I beg to move,
That this House records its warm appreciation of the manner in which the Right Honourable Michael Martin has occupied the office of Speaker; expresses its thanks for the humanity and good humour with which he has presided over the affairs of the House at a most challenging time; congratulates him on the kindness and openness he has shown to all Members and for establishing a Speaker’s conference to examine engagement of Parliament with an increasingly diverse society; and accordingly unites in sending him its wishes for a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair.
Mr. Speaker, I regard it as a great privilege that it falls to me to be the first to speak to this motion, and the first to offer you, on behalf of the whole House, heartfelt thanks for your long and dedicated service to Parliament—as a Member of Parliament, a Chair of Committees, a Deputy Speaker and, of course, most recently, for nearly nine years’ service as our Speaker. As is typical of you, in your remarks today you have been anxious to thank all those who have worked with you during your period as Speaker. As is also typical of you, your concern for others is reflected in the work that you have done with your wife in hosting numerous charitable events in the Speaker’s House. And as again is typical of you, you ended your speech today by talking about the human rights and social justice with which Parliament is best associated, and your commitment to that as a lifelong supporter of both the rights of individuals and social justice.
Your long career and your life’s journey from your roots in post-war Glasgow—no easy upbringing, no special privileges, education mainly in the hard school of life—through your apprenticeship, which you described, as a sheet metalworker and a shop steward, then via the trade union movement and local government into Parliament and on to the highest office of this ancient forum of democracy, is an inspiring story of commitment and determination in the service of your community, your party, this Parliament and our nation.
Let us remember, fellow Members, how this Speaker worked his way up. His father served in the war and was shipwrecked three times by torpedo. His mother, who brought him up, taught him that he and his community had to fight for everything they won. To leave school at 15 with no formal qualifications and then rise to the speakership of the House of Commons tells of a man of unique parliamentary abilities, and of dedication, self-belief and tireless hard work. You have known better than many in the House what it is like to grow up in poverty, and also what it takes to overcome it, but throughout it all you have remained true to your principles and proud of where you have come from.
You are a teetotaller, so you gave pleasure to others in choosing and testing Mr. Speaker’s brand of whisky for which they are entirely grateful. I am reminded that in Glasgow 100 years ago, the Labour party once stood on a platform supporting your position on the prohibition of alcohol, and decided never to stand on that platform at another election.
You know Glasgow and have come up through the difficult school of Glasgow politics. You know what is said about someone appearing in Glasgow as a comedian: if they like you, they do not laugh; they just let you live.
Ask people in north Glasgow who it was who offered them comfort when they lost someone dear to them, or when they lost their jobs or had problems with housing, which you have just mentioned, or troubles with schooling. On the streets of Cowlairs, Sighthill or Barlarnock you will get the same answer: it was Michael Martin. This House should salute a Speaker who has made his constituency proud and who is hailed as a friend by people from every background and every walk of life when he walks down the streets of his constituency; a Speaker who, as he said, was born and brought up in the city that he has represented with pride for 30 years; a Speaker whose small kindnesses to hundreds of people are remembered and unfailingly appreciated, and who has brought home to thousands what Westminster at its best can do for people.
Never interested in the trappings of office, only in the concerns of the people we represent, this is a Speaker who returned to his constituency every weekend to meet the people whom he represented and who has never forgotten where he came from, always determined to hear what they had to say to him; a Speaker who, because he worked his way up with no special privileges accorded to him, can encourage and inspire young people in the same position to do the same.
It is a fitting tribute, Mr. Speaker, to your long-standing commitment to housing, which you just mentioned, from your days as a councillor on Glasgow city council to your maiden speech in the House, which referred to housing, to your work today with housing associations across north-east Glasgow, that as part of a programme of housing and care for those with learning disabilities there stands in Glasgow today none other than Martin house. It is a reflection of your work in supporting employment opportunities in Glasgow that you helped to transform a restored warehouse into City Park, a state-of-the-art office space that has provided over 2,500 jobs, thanks to your inspiration.
Perhaps it was because of your deep roots in community service that you brought to the role of Speaker your hallmark kindness and consideration, for which you will rightly be remembered with such affection. As I know myself, and as other Members in the House know, your personal concern for those of us who were bereaved or otherwise troubled, the notes and letters, and the kind words went far beyond the duties of the office of Speaker, but I am sure that to you they were just the ordinary duties of a man who cares about people.
While interns in their hundreds have for so long been able to come to and feel at home in these precincts, your initiative on craft apprenticeships, which you have just mentioned, has enabled young people from less privileged backgrounds to train here and, with skills as stonemasons and electricians, make a genuine and lasting contribution to the upkeep of this place and then go on to fulfilling careers in later life.
At every stage of your career, you have always thought first of how to extend opportunities to those denied them. You have always stood at the shoulder of those struggling to make a better life for themselves and their families. You said in your first acceptance speech in October 2000 that family was important to you and that you would endeavour to see that families were included in the proceedings of the House. Even before you were elected Speaker, it was largely due to your efforts that the Parliamentary Commissioner approved a voucher scheme to provide child care in the House. I hope you can take great pride in some of the changes that have been made in modernising the House during your time, not least the changes to the sitting hours and, of course, the new procedures for election of the Speaker, which we will use for the first time next week.
I have spoken of your love of family. No tribute to you could be complete without mention of your children, Paul and Mary Ann, and your wife Mary, a wonderful family for whose support I know you will always be enormously grateful. They and you have much to be proud of from your nine years as our Speaker and from your 30 years’ outstanding service to the House and this country. I am sure the whole House will always be grateful to you. We hope you will enjoy a long and happy retirement, and every Member in every part of the House offers you every good wish for the future. Thank you.
It is right, Mr. Speaker, that the House has this opportunity to pay tribute to the service that you have given—for once, I can say “you” while remaining in order. I share so much of what the Prime Minister said about your record and about what you have done for your constituents and for the House. Yours was a very moving speech. Everyone could hear your passion about this place, and all of us who care about the House of Commons, Parliament and its place in public life must deliver what you said we must—the restoration of trust in the House of Commons.
It is fair to say that there have been quieter times to be Speaker, although some of your predecessors may have had cause to think they had picked even shorter straws. After all, seven of them were beheaded. You have presided over the House at a time when there has been widespread concern about an over-mighty Executive and the diminished role of Parliament. That was not something that was in your power alone to stop.
Let us be clear about the expenses issue. The whole House shares in its responsibility for what has happened in recent weeks. As you said in your remarks, it was the House as a whole—not all of us, but the House as a whole—which last July rejected many of the reforms put forward by the Members Estimate Committee, which you chair. As you noted in your statement, some of the proposals now being put forward to clean up this place are similar to the ones that your Committee recommended a year ago. Fortunately, a consensus exists in this place now to accept what it was not willing to accept then, but we all share collective responsibility for that delay, and we all now have a responsibility to restore the reputation of the House.
