Modern Politics and Democracy | Guest talk by Rt. Hon John Bercow

Modern Politics and Democracy | Guest talk by Rt. Hon John Bercow


so I’d like to extend many thanks to the
center for spatial environmental and cultural politics for hosting this very
special event. Founded in the center We were founded in 2017 in the center we
undertake interdisciplinary research on to global and planetary challenges such
as climate crisis, climate change migration and refugee crises, social
inequality and resource access and depletion and our members
come from the Social Sciences, the humanities, arts, media and also the
Natural Sciences and we explore the spatial environmental and cultural
dimensions of such challenges in specific places around the world in
order to offer new knowledge and practice for the creation of more
sustainable and socially just societies. So events like this one this evening are
very important for raising political awareness in universities about the ways
that democracy evolves or is threatened in critical times such as this or may
indeed be shaped by the spatial cultural and gendered politics of parliamentary
power and we’re extremely fortunate that our speaker today has first-hand
insights and indeed has been very active, dare I say, indispensably so in struggles
for the preservation for democracy and for the balance of power in British
Parliament as well as in international politics so today’s lecture is important
because it brings that distant world of government right here where we study to
our doorstep in the Salus bene theatre and it will provide us a unique
opportunity to listen but also to ask questions of our guests for which at
this particular moment we are extremely fortunate to have so may I now present
professor Deborah Humphries vice-chancellor of the University of
Brighton who will introduce our distinguished speaker. it gives me huge pleasure to welcome you
all here to the University this evening today’s lecture modern politics and
democracy comes at a pivotal time in our nation’s history since the referendum in
2016 bricks it has become an override has
overridden British politics it’s tested our political relations at home and with
other countries and with our colleagues and allies in the European Union for
universities such as Brighton that dependence on international partnerships
and global exchanges underpin our research teaching and staff or
intellectual collaboration and the implications are bricks are secreting
all for the success of staff students research education knowledge exchange at
such a time I believe it is absolutely essential that we engage with the
debates affecting our institution our wider community our country therefore I
am absolutely delighted to welcome the right under Rule John Bercow Speaker of
the House of Commons to the University today this is the speaker’s last
engagement in a university and I am deeply honored that you’ve come to do it
with us mr. speaker has kindly agreed to ensure his insights and perspectives on
critical issues concerning democracy and modern politics a speaker of the house
of commons since 20 2009 John Burke I was the first person since the second
world war to be speaker alongside for prime ministers Gordon Brown David
Cameron Theresa May and currently Boris Johnson mr. speakers political career
began at the University of Essex where he gained was an active in student
politics and graduated in 85 with a first class degree in government
first elected to Parliament in 1997 he was the MP for Buckingham and was
elected again in 2001 and 2005 he has been a fourth right from bench
spokesperson for education and employment as well as Home Affairs in
2001 he served as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and a shadow Secretary
of State for international development in 2003 showing his ability to cross
party lines in pursuit of goals and beliefs in 2007 he accepted an advisory
post on Gordon Brown’s Labor Government’s review of support for
children with speech and language and communication needs following this
review substantial funding was made available to the education sector and
raise the profile of children’s of such children’s needs in the education field
mr. speaker has been an NGO has an ongoing role as a patron of a number of
charities including the ME Association brain tumor research and the patchwork
foundation which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and
communities to participate politically he also maintains an interest in
political careers of young people by chairing the annual UK Youth Parliament
which meets at the House of Commons and gives young people from all over the
country a voice and an opportunity to learn and express themselves through
debate following a successful campaign in 2009 he became Speaker of the House
of Commons a position to which he has been repeatedly reelected in September
this year Mr Speaker declared that he would stand down as a common speaker and
as an MP at the next election or on the 31st of October whichever came first so
with just 6 days before the 31st of October which until this week was the
point at which we were leaving the EU it gives me enormous pleasure to invite the
right honorable John Bercow Speaker of our house of
Commons to deliver this evenings lecture join me in greeting him please debora professor Humphries Nicola – both
of you the warmest possible thanks both for the conviviality of the Welcome that
you’ve extended to me and for garnering a decent audience on a Friday night of
which I’m very appreciative and I should say in fact at the outset that having
heard myself introduced I can hardly wait to hear myself speak whether you’ll
feel the same way at the end of my remarks my friends is a matter of a
legitimate speculation and conjecture but I’m genuinely delighted to be here
and I thought in the interest of audibility and therefore of
intelligibility to begin by inquiring can you hear me at the back
well there are indications in the affirmative which don’t seem all
together despondent indeed one individual not only signalling and
ability to hear me but to thumbs up before I’ve said anything further
so whether she feels the same way at the end remains to be seen but it is I hope
a moderately encouraging signal look I am absolutely delighted that you can
hear me and I must add to that gaggle of people who express their enthusiasm at
the back that their response was also a marked improvement upon the last
