Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do not need patience because proceedings in this House are always interesting. But let us now praise famous men. It was a privilege to propose you as Speaker in the 2015 Parliament and now, in the reverse of Mark Antony in relation to Caesar, I come not to bury you but to praise you, for that is the right thing to do when a period of long service comes to an end. That is not to deny that there will be a debate about your term of office, as there are debates about the terms of office of other Speakers in our history. However, I am very conscious that the good that men do is often interred with their end of service. I think the good that you have done should be heralded and that others at a later date will look at some of the criticisms that they may have. But now is not the occasion for that.
In 2009, when you first addressed this House as a candidate for the speakership, you said that you did not want “to be someone”, but rather that you wanted “to do something”. Your agenda was “reform”, “renewal” and “revitalisation”, and although I think the word “modernisation” is an expletive, which I rarely allow to sound forth from my lips, there can be no denying that during your decade in office you have worked tirelessly to achieve those objectives.
As the 157th Speaker, you have been a distinctive servant of Parliament, both in this place and beyond, representing the House to audiences around the United Kingdom and overseas. I think you share my conviction that politics is at its best when it is engaging. Your work with the United Kingdom Youth Parliament and your work with Parliament’s excellent education team should be celebrated. So many schools from my constituency have taken advantage of this service, and I have always been impressed by the knowledge of the people involved. I know that you had quite a battle to get the education building put up, and some people opposed you, but it has been a resounding success.
During your speakership, our parliamentary democracy has been under intense scrutiny. We have been fortunate to have in the Chair so accomplished a glottologist as you are, in order that language, as well as the intricate and profound workings of Parliament, can be understood by everyone. I think the words “chunter”, “medicament”, “dilate”, “animadvert” and, perhaps my favourite, “susurrations” have been popularised under your speakership and, I imagine, are now in common parlance in pubs and clubs across England—or at least in Boodle’s, the Beefsteak, Pratt’s and the Garrick. But those sorts of clubs probably enjoy those words greatly.
As you have dispensed your immediate duties from the Chair, you have come to be known as the Back Bencher’s champion. Our main purpose as Members of Parliament is to seek redress of grievance for our constituents, and you have been unswervingly diligent in your desire to ensure that all parliamentarians are treated equally, whether novice or hardened veteran. I cannot thank you enough for the help you gave me to ensure that we could get the drug Brineura for a constituent of mine: within about a week, you called me at oral questions, granted me an Adjournment debate and then gave me an urgent question, all of which helped to build pressure on the Government to act, to the great advantage of a very ill and very young constituent of mine. This is my view of what Parliament is about, and I think you facilitated that for me in a way that other Speakers may well not have done. My personal gratitude and, more importantly, the gratitude of the family who have benefited from that, is, I think, a real tribute to how you have operated. You have allowed parliamentarians to seek redress of grievance, and that is basically where our law making in this place comes from historically.
The ultimate, most important, highest duty of the Speaker of the House of Commons is to be the champion of our House and its Members, and to defend our right to freedom of speech in defence of our constituents. Mr Speaker, you have done that. During your time you have presided over what you yourself have termed the “rumbustious” Parliament. Now, as you step down from the office of Speaker of the House of Commons, having what is undoubtedly the highest honour that the House of Commons has in its power to bestow, I wish you a prosperous and successful retirement, and thank you and your family—Sally, Freddie, Jemima, and particularly the great Oliver, who I know has more my view of modernisation than your own, at least with regard to wigs.
May I start by thanking the Leader of the House for his statement? I note that there are no business questions this morning, but he did say that you would allow us a bit of latitude, Mr Speaker, so may I ask one question through you? When is Parliament likely to return after the election? Perhaps the Leader of the House could answer that in his own time.
Most people can read the basic facts about your life on your website, Mr Speaker, and on various other websites. You are the first Speaker since the second world war to have served alongside four Prime Ministers and to be elected to the post four times. I shall concentrate on my interactions with you.
Those of us in the 2010 intake were pleased that the rules were suspended slightly and we were allowed to ask questions before we made our first speeches. I think that made a huge difference to us. You spoke at, and gave up a Saturday evening for, the launch of the campaign to have a bust for Noor Inayat Khan, who served in the Special Operations Executive—Churchill’s special group. Karen Newman sculpted the wonderful bust that is now in Gordon Square. Noor was executed in the Dachau concentration camp. It was important to recognise her.
You allowed me the use of Speaker’s House for the launch of the Sidney Goldberg competition, which you attended and spoke at. Sidney Goldberg was in the headquarters ship during the D-day landings. It is important that you have opened up the use of Speaker’s House to civil society and charities—roughly eight a week, more than 150 a year. It is really important for people to see what goes on in Speaker’s House, and I am sure many people will thank you for that. When fielding a number of questions as guests walked through to the bed in the final room, we had to explain to them that it was not you and Sally who slept there.
With your friend since 1982, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), you trained quite a lot of Tory candidates, and I am sure you have seen many of them here. You have obviously trained them well, because they have been quite argumentative towards you.
Being in the Chamber is what you have loved most, Mr Speaker. Perhaps they are going to patent your bladder—the sight of Ian and Peter checking your vital signs as you leave after a long session is quite interesting. As many people have said, you have opened the Chamber up to urgent questions. You knew which Select Committee Members served on and called people appropriately for urgent questions and statements.
I will not forget the phone call that you made to me; I thought I had done something wrong, but you picked up the phone and said, “It’s Mr Speaker here. Would you like to come to Burma?” I think Joan Ruddock could not make it. It was great to be on that trip with you, and particularly to see your groundbreaking speech at the University of Yangon, before Daw Suu was elected. We went to Mon state, where we visited the legal aid clinic and then a school. There were people looking through windows with cameras. They were not actually following us—they were sent by someone else—but I remember you waving your hand and saying, “Who are those people? Send them away.” And they did go—they listened to you.
There is a phrase: “Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” I think people would say that you are a turtle on skids, Mr Speaker. You commissioned “The Good Parliament” report by Professor Sarah Childs, and many of her recommendations, particularly on proxy voting, have now been implemented. You produced a landmark report on speech, language and communication needs for children. Ican, the children’s charity, has done a follow-up report, “Bercow 10 years on” and I hope that it has made a difference and they have seen the difference that your initial report has made.
The Leader of the House mentioned the Education Centre, which has been used by many of our schools. It is such a delight to walk through Speaker’s Yard to the Education Centre. It has made a huge difference to the understanding of Parliament.
I was privileged to sit on your group for the Speaker’s school council awards. It was incredible to see the level of the children’s entries, how they were thinking about other people and how they want to change society. It is a tribute to you that that happened.
Then, of course, there is the Youth Parliament. Since 2009, you have chaired every Youth Parliament and you have been to every annual conference. It is incredible to see the way the members of the Youth Parliament have risen to the occasion. I am sorry that you will not be here for the next one, on 8 November. The level of debate, as you know, is absolutely exemplary and something that we can learn from.
It is UK Parliament Week next week, from 2 to 10 November—as part of my contribution to business questions, I am adding bits of information. There will be 11,400 activities—15 in Walsall South, but 11 in North East Somerset, so it has some catching up to do.
Mr Speaker, you are chancellor of two universities: the University of Bedfordshire and, your alma mater, the University of Essex. I know that you will continue to teach them about how Parliament can be opened up. You have opened up Parliament, which has been part of the golden triangle of accountability involving the Executive and the judiciary. Parliament is not the subservient partner, but, under your speakership, the equal and relevant partner. I say to the other side that I think you did do your job as a very impartial Speaker. I know that some of us on our side actually questioned you calling other sides first. So everybody thinks that you are an impartial Speaker and have favourites one way or the other. However, you will be pleased to know that your ratings on the Parliament channel have gone up and that the word “Order” is now used by parents around the country as the new naughty step.
I thank your long-serving staff: Peter Barrett, Ian Davis and Jim Davey, those in your outer office and those in your inner office. They have always been absolutely exemplary to me, whether I was a Back Bencher or on the Front Bench, and to other Members.
Of course, we cannot forget the great Sally, who has always been by your side and supportive of the work that you do. We all need that person who will support us in our work—particularly Oliver, Freddie and Jemima. It was lovely to watch them in the Gallery yesterday, as they were looking down almost in tears. It was very nice for them to hear the tributes because I know that they have faced difficult times in the playground when you have been attacked.
So, John Simon Bercow, this was your life in Parliament. We wish you well in whatever you choose to do, and you go with our grateful thanks and best wishes.
Mr Speaker, may I echo the heartfelt comments that have been made about you from so many quarters over the past few days? May I do so by way of two confessions, which I have been needing to get off my chest? The first is that I was at a primary school—it is always there that you get the difficult questions—and I was asked, “What is the rudest thing that anyone has ever said to you in politics?” I thought for a bit and said, “Do you know what, it is when someone came up to me in the street and said, ‘Good morning, Mr Bercow.’” I hope that you will forgive me for that. The second confession is rather worse. I may well burn in the fiery flames of hell for ever having done this. I am known occasionally in the Tea Room to have referred to you as Mr Speaker Hobbit. I hope that you will forgive me this affectionate teasing and, in paying my own tribute to you, it gives me pleasure that my last words in this House are to wish you the best for the future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I say that for the last time. I was just saying to the SNP Chief Whip, given that questions were allowed to go on for 40 minutes longer, Bercow must go.
I was, of course, one of your nominees 10 years ago. I would therefore like to congratulate myself on my solid and sound judgment on that occasion. I always knew that you would make an excellent Speaker. Even that awful impersonation you did of Peter Tapsell when you were trying to be elected did not dissuade me of that notion. But I did not know that you would be such a transformative Speaker. The way in which we do business in this Chamber is now forever changed because of your speakership. You have pioneered and transformed. The speakership of this House is now no longer just about overseeing the business in the Chamber, and the way in which we debate and interact with each other. It is about asserting the rights of Parliament and championing parliamentary democracy. And you have been singularly brave in the way you have challenged various Governments who believed that it was their gift always to get their way. We will never go back to those days now, because of the way in which you have challenged that assumption.
I will never forget sitting with you in that curry house in Buckingham, when MP4 did a gig for you in your constituency. That curry house stayed open because Mr Speaker was coming with some strange guests from a rock band, and the vindaloo you ordered that night had to be specially prepared. We could not get you to come up on stage with us that evening, but now you have a bit more time. Given the Prime Minister’s Sinatra reference yesterday, maybe you could give us a rendition of “My Way”; we would happily supply the backing for that occasion.
The culture of this House has been totally and radically transformed. You have ensured that the Back Benchers are now fully accommodated. I have been here long enough to remember the days when urgent questions and statements were cut off after half an hour or 40 minutes, and it would always be the Back Benchers and Members of the smaller parties who would lose out on an opportunity to say something and give their point of view on the issue of the day. That no longer happens. Everybody is now accommodated. I hope that that transformation that you have made will continue to be adopted as we go forward. We all now get an opportunity to give our point of view in this House, and it is important that that remains the case. For that, we thank you.
We on these Benches will miss you, and you will forever be a friend of Scotland and of the Scottish National party. On behalf of our party, I wish you and your family—Sally, Freddie, Jemima and Oliver—all the very best for the future. I wish your staff, Peter, Ian and Jim, all the best as well. I hope that you enjoy the next stage of what has already been a fascinating and unique journey. You are a one-off, sir, and we will miss you.
Mr Speaker, a couple of days ago, you commended me for my brevity, so let me be brief. Two weeks ago you were kind enough—or possibly unkind enough—to remind me that I was the longest serving member of the Panel of Chairs. Let me say on behalf of that panel, thank you for your guidance and wisdom over very many years of service. All your friends on the panel wish you and your family well in your retirement.
Mr Speaker, you are my fifth Speaker now, and I can say from that experience that you have been a remarkable Speaker of this House. You have been a champion of Parliament and a reformer. As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, you have thought about opening up this House so that young people all around the country can see that it is their Parliament that is here for them. You have been a great champion of the Youth Parliament. The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House were right to say that everybody agrees with that now and recognises that it is a thoroughly good thing, but you had to fight for it because there were those who resisted change and said, “We cannot have all these children here in the House of Commons. We’ve got work to be done.” You relentlessly, and in a principled way, pushed for it, and I thank you for that.
