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Speaker’s Statement

Volume 577: debated on Monday 17 March 2014

It is my sad duty to have to report today to the House the death, at the age of 88, of the right hon. Tony Benn, who served in this House from 1950 with only very modest interruptions until 2001, representing over that period of half a century two parliamentary constituencies, Bristol South East and Chesterfield, the first for 30 years and the second for approximately 17 years. Colleagues in all parts of the House will remember Tony Benn very well. For my part, I believe he was a man of deep socialist principle, of great integrity, and of demonstrable passion and compassion; a brilliant parliamentarian, a brilliant platform speaker, and a brilliant diarist. The House will also doubtless know—I can recall for Members’ benefit—that, when he left the House, alongside, at the time, only Sir Edward Heath, Tony was granted the freedom of the House. It was a freedom that he exercised. I think it is right that a book of condolence should be established, and it has been—it sits in the Library and is there for Members, staff of the House, Members’ staff and others to sign.

I thought it might perhaps also be convenient for the House to know what arrangements are intended by me and by the usual channels to acknowledge Tony’s contribution. On Wednesday, there will be an opportunity for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to pay tribute to Tony, and on Thursday, after Question Time, a tributes session will be opened by the Deputy Prime Minister and responded to by the deputy Leader of the Opposition. There will then be an opportunity for Back Bench Members to record their own recollections and impressions of Tony Benn. The intention is that that set of exchanges will be wound up by the shadow Leader of the House and by the Leader of the House. At what is, in particular for the family, a very sad time, a difficult time, a time of trauma and a time for grief, I hope that we collectively want to extend our condolences to Tony’s children, two of whom, Hilary and Stephen, I can see in my line of vision, to all his grandchildren—it is a privilege to see Emily present today—and to all members of the family.