May I begin by apologising, Madam Deputy Speaker, because there has been so much Northern Irish business over the past week that I have made my farewell speech 15 times? I am now known as the Dame Nellie Melba of west London. If anyone wishes to say any nice things about me, please let them not feel constrained by the fact that they have been said a few times already.
I leave this House with great sadness. I have to say that what tipped me over the edge was a text message from the Argyle surgery in my constituency, inviting me to attend an end of life seminar. I thought, “Maybe my time has come.” Having listened this afternoon to right hon. and hon. Members describe their glittering careers—this great cavalcade and cornucopia of achievement—I am now looking back over my years in the House with a certain sadness.
I came into the House as one of Blair’s babes in 1997. I was immediately appointed to the Broadcasting Committee, along with Sir Roger Gale, and we decided to set ourselves the task of ending broadcasting of the House of Commons. I was swiftly removed from the Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman was knighted—I make no comment on that.
I was then made Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, who is a marvellous man. Unfortunately, I chose to vote against my Government on the part privatisation of the NHS and so had to step down. However, I was rescued from the ignominy and the outer darkness when I was made PPS to Hazel Blears, who is an amazing, wonderful woman. Sadly, I had to vote against my Government on the renewal of Trident and so once again fell into silence and desuetude. However, Tony Blair, a man of sound Christian principles, knowing that God loves a sinner who repents, gave me another chance. The fact that every time I appear in the Chamber my Whip has to sit next to me reveals that, sadly, not everyone believes me. I was then appointed to be PPS to the then right hon. Member for Tooting in the Department for Transport. Sadly, High Speed 2 was going to be run through my constituency, like a great steel snake slamming through the suburbs, so I felt it necessary once again to resign.
Quite clearly I have achieved very little, but one thing that I have achieved is a knowledge and understanding of this place, and a recognition that structure is a function of purpose. It is so easy to be intoxicated by the beauty of this place. When I was first elected, Tony Blair set up something called the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee—because, frankly, most of us needed modernising. After a few months, the members of that Committee had gone completely native and were saying, “No, this is how things have always been done.” He then had to set up a modernisation of the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee committee. After four weeks, our Committee reported. We then installed a tights machine in the corridor just outside Annie’s Bar—what else could we possibly have done?
I think of this building as the corporeal embodiment of the ship of state. This is a great, glorious galleon sailing across storm-tossed oceans. We have the sketch writers—Crace, Letts and people like that—up in the rigging. We have the galley, with our marvellous cooks who bring us steak and kidney pudding and duff on a regular basis. Not mentioned in all the tributes to the House staff are the Doorkeepers. They are wonderful people. The Library—amazing people. I must visit it one day. The Admission Order Office. If only they would tell me where it was, I would go there. And there are so many other incredible things. The bar has not been mentioned. In my day, there was more than one. The Strangers’ Bar! What more welcoming sight could there be than that cheerful face behind the bar, with the cheerful comment, “The usual, Mr Pound? But not all at once, I trust?” It is wonderful.
We have a firm hand on the wheel—it is marvellous to see, Madam Deputy Speaker. The captain for most of my parliamentary career was, of course, Tony Blair. He had a slightly tempestuous relationship with the first mate, or the purser, the man responsible for the purse strings. It was not so much like Aubrey and Maturin; it was more like Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian, to be perfectly honest—not to imply that the great Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was anything like Captain Bligh.
This great ship of state will be docking in another berth before too long. I would like to think that people realise that what is important about this place is not the gorgeous neo-Gothic surrounds, the Pugin beauty or the wonder of the place; it is what happens here and the people within it. I have to say that I do not know a single person who has come into this House with ignoble motives. I do not know anyone who has come into this House not wishing to make the world a better place. In many ways, we have failed to get that message across. If anyone had been here earlier on for the debate on historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland, they would have realised that this place is a powerhouse. It is a place where major change can take place. If we do not do it, then who does? If we do not give that political lead, then who does? If we do not set that standard and if we do not seek to protect our nation, then who will do it? As far as I am concerned, the miracle of this place is how much we do achieve. The tragedy of this place is how little we make that case.
I could not have survived all these long, lonely years out of office without the team in my office. I would particularly like to thank Sue McLeod and Diane Wall, who between them have been here for the whole of my time here. I would also like to thank my wife, who has been sitting in the Under-Gallery for four and a half hours. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Above all, I would like to thank my fellow parliamentarians. I have made friends across the political divide. I have actually spoken at a fundraiser for Jim Shannon on the Ards peninsula.