audience to which I pay is that self same question can you hear me at the
back in which some unhelpful wag replied yes but I’ll happily change places with
someone who can’t so the fact that you’re able to hear me and polite and
apparently enthusiastic at the beginning is I hope a good omen I’m absolutely
thrilled and delighted to be here and I want to explain why first I love as all
of my speakers office staff know visiting universities I don’t want to
become more Koosh about this matter but I was the first person in my family to
the chance to go to university the University of Essex from which as
Deborah said I graduated in the summer of 1985 and of which now I have the
enormous honor to be the Chancellor I said what I did advisedly the first
person in my family to have the chance to go to university my father was an
intelligent man and would certainly have profited from university education but
he was brought up in Dalston in Hackney in the East End of London in the late
1920s and the 1930s one of four siblings and I hope you’ll understand if I say
that culturally at the time the notion that this prodigiously bright guy might
have the chance and it be thought seemly and proper for him to go to university
simply wasn’t real he couldn’t and he didn’t he was expected to leave school
earn a wage and contribute to the family upkeep about eight or nine years later
there was growing up in Huddersfield in Yorkshire my mother who rather untypical
II by the standards of the time was the daughter of a single mum and my mother
was a bright person as well and is still with us and is a bright person but again
the notion of going to university wasn’t a realistic proposition at all there was
absolutely nothing that would facilitate it she had a loving and almost doting
mother and my grandma was a wonderfully generous person but she didn’t have to
hate knees to rub together and so mum again had to think in terms of leaving
home and earning a living which she did as a junior reporter on the Huddersfield
examiner she eventually gravitated to London and I’m pleased to say that
unlike my father who didn’t have the chance to go to university at any stage
in his life which ended in 1986 my mum did eventually go to the University of
pittle sex and she graduated with a degree in English
at the age of 69 in 1998 of which of course I’m very proud so I was the first
one to have the chance and I loved it I relished it I mopped up every available
opportunity at the University of Essex with which I have retained a link over
the last three and a half decades so I love coming to universities and I love
coming to different and newer universities and this university has
been acclaimed both for the quality of its teaching and for its innovative
approach to research of which of course the Centre for spatial environmental and
cultural politics is a stellar example because that is interdisciplinary
research and as Nicola has helpfully articulated for the benefit of this
audience and particularly for the benefit of those outside the university
its pioneering in choosing to focus on real live and in many cases global
issues of the most insistent and pressing urgency in terms of teaching
and research and publication so this is incredibly important work and the
university has got what 21 and a half thousand students
it is very respected in so many different disciplines and that the risk
of embarrassing her I do want to say that I think Deborah deserves huge
credit she deserves credit for coming out as the first openly gay
vice-chancellor in the university’s history and in our country although
frankly there must be many others and it shouldn’t have to be such a burden but
someone had to take the lead and she did but more particularly if I may say so
she has a track record of wider public service commitment and effective
advocacy public service commitment in the National Health Service for two
decades and more as well as her leadership role here in the university
and campaigning work in offering succor and encouragement to
people who are fighting the good fight against what sometimes even now seems
the rampant forces of discrimination prejudice and bigotry these are
continuing cultural challenges not least I’m sorry to say since the 2016
referendum I’m not casting aspersions on anyone who holds a particular view there
are very respectable supporters of brexit but there is absolutely no
gainsaying the fact that attendant upon and flowing from a continuing
consequence of the referendum campaign is the resurgence and the attempted
respectability of hitherto ugly and almost universally rejected forces I
thought we’d said goodbye to the days when there were signs up in the windows
of privately rented houses saying no blacks no dogs no Irish but the reality
is that in recent years as a result of the brexit ral there are people who feel
the jitter mised in the expression of vulgar ad hominem abuse to people who
are from minorities and this is a challenge that we are going to have to
fight so I’m thrilled to be here thrilled to be in Brighton and thrilled
in particular to be at the University the second thing that I want to say to
you by way of preliminary is proffered to you my friends on the basis that it
is probably wise for me to treat of the one sensitive and delicate matter which
your natural courtesy made disinclined you to raise with me directly but which
if unaddressed will look mischievously and perhaps from my vantage point my
friends perilously in the undergrowth which I conclude therefore should be not
on the head at the outset before I further proceed and that is the delicate
and sensitive matter of height very specifically it has been
bruited in some of the more downmarket parts of the press to wit and I use the
term press rather broadly and with some risk of falling foul of the trade
descriptions act in soon the daily fail that I am the shortest man ever to be
Speaker of the UK House of Commons now my friends I want to assert to you with
all the force and rhetorical insistence at my command that there is nothing
wrong with being short indeed on the law of averages there I know not to whom
this description applies because you are all seated the overwhelming likelihood
is that a proportion of you will share that characteristic of vertical
challenge with me and I want to say to you in case you’re feeling any
self-doubt that we short people should stick together we may be short but we