You have used the Speaker’s state rooms to give outside organisations a sense that their work is recognised by and valued in this Parliament. As the shadow Leader of the House said, over 1,000 organisations have come into this House, and the grandeur of those state rooms has inspired and encouraged them that their works in communities all around the country are valued here.
I would like to pay particular tribute to the work that you have done for the women’s movement. Organisations campaigning for equal pay have been in those grand state rooms surrounded by those 20-foot-high portraits of former Speakers. They have had their place there: those championing equal pay; those complaining that we need more childcare; those campaigning against domestic violence. They have been there; you have brought them in and endowed them with a sense of importance.
You actually turned one of the bars of the House of Commons into a nursery for the children of staff in Whitehall and in the House and of Members. That too is something we can be proud of, but it is something that you had to fight for. We had been fighting for it for decades and had failed; it was not until you were in the Chair that you made it happen. You supported the coming into this Chamber of 100 women MPs from 100 Parliaments from all around the world so that here in the mother of Parliaments we could validate their work in their Parliaments all around the world.
I think we can fairly say that you are politically correct, but it was not always the case. You have been on what they describe as a political journey. You started off going towards the views of the Monday Club. You are woke now, but my goodness me, you were in the deepest of slumbers.
You really have made a huge difference in championing us here in the House. Above all, you have been concerned about the role of Parliament in being able to hold the Executive to account. That is not just about Back Benchers and Front Benchers; it is about the role of Parliament. Members who have come here more recently perhaps would not remember this—I thank the Library for getting this information for me—but in the 12 months before you took the Speaker’s Chair, two urgent questions were granted in that whole time. The impact of that was that people outside the House would be discussing issues but they would not be discussed here, and therefore Parliament felt irrelevant. In the past 12 months, you have granted 152 UQs. You have made Parliament relevant. I thank you for that—but again, it has not always made you popular. Ministers would rather sit in their Departments talking to civil servants and junior Ministers who agree with them than come here and face the House. But it is better for Government to be held to account. It is easy to make mistakes when doing things behind closed doors. You have always believed that the minority must have its say in Parliament, and you have championed that, but you have also always believed that the majority must have its way, and that is right.
Precedent offers less help in unprecedented times, which we have been experiencing, but you have had a profound sense that you are accountable to the House and that you want to enable and facilitate the House, and that is what you have done. You leave the Chair in uncertain and, I would say, even dangerous times. Thank you for your support and recognition of all those Members—men as well as women—who have gone about their business under a hail of threats of violence. Our democracy should not have to experience that. I would like to thank you for being tireless in your work, and I would like to thank your family for their support of you. They can be rightly proud of what you have done, and we are too.
I am disappointed that I am not able to put my question to the Leader of the House regarding the lack of funding from the national lottery for Southend West and the lousy ticket machines installed by c2c, but I will get over that.
The House is at its best when we are being nice to one another. This will not last, as we are about to embark upon a general election campaign. Mr Speaker, you and I have known each other for a long time, and I cannot imagine how you and the others who are leaving this place voluntarily must feel today. I wish each and every one of those colleagues every good fortune for the future.
You and I followed very different paths to this place. It has not been easy for you being the Speaker, particularly in the circumstances in which you took that great office, but you have been a champion of Back Benchers, in so far as you have ensured that every voice is heard, particularly when you notice that a voice is not always heard within a Member’s own political party. You would be the first to say that you could not have done the job so well without your magnificent backroom team—I am not going to show favouritism—of Peter, Ian and Jim. They have been wonderful.
I know that we will have tributes to Reverend Rose later, but she was an inspired choice. For those of the Catholic brethren who were in the Crypt last night, it was particularly wonderful to hear her speak with my great pal Father Pat Browne, who has just celebrated 10 years as the Catholic chaplain to the House.
Mr Speaker, among the things that you have done, you have made sure that it is worth while being on the Order Paper. It took colleagues a little time to get the hang of it, but you gave everyone on the Order Paper a chance to have their say. You have also done a magnificent job in promoting the work that you do throughout the country.
The election of the new Speaker will be held on Monday. A number of the contestants are in the Chamber at the moment, and each and every one of them would do the job splendidly. I did not seek to fill your shoes because those shoes would pinch. I do not have your control of the bladder, and I certainly do not have your photographic memory, but if there is an opportunity for a slightly different role, I will certainly be a candidate.
My final point is about your family. You and Sally can look after yourselves. This is a very tough job when you have children. When my children were young, they did not take kindly to the fact that not every member of the general public thought their father was wonderful. Your children have somehow got through all that, and they are a credit to you and Sally—of that there can be no doubt. I wish you every future success and every happiness, especially in your new role as a sports commentator.
Mr Speaker, I do not intend to repeat the warm and generous tributes that have been paid to you and your speakership today, except to agree wholeheartedly with all of them. There have been some extremely good summaries of the particular flavour that you have brought to the speakership.
Mr Speaker, you took over in very difficult times—right at the height of the controversies about expenses—when the House had to regain a great deal of good will from the public. You did so in a way that I think few would have expected, given where you began your political career. The thing I saw most quickly about you was that, although you had a respect for tradition, you also had a very open mind about how it needed to change. I referred to that in my own maiden speech, when I came into this House in 1992, and it is a rare combination. It is particularly rare, I suspect, coming from someone who began his life in the Federation of Conservative Students.
It was clear, Mr Speaker, that you had not only the capacity but the desire to go on a journey, and many of us noticed your particular commitment to your principles as you grew into them when you resigned from the Conservative Front Bench because you objected to being whipped to vote against the equalisation of the age of consent. It was nasty for anyone, in what was then a rapidly modernising social situation, to be expected to do that for their party.
The journey that you have taken on matters of equality, Mr Speaker, has been noticed by all of those who were oppressed by not having access to it. It has been celebrated, and the LGBT community in particular owes you a great deal. You have been an untiring and unfailing champion for women’s rights, for the rights of those who have disabilities, and for LGBT and BAME people. That commitment has been shown in many of the decisions you have taken in your executive role. I was privileged to be able to serve with you on not the most glamorous of committees—the Speaker’s committee behind the scenes—as you drove forward some of the modernisation that you have been responsible for, as Members on both sides of the House have pointed out in their tributes to you today.
Mr Speaker, the reactionary resistance that you faced in driving that change—for example, on the education department, or to allow the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber—had to be seen to be believed. However, if I may say so, you have driven a coach and horses through that resistance and achieved real and lasting change, which—when you are finally in your bath chair, and I know that will be a very long time from now, watching Roger Federer still winning the veterans trophy at Wimbledon—I think you will be able to sit back and reflect very much on.
I have a couple of other points, Mr Speaker. One is that I have always loved your use of language and command of the House. You are never one who is content to say “medicine” when you can say “medicament” or “suitcase” when you might say “portmanteau”. Many of us have enjoyed that aspect of your time in the Chair.
There is one place still far too hidebound by tradition that needs your open and reforming zeal, Mr Speaker, in order that we might deal with it. This is a question for the Leader of the House: why on earth does the right hon. Gentleman not get up now and say that he recognises the absolute ability you have shown to drive change in fusty-dusty organisations and send you where you belong—to the House of Lords?
Let me add my congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, on a fantastic 10 years as Speaker during what has probably been one of the most turbulent and difficult times that this House and this Parliament have seen. I echo all the points raised by others about how you have reformed the way the House works, and the causes you have championed. Our relationship has changed over the years. I have been a Back Bencher asking questions, as well as a shadow Minister, a Minister, and a Secretary of State—all while you sat in that Chair and adjudicated over our proceedings.
In my experience, the approach that you have taken to parliamentary matters, in particular urgent questions that have allowed Members to raise issues with Ministers and Departments, has been unfailingly fair. Whenever a Department has been genuinely getting on with an issue and had a good case to make for a question not being urgent, you have looked at that point and processed it fairly. I was a Minister for many years, and I never had any issues with the way you made such a decision. Indeed, I welcomed the chance for my Department and ministerial team to be held to account in the Chamber. In my view, your decision made us behave more appropriately and up our game, which is exactly what it was meant to do.
One final point that has not yet been highlighted is the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, which has enabled the House to become accessible to a range of young people from backgrounds that are very different from those of the more traditional cohorts of MPs and employees. Like a number of other Members, I have had two candidates from the scheme in my office over the past two years, and they were both outstanding. Not only did they learn, I hope, from the chance to take part in the scheme that you set up, but my office, my team and I also learned and grew from having those candidates as part of our team. The chance to open up Parliament to a new generation of young people who would otherwise not get the chance to come here, and let them realise that this is everybody’s Parliament, is one of the most powerful steps you have taken. I very much hope that your successor will continue the scheme, and consider how it can be expanded so that young people from all over the country, and many more MPs, have the chance to experience the wonderful Speaker’s Parliamentary placement scheme.
Mr Speaker, you have been a parliamentary referee during perhaps the toughest game that we have played here for many years. I am sure that has taken its toll on both you and your family, and the support you have received from them has been amazing. I wish you well in the next phase of your life. As I, too, leave this House, perhaps our paths will cross again, but in different capacities.
I will start from a slightly different place from other Members, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for the support you have given me on the House of Commons Commission. We have not necessarily seen eye to eye on every matter raised, but I am sure we both wish to thank the staff who supported you, and the civil servants who supported me. I have no idea whether I will be back seeking their support again, or indeed whether I will return to my position as spokesman for the House of Commons Commission, but they do sterling work for us and support us effectively.
I want to start, as others have, by thanking your family. We all know, as politicians, that our families are often on the frontline. They do not see enough of us and when they do, it is not exactly quality time that they get with us, so I hope that you will spend very valuable time with them in the future. I remember, as one of the highlights of being in this place, attending one of the events you organised in the Speaker’s House and your children coming in to kiss daddy goodnight. I remember that and often use it as an anecdote when I am doing my best to entertain people.
I want to commend you for your commitment to modernising this place. Many people have referred to some of the initiatives you have spearheaded, whether proxy voting, the Youth Parliament, the education service or the much greater frequency with which urgent questions are heard in this place. I would like to commend you for improving the diversity among staff and making the House of Commons a place where hopefully anyone will feel comfortable working, including our excellent Chaplain, Rose, who has served us so well.
As one of the House of Commons Commission members, I want to draw attention to the work you have done in pushing through the restoration and renewal project. That is something that needs to move forward. The mother of all Parliaments is at real risk of simply collapsing around our ears. The role you have played in making sure that the restoration and renewal project proceeds will certainly rest as one of your legacies in this place.
Finally, and I think perhaps most importantly, I would like to commend you for ensuring that this Parliament is not an encumbrance to be trampled upon, but a sovereign Parliament proud and resolute in standing up for the rights of our constituents and the people of the United Kingdom. From the Liberal Democrat Benches, I wish you a very bright and positive future.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me, for once, quite early on in proceedings and not “saving the good doctor” for tail-end Charlie. [Laughter.] One of the disadvantages, it must be said, of having originally met you 15 years before we both entered the House in 1997, is the fact that you have, from time to time, felt it incumbent upon yourself to demonstrate that you were showing no particular favouritism to a personal friend by not calling me perhaps as early as I would have liked.
I was impressed that the shadow Leader of the House referred to our 10-year period training up Conservative activists—I think 600 in all—before we entered the House of Commons together in 1997. At that time, I used to do the campaigning part of the course and you used to do the oratorical part of the course. You used to say that in a good speech the speaker should have, at best, one key point and at most two key points to convey to the audience. So, my one key point about you, your character and your speakership is that you have shown that you are a good man to have by one’s side when the going gets rough. That does not just apply to individuals; it applied to Parliament as a whole, because when you came into office in 2009 the going was very rough indeed.
You made your entry into Parliament in a somewhat dramatic way as the MP for Buckingham. Such were your skills as an orator during the selection process, you had been shortlisted for not only Buckingham but the Surrey Heath constituency. You were due to be in the semi-final in Surrey Heath and in the final in Buckingham on the same night. You will recall that, at my suggestion, we organised a helicopter to enable you to go from one interview to the other, so that you would not have to withdraw. I know that you have felt for many years a great deal of gratitude towards me for making that possible. I have to tell you that that gratitude was entirely misplaced, because I knew that only a few days later, the process of selecting for New Forest East was going to begin, and we were both on the longlist. [Laughter.] I thought, “If I can’t get this blighter selected, I’m not going to have a chance,” so it worked out as a win-win situation.