You have served exactly three decades in Parliament. During that time you have shown huge dedication, both in public service to your constituents and to the House itself. You have served not only as Speaker, but as Chairman of the House of Commons Commission and of the Speaker’s Conference, and before that as a Chairman of Committees, member of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen for more than a decade, and Chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee. It is a remarkable record of distinguished service, matched only by the huge dedication that you have shown to your constituency in Glasgow, starting from your period as a councillor.
As the Prime Minister said, your life story is inspiring not just to people in the House or in Glasgow, but to people throughout our country. I know you will be missed hugely in Glasgow, North-East when you stand down as a Member of Parliament. I am sure that those on both sides of the House are very much looking forward to the by-election. I can only hope that all your constituents will be as friendly to me as you have been. [Laughter.] I am always hopeful.
Your approach to chairing debates has been quiet but persuasive. Your decency and your kindness are clear. We saw your decency during the baby P debate last year. As for your kindness, I referred a few days ago to the advice that you gave me when I was a new Back Bencher in 2001. It was typical of your approachability to all Members, but especially Back Benchers, which you have made a personal trademark throughout your time in office. The previous Speaker, Speaker Boothroyd, was the first woman Speaker. You were the first Catholic since the Reformation to be Speaker. It is easy to overlook the change that the election of you and your immediate predecessor as Speaker signify.
I was struck by one comment that you made in an interview after becoming Speaker. When asked about the procedures of this place, you recalled some wise words of Jim Callaghan:
“Always remember that things that are traditional shouldn’t be thrown out just because they are traditional; and things that are traditional shouldn’t necessarily be kept for the sake of being traditional.”
That is a good principle for the reform not only of the House, but, I would argue, of every other institution in our country.
I shall end by noting another interview, this time to the “Politics Show”, which provides several lessons for us all. In that interview, Mr. Speaker, you emphasised the importance of switching off from politics—in your case, by playing the bagpipes. You said that the secret of Prime Minister’s Question Time was to relax and calm down and not to get psyched up. That is a piece of advice that I will perhaps one day try to take. You said also that the best way to approach colleagues in the House was to give them just enough rope before pulling them in, and that you liked to smile at Members just before you told them off. As I can see that you are smiling now, I think it is time to bring my remarks to a close. [Laughter.] However, I know, and we all know, that you will enjoy spending more quality time with your wife, Mary, and your beloved grandchildren. So both on a personal level and on behalf of everyone on the Opposition Benches, I wish you the very best for the years ahead.
Mr. Speaker, in the circumstances, it is especially generous of you to give me the opportunity to speak today, and I am grateful to you for that.
I entered this House only in 2005, and one of my most abiding memories of those first few weeks was your generosity to the former Member for Cheadle, Patsy Calton, when she came, despite the fragility of her health, to swear the Oath of Allegiance. I do not think that any of us will forget the tenderness with which you stepped from the Chair, against all convention, to greet her by the Dispatch Box. It has been clear to all of us, whatever differences there might be, that personal kindness has been the outstanding characteristic of your time in the Chair—a kindness that enthused every word of what you said earlier.
As a newly elected party leader, I remember sitting with you in your apartments, talking not about politics but about our families, and I remember on another occasion watching you unveil a portrait of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) in those same rooms. It was wonderful to listen to both of you reminisce about the journey that had taken you from almost the same area in Glasgow to public service here in Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, whatever differences there have been, you and I share a belief in the importance of our democracy. Our political institutions, as you have pointed out, have come under immense and unprecedented pressure in recent times, but democracy remains an idea that is bigger than every one of us—an idea that must be defended no matter the personal cost. I know—everyone here knows—that you gave yourself, heart and soul, to the job of Speaker. Above all, you have shown us all how to temper great authority with great kindness, and that will be your legacy.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure and a privilege to address my remarks to you in paying the warmest tribute for the service that you have provided to this House, for which we are indebted to you. I would like to thank you personally for the kindness and support that you offered me when I was elected. I believe that throughout your term as Speaker you have always had the best interests of this House at heart, and even now in leaving office, you have put those interests first.
Your election as Speaker was a great honour for you and your family, and an even greater honour for our native city of Glasgow. You began your working life as a sheet metalworker, and all your achievements are the result of your own hard work and ambition. It is a positive indicator of the society in which we live today that someone from such humble beginnings can rise to one of the greatest offices in the country.
Mr. Speaker, I was incredibly sad when you informed this House that you were resigning from the office of Speaker. That sentiment has been shared by many of my constituents who have contacted me over the past few weeks.
I would like to share with the House a few lines of an e-mail that I received from a 16-year-old constituent who visited the House last year as part of a school trip. Her name is Kayleigh Quinn, and she wrote:
“I am deeply upset that Mr Martin has been compelled to resign from his post. As someone from the same working-class Glasgow background as Michael Martin I am extremely proud of what he has achieved in his political career. The Members of Parliament who contributed to his decision ought to be ashamed.”
In short, Mr. Speaker, many young people throughout the United Kingdom look to you as a source of inspiration—an inspiration that anything can be achieved through dedication and hard work.
Your distinguished predecessor, Speaker Boothroyd, is famously known for having said that there are times when she thinks that she has come a long way, and I believe that you are certainly entitled to say the same. Mr Speaker, I repeat my thanks to you once again.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I would like to thank you for the privilege of being able to speak on a very important and, I am sure for you, personal and emotional day, because you have not only served this House but given excellent service to the United Kingdom. I am sure that you are rightly proud of your achievement in the political world, coming from humble surroundings right to the highest office here, as Speaker of this United Kingdom Parliament. You have also been an inspiration, and in actual fact your story is an inspiration to many young people, showing them that they can look up, aim high and accomplish even the greatest achievements, irrespective of their humble beginnings.
Mr. Speaker, you have always shown the greatest courtesy to my colleagues and me over the years, and I place on the record our deepest gratitude to you. I would also like to thank you for your acts of kindness, and your generosity will never be forgotten. Sir, you opened Speaker’s House to many people who would never have gone there if it had not been for your kindness, and you invited Members from all parts of the House to go to many excellent occasions there, and for that we owe you and your good wife Mary our deepest gratitude.
I should express my personal appreciation of your taste in music, given that you invited me to participate in your excellent Burns night events on two occasions. The House will, however, be delighted to know that no performance fees were asked for or received, and therefore that can go on the public record. I did not, however, stimulate the economy by imbibing any of Mr. Speaker’s whisky and, for that, I am absolutely delighted to be able to keep a very steady and good head.