may also be and judge ourselves to be perfectly formed we are indubitably
environmentally friendly in the sense that we don’t take up a great deal of
space moreover I am probably making a virtue of necessity I have always been
short I am now 56 years old and I remain short and given the known impact of the
aging process upon physiognomy the great likelihood is that I shall become
inexorably and irrevocably shorter still and about the fact of that continued and
soon to be exacerbated shortness I must tell you my friends I’m as intensely
relaxed as Peter Mandelson once famously or in some people’s minds infamously
observed New Labour was intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich
but I am NOT intensely relaxed about the matter of historical accuracy and if in
no other respect I hope at least in that respect not to disappoint you you would
expect the speaker forsooth to have done his research and I have done and it is
quite wrong when some of these more downmarket fifth-rate loom you
called scribblers lazily and falsely observe that Berko is the shortest man
ever to be UK Speaker Sir John bussy Speaker of the UK House of Commons from
1394 to 1398 Sir John Wenlock Speaker of the House from 1455 to 1456 and Sir
Thomas Tresham Speaker of the House in 1459 are all believed to have been
shorter than I am although I do have to admit that this was true only after all
three of them had been beheaded indeed no fewer than seven of my predecessors
met their end on the executioner’s block one was killed in battle and a further
poor unfortunate soul was brutally murdered so you will understand that
this does enable me to view the ways and challenges which afflict and confront
the House of Commons and which in all candor periodically afflict and confront
me with an appropriate sense of historical perspective that is to say
whatever else happens to me I am not likely to lose my head albeit there are
a number of people in the government whips office over the years who would
have been lining up to inflict that grisly punishment upon me I’m absolutely
delighted to be here and there are really in the context of modern politics
and democracy three themes that I should like to broach with you the first is the
role of the speaker in the chair which is of course the best-known and most
visible function of the Speaker of the House of Commons whose office dates back
to the 13th century but which is by no means the only role
and a lot of people are not fully cognizant of the nature and limits of
the role it is in a sense to be sharply distinguished from that of the Speaker
of the House of Representatives in the United States now as it happens I’ve
become very friendly with Nancy Pelosi and we
have a lot in common we have similar values we have many similar interests
and we have some limited similar comparable if not indistinguishable
responsibilities but we are quite different because the Speaker of the
House of Reps if I can call her that he’s a much more sharply political
figure taking effectively a party leadership role within the American
legislature by contrast with which the Speaker of the House of Commons in the
UK is if I can put it bluntly to this audience of men and women of the world a
role that requires the speaker not to be a eunuch but certainly to be politically
celibate so I do have views and I have views on procedure and I have views on
matters of values but I do take great care notwithstanding that I’m often
regarded as a controversial figure not to opine or expatiate on matters of
great controversy between the political parties I would never have dreamt of
getting embroiled in an argument about conservative economic policy versus
labor or conservative education policy versus labour or conservative health
policy versus labor the speaker doesn’t do that and in our chamber I am by way
of being the referee or umpire of the proceedings whose responsibility is to
keep order encourage people to take part and to try to cut down on the number of
people who have to be excluded altogether as a result of bad behavior
so you can see where the analogy with the referee or umpire kicks in and
sometimes the comparison is made between the speaker and the head teacher of a
school again I think it will be readily apparent to you why that comparison is
made the first requirement of a competent speaker
is to know who everybody is I have 649 colleagues and it is incumbent upon me
to know the name and preferably the party affiliation and the constituency
of each and every one of those 649 colleagues I could try to hoodwink you
into thinking that this is very difficult but it would be wrong to do so
for the simple reason that it isn’t it isn’t actually very difficult because
with very large numbers of my colleagues I have served for a significant period
it’s true that there is a sprinkling and sometimes a very large number of new
members after an election and one has to learn who those people are the Commons
officials very quickly produce a book with the names photographs
constituencies represented by their new members and typically I have learnt as
many as required a day in 2010 there were 227 new members 35% of the house
and I learn 30 a day for seven or eight days duly tested by
my indefatigable wife Sally so it’s perfectly doable and it’s just a matter
really a professional pride and duty that the speaker knows who everybody is
I would add to that my friends that although the speaker isn’t and cannot be
expected to know the political stance of each member on each issue it is broadly
expected that the speaker will have a feel for a basic awareness of where
members stand on some of the key political controversies of which in
recent times the best example is brexit but israel-palestine would be another
case in point because those are issues upon which there are marked divergences
of opinion not merely between political parties but within political parties now
on the subject of brexit broadly speaking as you will know the
Conservative Party is Pro brexit and most of the conservative members even
they weren’t originally brexit ears of many a very large number were they have
become so that is their commitment that is their guiding mission that is their
party commitment and it is for that that they tend to speak on this subject but
there is a notable and highly respected minority of conservative members who are
against brexit and continue vociferously to speak out in opposition to it
