Prime Minister leads tributes to Speaker Martin’s ‘humanity, kindness and friendship’

June 17, 2009 at 8:49 pm Leave a comment

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The Speaker of the House of Commons has apologised to “the men and women of this country” for the row over MPs’ expenses in his farewell speech.

Michael Martin was forced from office last month over his handling of the crisis at Westminster, which has seen more than 20 MPs announce they are to stand down at the next election.

His replacement will be elected on Monday. Members from all sides of the House paid tribute to him earlier today.

In his valedictory address to MPs, the Speaker said that MPs had a chance to reform the House but did not take it.

“This subject has caused understandable loss of public trust and confidence in us all,” he said.

“In my 30 years in the House I have seen nothing like it.

“Let me say again to the men and women of this country I am sorry.

“But also let me remind this house that it passed up an opportunity of dealing with this emotive issue less than a year ago.

“The proposals for reform from the Members Estimates Committee did not get the backing of party leaders and MPs seemed indifferent.

“Half of the members did not attend to vote, and more than half of those who did vote rejected the proposals. I regretted that then. I deeply regret that now.

“And I suspect that many members of this House share my regret.

“Of course, the recommendations would not have solved every difficulty, but they would have ended many practices for which members have been attacked in recent weeks.

“I wish that party leaders would have shown then some of the leadership that they have shown now.”

The Speaker also spoke about the police search of the office of Tory frontbencher Damian Green, which led to no charges.

Mr Martin was criticised for allowing the police to search Mr Green’s Commons office without a warrant.

“I am pleased that the Government Chief Whip has assured me that an all-party inquiry of eight senior Members, with a member of the Opposition in the Chair and with no Government majority, will inquire into this matter, establish the truth of those events in full transparency, and allow all the lessons to be learned,” he said.

“I will give evidence to any depth required by the House.”

The Speaker spoke affectionately about his constituency.

“To all those good people of Glasgow, North-East, and Springburn before it, let me say this: I will forever be in your debt for giving me your friendship, support and trust.”

Mr Martin touched on the loneliness of the position.

“Because of my political neutrality as a Speaker, I must withdraw from the natural comradeship of this place and be a little isolated in Speaker’s House.

“I raise that point because I would like to thank my wife Mary for coming to London each week, when her natural instinct was to remain in her beloved Glasgow.

“Without intruding in my business, she has always been there in support, and she has done so much to make Speaker’s House a place of welcome, planning and working on official and unofficial events.

“Though this Parliament is at its lowest ebb, I can testify to the goodness of the vast majority of members of this House.”

The Prime Minister led the tributes.

“Mr Speaker, I regard it as a great privilege that it falls to me to be the first to speak to this motion, and the first to offer you, on behalf of the whole House, heartfelt thanks for your long and dedicated service to Parliament—as a Member of Parliament, a Chair of Committees, a Deputy Speaker and, of course, most recently, for nearly nine years’ service as our Speaker,” Gordon Brown said.

“As is typical of you, in your remarks today, you have been anxious to thank all those who have worked with you during your period as Speaker.

“As is also typical of you, your concern for others is reflected in the work that you have done with your wife in hosting numerous charitable events in the Speaker’s House.

“And as again is typical of you, you ended your speech today by talking about the human rights and social justice with which Parliament is best associated, and your commitment to that as a lifelong supporter of both the rights of individuals and social justice.”

Mr Brown reminded the House that Mr Martin is a teetotaller, “so the pleasure that you gave to others in choosing and testing Mr. Speaker’s brand of whisky is something that they are entirely grateful for.

“I am reminded that in Glasgow 100 years ago, the Labour party once stood on a platform supporting your position on the prohibition of alcohol, and decided never to stand on that platform at another election.”

David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition, said he agreed with “so much of what the Prime Minister said about your record and about what you have done for your constituents and for the House.”

“Yours was a very moving speech.

“Everyone could hear your passion about this place, and all of us who care about the House of Commons, Parliament and its place in public life must deliver what you said we must—the restoration of trust in the House of Commons.”

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, had publicly called for Mr Martin to resign.

“Mr Speaker, in the circumstances, it is especially generous of you to give me the opportunity to speak today, and I am grateful to you for that,” he said.

“As a newly elected party leader, I remember sitting with you in your apartments, talking not about politics but about our families.

“It was wonderful to listen to both of you reminisce about the journey that had taken you from almost the same area in Glasgow to public service here in Parliament.

“Above all, you have shown us all how to temper great authority with great kindness, and that will be your legacy.”

Fellow Glasgow MP Mohammed Sarwar said he was “incredibly sad” when Mr Martin announced his resignation.

“Many young people throughout the United Kingdom look to you as a source of inspiration—an inspiration that anything can be achieved through dedication and hard work,” he said.

“Your distinguished predecessor, Speaker Boothroyd, is famously known for having said that there are times when she thinks that she has come a long way, and I believe that you are certainly entitled to say the same.

“Mr Speaker, I repeat my thanks to you once again.”

DUP MP William McCrea said Mr Martin had always shown “the greatest courtesy to my colleagues and me over the years, and I place on the record our deepest gratitude to you.

“I would also like to thank you for your acts of kindness, and your generosity will never be forgotten.

“Sir, you opened Speaker’s House to many people who would never have gone there if it had not been for your kindness, and you invited Members from all parts of the House to go to many excellent occasions there, and for that we owe you and your good wife Mary our deepest gratitude.”

Alan Williams, the longest-serving MP, known as the Father of the House, told Mr Martin he was a man of firsts: “the first Catholic, the first metalworker and, unsurprisingly, the first teetotaller to occupy the Chair.”

“I well recollect my very first day in the House, in 1964, when I sat on the second row of the Government Benches,” he said.

“I was sitting next to Iorwerth Thomas, a 70-year-old Welsh Member, and I said to him, “Well, Iori, it must be wonderful to be sitting on this side of the House after 13 years on that side,” and he thought and he said, “Yes, my boy; the sun gets in your eyes on the other side of the House.” That, of course, was in the days before television and the screening of the windows.”

Mr Williams quoted from Bill Walker, Conservative MP from 1979 to 1997.

“Bill said of you: ‘He is always respected by his electorate because he speaks from the heart.’

“That was a touching thing for a political opponent to say, and it helps explain the affection in which you are held in your own constituency.

“You are an innately kind man, as we heard from one of our colleagues even in Question Time today. Since you have been Speaker, your door has been open to any Member who wants advice or guidance.”

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd referred to Mr Martin’s teetotalism.

“I remember attending a meeting with you and the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Alex Salmond).

“At its conclusion, you brought out a bottle of whisky and, as they say in Scotland, you ‘poured a good one’—in fact, for my liking it was a very good one. I was drinking on an empty stomach and unaccustomed to undiluted whisky.

“For the remainder of the meeting, I was with the birds.

“Speaker Weatherill once said that a Speaker has no friends, but you know that that is not true.

“You have sincere friends in all corners of the House. It has been a privilege to serve under you.

“I wish you, your lovely wife Mary and your whole family the very best in health and happiness on the cusp of what we all hope will be a long, fulfilling and well-earned retirement.”

Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton paid an emotional tribute to his friend.

“May I pick just one word out of the motion that was moved so eloquently by the Prime Minister—’humanity'” he said.

“That has not been mentioned other than in the text of the motion. You have been a Speaker who has shown huge humanity. You have sought, on all occasions, to stand up for the interests of this House.

“You have sought not only to defend this House as an institution but, from time to time, to defend Members when they have rightly come to you for advice and help. Much of this is not appreciated by the people out there, which is very regrettable.”

Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP, paid tribute to Mr Martin’s “consideration and courtesy.”

“I can recall, on taking my seat, the warmth of your handshake and greeting, and the fact that that lasted through the manner in which you, with civility and sensitivity, received my complaints as an Irish nationalist having to recite an affirmation of allegiance, and immediately moved on to ask after people such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon—who send their salute to you today.”

Tory MP Eleanor Laing told Mr Martin, a fellow Scot, that she is a fan of his music.

“Some of us—it may be a small minority—appreciate your playing of the bagpipes,” she said.

“It has been a great privilege to take part not only in your famous whisky tasting for producing Speaker Martin’s malt—I am glad it has been such a bestseller—but in the very first Burns supper, which you inaugurated in Speaker’s House.

“Like you, I take my moral ideas from Robert Burns.

“He would be proud, as we all are, that you personally have taken us a step nearer that great aim:

“Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’that,)…

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’that.”

SNP Commons leader Angus Robertson also quoted Scotland’s national poet.

The Speaker mouthed the words of the famous poem as Mr Roberson recited it.

“A prince can mak a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s abon his might,

Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

Their dignities an’ a’ that;

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

Are higher rank than a’ that.”

“A Man’s A Man For A’ That” is the appropriate verse to capture your life achievements, your attachment to social justice and your respect to all, regardless of rank or status,” he said.

“We wish you and Mary all the best in the future.”

Labour MP Anne Begg told MPs of the help Mr Martin gave her as the first full-time wheelchair user in the Commons, while Kali Moutford was visibly moved as she spoke of her “dear friend.”

“Sometimes, I became frustrated with you, my dear friend, because you never once said anything to defend yourself,” she said.

“I would say, “Oh, come on! Say something!”, but you would always say, “No, Kali, this is about the House. The House is the star of this show.” It was never you, Mr. Speaker, and I admire you for that so much.

“You never allowed anyone to try to understand you—only the House.

“Here we are now, standing in judgment over you, and I hope that everyone will say that you have not been found wanting.

“We should all admire you very much for the work that you have done for the House. I will never find you wanting.

“You are indeed a great man, and a great and true friend.”

At the end of tributes, Mr Martin left MPs smiling.

“I am reminded of an incident involving a councillor who had served a long time in the Cowlairs ward, which the Prime Minister mentioned,” he said.

“We decided to give him a farewell dinner, at which so many good things were said about him that he stood up and said, “I didn’t realise how much you liked me; and I think I will stay on.”

“I can say that your Speaker is demob happy. I am very touched by the tributes, particularly those to Mary and my family. I now put the motion to the House.”

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente (unanimously).

That this House records its warm appreciation of the manner in which the Right Honourable Michael Martin has occupied the office of Speaker; expresses its thanks for the humanity and good humour with which he has presided over the affairs of the House at a most challenging time; congratulates him on the kindness and openness he has shown to all Members and for establishing a Speaker’s conference to examine engagement of Parliament with an increasingly diverse society; and accordingly unites in sending him its wishes for a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair.

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