It has often been remarked, and has been again today, that you went on a political journey, but the detail of that political journey has not always been spelt out as clearly as it should be. There is a myth out there that the young Bercow was part of the Monday club, had very right-wing views, and then saw the light and repudiated them all. It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I remind the House that on 2 December 1997, when we had both been elected and there was a Second Reading debate on the treaty of Amsterdam, I was making only my fourth speech from the Benches of the House of Commons and you—chuntering from a sedentary position—kept heckling me on why it was that I was such a johnny-come-lately to the cause of ardent Euroscepticism. Some people may wish that some journeys had been rather shorter than they turned out to be.
I will not detain the House much longer, other than to make a couple of closing points. I am still waiting for the dinner that I earned in a bet with a young female Conservative MP—now a Minister, I am delighted to say —when she made a bet with me that you would not last one year as Speaker without being ejected. And I observe that now, finally—at last—freed from the constraints of the speakership, you will feel able to speak your mind and not hold back your views so self-effacingly.
On a more serious note, but a heartfelt one, as well as thanking you for your personal friendship over many years, I am sure that you will agree that it would be nice to close this tribute to you with a personal tribute that I would like to make to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). She has been here for 35 years, and in all that time, she has never ceased to promote human rights at home and abroad. From the opposite side of the Chamber, I salute her as I salute you, Mr Speaker.
Thank you. I completely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman just said about the right hon. Lady, who has been fearless, principled and insistent on speaking up for the rights of people around the world when those rights have been egregiously abused. If ever there has been, in this Parliament, a voice for the voiceless, she has been that voice.
On a personal note, Mr Speaker, you know that I met you before you were a Member of Parliament, and I can remember what an irritating young man you were at that time. [Laughter.] You were clever, and you knew it, and a bit arrogant with it, and you wanted to tell me just how right you were on every political issue—this is before you were in Parliament. Over the years, I have got to know and like you a great deal, and I hope that I can count you as a friend. You actually like my ties, which is something that recommends you to me.
When I chaired the Education Committee, I remember that you asked me to come to your constituency, and then much later, you asked whether you could come to Huddersfield to see what sort of constituency I represented. I have told the House this before. I met you at Wakefield station. You got off the train and said, “It’s a hell of a long way, isn’t it?” Of course it is—it is nearly 200 miles to Huddersfield. We had a fantastic day together. I think you have learned a great deal from going to people’s constituencies and finding out what the journeys are like and how vulnerable we are when we are travelling. I think you woke up to that on that day and have been such a good influence ever since—remember this was just after Jo Cox was murdered. It was also the day after the referendum, so it was an auspicious occasion.
On a more personal note, you know I have a large family: three daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren. A few years ago, we were wondering what to do on Boxing Day. We were all down in London for a big reunion and thought we would go to London Zoo. Of course, the favourite place to go was the penguin pool, and who did we find there? You, your wife and your children. It gave a flavour of you as the great family person we all know you are. We love that you and Sally have been living here with your family. The kids seem to have grown up really wonderfully even in this strange environment. I congratulate you on all that.
You are very easy to get on with, and you are a very good friend, so may I have the privilege of giving you some careers advice? I give a lot of careers advice. I am told it is one of the things I am quite good at: helping people to identify their talents and moving them on a bit. Now, I did not realise that you are a very good manager. I recall the dark days in this place before you became Speaker. It just needed management. From those early days, you built up a great team of people around you. It was not easy, but you made changes in a place that was desperately badly managed. We had inherited a crazy system, but you came in and transformed the management of this place. I think we will look back on the Bercow years as great years for Parliament. It is more efficient and sensitive in so many areas—families, children, women and diversity—and you will be remembered for all that, but you will also be remembered for bringing this place back to life. We were in deep trouble and you helped us to save it and led that saving process.
I want to repeat something I said earlier about what you went through at a certain stage in your career and how the press treated you—not just the red tops, but The Times, The Daily Telegraph, people who used to be MPs. Political sketch writers used to be funny—not some of those who hounded you. We know who they are. They stimulated on social media some ghastly stuff that you and your family had to put up with, and I am proud that you stood up to it. It didn’t get you down and you are still here, a robust champion of everything you did.
The careers advice comes now. You are still very young. I hope to be re-elected as the Member for Huddersfield, and if I am successful, I will miss you, but you are only in your mid-50s, I think, which is just the time to start a brilliant new career. I won’t talk about Frank Sinatra. His voice, though I loved it, had gone by then. You are in the prime of your life and I see you making a contribution greater even than the one you have made up to now. I say to the Leader of the House: it would be an absolute insult to the House if the tradition that the Speaker is offered a seat in the House of Lords was not respected. I was worried this week when the Prime Minister failed to pay a warm tribute to the Father of the House. I hope that that kind of pettiness will not go to a repudiation of a long tradition that our Speaker, when he retires from this place, is offered a place in the House of Lords.
Even if that happened, Mr Speaker, you have your talent—that of mimicry, your voices and all that stuff. Yesterday, I was phoned by ABC, which said, “Would your Speaker be interested in doing a programme? We love him in America.” I said, “No, we want him to have brand new television programme about politics called ‘Order, Order!’” So, Mr Speaker, I want you to stay in politics, do a really good job on the media and bring that to life in the way that you have brought this place to life. But whatever you decide, Godspeed.
I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am conscious that these exchanges have become very lengthy, and there is other business with which the House has to deal. That is not a criticism of anybody. People have spoken genuinely from the heart, and I appreciate that, but if we are to accommodate colleagues and then get on to the very important business of tributes to the Reverend Rose, which must happen, and in the most fulsome terms, perhaps a little self-discipline would assist us.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that it was recently announced that we are being given a new hospital in Harlow, one of six to be built—in the early stages—in the country. I mention that because much of it is down to you. You gave me five debates. You allowed me to ask questions. You helped me when I came to you to say that this was a very important issue in my constituency. That example is recent, but it is one of many throughout my time in the House since 2010. What is not known in the media is how often you help MPs who have real constituency issues to make their case to the Government, and I think that the Leader of the House mentioned that.
You have been unfailingly kind to me, and unfailingly helpful whenever I needed to support the people of my constituency. Whatever may happen at the general election, much of what I have been able to do is down to you, and the people of Harlow owe you a debt for what you have enabled me to do in my role as MP. I thank you for your constant kindness to me over the last few years. I will never forget it, and I wish you every possible success in the future.
I do not use many words, but I want to say to you, Mr Speaker, that I cannot imagine this place without you. I have been here a very long time now, as the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) know. When it was difficult for women to get into politics, my hon. Friend helped me to become the MEP for Mid and West Wales, and I thank him for that. I have disagreed with the right hon. Member for New Forest East, particularly on defence matters over the years, but I still look on him as a friend.
As for you, Mr Speaker, the BBC, apparently, has a particular tribute to you. It talks about your catchphrase,
“the traditional cry of Commons speakers through the centuries…‘Order!’, often elongated and twisted into an extraordinary sound that is all his own.
To mark his retirement, the BBC has analysed 100 years of Hansard—the official Parliamentary record—to discover just how different he was to any previous occupant of the chair.
The first thing we discovered is that he has said ‘Order!’ nearly 14,000 times.”
I think that must be a record, but it
“is just the beginning of the Bercow story in statistics.”
I want to thank you in particular, Mr Speaker, on behalf of those of us in this place who are older. There is a place for older people in this Parliament. Sometimes we are not able to jump to our feet quite as fast as we used to when we first came here 35 years ago. I am grateful that, when I had a new knee, you allowed me to sit down but still get in on questions. Thank you for that.
Thank you also for understanding people’s weaknesses and strengths in this place. I have sat here since 1984—I cannot count under how many Speakers, but it is quite a number—and you, in my view, have been the best, because you have given us Back Benchers, in particular, the opportunity to get in on questions, urgent questions, statements and all the rest. Sometimes it has been difficult to catch your eye, although I usually wear a red coat. However, I quite understand that, and I feel grateful to you for opening up this Parliament to everybody, which many of my hon. Friends have mentioned. That is particularly the case with Speaker’s House. People from outside who have come here have been amazed by how accessible you have been to the public.
You have been particularly nice to children. My nieces and nephews wrote to you after being here. They wanted to know what you have for breakfast; you had some conversation with them about food. They were very young and kept asking me that question, so I said, “Why don’t you write and ask him?” I think they got an answer as well.
Thank you for everything. Thank you for being such a good human being. You were very active before you were Speaker, particularly on human rights, so I hope you will continue to be the voice for people who need your help all over the world. I am sure you will be, because that is your natural instinct.
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd—thank you, Mr Speaker. Welsh is my first language; I spoke my first few words here in Welsh. Thank you very much from all of us. I will not say happy retirement. I do not like the word “retirement” because those of us who want to keep on talking will, I am sure, use every opportunity to do so.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). In so doing, may I thank her for her exemplary public service over so many years?
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) referred to career advice. I can remember, Mr Speaker, that you once asked me, at one of these meetings of potential Conservative candidates, whether I could give you some advice as to how you might become a proper parliamentary candidate selected in a constituency. The advice I gave you, which you followed, was that you should get married. That just reminds us, does it not, of how times have changed?
You and I have been friends for many years. I had the privilege of nominating you for the Conservative party candidates list at a time when our views were very similar. Indeed, one of your qualifications then was that you regarded, as did I, Enoch Powell as a schoolboy hero. I think that in more recent weeks, you have been following the advice that Enoch gave. I had the privilege of serving with him on the—[Interruption.] Yes, back in 1984 this was. Enoch Powell was on the Procedure Committee, and he gave advice to us that, in the absence of a written constitution, the procedures of the House are our constitution. That is something that you have taken very much to heart over recent weeks and months, Mr Speaker. I hope that nothing that has happened in that period will cause pressure to build for a written constitution, because that would deprive us of those flexibilities.
You have obviously been a really good servant for Back Benchers. You have also always had your finger on the pulse. I will give just one example of that. Back in 2010, after the coalition Government were elected, there was an announcement that the Government were going to bring in a measure which had not been in the manifestos of either of the two coalition parties: to change the prerogative powers of the Prime Minister to call a general election. You, with your finger on the pulse, chose me to secure the first Adjournment debate of that Parliament on the subject of the Dissolution of Parliament. The debate, which I think went on for about an hour and a half, was an opportunity for new Members and old to hold the Government to account for their extraordinary announcement, which at that stage was for a threshold of 55% in order to trigger an election. We asked questions such as, “55% of what?” On that occasion, Mr Speaker, you showed your perspicacity regarding which issues were going to be—and indeed still are—important.
You were fantastic, Mr Speaker, when we had the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. You went out of your way to impress our colleagues across the other 46 countries that belong to the Parliamentary Assembly, and then you stood up for those of us in this House who found ourselves being arbitrarily removed from membership of the Parliamentary Assembly because we had had the temerity to vote against the Government’s attempts to try to rig the referendum by suspending the rules of purdah. Your intervention caused the Government to be put into the naughty corner. As a result, a few years later, those of us who had been removed from the Parliamentary Assembly were reinstated. I thank you for that and for your fantastic service to this place and to democracy over so many years.
I do not think that the Leader of the House should be so shy today. He is an innovator—we have now had a statement that has become a debate. That has never happened before in the history of Parliament, so he is a great innovator and we look forward to his many more innovations.
I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). Tony Blair never managed to say that correctly; according to him, it was always “Sinon Valley”. I first met her on a trip long before I was a Member of Parliament. She was already a doughty figure in the Labour movement when we went to Chile many years ago. As many Members have said, she has stood up for human rights—and for that matter sat down for human rights in Tower colliery. I know that her constituents, and mine in the Rhondda too, for that matter, have a great deal of respect for her.
As for you, Mr Speaker, I hope that you remember Tom Harris. Tom was not the most left-wing of Labour MPs. Indeed, on one occasion in the Tea Room, when he was trying to say that he was a leftie, I said to him, “Tom, the only vaguely left-wing thing about you is that you quite like the gays”—he decided he would have that on his tombstone one day.