of whom dominic grieve is probably the best current example but just in
greetings in that category in quito bed and although King Clarke has reconciled
himself to what he regards as the inevitability of prexy his fundamental
political position is of course still fervently against that destiny for the
country and then if you look at the labor side on the whole the Labour Party
is pro-european and anti brexit but there are labour members who are of
longstanding brexit affiliation Frank field and Kate Hoey are the two best
known but John man and Graham stringer and Kelvin Hopkins and a number of
others fall also into that basically pro rata category and there are a people who
have adjusted because of the influence of their constituents so it’s up to the
speakers know where people stand and in deciding who to call to speak beyond
those who’ve been successful in the ballot for question time I am looking to
go from one side of the house to the other to call women who on the whole are
better behaved as well as men and to call colleagues from Scotland Wales and
Northern Ireland as well as from England and within England from different parts
of England reflecting perhaps different political preferences and priorities so
it has to be a dynamic process and you have no way of knowing in advance who
will Bob as we put it who will zippedy on the day and stand up and try to catch
opportunistically I use that term non pejoratively
the eye of the speaker and you obviously can’t sit there with a calculating
machine you’re having to you have your wits about you and just
try to make a fair judgment about who should be called to speak
can I please everybody oh come come come distinguished members of or visitors to
the University of Brighton what are those pigs I see flying in front of my
very eyes it’s completely impossible to satisfy everybody there is a plethora of
colleagues who are perfectly convinced that there is no debate that would not
be improved by a contribution from them of quite remarkable erudition and almost
certainly of equal length and who are gobsmacked flummoxed and disbelieving at
the idea that they might not be chosen to speak in their debate and some of
them do say so I think of an example of a colleague from Yorkshire of whom I am
very fond whose constituency I visited and whose been a very good supporter of
mine but some years ago I called him in each of the first two there aren’t
usually two or three but there are on this particular day question time
sessions relatively short sessions of the day but I did not call him in the
third whereupon he beat ‘old up to the chair to remonstrate with me at my
failure to call him say mr. speaker you carved me out you’ve said said me you
didn’t call me what’s going on I said I beg your pardon
daddy I called you in each of the first two question times to which he rather
disarmingly replied oh yes but I wasn’t bothered about those it was the third
one that mattered so I said well forgive me for not being psychic but I had
rather deduced or concluded that because you stood up on each of the first two
occasions you had some interest in asking question or volunteering your
views on those matters little was I to know that it was all just a bit of game
playing or a prelude to the cherished prize of the third session facilitating
be Shearman so he then said to me not letting the matter rest yes but as I say
why didn’t you call me so I thought well I’ll give him the short answer and that
answer was others to which he replied I’m sorry mr. speaker I don’t
others I repeated he said I’m sorry mr. speaker I don’t know what you’re driving
at here and I said bury the existence of other honorable and right honourable
members who also wish to contribute to these exchanges to which he then replied
by saying aye yeah but I feel really strongly about this subjects well of
course the truth is everybody does and I may be telling that story ostensibly to
his disadvantage or discredit but in fact I’m not because although it was
mildly Exim to have him grumbling at me at the time it he is a characteristic my
friends of an effective politician to be rather self focused if you like and
insistent upon pressing his or her case you do need a little bit of that dare I
say slightly selfish stubbornness to be an effective campaigner I mean it would
have been appreciated if he’d eventually recognized the force of my response but
he was completely focused on what he wanted to say on that issue for his
cause and his constituents and nothing should be allowed to intrude upon his
opportunity so you can’t please everybody but I work on the basic
assumption that if you can keep most of the colleagues happy most of the time
you are probably not doing too badly moreover I have tried to change one
quite long-standing previous convention for which I saw no great purpose that
questioning on ministerial statements had to be cut off at a specific point
usually no more than an hour after the statement began and my attitude has been
more flexibly ladies and gentlemen that if there is huge interest in that matter
about which a minister is making an announcement to the house why not
accommodate the level of interest in it and if that means the subsequent piece
of business which might not be heavily subscribed that is to say to which not a
lot of members want to contribute ends up starting a bit late or later or both
so what you know we should have a sort of dynamic
flexibility so that our procedures conduce to the interests of members
rather than members conduct having to conduce to some preconceived notion of
what the institution requires unfailing on a day-to-day basis so my approach has
been for example to extend Prime Minister’s Questions if there’s a lot of
heckling and noise or answers or questions from the front benches that
neither the opposition prime minister are too long well I will try gently to
exhort them to be Pythia but the other day we got to something like 25 past 12
and we were still only through the first four people listed on what we called the
order paper well Peter my secretary who stands with
me in the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions nays perfectly well then I’m
not gonna finish at 12:30 if there are 11 colleagues who were successful in the
ballot are listed to ask a question our thirsting to do so no way am I just
going to cut it off so some people have criticized and said oh well we ought to
get back to finishing bang on 12:30 I’ll tell you ladies and gentlemen if that