Mr. Speaker, I conclude by wishing you and Mary every happiness in your retirement, and I trust and pray that you are able to leave this House with your head held high, having been the defender of the ordinary Members of this House—the Back Benchers. For that, we shall be eternally grateful.
Mr. Speaker, may I say what a great pleasure it was, at the beginning of this Parliament, to preside over your reselection as Speaker of this House? You were a triple-first candidate: as has been said, you were the first Catholic, the first metalworker and, unsurprisingly, the first teetotaller to occupy the Chair. You learned of your needs to protect the rights of the Back Bencher through 18 years in opposition, and I think that many Opposition Members now, having spent 12 years in opposition, particularly those in the party who governed previously, view accountability rather differently from when they sat on the Government Benches.
I well recollect my very first day in the House, in 1964, when I sat on the second row of the Government Benches. I was sitting next to Iorwerth Thomas, a 70-year-old Welsh Member, and I said to him, “Well, Iori, it must be wonderful to be sitting on this side of the House after 13 years on that side,” and he thought and he said, “Yes, my boy; the sun gets in your eyes on the other side of the House.” That, of course, was in the days before television and the screening of the windows.
As you said, you served your apprenticeship as Speaker doing the unglamorous work of chairing the legislative and administrative Committees of the House, and you duly became Deputy Speaker. By the time you became the Speaker of the House, you were a complete House of Commons man. You said then that the Speaker’s duty was to serve the House, not the Executive, and to protect the rights of Back Benchers.
Essentially, you are also a constituency man. I was intrigued to come across a quote from Bill Walker, the former Conservative MP whom many here will remember. Bill said of you:
“He is always respected by his electorate because he speaks from the heart.”
That was a touching thing for a political opponent to say, and it helps explain the affection in which you are held in your own constituency. You are an innately kind man, as we heard from one of our colleagues even in Question Time today. Since you have been Speaker, your door has been open to any Member who wants advice or guidance.
To follow on from something that you mentioned, I should say that until last July, I had been secretary of the British-American parliamentary group for seven years. I thank you, on behalf of not only that group but the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for all your work to help our endeavours to develop relationships with democracies overseas. You put an enormous amount of time into that, and it is appreciated by us all.
As Chair of the Liaison Committee, may I also thank you for your enormous support for Select Committees? They are only 30 years old this year, but they represent one of the greatest transformations in parliamentary accountability. When I became Chair of the Liaison Committee, I spoke to every Select Committee Chairman. Having served on the Public Accounts Committee, I was horrified at what I discovered was available as back-up and support to our Select Committees. I asked that a review be set up and that the National Audit Office be included in that review to ensure that it was seen as impartial.
When the review reported, you and the House of Commons Commission responded instantly. You gave the Select Committees the largest injection of support that they had received in 20 years. To ensure that such a situation never arose again, five-yearly reviews were also established so that the future of the Committees would be secure. We are deeply grateful to you for that. You have presided during two wars and the greatest economic crisis that any of us has ever seen. Throughout, you have tried to be even-handed between the Government and the Opposition and you have tried to protect the right of Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account.
Mr. Speaker, your love for and commitment to the House has never, ever been questioned. I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House in wishing you and your family the happiness that you deserve in retirement.
It gives me great pleasure to say some brief words to celebrate your work, Mr. Speaker, and to thank you for it. I do that on behalf of my hon. Friends from Plaid Cymru and, I am sure, on behalf of the public at large. I am also pleased to have agreed with everything that has been said hitherto. You, of course, are the 156th Speaker of Parliament, and you have been unfailing in your courtesy and help throughout your tenure. Almost immediately after your election as Speaker, we all became aware of a press lobby that harboured misgivings about the appointment of a one-time steelworker to such a high office. Those have not crossed my mind; my experience has been of a Speaker who has been scrupulously fair and who always had an eye on the interests of Back Benchers and minority parties.
Owing to the attention from some sections of the media, I can only imagine that at times the pressures on you and your family have been immense. Despite your vast work load, every time that I have sought a meeting with you, one has been arranged swiftly; even the odd meetings that I attended to do some grousing were unfailingly cordial and businesslike.
Speaking of grouse, I should say that I have a feather in my cap that is not shared by any other right hon. or hon. Member. A few weeks before the official opening of the Senedd building at the National Assembly in Cardiff, I received a telephone call from the Speaker’s Clerk, asking whether I would visit you. I duly responded and attended as requested, having no idea why I was being summoned in that way. I entered your chambers in a quizzical mood, with no earthly idea of why I was there. I comforted myself with the thought that I had been behaving reasonably well in the Chamber and that I was probably not going to be dressed down.
When you came in, you said that, as a Scot, you were keen to make a speech in the Welsh language during the official opening ceremony in Cardiff. You asked me to write a short speech and translate it into Welsh. I did that, recorded it and gave you a tape. There followed a practice session in which you showed a mastery of the language. I recall that you said that you were keen to do a good job, because anything else would be seen as insulting. Anyway, your pronunciation was second to none when the fabled, fickle finger of fate pointed your way and you were struck down by a heavy dose of influenza. You could not attend. In the meantime, I was in the auditorium at Cardiff, awaiting my star pupil. So it is that I refer to myself as Welsh language tutor to the 156th Speaker of the House of Commons; that is probably as high as I will ever go in this institution.
You also referred to your being a teetotaller. I remember attending a meeting with you and the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). At its conclusion, you brought out a bottle of whisky and, as they say in Scotland, you “poured a good one”—in fact, for my liking it was a very good one. I was drinking on an empty stomach and unaccustomed to undiluted whisky. For the remainder of the meeting, I was with the birds.
Speaker Weatherill once said that a Speaker has no friends, but you know that that is not true. You have sincere friends in all corners of the House. It has been a privilege to serve under you. I wish you, your lovely wife Mary and your whole family the very best in health and happiness on the cusp of what we all hope will be a long, fulfilling and well-earned retirement. No doubt there will now be time enough to become fluent in the Welsh language. Pob bendith a llwyddiant i chi a’ch teulu. Diolch yn fawr!
Mr. Speaker, I address you in your capacity as a fine Speaker of the House of Commons, a devoted Member and, if I may say so, a good friend. With others, I had the privilege of serving on the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission. I remember what a trenchant Chairman you were, within your obligatory neutrality.
