I informed the House yesterday that there would be an opportunity today for hon. and right hon. Members to pay tribute to the former Speaker of the House, my immediate predecessor, Michael Martin, latterly Lord Martin of Springburn. On behalf of all Members, I want to start by paying tribute to the memory of Michael Martin, and in doing so, I send my deepest sympathy to his wife Mary, to his daughter Mary, to his son Paul and to his grandchildren.
A Glaswegian former sheet metal worker, Michael was the son of a merchant seaman and a school cleaner. As some will know, he was born in a tenement in the nearby Anderston area on the north bank of the River Clyde in 1945. As I said yesterday—I make no apology for repeating it today—Michael Martin was passionate about and proud of his roots. Specifically, he was proud, and rightly proud, of the way in which he had overcome a difficult start in life to rise to one of the highest ceremonial offices in the land.
After leaving school at 15, he began his political journey as a shop steward for Rolls-Royce aero-engineers. In the 1970s, he became an organiser with the National Union of Public Employees, and after a period as a Labour councillor, he became Member of Parliament for Glasgow Springburn in 1979. He subsequently served for three decades as Member of Parliament for his people, to whose wellbeing and to whose advance he was throughout his career utterly dedicated.
As a Member of Parliament, Michael immersed himself in Commons life, and he eventually spent over a decade as a member of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen. He also became Chairman of the Scottish Grand Committee before devolution. After serving as Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd’s Deputy from 1997, he was elected by Members of this House to succeed her in 2000. In doing so, he became the first Roman Catholic to serve in the role since the Reformation.
I think it is true to say, and I see around the House Members who recall Michael Martin—this is hugely to his credit—that he never forgot where he came from. In his coat of arms, which is still exhibited in Speaker’s House, he included a 12-inch steel rule, which signified his time as a sheet metal worker, and a chanter from a set of bagpipes, of which I must advise the House he was a keen and highly accomplished player. Indeed, he staged the first Burns night supper in the Palace of Westminster. The tradition has been continued since under various auspices, but his was the first.
As Mr Speaker, Michael quickly set about making his mark on the role by holding an unprecedented press conference, which provoked his critics into saying that he had broken the convention of keeping one’s distance from the media. He also dispensed with the traditional tights worn by his predecessors in favour of dark flannel trousers. If I may say so, he continued the precedent set by Lady Boothroyd of declining to wear the traditional wig. As colleagues will have noted, I have followed Betty and Michael in that regard.
Sadly, despite the many improvements Michael sought to make in the House of Commons to increase its diversity and his step of establishing an apprenticeship scheme, it was the MPs expenses scandal that led to his resignation from office in May 2009. Today, however, we remember Michael as our colleague and, to many, a friend. Fundamentally, he was a decent, public-spirited, hard-working, unpretentious person who sought to make life better for the people whom he was privileged and elected to represent.
Michael was well known across the House for his care and concern for Members, for their staff and for the staff of the House. He was a fine campaigner, and he was very protective of Back Benchers. If memory serves me correctly, he was not the favoured choice of the Front Benches when he became Speaker, but he garnered huge support—that says something about his effectiveness and his popularity—and, colleagues, he also had a great sense of humour. On a personal level, as I mentioned yesterday, he was always very kind to me, and I have met many Members who say the same from their own experience. To this day, I still remember the lovely letter of congratulation he sent to me after my election as Speaker.
Michael Martin was a good man, and he served people faithfully. Above all, as people who knew him well will know, he was devoted to his community and he loved his family. He loved his family, and he was loved by his family. I hope on behalf of each and every one of you that I can today extend our heartfelt sympathy to his family.
To lead the tributes from the Front Benches, I call the Leader of the House.
On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I join you, Mr Speaker, in expressing our sadness at the death on Sunday of the former House of Commons Speaker, Michael Martin—latterly, Lord Martin of Springburn. As we remember his life and contribution to this place today, the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with his family and friends.