happens and my successors perfectly free to proceed in the way that he or she
thinks fit as soon as colleagues who thought they were going to have the
chance to take part don’t get that chance they will complain and I remember
on one occasion years ago I dared to run Prime Minister’s Questions late for the
first time and Prime Minister Cameron came out at the end looking somewhat
tetchy and irascible and he said to me Mr Speaker I do have a
plane to catch you know to which of course my obvious replies well yes
Prime Minister but with great respect it is your own plane I mean what’s the big
deal all right so you get your plane in a bit late it really doesn’t frankly
matter very much so that is my approach in the chair and there is an Associated
responsibility in the chair which has spawned some controversy in recent times
which is the selection of amendments to motions and to clauses in legislation
and the authority of the speaker to allow emergency debates and there are
people who say oh well berkos bent the rules in order to allow X or Y all said
the true the matter is I haven’t bent the rules
at all the rules are relatively non-prescriptive it may be that when the
standing order number 24 provision in our standing orders was inserted it
wasn’t initially expected or intended that it would be the gateway to the
means of segwaying into the tabling of new law but that was then and this is
now no such gateway or segwaying was explicitly prohibited so it seems to me
that the responsibility of the chair is to seek to interpret the standing orders
to reflect what the chair judges or assesses to be the known wish of a large
part of the house similarly I selected amendment to a business motion an
amendment in the name of Dominic grieve and the government Chief Whip earlier
this year got incredibly angry with me coming in the chamber I’m banging the
table by my chair saying I was out of order and I said I’m not and he said Mr
Speaker you are not going to dictate what happens in this place and I said
with a very great respect Julie and I say to you two things first of all don’t
bang the table by the chair it’s most discourteous and threatening to the wood
and I won’t tolerate it and secondly I’m not seeking to dictate what happens in
this place what I’m seeking to do is to facilitate the House of Commons in
deciding what the House of Commons wants to decide and with very great respect to
you sir if the government doesn’t like Dominic Greaves amendment well then you
must encourage your members to vote against it but what you cannot do is
expect the speaker in the chair to act as a kind of human shield for the
numerical shortcoming of the government in other words if the government haven’t
got the numbers don’t expect the chair to protect you when the house wants
something else and I said let’s see what happens and I selected Dominic’s
amendment and Dominic’s amendment was passed and it made a difference to the
speed with which the government had then to come back to the house with further
proposals appertaining to brexit so those are the matters within the chair
that I think first relevant to relay to you and that is the role of the speaker
there is however a wider role for the speaker partly within the chair and
partly without as the catalyst for necessary desired and perhaps in some
cases my friends overdue change when I stood for election I said progress at
question time is too slow lots of people are not coming to the chamber because
they think if they’ve got question 15 it won’t be reached in the hour because it
generally wasn’t and instead what people will do is sit in their office or write
a blog or go to a radio station or turn up in a television studio to register
their point on some matter of public import instead of coming to the chamber
because they’ll feel there’s no opportunity to express their view in the
chamber on those matters and so I said well look we’ve got to speed up and get
through more questions and answers so that we create a magnet for people to
come to the chamber to revive it and I secondly said to colleagues when I stood
for election in 2009 I very much regret the fact that the urgent capital you
question capital Q for which provision has long existed in the standing walls
of the house has fallen into disuse you’d there are very few applications
for urgent questions now now is this because there were no urgent matters
hell no in the year before I became Speaker Gordon Brown was grappling with
and using his experience to try effectively to mitigate the effects of
the global financial crisis the idea there were no urgent questions that
could be tabled and taken granted by the speaker because it’s for the speaker to
grant them or not in that period is manifestly absurd that clearly were
important matters my predecessor who is not here to answer for him self and it
was always very kind to me so I want to say this very fairly the late Michael
Martin took her view of urgent questions which was completely honourable but
which was to put it bluntly the antithesis of mine Michael took the view
that just because something was being taught
about around the dinner table and in the dog and duck and at the workplace didn’t
mean that it should necessarily be debated on the floor of the House of
Commons my view is the opposite ladies and gentlemen I have long taken of you
since the moment I decided to stand for speaker that if an issue that has
suddenly arisen of great urgency a controversy a scandal and unexplained or
indefensible expenditure a palpable contradiction between what one Minister
has said on a subject and another causing great confusion as to what
public policy is if those matters are being discussed around the dinner table
and in the dark and dark and at the workplace but can’t be aired in the
chamber of the House of Commons well that will reinforce and exacerbate the
sense that we are unrepresentative of those whom it’s our duty to represent
that where to put it bluntly completely out of touch so I said colleagues we’ve
got to revive the chamber and part of reviving the chamber is reviving its
urgency its unpredictability its interest and giving colleagues the
chance to do what colleagues are there to do colleagues are in the House of
Commons to question to probe to scrutinize to challenge to contradict
sometimes even to expose the errors of omission or Commission of the government
of the day and if you elect me Speaker I am absolutely determined to ensure that