One of the great features of your speakership, and one that I have not noticed to the same extent under the other Speakers during my service in the House, is how you have reached out to the variegated communities that make up the great and colourful mosaic of Britain. You reached out to the Muslim and Jewish communities. I had the privilege of attending the events that you arranged to commemorate Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Apart from my occasional visits to the synagogue, I probably met more Jews at those ceremonies than I do in my normal daily activities. The ceremonies were very moving, and I very much hope that your successor will continue them, because they brought a glow and a beauty to Speaker’s House.
May I, Mr. Speaker, both personally and as a Member of this House, wish you Godspeed? You have served this House extraordinarily well, and we shall miss you.
Mr. Speaker, my tribute will be personal. I am, I think, the longest-serving member of the Speaker’s Panel, and in that capacity, clearly, I have had a lot to do with you. Everything, from my point of view, has been entirely satisfactory. You have shown kindness, understanding, courtesy and care. May I say, perhaps on behalf of the Speaker’s Panel—your panel of those who chair Public Bill Committees and Delegated Legislation Committees in this House—that the care and courtesy that you have extended to us has always been hugely appreciated? The annual reception that you give for members of your panel in your state apartments, prior to our own private dinner, is always hugely appreciated, and, as you know from the attendance, greatly appreciated by Members as well.
May I pick just one word out of the motion that was moved so eloquently by the Prime Minister—“humanity”? That has not been mentioned other than in the text of the motion. You have been a Speaker who has shown huge humanity. You have sought, on all occasions, to stand up for the interests of this House. You have sought not only to defend this House as an institution but, from time to time, to defend Members when they have rightly come to you for advice and help. Much of this is not appreciated by the people out there, which is very regrettable. I think that if people had actually got to know you as an individual—a man of kindness, a man of humanity—some of the totally unjustified criticism that has been levelled at you would never have been spoken. I deeply regret it. I think I can say on behalf of many Members of this House that I feel the criticism that has been made of you as much as if it had been made of me personally, because it was unjustified; you were not understood. The statement that you have delivered to the House today has been of immense value. I hope that it will be very widely read, because if, from time to time, this House had accepted your counsel, perhaps some of the worst criticism and the serious problems that we have faced in recent times would never have arisen.
May I say, Mr. Speaker, that my wife and I were particularly grateful to you for allowing us to use your wonderful state apartments to celebrate 60 years of combined service in this House? It was a wonderful party—a wonderful occasion—attended by Members from all parties in this House. May I add that you remained to the bitter end of what was a very long party, and you were able to do that with humour and commitment, without the stimulation of any alcohol whatsoever? That indicates the sort of man you are.
I can say personally, Mr. Speaker, that I shall sincerely miss you for your kindness and for your humanity. I believe that the record that you have left, coming from the background that you do, is one of which you should be immensely proud. I am personally immensely proud to have known you and to have served for nearly a quarter of a century on your panel of Chairmen. You are truly a magnificent representative of Glasgow. You are a wonderful family man. On all occasions, your love of family—your love of Mary and your children—shone through like a beacon. I wish you, on behalf of myself and perhaps every Member of this House, a very happy and long retirement, and I hope that our paths will cross. I wish you well.
Others have made the point Mr. Speaker, that you are the first metalworker and the first Catholic to be Speaker. I took my seat in 2005, so you are the first Speaker I have known. Like others, I have always been hugely impressed by the consideration and courtesy that you show to each and every Member of this House, to all the parties in this House, and to all the regions represented in this House. I can recall, on taking my seat, the warmth of your handshake and greeting, and the fact that that lasted through the manner in which you, with civility and sensitivity, received my complaints as an Irish nationalist having to recite an affirmation of allegiance, and immediately moved on to ask after people such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon—who send their salute to you today.
Mr. Speaker, you have never pretended to be a big thinker, but you are one of the most thoughtful people I have ever come across in political life. You are not a grabber, but you have the best and warmest reach of anyone in this House—a quiet reach that extends not just across party lines and regional differences in this House, but outside this House, across professional interests and across religious and faith dimensions. You have never particularly advertised that, but I am glad that you took the opportunity to reflect on some of those points today.
I think it was also appropriate that you, Mr. Speaker, addressed some of the issues surrounding recent events, and it would be inappropriate if, in the course of all these tributes, you ended up being the only person who did so. The House should receive well the reminder that you offered, and if there was a measure of rebuke in it, the House should receive that rebuke well, too. There were opportunities, and there is now an opportunity cost that the House is suffering. Unfortunately—it happens in life, and it certainly happens in political life—sometimes events, perceptions and moods conspire to result in some necessary unfairness or unfair necessity, and you find yourself in many ways a victim of that.
As you spend your retirement not just in your constituency but, I am sure, in one near me—not a constituency represented in this House, but that of Donegal North East, where I know you have such affinities and family connections—and contemplate how many people who resisted or avoided change in the past are now leapfrogging each other to be the champions of ever more change and openness, you will be able to ruminate on the adage that, in politics, irony is just hypocrisy with panache.
I want, not just on my own behalf but that of my party colleagues, to extend that tribute and thanks not only to you but, as you have rightly done, to all your staff; and to your wife, Mary, who has, with you, again in a very special and quiet way, done so much to make Speaker’s House available to so many good causes, as has been said, and to use it as a special stage to recognise, celebrate and encourage young talent from all the regions represented in the House.
All Members will miss the warmth of your presence here and the consideration that you show. You are an extremely modest man. As we have heard, you are a Catholic. I am sure that as a Catholic boy of your vintage, you would have learned your catechism, which would have included lessons about calumny and detraction—what they were and the difference between them. After your experience in recent weeks, I am sure that you can give examples of both, and of how you have been on the wrong end of examples of both. However, Mr. Speaker, whatever the coverage in recent times and however hurtful it was, just remember that you, this modest man whom we respect, leave here with immense pride.
May I add a brief footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to you, Mr. Speaker? I begin by saying how very much I welcome what you said in your statement about the issue of privilege. I was delighted to hear that we are now going to make progress with it, as it does indeed need addressing.
Mr. Speaker, you may have forgotten the conversation that we had shortly after you saw off a large number of contenders for your job some nine years ago. I asked you whether, on the assumption that we were both returned in the 2001 general election, I might propose you as Speaker at the beginning of the new Parliament. We both felt that that would be a good way of healing any wounds, and you generously agreed to it.
I have been looking at what I said then, almost exactly eight years ago to the day, at the beginning of that Parliament, and I would say the same today. I referred to your commitment and long service to the House, your deep roots in the Back Benches, your earlier work on the Chairmen’s Panel and Domestic Committees and your experience in the Chair as Deputy Speaker. I mentioned your genial and approachable manner, underpinned by a deep affection for and commitment to the House. I said that all those qualities struck a chord with the House. They did then, and they do today.