It is not often that I speak solely about the LGBT issue, but I think it has been an essential part of your journey, Mr Speaker. There have been occasions when Speaker’s House has felt a bit like a gay bar night after night, which is wonderful, because change has come so quickly in this country, as has acceptance and diversity. You have played a very important part in that.
The main reason why I wanted to speak is that I want to say a very specific thank you. For centuries, as hon. Members will know, Members of Parliament and their very close relatives have been allowed to get married in St Mary Undercroft. Many have taken advantage of that and it has been a great delight to them. Of course, that was never available to gay MPs, and it still is not because of the rules of the Church of England. I fully understand that, although I did have to persuade Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, that he could not marry me, first because canon law did not allow it and also because the law of the land did not allow it.
When it was mooted that we should be able to find somewhere in the Palace of Westminster where gay and lesbian MPs would be able to form their civil partnerships, you, Mr Speaker, were the first person who leapt forward and said that you would do everything in your power to try to make it happen. I know this to be the case because you rang Chris Mullin to ask him what he thought about it. Chris Mullin has always been a very liberal-minded chap—he is always in favour of the modern world, diversity and so on—and he was very friendly to me and my partner, Jared Cranney, but I happen to know, because it is Chris Mullin’s published diaries, that he said that he thought that civil partnerships in the Palace of Westminster would be a step too far at that time. But you ploughed on, Mr Speaker, and what was particularly nice was that opening up the Palace to allowing civil partnerships meant that any member of the public could form a civil partnership in the Palace. We have now made that possible for several hundreds of people, I understand, which is a great delight.
I particularly remember Harriet—if you don’t mind my calling the Mother of the House that—chatting to Cilla Black, Sally, Pat Brunker and lots of other women from the Rhondda Labour party, with copious quantities of champagne and everyone enjoying themselves enormously. We were the first civil partnership in Parliament, and that was entirely down to you, Mr Speaker.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I did not vote for you to become the Speaker when you were elected in 2009, and I am sure you will recall that I spent about an hour with you, sitting down at a table over a cup of tea and explaining all the reasons why I was not going to vote for you to become Speaker. I think that it is also fair to say, Mr Speaker, that we have had our disagreements, particularly on the decisions you have made over Brexit in recent times; I do not think that will come as a great shock to anybody either in the House or outside the House, but we have always conducted those conversations in perfectly civil terms.
Mr Speaker, you have always been immensely kind to me in my time in the House of Commons, not least during the preparations for our wedding—mine and Esther’s—next year, about which you have been especially kind. I must at this point pay tribute to Rose, the chaplain—an inspired appointment by you, Mr Speaker—who has been equally amazingly kind to me and Esther, and indeed is so kind that she has even offered to come back to conduct the service even after she has left, which is a mark of her as a person and which is very special for both me and Esther; we are very privileged that that has been the case. That was an inspired appointment by you, Mr Speaker, and you have been incredibly kind.
However, Mr Speaker, I think and hope you will be most remembered for your support for Back Benchers. As you know, I am a permanent Back Bencher, Mr Speaker, so this is more important to me than anybody else; as I always say, the one thing that the Prime Minister and I always agree about is that I should be on the Back Benches. You have always been a champion of Back Benchers, to allow everybody’s opinion, whatever it is, to be heard in the Chamber, and I have always been immensely grateful for that.
Some people have very short memories, but I remember when I first entered Parliament in 2005 in Question Times we barely got beyond Question 6 or 7 on the Order Paper and at Prime Minister’s questions those with a question after Question 10 had no chance of being called, to the great irritation of many colleagues who had spent ages trying to get on the Order Paper for Prime Minister’s questions only to find that they could not even get to ask their question. I do not think anyone could possibly go back to that kind of regime now; indeed, I do not think the House will allow any Speaker to go back to such a regime, and that is because of your making sure that Back Benchers get to have their say. That has made what I think will be a permanent change to the way that this House operates.
I have been very grateful for your friendship over many years, and the fact that you came to my constituency and spoke at Beckfoot School, which those there particularly cherished. I hope we will stay in touch after you have finish your term, Mr Speaker, and I wish you every success for the future.
May I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to put on record my thanks to you and my appreciation for all your guidance and support since the day I was elected? You are an extraordinary parliamentarian, human being and friend to so many—and I extend that to your family, who also deserve our thanks. As I know, your welcome to new MPs goes a long way towards settling them in the House at a very daunting time for them, when everything is so confusing. It went a long way towards giving me the confidence to stand up in the House and do my duty on behalf of my constituents, and I thank you for that.
May I also say thank you on behalf of my family? My brother Sundeep in Australia has just texted me to say that he, too, wants to extend his best wishes and his thanks to you, particularly for your support when we were going through extremely difficult times, notably the illness and death of my father. You were accommodating when I had to leave before a debate ended; you came to our last family tea downstairs; and your letter to my father wishing him good health was a huge boost to his spirits in his final months.
Your commitment to equality and wellbeing has been second to none in the House. I know how much you have done. It has indeed been an honour to serve on your Speaker’s Committee on equality, diversity and inclusion since very soon after I was elected, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. You have done incredible work, often behind the scenes, to secure a proxy vote for colleagues who are benefiting from that now. You have been committed to increasing diversity in senior and significant positions in the House, and the visibility of that diversity has gone a long way towards making the House seem feel more relevant and inclusive, not just to us here, but to those outside.
These are responses to a statement.
Mr Speaker, your work on the Education Centre has been extraordinary. You are an agent of change, and you set a standard for how to push the boundaries to achieve the reform and revitalisation that is so desperately needed, no matter what the organisation. I also thank you on behalf of my constituents, because I know that hundreds, if not thousands, have been through the Education Centre. Young people, many of primary school age, have been able to experience the House and build a connection with a place that is their House and is fighting for their future, too. I have no doubt that future parliamentarians, and indeed future Speakers, will embark on their roles in public life as a result of their experiences of our fantastic Education Centre and all who work in it.
You have opened up Speaker’s House, where we have held events such as National Sikh Awareness and History Month. Indeed, you hosted an event marking the first anniversary of the launch of a project in Hounslow, Hounslow’s Promise, which seeks to advance the educational attainment, social mobility and employability of our young people.
I also pay tribute to you for your defence of this House and our democracy. This is a House that is a beacon of democracy across the world. Its integrity and its reputation as a national institution go beyond us as individuals and must never be taken for granted. It is indeed for each of us to protect and safeguard the House, because it is our democracy that keeps our nation safe.
You have led us through unbearable times—events that have stunned the nation, such as the terror attack on Parliament and the murder of our dear friend Jo Cox. You have also seen us through the unconventional but extremely important and peaceful unveiling, on a Saturday, of her coat of arms here behind us, by her husband and her children. I was honoured to be here that day, along with local councillors Adriana Gheorghe, Candice Atterton and Samia Chaudhary, and others who came to support the family at that time and to remember Jo.
In the Chamber, Mr Speaker, you have been tough and fair when that has been needed for either Front or Back Benchers, but you have also been generous when that has been needed. You have, for instance, been generous in respect of urgent constituency matters—including events such as the life, and then the death, of young Charlie Gard from my constituency—and, indeed, in respect of policy matters such those relating to young offenders in Feltham young offenders institution. You have allowed us to raise those issues at moments of great importance, and I am grateful to you, as are my constituents, for the times when that has made the difference.
Mr Speaker, you have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands who have walked through the doors of this place. You are loved by many across the House, political friend and foe alike, and you will be deeply missed. I know, however, that this will not be the end of a sterling career and that whatever you do next will be a great contribution to our democracy and to our country. I am excited, as well as intrigued, about what it might be.
You have been given careers advice today, Mr Speaker, by people rather more experienced than I am, particularly the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but I have been thinking a lot about this. At first I thought that perhaps you could be the host of the Radio 4 programme “Just a Minute”, but, given your experience, can you imagine no deviation, hesitation or repetition? No chance!
Then I thought of a programme of my childhood, which older Members may recall; you may recall it, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House may as well. I thought that there might be a remake of the programme “Call My Bluff”. You could be the Frank Muir character. Let me explain for the benefit of younger Members that each of the members of one panel would give a definition of an English word—most of the people listening would have no idea what it meant—and the others had to decide which version of was correct. “Chunter” is a good example, and now you have made it into a household word, Mr Speaker. It can be a verb, an adverb, a noun —almost anything.
You are the only Speaker who has been in the post during my time in the House, and I think that you have been a very fair, very decent and very honourable Speaker. Given the nonsense that you have put up with—here, in the press and everywhere else—it is to your credit that you have seen your way through it all. Your system, Mr Speaker, is based on what my children and my former employees have called my system: parenting and management by sarcasm. I think you should be very proud of that, because you have taken it to a new level. Sarcasm can be used as a way to control 650 people—as well as my children and my former employees.
You have fans everywhere, Mr Speaker. My mother has a large photograph of you on her mantelpiece at home, and I am continually asked, “Why can’t you be like John Bercow?” Harriet Rainbow in my office, the doyenne of the Watford parliamentary office, is also a big fan.
Every time I have stood up to speak in the Chamber, I have said, “Thank you, Mr Speaker”—so I will finish by saying, “Thank you, Mr Speaker.”
The hon. Gentleman is extraordinarily generous. He has talked about employees, and as well as being a very diligent Member of Parliament, he has employed a lot of people over the years. As his mum knows very well, before he came into this House, he was an extremely successful business person. That is something that I have never been. There are lots of things I have never been, and I have never been a successful business person. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for the way in which he has said it.
For the very last time: I am grateful to you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker. It has been a real pleasure to work under your speakership for the past nine and a half years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) stole a little piece of my thunder by mentioning the fact that the BBC reported this morning that you had used the term “Order, order” no fewer than just under 14,000 times. Maybe you are fortunate in one way, because you might not have achieved that record, had we been living through less interesting political times. Those interesting times were exemplified two Saturdays ago when we assembled here in this Chamber for Prayers and your Chaplain used the words, “be not anxious”. A nervous giggle ran around the House, and I thought that that was a moment to treasure because it captured the mood of the House, and the mood of the country, in the light of the political position we are currently in.
Mr Speaker, you have been a true champion of Back Benchers for the entire duration of my nine and a half years’ tenure in this House. For nine of those years, I have served as a member of the Backbench Business Committee, and for the past four and a half years, I have been Chair of that Committee. Sir, you have been a champion not just of Back Benchers but of the role of the Backbench Business Committee, which came into being when I first entered the House. Through your speakership, the Committee has allowed Members across the House to air issues of vital importance to their constituents across the whole United Kingdom. You have been a true champion of their capacity and ability to do that. You have allowed us as Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account.
On behalf of my elder sister, I also want to thank you for pronouncing my name correctly. I think we had a little lesson about that in a curry house not too far away from this very establishment. It has been a pleasure to work under your speakership, and I wish you a very long and happy next stage of your career.
May I please ask for your indulgence, Mr Speaker? I have to go and chair a debate in Westminster Hall, but I should like, initially, to pay tribute to the Speaker’s Chaplain. Bishop Rose has been an inspiration to us all, and one of the great joys of having an early question on the Order Paper has been to come into Prayers and hear the uplifting, spiritual and wholly Christian way in which she conducts Prayers.
When I came back into the House in 2001, after a short absence courtesy of an ungrateful electorate, you and I became friends, Mr Speaker. In fact, we always happened to sit near each other in the Chamber, on the third row back, quite near to where the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) now sits. You always gave me good advice. I had been in the House a few years before that, but the House had changed a great deal. At that stage, you were, at different times, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and shadow Secretary of State for International Development. We had some very interesting discussions. In fact, you were so robust that you made me look like an old-fashioned Tory wet and a moderniser. You also taught me something else. Whenever you jumped up to try to catch the Speaker’s eye, you had a habit of giving the back of the Bench in front a loud, firm kick. I will not try to demonstrate that now. It always worked, because Speaker Martin would look up, see you and call you to speak. On one occasion, when I was trying to get called, you were sitting next to me but not trying to get called. I started kicking the Bench in front, but Speaker Martin called you, even though you were not standing.