credible urgent questions are granted I don’t grant them all I often turn urgent
question applications down when they’re what I call and Peter’s heard me say
there’s many a time and oft at the daily conference we have that application is
not valid it’s you i M om urgent in mind of member which is not the same as being
urgent but there are very large numbers of matters that are urgent and should be
chosen and I have done so and as of today I think I’m right in saying over
the 10 years I’ve been in pace I’ve granted 684 urgent questions that’s not
the speaker saying the government’s wrong on this all the speakers saying
the government’s right on this that’s not for the speaker to do it’s
the speaker saying this is a matter that warrants the attention of the House of
Commons today for 20 minutes 25 minutes 30 minutes 35 minutes it might be up to
an hour on that subject and whatever the minister at a government department is
doing I mean the government can choose which Minister comes to answer a
representative of the government was Beatle along to the chamber because his
or her primary responsibility is to answer to the legislature to the
representatives of the people very often I grant you cues because ministers
cheekily decide to try to brief they float or even brazenly announced policy
initiatives on the Today program or on breakfast television or by some leaked
briefing to a newspaper and I say well no you should be coming to the chamber
and saying what your policy is and your plan of action will be and then
answering questions on it now most ministers I must say have come to accept
this and the best ministers in both labor governments and conservative
governments have accepted it Jack Straw who was quintessentially not just a man
of government that a man of Parliament never complained when I granted a durjan
question to him he accepted that that was perfectly appropriate and he made a
very good fist because he was dexterous of adroit in the handling of unpredicted
and unpredictable inquiry similarly I must say Michael Gove is very
accomplished and quick on his feet he could always keep with everything but
there are some ministers who object and there was a minister at one time who
phoned me up to remonstrate with me for selecting a question Oh about five years
ago and he said it wasn’t urgent and I said well it is and he said well it
wasn’t and I said well I think you’ll find it is I mean he’s going to be very
heavily subscribed because there’s much confusion in the house about the
government’s position on this matter and he said well he strongly objected to me
selecting it and I said well you know there’s not much I can do about that and
the fact is it was well subscribed and then a about a year later when he was in
a different and more senior he was already pretty senior
Folio he wrote me a very comprehensive letter to explain why I was wrong again
to select an urgent question again as it happens from one of his own backbenchers
about human rights abuses and this was unacceptable to him so the truth is the
speaker’s not expected to defend himself in every case I simply wrote back to him
and said I’m extremely grateful to you for taking the time and trouble to
explain to me say comprehensively why you think I have made the wrong decision
on this matter and I’m especially grateful to you for doing so give them
the many and burdensome responsibilities which you have data data shoulder and
the discharge of your ministerial office however I know you will understand that
the house has chosen to confer upon me the responsibility for making these
judgments with which therefore I feel sure you will rest content and it is
true that since then I haven’t had a Christmas card from him
however equally I haven’t sent him a Christmas card either and I will bear
sterically and the 40 years the burden of his obvious disapproval of my
decision but there was a lot of interest that he said it was a matter of great
embarrassment that this question should be selected and the member who had
applied for it was then berated by some idiots in the government whips office on
the grounds that the question was being put during the visit of the Chinese
president to the UK which is absolutely true with one of the very good reasons
for selecting the question it was topical and urgent and relevant and the
member was told that she was embarrassing Her Majesty the Queen
during this visit by the Chinese president I mean this really was
nonsense on stilts but I said to the member concern well look it’s up to you
you know my advice is to thine own self be true
if you feel strongly about it persist with it and if you don’t with an
obviously or withdraw it and that’s completely up to you but she decided to
persist with it and it was a very good question it drew the issues out so that
I think is a really worthwhile reform as have been reforms that have been
supported by the house and of which I was myself a champion in standing for
office I didn’t bring about all of these
reforms but I actively argued for the election of the deputy speakers who just
used to be a point by the party whips they are now elected
they’ve got some authority by virtue of the legitimacy conferred by democratic
election I argued that the chairs of the select committees which scrutinized the
executive should cease to be handpicked by representatives of that very
executive not you would have thought a particularly controversial proposition
how ridiculous it was that for decades the House of Commons failed to get off
its knees and allowed a situation in which the people who chaired these
committees to scrutinize government departments were chosen by government
whips on behalf of the representatives of those government departments that
cannot be right now we have elected select committee chairs and elected
members of select committees elected by poppy party caucus who have some
independence of spirit and a forthrightness in asserting the agenda
the committee agenda the interrogative agenda that they favor and they’re not
told what to do by the whips I mean look there is a role for whips don’t get me
wrong there is an important role for whips in a modern political system where
political parties are well organized and heavily represented in Parliament just
as there is a role obviously in any public health system for sewers
absolutely but the important point is that people should know what the limits
