Below is the text of the speech made by Valerie Vaz, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, in the Commons on 31 October 2019.
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.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
I was one of them.
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.