The Prime Minister referred to your background in the trade union movement, and I wish to mention one role related to that. It is not the role of negotiating with management, because after all you are the management, but that of shop steward. It is the role of someone whom a Member can approach for advice and comfort when they have a problem—the so-called pastoral role. I know that you have done a lot of that as Speaker, and it is an important role, particularly at this difficult time for the House and its Members. I hope that that role may continue, and I wish you and Mary a long and happy retirement.
It is said, and has been said today, that the best speeches come from the heart. All the speeches that you have heard today in the House have come from the heart, Mr. Speaker, as does mine.
I have worked with you on the House of Commons Commission for all the years that you have been Speaker. I served your predecessor, and it was an honour and a privilege to serve you. I mention those passing years because in all that time, in addition to your ceremonial duties and your stewardship of this House, you have always had one thing uppermost in your mind: the well-being of 646 Members of this House. You have seen them individually and, as you are seeing them now, you have seen them collectively. You have sought to protect their interests against all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
I know that you particularly enjoyed being in the Chair when votes were taking place and Members could come up to you and speak to you. Many unburdened themselves and opened their hearts to you. They knew that they were able to do so in the utmost confidence. You were their friend as well as their Speaker. In many small ways and in many large, you defended their singular and collective interests in a Parliament to which Members are elected from the Shetlands to Land’s End and back again, representing different and differing constituencies but all seeking to do their duty by this House and by their constituents. For that, the entire House owes you a debt of gratitude.
You have served your nation, Sir, and you deserve our respect and admiration. There is little mean or common that you have done on this memorable scene, and we can only thank you with gratitude, wish you, Mary, Paul and Mary well, and wish you a very happy and long retirement.
As the senior of the two elected independents, it is my absolute privilege to add some words to the tributes to you, Mr. Speaker. In particular, as others have said, I am most grateful for your detailed statement, which set the record straight. Thank you, Sir, for that.
I should like to pick out three words and phrases mentioned in the tribute that the Prime Minister proposed, the first of which is “kindness”. On my arrival, I joined some other new Members in meeting with you. I was then surprised to receive an invitation to have a cup of tea. I thought that it would be with a few others as well, but no, it was with me alone. You wanted to know whether I was feeling lonely. That was so kind and so typical of your attitude that I shall always remember it. I am still not quite sure which of my many Adjournment debates on health issues you pushed for and which were produced by the computer, so thank you for that, too.
The second word that I wish to pick out is “humanity”. Your involvement with charities has been mentioned, and I remember one of the latest events, at which you opened the charity for the refurbishment of St. Margaret’s. It was at the height of your stress, but you were still able to come in and speak to that charity. Your receptions for staff have also been highly appreciated. Some of my friends among the catering staff who serve us in the Terrace Cafeteria have said how much they have appreciated being involved in some of them.
The third phrase is “good humour”, which includes your tolerance. The best example of that—some Members on the Opposition Benches will remember it, as we had a very good view—was at one session of Prime Minister’s questions, when the Prime Minister was perhaps not at the height of his popularity. One very young Labour Whip was standing within about two inches of your right ear and very loudly orchestrating support from the Labour Benches. You put him down with a superb but very brief, tolerant and humorous set-down. That provides a hint to the person who is selected to follow you that when hon. Members are behaving like unruly schoolkids, as all too often they do, the best answer is good humour. That keeps the place going.
An attribute that has not been mentioned is your humility, Mr. Speaker. Despite everything that you have been through and overseen, you still regard your greatest privilege as that of representing your friends and neighbours at home. That is a real tribute. Thank you, Sir, very much. I wish you and your beloved family happiness in a long retirement.
It gives me great honour to be associated with the motion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister moved. It was a fitting tribute to your good self, Mr. Speaker.
Every Member of Parliament knows where they were when a new Speaker was selected. I can remember sitting on the Opposition Benches when we elected your predecessor, Betty Boothroyd, as Speaker. I remember that those on the Government Benches said, “Don’t get too excited, that’s the only vote you’re going to win in this Parliament”, and it was. I can also remember your election, Mr. Speaker. I remember the dignified way in which you approached it and quite rightly won the support of the overwhelming majority of the House. You and I come from similar trade union backgrounds, having similarly left school at 15 and become apprentices. I was not one of those whom you had to tell what a sheet metalworker was, because I already knew that before I got down here.
A word to those who wish to succeed you. One of the most wonderful things that I have done in this House has been serving on Committees. I have served on your Chairmen’s Panel for a while, but I also served on the special little committee that chose Speaker Martin’s Whisky. That was a real privilege, and I hope that a similar one can be afforded other hon. Members.
I know the professionalism and sincerity that you have brought to the job, and all that I wish to do is echo the words about the great kindnesses that you have shown. I will miss you as Speaker, and also as a friend. Have a good retirement.
I did not expect this to be a reunion of the panel that was chosen to select your malt whisky, Mr. Speaker, but it is. I was also a member of that committee.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made passing reference to the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which has been one of your important roles. It has been given specific tasks in relation to the commission, such as the approval of its budget, the examination of its estimates and reporting to the House. It is a carefully constructed link between an independent body and this House, and it has achieved its role very well. You appointed five of the nine members, and Electoral Commissions cannot be appointed without the Speaker’s consent, effectively making your office the person responsible for such appointments.
In January 2007, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a change in the emphasis of the Electoral Commission to play a more regulatory role, and the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, under your chairmanship, actively participated in the discussions that led to the implementation of the proposals. The work of the Speaker’s Committee has been well respected, and I am sure that the other members of the committee and, indeed, the Electoral Commission, would wish to pay tribute to your chairmanship during an active and evolutionary time.
Being the spokesman of the Speaker’s Committee gave me an opportunity to come to know you quite well, and I am extremely grateful for the courtesy and kindness that you always extended to me and the other members of the Committee.
Mr. Speaker, I associate myself with all the positive comments about your contribution to the House and your personal approach to the job of Speaker. I am particularly pleased to underline the comments about your attitude to the staff of the House of Commons. I know how much it is appreciated by everyone from the Clerk down to the lowest cleaner in the basement.
I want to add a little about my contact with you. I was first elected in 1987 as one of 19 new Members of Parliament in Scotland. You were one of the people who gave us most support as new, very raw MPs. In 2005, I was selected as Chair of the Administration Committee and developed a much closer working relationship with you. It is important to put on record the number of changes that have happened under your speakership.