of the role are and what their place is and for my part I am very happy to do
about safe to you that when I was both a front bencher and indeed a conservative
back bencher I always had relations with the conservative whips characterized by
trust and understanding I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me
so you know I didn’t think that the witch should have been allowed to get
away with such power for so long but they were and of course they were very
much against some of these changes that I’ve described but there was a kind of
peasants revolt of backbenchers on both sides of the house that brought about
this reform agenda post 2010 we now have a backbench Business Committee which has
held hugely important debates on mental health encouraging some colleagues to
come out and share their mental health problems with the house and with the
country and just think how that has helped
the process of D stigmatizing mental health difficulty and challenge we had
an important debate on Hill’s brother disaster and the way in which for
decades the most appalling calumny vituperation and falsehood were leveled
at the fans as though they were somehow culpable for that terrible disaster back
in 1989 there is now of course a legal process flowing and it flows from the
backbench Business Committee debate I have also to tell you that the backbench
Business Committee debate in 2011 on the merits as the sponsors of the debate
sort of having a referendum on EU membership that also made a difference
now whether that was a difference for the better is I absolutely accept a
debatable point but it was a game changer it did have an impact and this
was back benchers as they continue to do taking ownership of the agenda of the
house one day a week I think we should have other changes I think we should
have a House Business Committee so that all government legislation has to be
timetable by a committee perhaps chaired by a Deputy Speaker rather than just
determined by government and opposition whips behind the scenes and there are
doubtless other changes that could be made as well but we have made real
reforms in the way we go about our business private member’s legislation
could still be amended and treated in a more mature fashion
I believe the trigger for a recall of Parliament should be a numerical trigger
in our Standing Orders I didn’t think it should just be up to the prime minister
to ask the speaker to agree to a recall sometimes there’s a good case for a
recall but a government doesn’t want it why not have a more mature cross-party
approach to the triggering of recall and why don’t we as I say have a house
business committee but we have made changes and we’ve also made changes on
what you might call second order issues that are nevertheless highly important
to the culture of modern politics and democracy when I took office as speaker
ladies and gentlemen 2009 we had a shooting gallery in Parliament but we
had no nursery where MPs and Starr could pay to put their kids to broker a
better work/life balance now I’m pleased to say that these days we have a
fantastically successful hugely well subscribed life stabilizing and in some
cases transforming nursery which I fought for from the day I took office
until it was established 15 months later but we no longer have a shooting gallery
because it has been closed down due to lack of demand now that seems to me to
be an altogether more satisfactory arrangement of priorities I thought it
was important to get an education center digital high tech cutting-edge
state-of-the-art interactive education center adjacent to the House of Lords
which is now going to enable us to welcome another hundred thousand young
people to Parliament each year to learn about the journey from the signing of
the Magna Carta in 1215 to the rights and representations which as citizens
they will enjoy today we can’t be accused of hurrying the matter my
friends that Education Center for which I also had to wage quite a battle not
least with representatives of the House of Lords was opened by the television
scientist Professor Brian Cox in 2015 the year we marked the 800th anniversary
of the signing of the Magna Carta and the seven hundred fiftieth anniversary
of the first recognizably English Parliament how ridiculous was that that
such a battle had to be waged but it was a battle that had to be waged and in the
case of the nursery I had some really asinine objections from people including
the spouse of an MP who said on the Planning Committee at the Westminster
City Council trying to stuff the application for planning permission
fortunately unsuccessfully Parliament is a very serious place is not an
appropriate place for young children they should not be present on the estate
most people now my friends think the place is humanized by having young
people on the estate and the nursery provision is something that no serious
person would think of reversing and similarly in the case of the education
center this is a welcome development so I think that those changes were
worth making as I think has been the drive to make that how staff more
diverse and representative of the country that were charged to represent
most of the key positions traditionally were occupied by white middle or upper
cup middle-class men and you know I have done what I can to change that I did
appoint the first female and beim speakers chaplain in the history of the
House of Commons the right reverend Rose Hudson Wilkin who has been with me for
nine years she’s the warmest most empathetic chaplain any place could hope
to have and not before time God knows I’ve lobbied for her and she has not
pushed her own cause at all she’s now about to become the Bishop of
Dover but what a battle it was because there’s plenty of trouble trying to
advance the bane cause within the Church of England but Rose has been magnificent
and there were objections at the time I had approaches from people who
volunteered their views on the appointment of the right reverend rose
with a force and insistence in inverse proportion to their knowledge of the
subject matter under discussion in other words they were people forest idea of
the merits of the candidates but they knew from afar that the wrong judgment
had been made because they’d read in some bigoted rag that the speaker had
made the appointment for reasons of extensible political correctness I made
the appointment because Rose was the right person to a point