First elected to the House of Commons for the seat of Glasgow, Springburn in 1979, Michael Martin was dedicated to the people of Glasgow. He was a proud Scotsman who never forgot his roots, and some Members, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, experienced his bagpipes playing at his annual Burns night supper, which I gather was something of a special event. He demonstrated that pride during his time as a Back-Bench Member, during his spell as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Denis Healey between 1981 and 1983 and, of course, during his time as a Cross-Bench peer in the other place.
As a Back-Bench Member, in addition to representing his constituents in Glasgow, Michael Martin was a member of the Trade and Industry Committee between 1983 and 1987. In 1987 he became First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, and he was elected to the position of Speaker in October 2000. In the debate before his election, he said:
“My apprenticeship has been one of serving the House as a Chairman of Standing Committees, the Administration Committee and the Scottish Grand Committee. I have never sought to be a Whip, a Front-Bench spokesman or a Minister…I have enjoyed defending the rights of the House.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2000; Vol. 355, c. 14.]
Michael Martin served as Speaker for almost nine years. He was introduced to the House of Lords in August 2009, where he was an active Cross-Bench peer. While his tenure as Speaker was not always the easiest, in recent days a number of former and current Members have remembered the time that he took to welcome them as new Members.
Today we remember the contribution of Michael Martin to this House and send our sincere condolences to his family—to Mary, their children and grandchildren—and to his friends.
On behalf of the Opposition, I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words, and the Leader of the House for hers, in leading the tributes to Lord Martin of Springburn. Like her, I was not a Member when he was the Speaker of the House. Every Speaker has their own style and is a Speaker of their time, and he had to contend with some challenges. But we can remember the fact that he left school without qualifications at 15, and from a poverty-stricken background he ended up as the first Catholic Speaker, in one of the most senior posts in public life.
Michael Martin worked as a sheet metal worker at Rolls Royce, and then as a full-time organiser for the National Union of Public Employees—NUPE. There he met another union organiser who ended up as Leader of the Opposition. He entered Parliament in 1979 for Glasgow, Springburn and then for Glasgow North East, serving this place for 30 years. He was a member of numerous Committees and he clearly knew how this place worked. When elected Speaker, he sat in the chair without tights—as you said, Mr Speaker—a practice for Speakers he abolished. He started his tenure by holding a press conference—a very progressive move. He also served in the other place from 2009—nearly 40 years of public service.
You mentioned Michael’s kindness: a Member told me how anyone from a working-class background was always shown support so that they did not feel out of place in Parliament. A member of staff, who was also from a Glasgow housing estate, told me how Michael wrote to her mother saying how proud she should be of her daughter’s contribution in Parliament.
To Michael’s wife Mary, his son Paul, his daughter Mary Ann and his family, we send our condolences at this difficult time. Lord Martin was a politician, trade unionist and public servant, who was born on 3 July 1945 and died at the age of 72 on 29 April 2018. We salute his journey from poverty to the Speaker’s chair, from Anderston to Westminster. May he rest in peace.
I will come to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who is an immensely senior Member, but we do not want to squander him too early. He is so senior, we will hold on for a moment. I call Nadine Dorries.
I endorse everything that has been said. The shadow Leader of the House was right: when I got here as somebody from a working-class background, Michael was kindness and support itself. I will never forget receiving a letter at home during my first summer recess in 2005, and being shocked to discover it was from the Speaker. It was a letter of praise and encouragement, informing me that when I came back in September I might feel daunted again, but not to be. He was a testament to social mobility, how someone could come from his background to this place. The first time I saw him I remember thinking that he looked like Father Christmas sitting in the Chair and he embodied all those virtues of kindness and welcome. He was the first Speaker I ever encountered and I will never forget him. He professed his love for his family every time he spoke to me. He always mentioned his daughters and his family. That is all I have to say. I think that everybody who knew him will have the same sentiments.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for your very kind remarks, and I thank those who have followed you.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I join the tributes paid to Michael Martin and send our deepest condolences and sympathies to his wife Mary and the whole family. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.
Very few of the current SNP group served in this House under Michael Martin’s Speakership, but those who did, and the former Members who did, have spoken fondly of their memories and the high regard in which he was held by Members right across the House. He was, as you and others have said, Mr Speaker, proud of his Glasgow roots and his Scottish heritage. His love of the pipes was well known, and I believe he once had the unique honour of playing his set of pipes at the top of the Elizabeth Tower.