Well, that is certainly not a fault with you, Mr Speaker. Your memory and recollection of every single name and detail regarding every colleague is beyond extraordinary.
I have spent the last fortnight or so on the Speaker election hustings. The candidates have not agreed on everything, but one thing that all nine of us have agreed on is that you have done the most superb job for Back Benchers. You have done this through the urgent question revolution, through Back-Bench debates and through calling colleagues to speak when you know that they have a particular constituency interest.
We also agree that what you have done for outreach, for children and for schools has been transformational. In the past, when school parties came down from Norfolk, they would meet me in Central Lobby and we would struggle to find a Committee Room and there was nowhere to go for a cup of coffee. Now, they can go to the Jubilee Café and to the new Education Centre, and it is a completely different experience, thanks to you. You have made the lives of those children much more fulfilling in terms of their understanding of democracy than was ever the case before.
I entirely agree with the Leader of the House that you look out for colleagues who have individual constituency cases. When there is a real issue, you come to the rescue of those colleagues and help them to get justice and some form of satisfaction for their constituents. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and I were both on the HS2 Select Committee and, during that inquiry, we spent a lot of time going along the route of HS2. That included a number of days in your constituency, Mr Speaker, where we had meetings with action groups and residents in communities and villages. One of the things that struck me—and, I am sure, the hon. Member for Gateshead—was that, whenever you arrived at a meeting of distraught village residents, you not only knew the name of every single one of them, but you knew everything there was to know about the village. You were the local MP who was on their side, and you were admired and respected in a way that few of us could aspire to achieve. You were able to do that in spite of also carrying out your duties here as Speaker.
I thank you for the way in which you have helped me on a lot of different issues, to do with my constituency and elsewise, both in my capacity as a Minister and as a Back Bencher. You can leave this place confident and secure in the knowledge that you are leaving behind a powerful, special and long-lasting legacy.
I should like to carry on this theme about names. When I was selected as a candidate, my constituency neighbour, John Prescott, seemed to have a problem with my name. He kept calling me Melanie. Then, when I got to the House of Commons, the then Speaker seemed to have a problem with my name as well, because he referred to me as Jacqui. So I am delighted that you have never had a problem with my name, Mr Speaker. You have always called me Diana, for which I am very grateful.
First, I want to thank you on behalf of the children of Hull, because through the Hull Children’s University, so many of them have been able to visit Parliament and to use the Education Centre, which I know is very dear to your heart. Huddersfield is a long way from Westminster, but Hull is even further, so this is a great tribute to your commitment to ensuring that this place is accessible to children from all around the country. I also want to thank you on behalf of the Youth Parliament for the work you have done to support those budding politicians and for inviting them into this Chamber and overseeing their proceedings.
I personally would like to thank you for the kindness you have shown me when I have come to you with illness or adversity. You have always been a very decent, kind man, and I very much appreciate that.
Your use of urgent questions has been remarked on by many in the House today. I think I probably have the record for the number of urgent questions you have granted to any Back Bencher, and they have been on the issue of contaminated blood. I know that the community who have been infected and affected by that awful scandal in the NHS hold you in very high esteem and regard for allowing parliamentarians to pursue the Government of the day and to seek justice for what happened to them. I want to say a very big thank you on behalf of that group.
You have also been innovative with urgent questions. I remember coming to speak to you when the Church of England made the ridiculous decision not to allow women bishops, and I asked you what Parliament could do to make the Church of England think again. You advised me that, although it had never happened before, an urgent question could be submitted to bring the Second Church Estates Commissioner to the House to answer for the Church of England, so a big thank you for that. I am delighted that we have one of the women bishops in the Church of England with us today.
You have always been a great champion of women’s rights, particularly on sensitive issues such as abortion. You have allowed debate in this Chamber on issues that people find difficult and sensitive. The way that you have allowed debates to take place, particularly on the issue in Northern Ireland, has been really important. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is a doughty champion of women’s rights, and I know that she holds you in high regard.
I am going to miss you, and I send you every good wish for whatever it is you go on to do. Whatever it is, it will be an enormous success, but we will miss you.
I can exclusively reveal that the tactic of kicking the Bench in order to be called works, Mr Speaker. I start by echoing the opening words of the Leader of the House about what you have done to revolutionise the work of the education service. The way that it now brings children of all ages through this place and introduces them to Parliament is phenomenal. I also pay tribute to what you did with the Youth Parliament. I was lucky enough to be the Minister with responsibility for the Youth Parliament, and I stood at the Dispatch Box, with the shadow Leader of the House opposite me, to make the opening statement. I found it really quite intimidating, and the quality of debate in the Youth Parliament was incredible, so I thank you for bringing that through here.
I want to make my own personal tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I do not know her particularly well, but I hold her in great esteem and shall miss her and, indeed, the many experienced colleagues who are leaving this place. Young whippersnappers like myself need wise counsel from those who have been here for many years. I am grateful that we in Kent have my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who gave all new MPs elected in 2010 templates for what he does to help us in dealing with our constituents. I know full well that, if I have a difficult piece of casework, there are Members across the House who have seen it all before and to whom we can go for advice.
I have known you for what I thought was a long time, Mr Speaker, but we have never been for a curry, so perhaps we do not know each other as well as I thought. However, a few weeks ago, I said to Mr Speaker that I had fallen out of love with the Chamber in recent months. It has been an incredibly challenging time in Parliament, and I just was not feeling like I was here or that I really valued what we do. Mr Speaker has been kind enough to call me on a regular basis over the past couple of weeks for questions and interventions and so on, and I have fallen back in love with this Chamber. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the confidence to move from the Front Bench to the Back Benches and feel like I can make a positive contribution in a debate. I am genuinely grateful to you.
I do not know whether colleagues are aware of this, but in all good bookstores there is now a book called “Be More Bercow”. It is an excellent book—
Mr Speaker did not write it but, like some other hon. Members, I have had him sign a couple of copies for auction. The book has quotes that he has said over many years and then, on the next page, some self-help. For example, as we have heard Mr Speaker say many times, “Calm down man”—a quote that will follow you around for some time—may be on one page, and then there will be a mindfulness lesson about how to breathe properly in order to calm yourself down. We can all learn from elements of “Be More Bercow” but one lesson that is not in there is how not to go to the toilet for over nine hours. Mr Speaker, you have the bladder of a camel. Had you not announced your retirement, we ought to have thought about reinstating the commode that was under the Speaker’s Chair once upon a time.
You are an extraordinary character, Mr Speaker, and I have sat here since 9.30 am listening to some incredible tributes to you, but it is about time that I offered some balance. It is true that you have been a champion of Back Benchers, and you are also a champion of sport, which I really appreciated when I was Sports Minister—I am still very sorry for playing football here in the Chamber. However, Mr Speaker, you are still a gooner. I would like all Speaker candidates to promise me that the next Speaker will not allow another debate paying tribute to Arsène Wenger or, indeed, any other Arsenal manager, particularly if the Sports Minister who has to reply to it is, like me, a lifelong Tottenham fan.
I do not refer to those I employ as my staff. I think of them very much as part of my team. In this place, we are nothing without those in our team, so I take this opportunity to pay tribute not just to you, but to Jim, Peter and Ian, who work for you. There are others whose names I do not know, but I am sure that they keep you under control. I also thank Rev. Rose, who is very much part of our team in Parliament. I have taken great comfort from her spiritual guidance, and I will be forever grateful that she christened my son Freddie. I thank her and thank you, sir, and I wish you well in whatever happens next.
What can I say, Mr Speaker? I hope we have moved on since that Wednesday a few years ago when you threatened me with an antisocial behaviour order here in this Chamber. I will keep my remarks brief today but, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) just suggested, we are nothing without a good team, and I want to thank Jim, Peter, Ian, Rose, of course, and all the others in your private office who have served you and all of us so well. They are simply the best of us. As an example of their humanity, when I was working on the period poverty campaign, one of those gentlemen to whom I just referred approached me in the corridor one day with a carrier bag. He had gone out and bought loads of women’s sanitary products, and he said, “Will you donate these to somebody in need? I have never done this before. I have never gone into a supermarket or a chemist and bought these items.” I just thought that was really touching.
Mr Speaker, your humanity and personal touch will never be forgotten. They have been in evidence on some specific occasions, but none more so than when we lost Jo. The next day, you came to Birstall, which is next door to my Dewsbury constituency, and you did not just turn up and lay flowers, but you stayed and talked and empathised with local residents and then went on to the local church and spent time there. It was so appreciated—not just the gesture of being there, but your authenticity and just spending time with local people who were feeling that loss so much. Equally, after the dreadful terrorist incident here a couple of years ago, when we lost such a wonderful police officer and it was such a traumatic time for so many of us, you were not only typically stoic, but very supportive as well. The same has been true in the past few months, which at times has been a difficult period for me, particularly with some of the abuse that I have received, as have other Members, particularly female Members. You called me at home one Sunday morning to ask whether I was okay, because I had received a particularly unpleasant death threat—all death threats are unpleasant but I had received something that was particularly unkind. I was very grateful for your support at that time.
You are an extraordinary man, Mr Speaker. I will miss you hugely. I wish you and your family every happiness. I had the pleasure of chatting to them last week, and your delightful young daughter Jemima is an absolute credit to you and Sally. I look forward to reading your memoirs, and I particularly look forward to seeing you in sequins in a future episode of “Strictly Come Dancing”. Thank you, above all, for your kindness, Mr Speaker.
First, I want to apologise for not having been here at the beginning of these tributes, Mr Speaker. I had to engage in a podcast with the Father of the House. It was a joint podcast. I say that, but he took up at least 90% of it, so it was joint in the sense that it is joint whenever you sit to hear him and you ask him to speak briefly and he does exactly that!
At the outset, I also want to say a farewell to you, Mr Speaker. We have known each other for a significant amount of time. I believe you once referred to me as a “sea green incorruptible”. You may or may not recall that. I am not sure to this day quite what you meant by it, but I had been rebelling against the Government then for some time and I fancy that you thought that was a good thing. It was on the back of that that when I became leader I employed you in the shadow Cabinet, as shadow Chief Secretary. It was not altogether a happy period. I recall being approached by one particular colleague of ours, who will remain nameless but who upbraided me in the Lobby, saying “It is fantastic that you have got somebody who is really campaigning on the rights for gay people and out there speaking on all these subjects. I was thinking, “Oh, very good, thank you.” He then said, “Do you think we could have a shadow Chief Secretary when you next get to the appointments for the shadow Cabinet?” I think he was not altogether enamoured of your journey, but it was certainly a journey, one that you have taken personal ownership of. You have been part of changes that have come about, all of which have been overdue. I fancy that your legacy in this matter will also therefore be recorded by everybody, notwithstanding your period in the Chair.
On that note, I wish briefly to deal with the idea of legacy. I recall a quote from “Julius Caesar”:
“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones”.
I wish to reverse that process and simply say that there is much that you have done in this House that will stand the test of time and will return this House, in a way, to where it probably was many, many decades before, before it became too subjected to the concept of the overarching power of the Executive. I was a little tongue in cheek there. When I was, unexpectedly, in the Cabinet for six years, I regularly used to curse you in the mornings at about 9 o’clock when I heard that you were about to grant an urgent question—I think such questions came at noon—and I had to give you some reason why we should not have the UQ. Almost invariably I was told by your office that you had read what I had put but not required that it was the case and had granted the UQ. During that period, I do not think any Minister would not have been frustrated, annoyed and angry. However, having returned to the Back Benches, I have to congratulate you on reinvigorating the UQ, turning it from being an unusual event to being a very standard one, and I hope I have taken advantage of that. Of course the Government do not like that. When one is in government, surrounded by all the decisions one has to take and things one has to do, coming back to the House and being forced to answer questions is a nuisance, but it is a nuisance that really does matter.
