I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will bear with me during this personal statement. It has been a few years since I made a speech in this Chamber, and I am sad to say that this is the speech.
As many of you will know, following recent allegations I was charged with alleged offences yesterday. I now have the opportunity robustly to defend my innocence and seek acquittal. I have therefore decided that the best course of action is for me to return to the Back Benches. This is a decision that I have made myself after careful consideration.
I did not have the Conservative Whip as Deputy Speaker and I am not seeking its return until after the conclusion of events. I will sit as an independent Member of Parliament for the Ribble Valley.
It was one of the happiest days of my life when I was elected Deputy Speaker in 2010. It was an endorsement of my abilities to do the job by my colleagues, and for that I am grateful. Since these allegations, I have not been able fully to fulfil my duties in the Chair, which left me in a land of limbo. None of us was elected to the fine office of Member of Parliament to be put in that invidious position: unable fully to fulfil the reason we were sent here.
I am so grateful to the Speaker, and to the two other Deputy Speakers, the right hon. Members for Chorley (Mr Hoyle) and for Bristol South (Dawn Primarolo), for the unstinting support they have given me over the three years, but particularly since 4 May in filling in for me on my Chair duties. When I told the right hon. Member for Bristol South of my decision on Saturday, I even got a hug from her: thank you, Dawn.
I have had so many hugs, prayers and good wishes since 4 May, and I would like to thank everyone who has shown me such compassionate consideration, my family particularly, and my association who have been marvellous, and even seasoned, crusty journalists have displayed a heart which I have never before witnessed; you know who you are.
I was told I will soon see who my real friends are, and that has been true, but the truth is there have been so many of them, so thank you to my dearest loyal friends, including loyal members of my staff at Westminster and the Ribble Valley, and to you, my colleagues on all sides of the House who have spoken with me, looked after me, and just shown loving attention. Party divisions disappear at times like this—and they have, so thank you.
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Speaker’s Chaplain, and Andrew Tremlett, the Canon of Westminster Abbey, have given me superb spiritual guidance, which has given me the one thing that everyone in this world needs, alongside air, water and food—hope. Hope is that essential key to giving us a fulfilled life, and they have ensured that I retain my hope.
This is clearly the most painful thing I have endured in my life, alongside the loss of my mother in 2009 and the loss of my brother earlier this year. Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going.” That is sage advice. And so I will see this through to the end, with the support of the people who mean so much to me.
Returning to the Back Benches gives me the opportunity to speak out on issues such as the over-building of new homes in the Ribble Valley, threats to the Slaidburn doctors’ surgery and cuts to rural bus services—and so many others. It is the bread and butter of politics: giving support to the people who put me in the mother of Parliaments—my home for the past 21 years, and a place that has meant so much to me. I am proud to serve the people of the Ribble Valley, and the best tribute I can give them now is to get on with the job they sent me here to do. Thank you.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that personal statement. For the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members who were not in the Chamber immediately after Prayers when I formally notified the House of the fact of the hon. Gentleman’s resignation, I should like to repeat what I said then, just over an hour ago.
The service that the hon. Gentleman has rendered to the House as First Deputy Chairman of Ways of Means and a Deputy Speaker of this House has been exemplary. He has demonstrated to the satisfaction of colleagues throughout the House that he is competent, fair and good humoured. He has proved to be a loyal and hugely valued member of the Chair’s team. I am enormously grateful to him, and I know that the Deputy Speakers feel the same. When the House returns in October, I shall notify colleagues of the procedure to be followed for the election of a successor First Deputy Chairman of Ways of Means.