Some of our longer serving staff members recall the occasion when the Serjeant at Arms informed the SNP group that bagpipes would not be permitted at a reception on St Andrew’s Day. When this came to the attention of Speaker Martin, he immediately intervened and ensured that the pipes were liberated and heard loudly across Portcullis House. I am also informed that two weeks before his resignation the recipe of his Speaker’s whisky was changed. Apparently, the few bottles that now remain change hands for exorbitant prices on eBay and so on.
There are few of us in the SNP who served under Michael, but my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) did have the unenviable task of standing against him in the 1987 general election, attempting to overturn his robust majority of 26,000. The story goes that one day Michael stopped a woman in Duke Street to ask for her vote, only to be told that she would be voting SNP. Michael responded robustly, advising that the young candidate was, shall we say, something of an upstart, to which the woman replied, “Really? That’s my son you’re talking about!” My hon. Friend to this day claims that his mother did vote for him and not Michael Martin, but perhaps we will never know.
In later years, some of our Members who now represent Glasgow constituencies—my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Glasgow East (David Linden)—lived in his constituency. Despite any political differences they might have had, they were all well aware of Michael’s diligence as a constituency MP, and of the affection and high regard in which he was held by the local community.
I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that being Speaker of the House is not an easy task, but the tributes today make clear the respect the whole House had for Speaker Martin. He began a process of reform and modernisation that you, Mr Speaker, have continued, and which will no doubt carry on into the future. That can rightly be considered an important part of his legacy.
To have risen from his roots in poverty to the Chair of the House was a significant and considerable achievement. Michael was an inspiration to many. Michael, rest in peace.
I rise, very briefly, to join your tribute, Mr Speaker, which I appreciated very much.
On two occasions in my time in the House, I had cause to work closely with Michael Martin. The first occasion was when, after my Maastricht rebellions, I was banished by the Whips Office—they were able to do that in those days, as Mr Speaker will know—to an in-House Committee which met but infrequently. They thought that would be a punishment, but it was an absolute pleasure because Michael was the Chair of the Committee. He greeted me and said, “I know why you are here and it is not because you are interested in the running of the House!” He then regaled me with tales of the pipe major and many of the pipers in the Scots Guards, with whom I had served, and their chequered careers; the number of times they had gone up in the ranks and down in the ranks due to too much post-piping whisky. He offered to give me an example of just how they maintained their rank while playing well and he did just that. We missed a number of committee hearings as a result of his piping—I do not know who chaired them, by the way, even to this day—but he seemed less than interested in that and more interested in the piping side of things. I got along with him famously and the Whips never knew what a pleasure it was to be banished to that Committee.
The second occasion was when I had the misfortune to be elected leader of the Conservative party. I was the first Catholic to be elected as leader. I know just how difficult being the Leader of the Opposition is, particularly if one’s party wants to have an argument in an empty room most of the time, which I have some sense of, if not a little pleasure in. Michael took me to his room and chatted away to me about the difficulties. During our conversations, we settled on the fact that both of us were the first Catholics to serve in our positions. He was very proud of that, as was I.
Our roles did not quite end in the way we might have wished and that is one thing that I am very sad about. This House was going through a very difficult time and it was inevitable that the Speaker would, to some degree, become a focus of that. I want to put on record my view that this decent man was taken to task in a way that I did not think were his just deserts. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He took on his shoulders a lot of what had happened. I think his early departure is something the House may someday want to look at and ask whether it was fair to him in the way that he had been to it.
I am sad at Michael’s passing. He was a decent man and a good man. We did not necessarily treat him with the respect and decency he deserved, and I am sorry for that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very warmly for what he has said. I think the reaction of the House shows that colleagues feel the same.
If the right hon. Gentleman understands, I would like to call the successor but one to Michael’s constituency. I will come to the leader of the Liberal Democrats in a moment.