I recall being frustrated as a junior Back Bencher on many occasions because I could not get in on a question and I thought that I had been pushed to one side, that everybody senior had got in and that the usual rules had applied. Any Member coming in here now will not have any knowledge of how it was before and they will just be used to standing and getting called. I often say to such Members, “It was very different in the old days. You might stand for three separate questions not related to each other and still not get called. Eventually you would approach the Chair and the Chair would say, ‘Next time we will call you. And you would then argue, ‘Well, I may not have an interest in the next question” but you would still have to come in and stand. Banishing that and getting rid of that process will stand as an important legacy of yours, because it allows non-Privy Counsellors to get their word in. I have one word of slight advice: my general rule is that in this place after about an hour there is absolutely nothing that anybody is going to get up to say that has not already been said at least three or four times. You have been incredibly tolerant that even on the fifth time it is worth hearing and sometimes quite important.
In that regard, your use of this place and your reforms to this place were overdue. I also remind colleagues that you came in at a difficult time; this House was in shame. The expenses scandal was all that people in the country saw and thought of us in this place. They thought all of us were corrupt and involved only for our own sakes, which is completely untrue but was overarchingly the view. As you know, Mr Speaker, people come here because they genuinely believe that they want to do good and to try to improve the quality of life for their constituents and for citizens around the country. To some degree, we are still suffering from that view. We needed the reforms such as opening this place up, letting younger people come into here, using the education service and expanding that process, and giving colleagues the power to bring Governments to the Dispatch Box so that they could ask those questions and force Ministers, even in difficult moments, to answer the most difficult questions of the day. That is a set of vital reforms and I cannot see any future Speaker reversing them, nor should they, because they are absolutely structural.
We have not always agreed on everything, Mr Speaker, nor should we; I confess there have been times when I have been somewhat frustrated. However, as colleagues have said, this is not really about being frustrated about the decisions; it is about whether or not somebody is consistent in the process they engage in. The one thing you have been absolutely consistent in is your belief that Back Benchers have the right and should have the power to be heard, regardless of whether you agree with them or not, and of whether they sometimes say things that might be an abhorrence. You believe that they have the right, because they were elected to this place, to be heard here without fear or favour. Restoring that process will be your greatest legacy, so I wish you a good retirement—although I suspect it will not be retirement and you will have some other kind of career. Perhaps you will be speaking across the States, where I gather you are becoming quite a celebrity on the speaking circuit. Whatever else you do, I know you will bring to it longer speeches, with words that nobody has ever understood or heard before. Notwithstanding that, people will be fascinated by them, as I have always been by your approach at the Chair. So I wish you the very best of fortune, and I consider it in a way a privilege to have been in this House when these reforms have taken place, and you were the architect of them. Thank you.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, on behalf of three groups of people. As other Members have mentioned, the schoolchildren who have been through the Education Centre, thanks to you, have been inspired by that experience. I echo the tribute on that that others have paid to you.
There are two other groups, and one of them is my constituents. You have a lot of fans in Bristol West, so if ever you feel like popping down, you will get a warm welcome. Many of them have asked me to pass on to you their admiration and to tell you that they have been glued to the television over the past year. It is an interesting by-product of where we have been politically that people text me to say, “What’s that funny thing you do when you bow at the table?” You have facilitated that sort of interest.
This is a slightly quirky one, but I want to thank you on behalf of the very unofficial parliamentary string quartet, the Statutory Instruments. It was in your Speaker’s palace at a Christmas celebration last year that Emily Benn and I first hatched the plot. We were enjoying the Christmas tree, and I think probably some Christmas carols and possibly some mince pies. I will always be grateful to you for being there at the birth of the parliamentary string quartet, and then at its first performance. Every time we play, we will be thinking of you. We are a little bit thwarted, because we were supposed to play at a concert for the Archbishop of Canterbury on 12 December but I gather we are doing something else on that day. Nevertheless, the Statutory Instruments are grateful to you.
Other people have said this, but I feel I must add that you and Reverend Rose—I cannot be here for her tribute—have been here for us at our darkest hours, as well as our moments of joy and celebration. Those dark moments been very dark indeed: June 2016 in particular and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) mentioned, the murder of PC Keith Palmer. There have been other times as well. You have been here for us and it has been incredible. It is a source of great support and comfort, both spiritual and non-spiritual, that the two of you have given to us as individuals, and to me as a Whip.
Your views on Whips are well known, Mr Speaker. Despite what has been said about your views on Whips, I have always known you to be really rather kind and helpful to us. I have sat in Whips’ corner for three years now—I cannot believe it has been three years, but I think my Chief Whip will confirm that I have been an Opposition Whip for three years—and you have been extraordinary. I have learned such a lot from working by your side and also, of course, from Peter, Ian and Jim, to whom I also owe a great debt of thanks. I hope they will not be leaving us, even if you are.
The Leader of the House could perhaps have cleared up a mystery for us. He said that to him the word “modernisation” is an expletive; if that is so, I am slightly perplexed as to why he has not taken this opportunity to confirm that your 10 years of public service will be rewarded in the traditional manner. I think it would be courteous if somebody on the Treasury Bench could clear up that mystery for us at some point in the not-too-distant future. I think the traditional time to do that would be today.
The Leader of the House is shaking his head at me, but I do think that somebody ought to clear it up. Nevertheless, I know that whatever it is that you go on to do, Mr Speaker, you will do it, I hope, billowed up on a cloud of love and admiration from us all, and with the great enjoyment and collegiate spirit that you have shown to us and, I hope, we have shown to you. Some of the greatest and the darkest moments in my four years here have been enhanced by your presence in the Chair, including a tiny little thing involving a packet of peanuts and an Order Paper that I think will best be left to my memoirs or yours. Yes, you know of what I speak.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and good luck.
Time does not allow me to do justice to all the amazing work that you have done in the service of this Parliament, Mr Speaker. Before I came to Parliament, I was a young barrister, and I was told, “Brevity is a virtue, not a vice, so keep it short.” You have applied that rule when we have all spoken.
I wish to cover three things: accessibility; the way you have treated Back-Bench Members of Parliament; and wellbeing. First, on accessibility, all Members of Parliament are among equals in this place, and you have applied that rule. As a young Member of Parliament, many years ago, when I thought I needed to talk to the Speaker, I contacted the Speaker’s office and said, “I would like to speak to the Speaker of Parliament.” I was told, “Thank you, Mr Chishti,” and within minutes the Speaker could be reached on his mobile phone in his constituency. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the brilliant team around you—I see one of them standing there, and there are others. Members of Parliament judge the moment when they need to speak to our Speaker—you are our Speaker—and accessibility is key for Members of Parliament and for anyone when they want to reach a person in a position of responsibility. You, Mr Speaker, has have always ensured that.
Secondly, Mr Speaker, you have been the champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament. We all have our own cases. One thing on which I can never compromise —I never have throughout my time in Parliament—is freedom of religion or belief. I came to this country as the son of an imam. My father was an imam, my grandfather was an imam and my uncles were imams. I came to Gillingham in 1984, and we could practise our religion openly and freely at every level. Morally and ethically, it would be wrong for me not to stand up at any level when I see individuals of minority faiths being persecuted.
In 2014, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, to ask for an Adjournment debate on the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where they are used to target minority faiths, and the case of Asia Bibi, who was on death row. Before the case came up in the media in the past year, I wrote to you, Mr Speaker, and you gave me the chance to raise it on the Floor of the House. And it was not just then, because you know what matters to Members of Parliament. We all champion different issues, and you have been absolutely brilliant in realising what issues matter to Members of Parliament. When I resigned from the Government in November 2018—the Government did not agree with my view on the Asia Bibi case, so I stepped aside—I wanted to question the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, but I was not listed on the Order Paper. I was sitting on the Bench right there, and although I am slightly short, I was still bobbing up and down. You, Mr Speaker, called me so that I could raise my issue with the person who had to make the final decision. You have been absolutely amazing as a champion of Back-Bench Members of Parliament.
Thirdly, there are some outside who do not see Members of Parliament or those who work here as fellow human beings. We are all human beings, and we all suffer from the same challenges that every other citizen in our great country suffers. We all have challenges and issues that arise. I wish to touch on the work that you, Mr Speaker, have done on the wellbeing of Members of Parliament and of those who work in this great Parliament. I cannot thank you enough for the way you have dealt with those issues with compassion, decency and complete regard to human dignity. You have put in place a system with the brilliant Dr Madan. It is a clinician-led approach, and I thank Dr Madan, because often those who do the work behind the scenes do not get the credit. They do an amazing job. If everyone applied your approach, Mr Speaker, of making sure that those who work here, at whatever level, get support when they need it—and quickly, swiftly and appropriately—individuals could go on and be better than before. That comes down to individuals in responsibility taking such decisions.
I was very fortunate to represent the Prime Minister in the Holy See at the canonisation of Cardinal Newman. I did not know much about Cardinal Newman, but when I was there I listened to people speak about that great man’s values. One of the hymns was “Lead, Kindly Light”, which has the lyrics:
“I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”
In the 10 years for which you have sat in the Chair, Mr Speaker, every step that you have taken has been for the betterment of this Parliament. Thank you, Sir.
I listened carefully to the opening statement by the Leader of the House and was interested to hear what he had to say. I always listen to him carefully. He chooses his words carefully and gives me the impression, at least, that he understands the meaning of them—after all, he is the only person I know who reads the words “lounge suit” inside his jacket and takes them as instructions for use. You, Mr Speaker, have challenged the House in respect of the rights of Back Benchers. There are people in the House who have benefited from that at times but who, now that time has moved on, perhaps do not quite appreciate how you have stood up for the rights of this House and for those of us who have wanted to stand up for our constituents.
In particular, I want to pay tribute to you for standing up for the people of the 48% who voted in 2016 to remain in the European Union. If people had listened to the Government’s views on the outcome of the referendum, which we all respect, they would have believed that it was a resounding victory, and that the country was not split at that time. But, indeed, the country was split, and it was for this House to stand up and hold the Government to account and to speak up for the views of those people who wanted to remain in the European Union, or who wanted, in leaving, to retain as much of our relationship with the European Union as we could. Without your strength of character, Mr Speaker, to stand up to an Executive who were prepared to try to ride roughshod over those of us who wanted to hold the Government to account, we would have been in a very different place now. That is a tribute to you, and your actions during these very trying times have earned you a place in history. You deserve enormous credit for that. I will always admire you for what you did, because, at times, it was very difficult for you. You were out there as an individual having to stand up to those people. I understand that you have an excellent team around you, but you did it none the less, and you did it for us. For that, I will always be grateful.
I am also grateful to your team. I do not do this very often, but I pleaded with them to ensure that I was called at Prime Minister’s questions to raise something on behalf of a disabled constituent who had had their personal independence payment taken away, and was about to have their car repossessed on the Thursday after that Prime Minister’s questions. I did not think that I would be called, Mr Speaker, but because you had been generous with time at Prime Minister’s questions—you allowed it to overrun—I was called right at the tail end. I always seem to get called at the tail end, but if you are patient, you get there. I thanked you, Mr Speaker, when I was interviewed on the radio subsequently about this issue. As a consequence of my being able to raise that matter at Prime Minister’s questions—because you heard my plea and called me—the life of my constituent was completely transformed in a moment. That is the power of being in that Chair, and I pay tribute to you for how you stood up for us Back Benchers so that we could stand up for our constituents. My constituent’s PIP was reinstated and they did not have their car repossessed.
Your inspired appointment of Rose Hudson-Wilkin was, again, a testament to your strength of character, and to your determination to modernise and to take us forward as a House of Commons, representing all the people. I pay tribute to Rose. She has an amazing career ahead of her and will be a very influential person in our society in whatever role she goes on to do when she ceases to be Chaplain to the Speaker of the House.
Mr Speaker, you came into the House in 1997, the same time as me. You have a constituency in the home counties; I have one in London. No doubt schools from your constituency have frequently visited this place and you have taken them round on tours. But on rainy days, when they wanted to have their packed lunch, children used to be told that the Speaker of the House and the Serjeant at Arms did not allow packed lunches to be eaten in Westminster Hall. There was no cafeteria down there, and when we got one, it was not accessible to schoolchildren, because they had to buy something to be in there. This was an appalling place for young people to visit in terms of how they were welcomed, although they were awestruck as they were taken around the place and no doubt educated by all the MPs who were boring them to tears with the details of the House. None the less, it was important that they were here. They were inspired by the House, but it was very unwelcoming to them.