huge numbers of mediocre white men have been selected for things over the years
here was a brilliant Fame woman and people were raising a hue and cry and
saying was something improper about it was absolutely ridiculous I pointed the
first beam sergeant-at-arms in the history of the House of Commons Mohamed
El Hadji has now been replaced by Obama I a and Mahmoud Haji has retired but
tomorrow I as the new sergeant at arms is a fantastically competent engineer in
the service of the house and he will be a stellar representative of a modern
Parliament but it used always to be you know somebody from a certain type of
background in social class and a certain category
of school and such people were known as bloody good eggs and of course in those
days people like me wouldn’t have the foggiest jobs when I was first elected
to Parliament one of my rather senior colleagues said to me birkoff he
insisted on calling me birkoff you do realize that if I had my way people like
you wouldn’t be in this place at all I said when you say people like me do you
mean lower-class or Jewish to which he replied both and it was that with which
you were dealing you know and I have PTO’s the best speaker secretary anybody
could want who runs the office and most brilliant and administratively efficient
manner but who for years didn’t advance as much as he might have advanced
because frankly of people who treated him as though they had a smell under
their nose and you really do have to fight against this and say no I’m going
to have the best person and greater diversity look the last point I want to
make you is this when I stood for election I said well I’ll chair in the
chamber and I’ll try to facilitate desired reform but I also intend to get
out from Parliament and try to be an ambassador for violence under robust
advocate of democratic politics I will visit schools and universities and faith
groups and I will practice the public engagement approach through in reach to
boot opening up speakers house and I’ve hold about a thousand events over the
last 10 years in the state rooms to mark and celebrate great causes charities
particularly focused on children special educational needs disability the fight
against global poverty the cause of equality and I will chair the UK Youth
Parliament every year and I will go to their conference every year now why do I
do that well I suppose it involves from speaking and my late father always used
to say John generally speaking is generally speaking and of course I enjoy
going to speak at the UK wipey conference every year and of course I
enjoy talking to them when they come for their debates in the chamber and I love
it I’ve done it every year for a decade but the main reason why I do it is that
I feel with them particularly the future of our democracy in the future our
country if we in Parliament won’t ever which we are not yet
to be respected by young people we must show some respect for young people
respect is not our automatic right it’s an earn credits if you like or a two-way
street and so that’s why I always make a point of being there and finding time
for those people and I’m proud of our democracy and I just want to finish on
this note or these two points first of all referenda no doubt have their place
and I’m not trying to enter that Rao today but I am absolutely passionate
about representative democracy about parliamentary democracy and when I go
around the world even if there isn’t that much admiration for our system in
the UK there is outside of the UK for the UK’s system and we cavil at or
degrade Parliament at our peril Parliament as a forum in which people
say what they mean and mean what they say and do what they believe to be right
is incredibly important we shouldn’t just operate on the basis of focus
groups moreover I believe that most of my parliamentary colleagues are
motivated by their notions of the national interest by their perceptions
of the public good and by their Duty not as delegates I must underline not as
delegates but as representatives to do what they believe to be right for our
country and that I think is something that should be celebrated so if there
are people want to be abusive about our Parliament I can’t stop that but I say
with very great force to those who derive Parliament that they shouldn’t
and when one of my senior colleagues a senior member of the government recently
said this Parliament is a disgrace I totally reject that if members of
parliament do things that annoy their party locally they might be deselected
if they do things nationally that annoy their party they might have the whip
withdrawn if they do things that offend their electors as a whole they might
lose their seats there are pragmatic consequences of political
choices made but ethically the only duty of a member of parliament is to do what
he or she thinks is right and it’s actually sometimes much more difficult
but braver to stand out from the crowd and say no I don’t go along with this my
personal conviction is that X or Y or Z should happen and I want to applaud
members of parliament of free spirit and independence of mine who insist on their
right to that free spirit and their independence of mine and in conclusion
of my very last point I said I’ve got two points with which to conclude and
that was one it is this I have no plans to die tomorrow but if I were to die
tomorrow I would die happy being as supported by my lovely wife Sally on our
three kids I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky I don’t about you guys but in our
home we’ve got friends at both ends of the income scale who don’t enjoy their
work I’m not saying they’re not happy in some cases they’re very happy people but
they live for weekends and holidays that absolutely enjoy the jobs they do I love
what I do I jump out of bed in the morning and I look forward to the day
ahead it is the most enormous personal and professional honor and privilege to
observe for 22 years as a member of parliament and 410 and a speaker so I
wish my successor well I will not try to be a backseat driver which I think he’s
both irritating and presumptuous for the new person in the role I hope that
person has a really successful tenure and my only advice to my successor
frankly is remember the back benches there are far more of them than there
are the front benches don’t be pushed around and try to keep the best and
improve the rest thank you very much you

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