We have been through momentous times in developing and modernising the building and the institution. As Chair of the Administration Committee, I quickly learned that most of my colleagues do not give a damn about what happens in this place as long as it works. However, it is important to record the changes that have been made.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly mentioned the modernisation of the hours that happened on your watch, but it is also right to remember more mundane matters, such as the introduction in 2001 of IT systems for Members of Parliament and the creation of a joint IT service with the House of Lords; the modernisation of the administration of the House after the Tebbit inquiry, and the creation of the new departments, which are much more focused on services to Members rather than to the institution of the House of Commons; the creation of a new post of chief executive, for which many of us called over many years; and the development of a Members’ centre, which again recognises the importance of service directly to Members.
Substantial changes have also occurred—some have yet to take effect. They include the House’s agreement to establish an education centre. The will mark significant progress in the facilities that the House offers. At the moment, our facilities can cater for approximately 20,000 to 30,000 schoolchildren in a year. When the new education centre is established, we will be able to deal with more than 100,000, making this place more accessible. We are currently running a pilot scheme for subsidised travel for schoolchildren to come to the House of Commons. So far, it has been enormously successful.
The big issue that has been on all our minds in recent years, to which you referred several times in your speech, is Members’ allowances. I congratulate you on the points that you made. When one reads the press, one would think that you were sitting doing nothing, but I know from my contact with you how much work you and the members of the Commission put in, not just when we experienced the problem of employing family members, or in the recent crisis of the publication of our expenses in detail, but long before that. You recognised the problems that our system posed for us, realised that, with the Freedom of Information Act 2001, things had to change, and tried to find some solution. Like you, I feel strongly about the fact that we did not accept the Commission’s report to the House last year.
Recent events have made me think about the way in which we deal with expenses. My first exposure to MPs’ allowances and so on came when I was a brand new Member in either late 1987 or early 1988, when we were asked to vote on our pay. I took the trade union position that a worker is entitled to the rate for the job. I found myself in the Lobby, which was jam packed, because most of my colleagues took the same view as me, pressed against the former Prime Minister and Conservative party leader, Ted Heath. I said to him, “For many years, I campaigned against your Government and denounced everything you stood for, yet here we are, shoulder to shoulder in the Lobby.” He turned round and said, as only he could, “Young man, this will happen twice in every Parliament, on pay and hanging.” That is the sort of leader I like. He did not just say things, he did things.
In 1971, Ted Heath’s Government introduced the allowances system that has caused us so much difficulty. It was introduced after due thought and consideration and I hope that those who now deal with those matters will appreciate their importance. As a Member of Parliament representing a constituency nearly 500 miles away, I could not afford to be a Member without the allowances, and I know that you have defended that principle sincerely throughout your period of office. I hope that, when decisions are made, others will reflect as seriously as I believe that Ted Heath did when he introduced the system in 1971.
May I add my good wishes to you and Mary? Virtually everyone who passed on their good wishes talked about your retirement. I think I know you better than that. You may be leaving the House of Commons, but I am not so sure that it is retirement.
It has always astonished me, Mr. Speaker, that you almost always remember the names of every Member of the House, but I found it truly amazing when, a few months ago, you acknowledged by name from the Speaker’s procession my seven-year-old son when he was lining up to watch you in your splendour. That made me realise that you appreciate that the House of Commons is not just about what happens in the Chamber, but that we all have families, people who work for us and many thousands of people outside the Chamber who make the House of Commons work. You can acknowledge them all, and they all look up to you.
Some of us—it may be a small minority—appreciate your playing of the bagpipes. It has been a great privilege to take part not only in your famous whisky tasting for producing Speaker Martin’s malt—I am glad it has been such a bestseller—but in the very first Burns supper, which you inaugurated in Speaker’s House. Like you, I take my moral ideas from Robert Burns. He would be proud, as we all are, that you personally have taken us a step nearer that great aim:
“Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’that,)…
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’that.”
I want to make a personal tribute to you and your speakership, Mr. Speaker. Yours has been a remarkable journey from ordinary working-class lad from Glasgow to one of the highest offices in the land—Speaker of the House of Commons. You are a tribute to our democracy and an example to us all. You have served with dignity and distinction, often in the face of the inherent snobbery that still persists in some parts of the British establishment.
On a personal level, I thank you for your kindness to me, not least when you agreed some years ago to meet my good friend Frank Duffy and me in your apartments—I am sure you remember that. Frank Duffy is another working-class trade union activist from Glasgow, but it was Frank’s father whom you admired so much, for his trade union activities in Glasgow. We were accompanied that day by Frank’s daughter Carol Ann and her daughter Ella. Carol Ann was recently appointed poet laureate, and her father Frank and her daughter are very proud of that. As memorable as that appointment is, however, I am quite sure that they will always remember with great fondness their visit to Speaker Martin’s apartment and your allowing Ella to bounce on the bed.
I congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your term of office and thank you for your kindness. I wish you and your family a long and happy life ahead.
It is a pleasure and an honour to add my tribute to those hon. Members from all parts of the House on behalf of the Scottish National party. In this place and elsewhere you have constantly been a fair Speaker to the Scottish and Welsh, and all the Northern Irish parties in this House. Given your background in a previous political existence, as a Scottish Labour Member of Parliament, some observers opined that it would be difficult for us to have a collegial relationship during your speakership, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Your record shows your fairness towards the SNP from the Chair, which includes the selection of an excellent Speaker’s malt from the Speyside region of my constituency.
Over recent years, there has been some appalling metropolitan media snobbery about your background. The SNP totally deprecates the grotesque anti-Scottish, anti-Glasgow, anti-working class caricature invoked by some London-based newspapers.
Like many hon. Members, from all parts of the House, I have had the good fortune to attend events hosted by you for visiting dignitaries, including Scottish Church leaders, and your famous Burns nights, which included your playing of the pipes. You have always been a model of good hospitality, an excellent host and a source of advice to me and my SNP colleagues, and other Members.
We are also grateful for your initiative in bringing together all the parties in the House urgently to deal with allowances and expenses. Now that you have started a genuinely all-party approach, we stand ready to play our part in the process, which you have initiated.
You and a number of other Members have invoked Robert Burns. I, too, would like to finish with some words from him:
“A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.”
“A Man’s A Man For A’ That” is the appropriate verse to capture your life achievements, your attachment to social justice and your respect to all, regardless of rank or status. We wish you and Mary all the best in the future.
In paying tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell a story. I have not told it in public before, but it helps to illustrate your thoughtfulness and kindness, and may go some way towards explaining your popularity among the Back Benchers, which was never understood by many outside this place, and certainly not by many in the Press Gallery. The story dates from before when you became the Speaker, when you were the Deputy Speaker and, as such, the Chairman of Ways and Means. Today I have the chance to put it on the record. Without your help, I do not think that my progress into this House would have been as smooth and easy as it was.