I was deeply saddened to learn about the death of Lord Michael Martin of Springburn and Port Dundas, the former Speaker of the House of Commons and my predecessor as the Labour Member of Parliament for the Glasgow North East constituency.
Michael was a lovely, decent and compassionate man who rose from Springburn sheet metal worker to become the first Roman Catholic Speaker since the Reformation. Throughout his career as a councillor on the Glasgow Corporation from 1973 and then as the local MP for Springburn spanning seven general elections from 1979 to 2009, his steadfast dedication to representing his constituents remained a constant hallmark of his commitment to public service. His efforts were reflected in the immense respect and regard in which he was held by the community he represented for over three decades. Michael helped to pioneer the modern housing association movement in Glasgow. He was a founding member of North Glasgow Housing Association, which is now the largest community-run housing association in the city. It has improved the quality of life for many Glaswegians over the years.
Michael epitomised all that was good about the Labour movement and the opportunity that it has afforded for the advancement of working-class people over the last century. He inspired many local young people into a vocation in politics. I have been particularly moved by the number of constituents who have contacted me in the past couple of days to express their gratitude for the help that Michael provided to their family or to their neighbours. To this day, on every single street in my constituency, Michael is fondly remembered, even though he never sought any great recognition for his efforts. He often referred to the lesson in the Gospel of St Luke about Jesus healing 10 lepers, but only one coming back to thank him. Michael sought to help people humbly, quietly and without any need for praise.
At the time of Michael’s retirement from the House of Commons, his Glasgow colleague Mohammad Sarwar shared with the House a letter he had received from a 16-year-old constituent who had previously visited the House 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.”
Today, Kayleigh is an organiser for the Labour party in Glasgow and one of the leading figures in the Scottish Labour party. That is Michael Martin’s real legacy: how he inspired young people.
I was particularly gratified to meet Lord Martin last July, in the week before I made my maiden speech in this House after regaining Glasgow North East for the Labour party following a brief interlude. He told me of his delight that his seat was now back in “safe hands”, and I hope to live up to that expectation.
Another project that Michael was instrumental in setting up in our constituency was the Alive and Kicking elderly people’s social club in Balornock, which I visited earlier this year. I was quickly reminded of Michael’s ubiquitous presence and legacy in the constituency when I spotted the brass plate commemorating him opening the club on 15 December 1988—exactly one month before I was born. I also remember visiting the Speaker’s House soon after I was elected and being confronted by a 14-foot oil painting of my predecessor. I thought that that was a very effective device to make his successors feel simultaneously inspired and inadequate. I will always remember finding that and thinking of the great impact that he had made on this House and in his constituency.
Michael’s example of kindness and dedication to fighting for the interests of his constituents is something that will always inspire and guide me as his successor as the representative of the people of Springburn and Glasgow North East in the House of Commons today. My thoughts are with Michael’s family—especially his wife Mary, his children Paul and Mary, and his three grandchildren—at this difficult time. I encourage all Members to consider signing my early-day motion 1214 in memory of Michael.
Michael Martin would have been an MP for nine years when his successor but two was born. It is worth noting that if had he remained in the Chair until now and then gone on for a few more years, he might have been Father of the House as well as Speaker. How he would have heard the nomination and dragged himself to the Chair I am not quite sure, but he probably would have found a way.
It is worth noting that some of the criticism of him was absurd. A quarter of a million pounds was thought to have been spent on Speaker’s Green, which was supposed to have been his garden. The fact that it is a bike rack and a goods yard for the rebuilding of the Palace shows how sometimes our journalists think that a story is too good to check. He put up with that with good nature, and it is worth noting that his reason for retiring from the speakership was the unity of the House.
He and I once had a conversation when he was Speaker about how it might be possible to have a debate in the House about the conduct and role of the Chair without that being an implied criticism of the Speaker. Perhaps you as his successor, Mr Speaker, might find a way for that to happen every two or three years, because there are many things that happen when a Speaker might like to get the sort of direction that Speaker Lowther claimed that he had when he had Charles I to deal with.
Speaker Lenthall—forgive me.