The changes that you have made in opening up the Education Centre and making this place feel welcoming to young people have been inspired. I want the Speaker who follows you to do more of that, and it is a mark of the way that you have brought modernisation and change to this House. You have earned your place in the history of this House and I wish you all the best for your future.
Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to pay tribute to you today. I have known you for the best part of 30 years, and I echo everything that has been said in the Chamber today. I will not repeat those tributes, but instead add to them by saying things that have not been said.
I thank you for your patriotism, for being an upholder of tradition and for being a lover of your country. You are a patriot. The Mother of the House said that you were politically correct, but on those issues you have never been politically correct. It was you, Sir, who supported the long-running campaign to ensure that the flag of our country was flown from the Victoria Tower every single day of the year. Members will recall that it used to be flown only when the House was sitting. In the early part of 2010, the House agreed, with your support, Mr Speaker—a statement was made in the House—that the flag would fly permanently, 365 days of the year. That is, I think, a subject of pride in our country and it is appreciated by many.
It is also you, Mr Speaker, who has upheld the tradition of St George’s day for England. When we celebrate our traditions for England, Speaker’s House has been opened to the Royal Society of St George and to organisations that celebrate our English heritage. I thank you, Sir, for allowing the St George’s day organisations to come to Speaker’s House to celebrate 23 April.
I also remember that it was you, Mr Speaker, who allowed the tradition—the sad tradition—of crests of MPs who have been assassinated and murdered to be displayed in this Chamber. For a very long time, the crest of Airey Neave was in the Chamber, but the previous Speaker was not in favour of additional crests. You may recall, Mr Speaker, that Lord Howe of Aberavon and I came to see you and asked whether we could have a crest in memory of the late Ian Gow, who was murdered. You were very supportive of that, and that led to crests being put up not only for the late Ian Gow, but for Dr Robert Bradford, Jo Cox, Sir Anthony Berry and others who were killed by Irish terrorists. It was you, Mr Speaker, who allowed that tradition to be reinstated so that we could remember Members of Parliament who were so cruelly taken from us by assassination and political murder.
The diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen was a great celebration for the whole of Parliament, but it was Mr Speaker who opened Speaker’s House for a wonderful celebration for representatives of all Her Majesty’s realms and territories. Indeed, how can we forget the renaming of the Clock Tower to the Elizabeth Tower? There are many things that you will be remembered and thanked for, Mr Speaker, but from my personal point of view, it will be your kindness, your friendship, your understanding, your willingness to deal with issues as they arose, and your being on the side of Back Benchers who need a voice—you have always made sure that we have had that voice.
Mr Speaker, you have been a wonderful champion of this House. You have promoted the Mother of Parliaments, and I believe that you will be remembered for many years to come.
May I start by saying what an honour it is to sit next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) who will be sadly missed? I completely associate myself with the remarks that were made by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis).
I want to say something rather different, Mr Speaker. I want to take you back to a trip that we made together to Sudan. I know that you agreed to go at quite short notice: we needed a Conservative Member and you agreed to come on that trip. I had never been to Sudan—and this was pre-secession—without getting unwell. When we say that someone looks green, we are usually greatly exaggerating, but I can assure Members that, when we flew round on that trip, I looked at you and you were green—you were absolutely unwell—but you carried on and we got to Nyala, which was, at that time, the heart of the struggle for Darfur. As we got there, all the lights went out, but it was wonderful because our hosts said, “Don’t worry, we’ll go to the local takeaway and get you something to eat.” I remember that we had not had anything to eat all day; we probably did not want anything. I am a vegetarian and could not eat the food that they brought back, and I am eternally grateful to you for being there, because you did eat it.
The great tribute that our hosts paid us was that we were to share the President’s bedroom, so you and I went to the President’s bedroom—and that was fine. But we were then able to take advantage of using the President’s toilet. Now, I do not know whether or not it was a Sudanese tradition, but the President’s toilet had previously been used. And I now know why you are such a steadfast Speaker, able to sit in the Chair for nine hours. It is because you and I decided that it was one ask too many to use the President’s toilet, and waited. Dare I say that the constitution of this Speaker was built in that President’s palace in Nyala?
People do not realise that making such trips—visiting the trouble spots of the world—is part of our role and responsibility. You did that, and I hope that you will do so in the future, because you will be welcomed and admired. People will see you not only as the former Speaker—unlike in the States, where people are always referred to as Congressmen and Senators, even when they are no longer in office. It has been an honour to call you a friend, and that trip will always stand in my memory even though I have been a number of times since. Long may your life continue, and I hope that future toilets will be slightly better than the one we were asked to use on that occasion. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I thought I had missed the tributes to you, Mr Speaker, but I am delighted that I have not. By the way, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew). I fear that I lack your constitution, Mr Speaker, because I have been dying for the loo, but I also wanted to get in, so I am holding it in for the moment. I actually came to the Chamber to follow your advice to persist, persist, persist. I am following up on a point I made earlier in the week, to get an answer from the Leader of the House—if he wants to give one—on whether the Government would allow a future debate on Huawei and the importance of 5G, but I am very happy to ignore that request if you feel that it would be inappropriate at this moment.
That is very kind of you, Sir, because I fear that I might—not for the first time—have misread the Order Paper. However, it will make you happy to know that since “Erskine May” has been available online, I have been reading it in bed every night. Indeed, I was going to raise a point of order to ask why paragraph 12 of chapter 20 consisted of not one paragraph but two, but the Whips advised me against it; I think it was during the Saturday sitting and we were all very keen to get away.
Mr Speaker, your support for Back Benchers is always important and incredibly welcome, and your calling Ministers to account is excellent because scrutiny always strengthens. Any good Minister always appreciates being called for an urgent question, because it gives them the chance to explain the Government’s position. If a Minister is happy to explain the Government’s position, they are confident of the Government’s position. And if they are not, there should be questions about why they fear being called. I thank you for that, and I hope that the tradition of UQs will continue under all future Speakers; it is very important that it does.
Likewise, the Education Centre has been superb. The excellent teacher at Ryde Academy on my Island often brings the kids down. In fact, the most trying interviews that I have are often with primary and secondary schoolchildren from my Island, who test me and my knowledge as best they can. Long may that continue.
Some of my constituents have specifically written to me to say how much they will miss you, but specifically to say that they will miss you chastising me. One of them told me that so often has that reprimanding and guidance become that they regularly look forward to me being told off by you on a regular—indeed, almost weekly—basis. You have brought joy to many people—occasionally to myself, but very often to my constituents, especially if you have been beasting me.
On the point of persist, persist, persist—if the Leader of the House has a chance to answer—5G is very significant issue, and there is very little public and parliamentary debate about it. What can we do about it, and can we have debate before decisions are made so that we can give our opinion and say what we think the options are?
As this is a statement, I probably should have been replying to everything, but I think, in the broad context, it was better not to have done. But 5G is of course a matter of concern and one that the Government take very seriously, and the security and resilience of the UK’s telecom networks are of the greatest importance. I obviously cannot promise debates at the moment, because we will have Dissolution on Wednesday, but the general election is coming up and I have a feeling that this is a matter that will be of interest to many people, who will want to ensure that we have a safe and secure system. The Government have not yet made a decision on the matter, and that is an important point to underline. In spite of press reports to the contrary, a decision will be made in due course. I think that a wide debate among the British public is the best thing that we can have; we should always trust the people.
I do not intend to speak for too long because some wonderful compliments have been paid, and it is sometimes hard to sit and listen to people complimenting you—that is very human. I would just like to say thank you. Thank you for the first handshake and words when I took my oath; the lovely note after my first speech; and the tea morning for the new entrants held by Rose and yourself in your chambers. I also thank you and your staff for the huge help that you have given with regard to Grace’s Sign and the Any Disability symbol, and for the J. P. Mackintosh lecture that took place in Speaker’s House, which was gratefully received by his family and the people of East Lothian. For all that and so much more, thank you.
Mr Speaker, I can see that you are saving the best till last. It is a huge pleasure to say thank you this afternoon. I wonder, though, whether when we bump into each other again in years to come, I will feel as I did that time I jumped off my bicycle and a man 6 feet taller than I looked at me and said, “Hello, sir. I notice you haven’t polished your shoes today.” It was the academy sergeant-major from Sandhurst and I was wearing trainers. He was pointing out what he knew then, which is that standards matter, and you have defended the standards in this House religiously. For that, I can only be extremely grateful.
Defending the rights of parliamentarians is not actually about defending 650 people who may or may not have an opinion on a subject. It is about defending the very principle of democracy in our country. It is about defending the very principles of freedom of thought, freedom of expression and individual liberty. And it is absolutely about defending the foundations of the economy and society that we have built with much care and many failures, but over many, many decades. For that, I am hugely grateful.
On a personal basis, if I may, there is another thing for which I would like to thank you. You have not only introduced us to a wonderful chaplain, who is here and to whom I pay huge personal thanks and tributes, but you have also introduced a new chaplain in Father Pat Browne. To have a Catholic chaplain in this House and to have a regular mass on a Wednesday afternoon is an act of extreme kindness to many of us in the Catholic community in this place, but it also reflects the fact that this House does not now legislate for the exclusion of one religion, does not now silence one form of worship and does not now reject the individual practice of so many people in these islands.
I know that you have been on a journey, Mr Speaker. Some people have spoken of your origins on one wing of the party, and your arrival at the seat in which you now find yourself—the defender of many liberties, which would have surprised others 20 or 30 years ago. Many of us have been on a journey. I see the Leader of the House sitting there on the Front Bench. When I used to sit next to him, he was a guardian of the purity of this House, but he has gone with the speed of a whippet from the purity of the Vestal Virgin to the Whore of Babylon deep in Executive power.
We have all been on various different journeys, Mr Speaker, and I am delighted that your journey has taken you to where you are now. I am personally grateful that the past four years, particularly the two in which I had the privilege of chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee, have been under your speakership. You have enabled those of us who are very new to this place to have a voice and, I hope, to represent some of the views that need speaking up for in our House. Even if we may sometimes chunter when criticised, almost certainly justifiably, that might give us cause to remember that your defence of this House means that sometimes we are in the wrong, too.
May I, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, thank you, Mr Speaker, for all that you have done as Speaker?
May I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who sits behind me so regularly, very often in her colour of red? I said to her this morning before we came into the Chamber that she has often been the conscience of many in this Chamber with regard to human rights issues. When she has spoken here on human rights issues, I have been more than pleased to join her in those opportunities to speak out and speak up for those across the world who do not have a voice. We in this House are very privileged to be the voice for them.
When I came here as a new Member in 2010, Mr Speaker, as I said earlier, I was just a tad nervous and maybe a wee bit apprehensive. I never, ever thought that I would be in the House of Commons. It was a dream, perhaps, but not something I really thought would happen in my life, and it did. I vividly remember meeting you. You shook my hand with a very welcoming and generous introduction. At once, I felt the warmth that you exuded then and you exude now, and that put me at ease in this House. I was not put at ease when I made my maiden speech, because I was as nervous as can be about that, but once I had got that speech over with, I realised that you could do it.
As I learned the rules and regulations of the House under your guidance, Mr Speaker, you occasionally chastised me, always rightfully and always justly. I found out that the word “you” can only be used for your good self. I am not quite sure whether I have learned that yet, but I am trying hard and I will endeavour to do so over the next period.
As the Back-Bench champion that you are, Mr Speaker, we in this House, and I, have felt that our views would always have an opportunity to be heard. To quote you, the voice of Strangford must and will be heard. It was heard in this House, and we thank you for that.
Your choice of Speaker’s Chaplain, which we will have a chance to refer to in a few moments—I wish to do that as well—was right and appropriate, as was your choice of the Serjeant at Arms. I supported both those choices. I thank you for all your team’s support. Peter, Ian and Jim are always kind and courteous and undoubtedly a great team.
Behind every great man—and I believe, Mr Speaker, you are a great man—is a great woman. You have been very blessed and very privileged to have at your side, as your wife, Sally. Her support for you was and is vital. I thank Sally and the children for the support they give you. I know myself how important it is to have a family behind you to give the support that you need.