I do not know whether you remember our first meeting, Mr. Speaker. It was in February 1997, at a conference in Scotland. I have to admit that when you approached me and introduced yourself, I was not sure who you were—I was vaguely aware that you were one of the Glasgow Labour MPs. As someone from the north-east of Scotland, I have to admit that my knowledge of the personalities of Glasgow Labour politics was somewhat hazy to say the least. Anyway, you obviously recognised me as a candidate in a potentially winnable seat, and this is where I have to give you credit. You realised that having someone who permanently uses a wheelchair elected to this House might require just the odd bit of adaptation and forward planning. As a result, you asked me to write to you in your capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means once Parliament had prorogued for the election and there was no longer a sitting Member for Aberdeen, South with some suggestions of what I might require.
There was a slight problem: I had no idea what I might require. I had visited this place only once before, and I did not really appreciate what the job of being an MP would entail. I had no idea how accessible this place would be, although everybody told me that it would be totally inaccessible. When people asked me, “How’re you going to manage if you get elected?” I would always reply, “Well, that’s not my problem. I’ll be an hon. Member like everyone else, and it’ll be up to the House authorities to solve that.” However, the House authorities had to have some reasonable expectations and some guidance on what I might need. So, plucking something out of the air, I decided that it would be best for me to have an office that was near the Chamber, near an accessible toilet and big enough for a wheelchair to get around.
And so it came to pass. When I arrived in the House as a newly elected MP on 6 May 1997, you had done your work. While my colleagues were being given the keys to their lockers in the corridor, I was given the keys to an office. I am still in that office now, and I am not giving it up. It is near the Chamber and it is certainly big enough for my wheelchair. I have to say that it is the best office that any Back Bencher has in this place. I thank you from my heart, Mr. Speaker. Because of your kind thoughts and thinking ahead, not only do I have a great office, but I have realised that sometimes being in a wheelchair is not always a disadvantage.
That one story illustrates your foresight and thoughtfulness. You realised that action had to be taken. It is because of those qualities that you have made it possible for me to survive in this place, in what is an incredibly difficult environment for any disabled person to enter.
When I was appointed to the Chairmen’s Panel, nobody thought the extra challenges of trying to get me on to the various daises in Westminster Hall and the Committee Rooms would be a problem, or least you certainly did not think so, Mr. Speaker. Again, a solution was found. I know that your leadership has made it more likely that people with disabilities will be elected to this place in future, because I know that it is important to you. It was thanks to your intervention that addressing the under-representation of disabled people in Parliament was added to the remit of the Speaker’s Conference, of which I am proud to be vice-chair.
I hope that that goes some way to showing the respect in which you are held and why many of us on the Back Benches will miss you. I wish both you and Mary good luck in your retirement.
Much has already been said about your dignity, warmth and courtesy in this House and about your commitment to this House, Mr. Speaker. I pay tribute to you, Sir, for your expert, careful and confidential advice to hon. Members outside this Chamber, in privately helping them to deal with the important political and personal problems that they inevitably face from time to time, both here and in their constituencies. You did that for me when I was resisting the diversion of public funds to my then constituency office, which was the start of my problems with the Conservative party, which ended up with my becoming an independent in the House. Your dignity, kindness and understanding led me consistently to support you and the office of the Speaker, which I think is the duty of every hon. Member. I sincerely wish you and Mary a wonderful, happy and healthy retirement—a retirement that you richly deserve and which you have earned by your dignity.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker—thank you, dear friend. I particularly wanted to be here today. Having been here from the beginning—with some difficulty, I might add—I wanted to see this particular part of your career all the way through to the end.
I wanted to be here because, right at the beginning of this part of your career, many people said that you were not the best Speaker for this House. If they have been listening carefully today, they will have heard why we all beg to differ. Having heard what everyone else has said, perhaps I should sit down, because everything has been said. But I am a politician, and I want to put my two penn’orth in.
My two penn’orth goes a bit like this. When I first came here, you were a Deputy Speaker. Your kindness and friendship towards all of us endeared you to us greatly, and, when Speaker Boothroyd said that she was standing down, I knew straight away that you were my first and automatic choice to be Speaker. I knew automatically that the warmth that you had shown to us while you were a Deputy Speaker would transfer into the post that you now hold.
Later, you asked me to be a member of the Advisory Panel on Members’ Allowances, and you showed the wisdom that you have shown throughout in regard to what that job became. The House should remember that that wisdom entailed an openness that people perhaps did not see when they were writing their stories. You invited every Member of this House into your chambers. Some of their suggestions were novel, ranging from a proposal to abolish all allowances to the idea of examining the minutiae of every allowance and accounting for every penny. In the end, our panel came up with suggestions that we gave to the Members Estimate Committee, some of which were accepted, some of which were not. It has been suggested today that we have ended up with a reasonable set of proposals.
We might now say that all that is history, but throughout that process, you never said anything publicly. That is the mark of you, the man—a man I admire greatly. Sometimes, I became frustrated with you, my dear friend, because you never once said anything to defend yourself. I would say, “Oh, come on! Say something!”, but you would always say, “No, Kali, this is about the House. The House is the star of this show.” It was never you, Mr. Speaker, and I admire you for that so much. You never allowed anyone to try to understand you—only the House.
Here we are now, standing in judgment over you, and I hope that everyone will say that you have not been found wanting. We should all admire you very much for the work that you have done for the House. I will never find you wanting. You are indeed a great man, and a great and true friend.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford), and I wish her well personally for the future.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to be able to say a few words in tribute to you today. You made some important remarks to the House earlier, and I hope that the House will accept them with humility. The overriding task for us all is now to strengthen the reputation of the House so that our democracy can go from strength to strength. That is what makes this country the great country that it is.
Part of that democracy involves having a press that is among the most rigorously inquisitorial in the world. That is fine when it is fair and accurate, but much of the comment that has been written about you has been unfair and inaccurate. Many people outside this place see only what you do in the Chair of this Chamber, but, as Speaker of this House, you have to undertake an immense task. You have to look after all 646 Members and—as if that were not a big enough job in itself, given the individuals and personalities in this place—you also look after the many thousands of staff employed in the two Houses, as well as overseeing the many Committees, the running of the House and the finances of the House.
A huge part of your job that perhaps not many people see is the enormous amount of entertaining that you undertake in Speaker’s House: lunches in, lunches out, evenings in, evenings out, dinners in and dinners out. You always undertake that part of your job with huge kindness and humility, and that is greatly appreciated by the many dignitaries who visit this place.
