done, and I want to see the powers of Select Committees enhanced, because they not only hold the Government to account but give the Government the insight into just how their policies are playing out on the ground, without the—shall we say—translation that comes from the layers of civil servants who advise their Ministers. Select Committees are a tremendous enhancement and a really valuable part of Parliament.
I wish to thank everybody. Despite the sharp and confrontational exchanges that take place, there is an underlying comradeship and community feeling among those here that I have always found valuable. I wish my successor and everybody who comes after me all the best with the difficult decisions they are going to have to make. I will still be out there, campaigning to promote the values I have always promoted. Thank you, everybody.