The Speaker whom I think had the problem with how the House dealt with expenses was Michael Martin’s predecessor. I have said this in the House before, so it will be no surprise. If his predecessor had backed up Elizabeth Filkin over the expenses rows involving a number of MPs, perhaps the standard of behaviour among some Members would not have fallen so low or become so widespread. I think that he, in effect, was carrying some of the consequences of what happened before him.
I am parliamentary warden of St Margaret’s Church in Parliament Square. I am glad to say that we have had inclusiveness in the Chair—I do not think you need to be socially mobile to get into the Speaker’s Chair, and being able to be there as someone who is Jewish, someone who is Christian (Methodist) such as George Thomas, or someone who is Christian (Roman Catholic) such as Michael Martin, is a sign of the inclusiveness of this place and something that I am proud of.
I am also proud that Michael Martin, when he was a Back Bencher—he continued doing this for a bit when he was Speaker—would come to the monthly communion services that are held at St Margaret’s, which are followed by a breakfast in Speaker’s House for which we are grateful, Mr Speaker. Having a Roman Catholic joining in with Christians of other denominations in a monthly service was an example of the inclusiveness that he showed by example, even if some of the prelates in his Church did not approve.
I would like to add to the warm tributes that have been made and send condolences to Speaker Martin’s family. I can perhaps close the historical loop that was initiated by the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), because I knew Michael Martin at the beginning of his political career rather than at the end. As it happens, we were both elected to Glasgow City Council for neighbouring wards in the same year. Despite our somewhat different backgrounds, we became good friends and colleagues.
I remember him well as somebody who was totally devoted to his ward, his local community, the Labour movement—his origins were in the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, now Unite, though he became a white-collar organiser—and his Church. I mention that because at that time in Glasgow’s political history, there had been a long period of Labour rule, and that was interrupted briefly for three years when it was ruled by a combination of Conservatives, nationalists and something called the Progressive party, which was anything but—it was a legacy of the sectarian tradition in Glasgow. I think one needed to understand that to understand what Michael fought for.
At the time we were on the council, nobody would have claimed that he was a policy wonk. He was not high profile, but he was a very effective behind-the-scenes operator who made things happen. I remember being involved with him on two campaigns in particular. The first was when Mrs Thatcher, I think in 1971, abolished free school milk. That was a particularly potent issue in Glasgow, and it was something about which he cared passionately because of the poverty of his upbringing. There was still rickets in schools in Glasgow, and there was enormously strong feeling about this. In the ruling group in Glasgow Council, we decided not to implement the Government legislation. As a result, he, I and various other colleagues were very nearly disqualified from public life. I mention that in the context of his own convictions.
The other major campaign that he organised, which stemmed from his AUEW background, came a year later, when the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ crisis came to the fore. There was an enormous mobilisation in the city and within the west of Scotland in support of the shipyard workers. As a member of the union and with his organisational skills, he played a very important part in helping to deliver that.
I did not see him again for another 25 years. I came into the House through a somewhat different political journey, but our friendship resumed. I remember him as he was: an amiable, likeable man with flashes of great kindness. I remember in particular the kindness that he showed to one of my former colleagues, the late Patsy Calton. When she was dying of cancer, he went out of his way to put a protective arm around her, and many of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches remember that episode.
He was extremely effective in his networking and his work behind the scenes on the Chairmen’s Panel, but we should also remember that he was a politician. He took a very firm stand in Glasgow when there was a severe and ugly outbreak of feeling against asylum seekers in his constituency and the Sighthill developments. He was a strong campaigner for apprenticeships, building on his own history. To me, and I think many other people, he is somebody we should have great respect for. Particularly as he left under a cloud, I think that we should remember now that he was a fundamentally decent, good man whom this House should honour.
Order. I am keen to accommodate remaining colleagues who feel that they need to speak, and there are no doubt several who do, but I just gently point out to the House that the subsequent business is likely to be of intense interest, and therefore there is a premium on brevity.