I would like to leave the House with just one anecdote about your kindness. The year before last, you were kind enough to invite my 78-year-old father to the state opening of Parliament reception that you held. With fear, I asked you whether you would be prepared to have your photograph taken with him, in memory of your succeeding to the office of his uncle—my great uncle—a former Speaker of this House. You readily agreed. When it was time to leave, however, you were busy talking to some very important people. My father said, “Leave him. He’s busy”, but you turned to me and said, “Ah, Geoffrey! How about that photograph?” After having talked to all those people at that reception, you remembered that one single detail. That is a mark of your kindness and your complete selflessness.
You have served this country and this House with complete selflessness, never having regard to your own interests. May I thank you for the work that you have done in this House, and wish you a long and happy retirement? In the modern jargon, I hope that you will now be able to spend some quality time with your wife, Mary, and your son.
Thank you for this opportunity to pay tribute to you as Speaker of the House of Commons, and thank you for the courtesy that you have shown me in the Chamber. Much reference has rightly been made to the hospitality and kindness that you have shown to people in Speaker’s House, and I can bear witness to that. One of my fondest memories will always be of the opportunity that you gave me to propose the toast to the immortal memory at your Burns supper.
You are the sixth Speaker I have known. The first, when I was elected in 1970, was Dr. Horace King. You have been impartial and fair to all Members of the House of Commons, from all parties. When problems have arisen, you have shown common sense and judgment. I thank you for your service and I wish you and your family well for many years to come.
It is a pleasure for me to follow the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), whose pithy and gracious tribute will be appreciated in all parts of the House.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, we did not get off to the best possible start. I was one of the handful of Members of this House who voted against your election. Far from holding that against me, however, you proceeded to treat me with a decency and fairness for which I shall always be grateful. In addition, I am especially appreciative of the fact that, four years ago, just after the general election, you allowed me to join your panel of Committee Chairmen, which I have found to be a hugely rewarding experience.
As was observed earlier by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), almost from day one, when you took the Chair, you were subjected to relentless snobbery and distain from a section of the tabloid press that seemed to think that the election of the son of a merchant seaman represented some kind of constitutional outrage. Sir, that was always far more of a reflection on the tabloid press that it ever was on you. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] In thanking you for your unfailing personal kindness to me, to other Members throughout the House and to thousands of people beyond it, I wish you and Mary a long, happy and peaceful retirement.
I appear to be the last person to speak. I thank you very much for calling me, as I had forgotten to put my name down to speak in this debate. It was only when I was sitting here at the beginning of the tributes that I wondered whether I would have the nerve to stand up and ask to speak, having gone against all the protocol that we are meant to observe. However, I could not let this afternoon pass without making a few personal comments of my own.
I am glad that many hon. Members today have addressed head-on the issue of snobbery and the comments that have been made not only by the tabloid press but by Members of this House from time to time. I am glad that those issues have been addressed head-on, and that we have talked about expenses and the missed opportunity last year. I am pleased that you tackled that subject in your opening remarks.
In questioning candidates at the Speaker’s hustings earlier this week, I commented that a substantial part of your success in winning the speakership and that big battle we had last time was that among the Speaker’s team, you had gone out of your way to be helpful, kind and welcoming to new Members, particularly the great influx we had in 1997. That is not, of course, to suggest that it was a political ploy, although I would not dream of suggesting that you are not a good politician, but your approach came very naturally out of your kindness and desire to help us. That sentiment is shared across the parties, as I noted during the hustings when Members of different political parties passed comments to me about your kindness across the board. That has been greatly appreciated by us all.
I personally think it is a shame that Speakers feel that they have to retreat from the Tea Rooms and the like once elected. I hope that that will not necessarily be the case in future, because that is a good way for the Speaker to dispense advice, assistance and encouragement. You have been able to do that through invitations to your house and as we have seen you around and about the Chamber.
Others have talked about your start in the trade union movement as a sheet metalworker. My personal connection with you, Mr. Speaker, is that we both worked for the same union, the National Union of Public Employees. You were a full-time official, working with low-paid public service workers, and you campaigned at that time for a minimum wage. Although you have had to be strictly politically neutral in the Chair, I am sure that it gave you great pleasure when we were able to pass that legislation for which you had campaigned in your earlier life.
I had not realised how many of us had been on the panel to select your whisky. When I went on it, I found that another Derbyshire Member, the Opposition Chief Whip was involved, so I thought that you were saying something about our county and our enjoyment of a wee dram. My slight beef is that we were given only a limited selection from which to choose; otherwise, we could easily have stayed there for another hour or two to make sure that we made the absolutely perfect choice for you. I and clearly many other hon. Members have greatly appreciated the honour of being allowed to choose for you.
Another position that I hold, somehow, slightly to my amusement, arose when someone came up one day and asked me whether I would like to sit on the Speaker’s works of art committee. I knew nothing about it and I do not know how I was chosen. It was slightly disappointing when, having chosen our selection of Christmas cards and sent them to you, we found that some other ones had got through or that you had not gone along with our first choice. You have always been very welcoming and supportive. I am thinking particularly of the exhibition to celebrate the anniversary of the suffragettes, which you were very encouraging about, saying that MPs should take their constituents to look at the history of how people, particularly women, struggled for the vote. You knew that this was part of our great history of seeking democracy.
That brings me back to the major point about your high regard for the House, for Back Benchers and for our democratic processes. The greatest tribute we can pay to you and your work, Mr. Speaker, over your years as Speaker is by resolving our current problems and restoring the House and this part of our democratic system to the respect that it should have. If we can earn that respect on your behalf, I believe that it will be a tribute to the work you have done.
Thank you hugely, Mr. Speaker, for the kindness you have shown to us all and for the work you have done over the years. I join everyone else in wishing you, Mary and the family the best for the future. I am not going to say “in retirement”, because we hope that we will still see you and still be able to partake of your judgment and friendship over the years to come.
Before I put the motion, I am reminded of an incident involving a councillor who had served a long time in the Cowlairs ward, which the Prime Minister mentioned. We decided to give him a farewell dinner, at which so many good things were said about him that he stood up and said, “I didn’t realise how much you liked me; and I think I will stay on.” [Laughter.] I can say that your Speaker is demob happy. I am very touched by the tributes, particularly those to Mary and my family. I now put the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, nemine contradicente,
That this House records its warm appreciation of the manner in which the Right Honourable Michael Martin has occupied the office of Speaker; expresses its thanks for the humanity and good humour with which he has presided over the affairs of the House at a most challenging time; congratulates him on the kindness and openness he has shown to all Members and for establishing a Speaker’s conference to examine engagement of Parliament with an increasingly diverse society; and accordingly unites in sending him its wishes for a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair.