“I follow the Prime Minister in her remarks about the importance of the work we all have to do in this Parliament, and I will come back to that in a moment.
First, I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) on becoming Father of the House. To me, he seemed a very well-established MP when I entered the House 34 years ago. I have never quite forgotten the image of him in the Tea Room wearing Hush Puppies, eating bacon sandwiches, drinking super-strength lager and carrying a cigar while taking a break from a debate on healthy living. He has had a very long and distinguished career in the House, punctuated this year by his speech in the Brexit debate during which he lamented that his party had become “mildly anti-immigrant”. How new a development that might be is open to debate, but I am sorry to note that the party is also at best—to put it generously—mildly anti-worker, anti-disabled people, anti-pensioner and anti-young people. I am sorry to be so divisive today—[Interruption.] It is all right.
It is customary on these occasions to congratulate the returning Prime Minister and I absolutely do so. I am sure she will agree with me that democracy is a wondrous thing and can throw up some very unexpected results. I am sure that we all look forward to welcoming the Queen’s Speech just as soon as the coalition of chaos has been negotiated. I will just let the House and the rest of the nation know that if that is not possible, the Labour party stands ready to offer strong and stable leadership in the national interest.
I warmly welcome all new Members to this House. As you and other Members have said, Mr Speaker-Elect, there is no greater honour than being elected here. It is an amazing day for Members when they first come to take their seat here. It is an honour to represent our constituents and take decisions that will help people’s lives. That is why we are elected here: to represent those who have put us here to try to make their lives better. As you and the Prime Minister quite rightly pointed out, Mr Speaker-Elect, we now have over 200 women MPs—more than ever before in the history of this Parliament. That is excellent. I join the Prime Minister in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) on all that she has done to promote women in Parliament and women’s careers in general.
This weekend marked the anniversary of the election of four black MPs to the House of Commons 30 years ago—the first black MPs for more than 60 years in the British Parliament. In particular, I welcome my right hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). They were two of the four elected in 1987, and they are now Members of the most diverse House of Commons ever. They paved the way and I have to say that they have put up with an awful lot as pioneers in taking their seats in 1987. It is vital for our democracy that all voices are heard and represented.
In the 30 years I have been here, Mr Speaker-Elect, there can have been no better Speaker than you for always ensuring that Back-Bench voices are heard, and for the way in which you have presided over our Chamber at all times—the good, bad, tragic and difficult—particularly after the horrors of what happened on Westminster Bridge. Those horrors came almost to the door of Parliament. Parliament has obviously not been in session for the past few weeks, but we also remember the awfulness of what happened in Manchester and on London Bridge. We have to stand together as communities, strong and united against those who would seek to divide and destroy the democracy in our society. I also congratulate you on the way in which you have conducted yourself and on the inclusive debates with which you have made sure that Back Benchers are fully involved over the years that you have been Speaker.
We have at least two things in common, Mr Speaker-Elect. First—this is very divisive—is our love for Arsenal football club. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] I realised that that would bring that sort of comment, but I can cope; it is all right. Secondly, we both came to this place having been local councillors. Serving communities on local authorities is very important, and I am delighted at the number of former or serving councillors who were elected to this House on Thursday night, because they bring a special expertise and knowledge to this House.
We have to speak up for our constituents—that is why we are here—and I know that you, Mr Speaker-Elect, will make sure that those voices are heard. I want to thank you, in your role as Speaker, for facilitating exhibitions in this House—I took part in one commemorating the end of the slave trade—and for the many receptions you have held for charities in Speaker’s House. I thank you also for travelling around the country, reaching out and spreading the whole idea of democracy, in schools and colleagues; these places were not necessarily famous or well known, but you have reached out to people in a way that has never been done before, and we should all be very grateful to you for that.
You will not be troubled by party politics, because you are in the Chair, but it is a great tradition—and you stand in that tradition—that a Speaker stands up for democracy. In Speaker’s House, there is a commemoration of Speaker Lenthall and many other Speakers. Your job—like his—is to protect democracy and rise above party debate. I hope we can have that real debate in the future—whenever those on the Government Benches are in a position to take part in it.
We look forward to this Parliament—however short it might be—and to be being the voice for change in our society. More people—particularly young people—than ever before took part in the recent general election. They took part because they wanted to see things done differently in our society; they wanted our Parliament to represent them and to deliver change for them. I am looking forward to this Parliament, like no other Parliament ever before, challenging things and, hopefully, bringing about that change.”
(Song: “Red Flag”)
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