I would like to join in the sympathies that have been expressed so far. I was fortunate to join this House four years after Lord Martin did, and we became friends. He had friends across the House, and as soon as he discovered that my grandmother came from Glasgow, we became even closer friends. He was an outstandingly collegiate person. He was an excellent member of the Chairmen’s Panel, as it was called then, and a very, very good Deputy Speaker.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I then had a brief time out of the House—I am grateful that the electorate decided to give me a break. When I came back in 2001, Michael Martin had made the journey from Deputy Speaker to Speaker, and he was incredibly kind to the new intake. He went out of his way to welcome them and showed a really strong interest in all of us. You mentioned, Mr Speaker, that he may not always have been a favourite of Front Benchers. Many of us spent much of the first decade of this century on the Opposition Front Bench. He was a friend of the Opposition Front-Bench team, because he supported us in ways he did not have to. He was understanding and patient. He built up our confidence and cut us a lot of slack, and I will never forget his kindness to me when I first joined the Front Bench in 2001. Like you, Mr Speaker, he set the bar very high when it came to making Speaker’s House available to colleagues and outside organisations, charities and friends. He used that extraordinary resource to help people and build happiness.
I was deeply upset when a tiny number of colleagues criticised Michael’s handling of expenses. His instinct was always to honour parliamentary sovereignty and to put Parliament in the driving seat when it came to sorting out the problems with the expenses regime. In many ways, he was right in that approach, and one only has to look at the performance of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority subsequently and the way in which parliamentary sovereignty has been taken away to see that he has been vindicated. I think that history will judge him very differently from how a small number of colleagues and the press judged him at the time.
I would like to remember someone who was a fundamentally decent person. He commanded respect wherever he want in this Palace among not just MPs, but members of staff. He built up vast pools of loyalty among the people who worked for him, and he was someone who was always decent and fair. I will remember him with great fondness, and my sympathies and heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family at this difficult time. He has been taken from us at too young an age.
I want to make three brief comments, first because some of the recent obituaries have not been very complimentary about someone who, as we have heard, was essentially a very decent man and human being. Secondly, it was reported that he was unhappy about being called “Gorbals Mick” by the Lobby, because he was in fact an Anderston boy and a Springburn MP, as you described, Mr Speaker. As a Gorbals boy myself, I never understood why the Lobby thought that was some kind of insult.
Thirdly, and most importantly, very few people outside this place know how accommodating Speakers, in occupying that distinguished office, are in affording access to the state apartments, hosting charitable events and supporting Members. You have not only continued that, Mr Speaker, but extended it. I had occasion to host a visit from a doctor friend of my wife’s whose teenage son was seriously damaged due to his suffering from a condition called Fragile X syndrome—a combination of a learning disability, sight and hearing problems, autism and, I think, a bit of Tourette’s. He was fixated on this wonderful building and the office of Speaker, which was then occupied by Michael Martin.
Michael invited us to the state apartments, and when he saw the Speaker, he shouted, “Martin, Martin!” His mother suggested, “Actually, it’s Mr Speaker or Mr Martin,” but Vincent was not having any of it, and neither was Michael—“Martin” was the name and “Martin” was good enough for Michael. When he invited us in, he sent Vincent’s mum, me and my wife to have a glass of champagne—he was in between receptions, with one ongoing—and took Vincent on a personal visit to the inner sanctum. That young man’s life was much enhanced by meeting Michael and being welcomed by him. Michael did not need to be as kind as he was, but he was. Many of us remember him fondly and send our condolences to his family.
Michael Martin was Speaker when I was first elected in 2001. As others have observed, he was capable of tremendous kindness—to his family, his friends, his constituents and Members from all parts of the House—throughout his time. I suspect that the last of these kindnesses might have been the most difficult to sustain, but throughout his time in the Chair, he never failed to do so.
We will all have our own memories of Michael’s warmth and kindness. I will always remember him going from the Speaker’s Chair to shake the hand of my late colleague Patsy Calton after she had taken the Oath following her re-election in 2005. At that time, Patsy was in the latter stages of her fight against cancer—she died a few weeks later—and Michael went from the Chair to her because she had taken the Oath in a wheelchair. That act of simple kindness and humanity summed him up as a man and as a Speaker. Yes, he maintained many traditions of the office, but those traditions were never allowed to get in the way of what mattered. If it was a choice between the traditions of the House and simple humanity, the traditions could quickly be dispensed with.