I believe that the future for you, Mr Speaker, will be successful; it will be incredible. I am a great believer, as you know, in the power of prayer, and always have been. Your chaplain will know that as well. I believe that with prayer we can move mountains. Every morning I pray for you, Mr Speaker, and I will continue to do so in the time when you are not in that Chair and have moved on to other jobs. You will not be forgotten in this House, certainly not by me. I will miss you, not least for the Adjournment debates that you and I shared on many occasions. Not having you present will be a minus for me, but I hope that there will be someone else there who can take your place.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kindness, for your friendliness and for the wise guidance that you have given to me and many others in this House. I wish you Godspeed. I thank you for all that you do and did, and wish you every success for the future. Thank you so much.
Mr Speaker, I am coming to you. But, first, for the Leader of the House, William Morris said that
“the very foundation of refinement”
“green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside.”
My constituents in Market Deeping seek just those things, as they crave open spaces. I hope that the Leader of the House, in the time available—for there are two more days, after all—will allow time for an urgent statement on how planning policy guidance can be altered, so that open spaces are provided for communities such as those in the Deepings and future generations have the chance to choose to work, play and rest in them and enjoy them at their leisure.
Now to you, Mr Speaker—my friend. My wife said to me, “How will you manage when John goes?” I said, “I have no idea, I suppose will have to compete on equal terms.”
John Ruskin said that
“no cultivation of the mind can make up for the want of natural abilities”.
You, sir, have no such want. Indefatigable, irrepressible and incomparable you certainly are, but much more than that: in a time in which our politics is an unhappy marriage of hysterical hyperbole and technocratic turgidity, you have brought theatre to this place, and life and art to your role. Some of those on the Conservative Benches see that art as a sort of Jackson Pollock with a touch of Damien Hirst, but I see you more as Van Gogh, with a vibrancy and vividity, a colour and theatricality, which reveals rather than conceals sensitivity and deep humanity—for those are your qualities.
Many people have spoken of your achievements, the Education Centre and the change in balance between the House and the Executive prominent among them. The business of making this place alive and relevant, and giving our proceedings that very theatricality which gives life to our democracy, will be your most lasting legacy. That is why you are so widely known outside this place—and widely admired, by the way, too. I thank you profoundly for that. As our polemic has become increasingly strange, brutish and cruel as a result of social media—I have never seen it myself, but I understand that it takes place on computers and other sorts of devices—you have stood proud from that.
I thank you for all you have done. and I thank you for your friendship, which, of course, I hope and trust will endure long beyond the roles we now play. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Good heavens, Mr Speaker—our right hon. Friend was as beautifully eloquent as ever. On his request for a debate or a statement on open spaces, I could bring his attention to the Adjournment debate that will take place on Tuesday, to which I will be responding. The only drawback is that it is primarily for right hon. and hon. Members who are retiring—a category into which I hope he is not tempted to fall.
First, I need to say that I will not be here for the tributes to the chaplain, but the House’s loss is Canterbury’s gain, and I am thrilled that I will get to see much more of Rose Hudson-Wilkin in my constituency; that is brilliant.
Mr Speaker, it is so difficult to put into words what seeing you in the Chair means to people like me on the Back Benches. Some of the speeches today have been incredibly moving. I need to find a new word for kindness, because when we look at today’s Hansard, that is the word that will come up the most.
I do not know how to express my gratitude for how immensely patient and lovely you have been; I do not want to get too emotional. My father has Alzheimer’s, and his recent memories are not that great, but he will never forget and never stops talking about the day that I was sworn in and how kind you were to my very ordinary family, who had never set foot in a place like this. You made an effort to wave to them and mention them, and my dad was talking about it even yesterday, when we were at a family funeral. It meant a great deal to him and my family, and that is something I will never forget.
When those of us here—especially women and Back Benchers—who are pretty terrified of this experience get up and talk about things that are personal and make us vulnerable, we can stand here and look at you, and you are a bit like a lighthouse in a stormy sea. During the speech that I made recently, when I felt very vulnerable, you kept me going. I just kept concentrating on you, and I knew that you were there, emotionally holding my hand; you have done that physically as well, which is lovely. I do not know how to thank you enough, but I am trying to say thank you. I will never, ever forget your kindness. Thank you very much.
Mr Speaker, this is a very special day for you. I was not going to speak, but I want to put on record a couple of my times with you.
As I mentioned to you on shaking your hand when I took up my place here in 2015, we had a tea together many years ago—perhaps when you were in a different place politically, but we will put that aside.
There is one kindness you have given me. You have earned me a few pennies while I have been in the House. I am not always the first to be called or the last, but I have earned many a good coin from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), because we often have a little bet as to who will be up last. I am grateful to you for adding to my wealth and detracting from the wealth of my hon. Friend.
I had a very difficult experience at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, which you took a great interest in throughout. The day after my acquittal, there were business questions. I came to speak to you at the Chair, to tell you that I had rather more to say than is appropriate at business questions. You allowed me, on that very special day for me, the opportunity to explain in far more minutes than one would usually allow for business questions what I had been through and the annoyance thereof.
There is lots that I have not agreed with you on over the last few years, but I will never forget your fairness to me and to others in the House who face difficulties. That was an opportunity to put on record in this great international public space what I had been through and the annoyance that I felt. I thank you for that occasion probably more than for any other since my time in the House, and I wish you every great success in the future, a long life and much happiness.
The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess)—the great city of Southend—was right when he said that today is a day when the House comes together to say a fond farewell. There are so many to whom we can say a fond farewell. Indeed, some of them are in the Chamber: my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). I want to add a fond farewell to the remarkable right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman). She is a truly outstanding parliamentarian who was prepared to put the national interest over narrow party political interest. She is lionised by Jaguar workers and Land Rover workers, as we have worked together to defend the interests of our manufacturing base against the background of Brexit. She will be sorely missed.
Mr Speaker, yours has been a remarkable trajectory, from being a member of an organisation so right-wing that even Norman Tebbit abolished it, to being a fully paid-up Macmillanite, to I know not where. I know not where because you do not wear your politics or your prejudices on your sleeve. You are truly impartial.
In 600 years of our parliamentary democracy, there have been few champions of Parliament as great as you, writing a noble chapter in the history of Parliament and, crucially, enabling Parliament to hold the Executive to account. That may sometimes be frustrating for those on the Treasury Bench. There have been times when the right hon. Member for Downton Abbey, the Leader of the House, has expressed his concerns and frustrations, but you have allowed Parliament to hold the Executive to account. You have done that without suffering the fate of some of your predecessors, who literally lost their heads.
You have been a great champion of parliamentarians. There is no question about it: our country is deeply divided. Sadly we see a politics of hate on the march, sometimes manifested in attacks on parliamentarians. You have been a champion of parliamentarians, including on that front. You have also been a champion of reaching out to the country. In troubled times, you have truly been a bridge over troubled waters.
You have been a champion of opening up Parliament. You have built a brilliant team, including the wonderful Rose, reflecting the rich diversity of our capital city and our country. You have also been a champion of opening up Parliament to young people. I will never forget your powerful addresses at the four Erdington Youth Parliaments. I remember meeting a group of apprentices from the Erdington Skills Centre the week after, and one of them said, “That bloke Bercow, he’s really something, isn’t he?” As a consequence of what you have done, tens of thousands of young people have come to the cradle of our democracy, and they have loved every moment.
You have a remarkable, Shakespearean turn of phrase and a rhetorical flourish the like of which I have never heard. You are also humble, reaching out to those suffering difficulties in their life or in their career in Parliament. So many Members here today will never forget your kindness when kindness was desperately needed.
You are not just one of Parliament’s greatest Speakers, who in centuries to come will be remembered like some of the great figures of the past. You are a profound family man, but also—forgive me for saying this—you are just a plain, decent man. We will never, ever forget you.
Mr Speaker, before turning to you, I want to make one point. There has been unconfirmed bad news about my constituent Amelia Bambridge. Everyone wished that she would be found alive and well. I ask that people use sensitivity and common sense and avoid circulating distressing images.
May I say, Mr Speaker, as technically the longest-serving Conservative Member of Parliament, although the Father of the House properly holds that title, that all of us, from me to the most recent person elected to this House, acknowledge all the good that you have done and the good that has been done while you have been Speaker?
I have to warn those who want to write you off in retirement, Mr Speaker, that in 1656 Cromwell found out that a unicameral Parliament was a bad idea and he created the Other House. Those at the time could not decide on the title, which is why we use the expression “the other House” for the House of Lords. In the last 363 to 361 years, we have relied on some of the words that Speaker Lenthall used. He actually went from this Chamber to the Other House and then came back as Speaker, and that course is open to you if you want to break precedent in more ways than you have already.
When a decision was taken in the Chair by you, Mr Speaker, I submitted to the Clerks an early-day motion giving a direction that it should not happen again. They, I think humorously—I assume it was humorously—asked me how I could do that. I said, “What are the only words people can remember of a previous Speaker?” The answer was Lenthall’s words that he could only do as the House “directs”. If that is true, putting down a motion to give a direction to the occupant of the Chair would seem perfectly proper and the motion was accepted.
I want to say, Mr Speaker, that although you were not my first choice in the year that you were elected as Speaker, I honour you. I praise Sir George Young for asking you, and you agreeing that he could have his party in your House. I think that shows the mood and the friendship that exist in this place, and that has continued strongly with you as Speaker.
I explained to my constituents that had they chosen you rather than me in Worthing West in 1996, they could have been represented by the Speaker for the last 10 years. When one of them said that your tenure of 10 years seemed rather longer than the nine years, I said, “He did say he was going after nine years, and 10 years is after nine years, isn’t it?” If any pedant uses the word you actually put in your letter, I shall criticise them for being too pernickety.
I have dragged you to the Chair twice, Mr Speaker. We do not have to drag you out of it because you have chosen the time to leave. As people heard me say privately a year ago, I think you deserve a margin of appreciation. Those who would want to make a great fuss about the time you have been in the Chair are wrong. However, at some calm period, we may wish to discuss whether the normal expectation should be that the Speaker will do up to nine years, as you had once indicated.
It would also be a useful idea if we could have a debate, in some period of calm, about whether we should have a regular discussion—perhaps every two years—on the way the Chair is occupied and how decisions are made. It is one of the areas where we can contribute, and the occupant of the Chair and the Procedure Committee can consider whether anything can be done.
There are a few things that people do not know about what you do, Mr Speaker, but it is worth mentioning the one referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) about your relationship with your own constituents. During the Select Committee considering objections to HS2, we went around with you on a number of occasions, and I think people who only see you in public will not know what you are like in private with your constituents. The Speaker is knowledgeable, he is calm, he is reasonably quiet and people trust him. That is what people can ask of their Members of Parliament, and the service you have given to them should be remembered in these tributes today.
There are other things I could say, but I think the best thing to do is to say that the good you have done should be remembered—and you have acknowledged the good that we have done—and were there to be a signal honour motion, we hope that it would be passed with acclamation. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for occupying the Chair.
Let me thank the hon. Gentleman who has made the concluding contribution from the Back Benches, and in thanking him I want to register the view that, in addition to all his other attributes, the hon. Gentleman is a gentleman. What he has said is very much appreciated by me, and it will not be forgotten.
I do want to thank colleagues. This is quite an embarrassing experience, and people watching may think it bizarre or surreal, but it is a procedure that very often takes place. It was opened with considered élan, style and good humour by the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman always places a premium on the Chamber and regards his overriding duty to be in it whenever possible. If that was true as a Back Bencher, it is true almost in triplicate for the holder of a designated office, and most assuredly it is true for this holder of the office of Leader of the House when business to which he is speaking is involved. Notwithstanding that fact, I do think that the right hon. Gentleman deserves some appreciation for staying from the very start to the very close of this series of exchanges—it has been genuine and sincere, but also long—so I thank the Leader of the House very much.
I would like to thank all colleagues—all colleagues—who have spoken. They do not owe me anything, but I thank them for what they have said. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), who is on the Treasury Bench, says, “And those who can’t speak”. He and I have known each other a long time, and I told him outside the Chamber the other day how impressed I was by the way in which he had conducted himself at the Dispatch Box. Anybody would have thought that he had been a Minister for many years, as opposed to being virtually an ingénue, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his sedentary chunter.