If someone did not already know it, they had only to spend a few seconds—or possibly a few syllables—in Michael Martin’s company to know that here was a Scotsman, and a Glaswegian at that. He was not the first person to occupy the Chair who spoke with a broad accent—the late George Thomas, the Viscount Tonypandy, springs readily to mind—but I am certain that no other occupant of the Speaker’s Chair ever had to endure the sniping and snobbery that Michael Martin had to, although if it bothered him, he never showed it. As a Glaswegian and a Scot, he was comfortable in his own skin. He was proud of his Scottish identity and his working-class Glaswegian roots, and if anybody did not like that, frankly it was their problem, not his.
Much of what has been said today has focused on the personality and character of the man—and understandably so. He served as a Member of this House for 30 years, occupying the Speaker’s Chair for nine. He has a legacy. We have spoken much in recent weeks about the modern convention of the Government requiring Parliament’s approval before launching military action. When doing so, we should remember Michael Martin’s role in establishing that convention. I will never forget the debates leading up to the invasion of Iraq—they were momentous parliamentary occasions. Tony Blair brought a motion to the House on which we could vote. The Opposition of the day were also in favour of the military action and duly tabled an amendment outlining their position. It was not, however, materially different from the Government’s motion, and in an act of constitutional probity, and also of political bravery—it was against the party from which he had come—Michael Martin selected instead a cross-party amendment putting the view that the case for war had not been proven. Yes, Tony Blair, to his credit, allowed Parliament a vote, but it was thanks to Michael Martin that we were given a meaningful choice.
Like you, Mr Speaker, I extend my sympathies to Mary, their children and their grandchildren, but we should do more than that. We should remind the Martin family that in this Palace of Westminster, because of the efforts of Michael Martin, their family will always be welcome among our parliamentary family.
When I first came into the House in 2001, Speaker Martin was in the Chair and immediately made me and my colleagues welcome. He was impeccable in his kindness. I remember several occasions when I had cause to speak with him, and he never failed to be polite and to assist. I distinctly remember the parliamentary party of the Democratic Unionist party once having concerns about parliamentary proceedings—I do not remember why—and we arranged a meeting with the Speaker to see if he could be of assistance. Of course, we met him and had a cup of tea, and he was impeccably polite as normal, and as I would expect a Speaker to be, but what struck me was not the kindness, the politeness or the cup of tea but the fact that within a day or two the issues we raised were dealt with. Not only was he impeccably polite; he was efficient.
We pass on our regards and our thoughts and prayers to the Martin family. As a Speaker and a family man, he was not arrogant—he did not slap Members down—but he ruled resolutely and was always a Speaker to whom Back-Bench Members could turn to get issues resolved. We will always remember Speaker Michael Martin.
Mr Speaker, I thought that your words combined warmth and dignity in a way that was a fitting tribute to a man of warmth and of dignity. I thank you for that.
As I listened to your words about Michael Martin, and about how he loved his family and how his family loved him, I thought immediately of how much he loved this place—how much he loved this Parliament—and it is with some melancholy that I say that this place did not reciprocate as it should have. He was not loved by Parliament as much as he loved Parliament. He was cruelly treated—very often, I have to say, on the basis of snobbery: of cruel, cruel snobbery. But if I have an abiding memory, it is of when he—and you, Mr Speaker, followed in this tradition—opened up Speaker’s House. On some occasions, the experience was slightly extraordinary. I once found myself sitting between Cardinal Keith O’Brien and the Reverend Dr Ian Paisley at dinner; I was something of a cordon sanitaire.
I shall never forget the time when Michael Martin invited Scouts and Guides from Maryhill and Springburn to Speaker’s House. He was the epitome of the avuncular. He delighted in the company of his ain fowk—his own people. He wanted to show them that it did not matter where they came from or what their background was, they too could be in Speaker’s House. I am sure those Scouts and Guides will always remember that.
May I say gently, Mr Speaker, that his great kindness to new Members, which has often been referred to, was not entirely altruistic? Twenty-one years ago my good friend Tony McNulty and I were both elected to this House, and we found ourselves in the Tea Room. Michael Martin, then a Deputy Speaker, came up and remarked to me that he and I shared the same birthday, and proceeded to talk about the similarities between us on that basis. He then mentioned that Tony McNulty had attended the Salvatorian College, and referred to some of the Salvatorian fathers he had known. He then advised both of us that if we wanted to know anything about modern politics, there was only one book that we should read. Tony, who was something of a nerd in these matters, asked “Would that be “Erskine May?” Michael Martin said, “No, no—“‘The Godfather’”. [Laughter.] He gave each of us a copy, and when he left Tony and I looked at each other and said, “If the rest of our parliamentary career is going to be as friendly as that, we shall be absolutely fine; we’ve found our feet.”
To our amazement, we discovered that Michael was at that time casting out the possibility of being elected as Speaker. This came as a considerable shock to us, but we both voted for him with enthusiasm. On 3 July each year, he would always make a point of calling me, as we were the birthday boys on that particular day.
Michael Martin was a man of extraordinary kindness and decency. He was not well treated by the House, but I think the words that his wife Mary, and his children Paul and Mary, will hear coming from the House today will be of some consolation. Michael Martin: may light eternal shine upon him, and may he rest in peace.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that magnificent tribute.
Mr Speaker, I mean this genuinely as a compliment. Michael Martin was a fine man and a fine-looking man, not unlike yourself, and, as I have told you before, I have no doubt that both of you would have looked better in tights and wigs; but let that be.
I had several run-ins with Michael Martin. Indeed, he once told me in front of the whole House that I should go and sit in a dark room “until the feeling goes away”. But it was a bit like offending you, Mr Speaker: if a Member took his rebuke like a man, it was all over, and it was back to his ordinary, easy-going charm and his deep commitment and friendship within the House.
I particularly recall his summoning me when I was called up to serve in the Army in Iraq in May 2003. He was a former soldier himself, a former Territorial, and it was absolutely clear to me that he was genuinely concerned for my welfare and that of my family. He gave me some very good advice indeed. He was a thoroughly good man.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I am so glad that he said what he did.
I want to pay a brief tribute to Michael Martin as a symbol of the social mobility of a generation of the working class in the post-war years. My dad was born in a tenement in Maryhill, just next door to Springburn, and I know that their generation did not always have an easy time of it, facing prejudice and snobbery, particularly if they were of the Roman Catholic faith.
Mr Speaker, you said that Michael Martin was the first Roman Catholic to hold your great office of state since the Reformation. Catholics now regularly hold high office in Scotland and across the UK, but that was not always the case, and a significant degree of sectarian abuse from certain quarters is still directed towards those of us in public life who are from the Catholic tradition. Let me add my very personal and sincere thank you to Michael Martin for breaking through that particular glass ceiling. May he rest in peace.
One of the great honours that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) and I have is sharing the community of Carntyne, where many of my family come from and where many of them still live today. I had the pleasure of spending some time at the weekend with the Labour Councillor Frank McAveety, discussing some memories of Michael Martin and his days in Springburn Labour party—some of which cannot be repeated in this House, I am afraid.
I think there is something hugely inspiring about the fact that this is a guy who was a sheet metal worker in Glasgow and was raised to his position in the House of Commons. He did not come here and pull the ladder up behind him, and he made sure that apprenticeships were available. That is something that chimes with me, as a former modern apprentice.
Let me return to the subject of Carntyne and the members of my family who live there. Not all of them will have been Labour voters, or Scottish National party voters, and I still do not know how some of them voted. What is left with me, however, is the memory of my gran, who lived in Michael Martin’s constituency, saying—this was probably the greatest tribute that could be paid to someone by a wee old lady in Glasgow—“He was an awfully kind man.” I think that that is how we in the House should remember him.
I am exceedingly grateful to the Leader of the House, to the shadow Leader of the House, and to all Members who have spoken with warmth and sincerity of our sadly departed colleague. We remember Michael today, and we remember him, as Members have said, with affection and respect.