Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): I was not expecting the hon. Gentleman's comments. There will be no report of his speech in the press. His speech could in no way be linked to the election campaign. It was a scholarly speech about a matter of great interest. The Minister will reply, and it will be a good debate. When people say that Parliament has lost the confidence of the people, it is in part because they do not know that conscientious Members raise important questions and receive proper replies. Hansard is the only newspaper that will record his speech, but I shall long remember it.

Mr. Bercow: That was typically gracious of the right hon. Gentleman. I agree with him about the central point. The longer one is in this place--I have been here only four years and 10 days--the more one appreciates that the vast majority of Members of Parliament on both sides of the House are honest, conscientious, decent and hard working. The activities of the recalcitrant minority tend to besmirch the good name of the majority. It would be fatal for democracy if the profession of politics, which is a perfectly noble calling, were ultimately to be brought into disrepute.

The right hon. Gentleman is the particular champion of principle in politics, but sitting below him is the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who

11 May 2001 : Column 394

has been a similarly principled, steadfast, dedicated and selfless representative of his constituents over a long period, and I wish him a long and enjoyable retirement.

There is no doubt in my mind that MPs have real opportunities to raise important issues on behalf of their constituents. This is one such opportunity. In concluding and in looking forward to the Minister's reply, I want to say that there is no greater privilege for any Briton than to be a Member of Parliament. Every day, when I come into the Palace of Westminster and take my seat in the Chamber--which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, I do with monotonous regularity--I have a glint in my eye, a spring in my step and a feeling of tremendous gratitude for what my constituents have given me the opportunity to do.

11.20 am

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) for his speech. Four years and 10 days it may have been, but during that time my hon. Friend has earned himself a reputation as the terrier of the Opposition. One factor in that, which he was able to prove today, is that he is a very serious politician who has learned his trade well. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) observed, the case that my hon. Friend presented needs to be publicised much more widely, but when we look up at the Press Gallery we see that not one member of the press is there. That is a great shame, and it was never the case when the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and I were first in the House.

I want to make two points about my hon. Friend's speech. The tragedy that can be generated by this illness is frequently misunderstood or, indeed, not known. Many Members will remember my colleague, Sir Peter Hordern. His son, whose condition was unknown to the family, suddenly suffered a loss of insulin and became unconscious. Still four years later, he needs 24-hour nursing. He cannot speak, and has very little control over himself. Given whose son he is, his background enabled him to be looked after earlier and, luckily, subsequently; but his condition is a terrifying indication of how ghastly the effects of the disease can be. That is why I wanted to underline what was said by my hon. Friend.

The second case I want to raise concerns an employee whose seven-year-old son suddenly fell ill during a school trip. Fortunately, he was quickly diagnosed as being diabetic, has since been stabilised and is now back at school, and even able to play games. If the disease is dealt with properly, it is possible to get on top of it. Nevertheless, I ask the Minister to pay particular attention to the need to provide more information about the treatment of very young diabetics: if a young child has to have injections from the age of six, seven or eight, for the rest of his or her life, it is a terrifying worry for the parents and a ghastly situation for the patient. I should like an assurance that the national health service pays particular attention to cases where diabetes hits youngsters.

Finally, let me pay tribute to tens of thousands of people in Poplar, where the Labour votes were weighed and only mine were counted. I also thank those in Lincoln, where I had my first contact with Lady Boothroyd, as she now is. She was then aide to the sitting Member, Geoffrey de Freitas. I pay tribute also to my erstwhile colleague--I describe him as a colleague, although we were on opposite sides of the House--"Mik"

11 May 2001 : Column 395

Mikardo. I was able to defeat him in Reading in 1959, unfortunately for him but fortunately for me. He was then a vice-chairman of the Labour party, and when 1964 came around he would undoubtedly have been included in Mr. Wilson's Government. I defeated him, however, and he was out of Parliament for four years. Members on my side often made "reds under the bed" accusations about him, but most were massively exaggerated. He was a very solid Member of Parliament, and a very good constituency Member.

Lastly, I pay tribute to my constituents in Honiton and lovely East Devon, who have been kind enough to add 34 years to the seven during which I represented Reading. I am so lucky to have been given this opportunity. I thank not just those who voted for me, but many who, having not done so, have supported some of the work that I have done and tried to do in the House.

When people come here, they must remember that not everyone can become a Minister; only a limited number will do so. Members of Parliament have a vast job to do, in many different ways. As most Members know, I have concentrated largely on procedure. Since 1984 I have been associated with the effort to ensure that we can consider legislation more thoroughly, more simply and more properly. That aim has not yet been accomplished, but I pray that it may happen in the next Parliament.

The benefit that can be conferred by good Members of Parliament not seeking to be Ministers but doing their proper job in the House of Commons is very real. I am most grateful to have been given that opportunity: I am a very lucky man.

11.28 am

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I apologise to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), and to you, Mr. Speaker, for missing the opening of the debate. There is a general election campaign going on, and I am afraid that I got involved somewhere else. I know that the hon. Gentleman was looking forward to hearing from the Minister for Public Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), which he described as an enticing prospect. He is probably less enticed by the prospect of my response, but perhaps we can discuss that outside.

I echo the tribute paid to the hon. Gentleman by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). All of us who have had the privilege of sitting on the Labour Benches during this Parliament have become used to hearing the hon. Gentleman's lucid and assiduous explanations of his points. When he speaks about issues such as this, in the spirit in which he has spoken today, it is hard to find a word with which any Labour Member could disagree--although when he speaks about political issues, most of us tend to recoil. I know that he will not be offended by that.

Mr. Bercow: I am delighted. It is a compliment.

Mr. Hutton: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is delighted, and will understand the spirit in which the compliment was paid.

Before I respond to the points made in the hon. Gentleman's thoughtful and--as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield said--scholarly speech, let me

11 May 2001 : Column 396

pay tribute to two of my colleagues who are present, and who are retiring at the election. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield has made an outstanding contribution to this country's politics for many years. He is committed, as we all are, to the cause of democratic socialism, and cares deeply about the health and well-being of the party that has given him--and all Labour Members--such a wonderful opportunity to speak up for the people and to defend the principles and values that we hold so dear.

The same is true in spades of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who is a fellow Cumbrian Member and who is held in the deepest respect throughout Cumbria for the work that he has done over 20 years in representing his constituency with fantastic skill and dedication. I think that I speak for all of us here today, certainly for all Labour Members, when I say that I find it hard to believe that those two outstanding individuals will not be with us in the new Parliament to support the work of, I hope, a radical and reforming Labour Government, whom I hope will be elected on 7 June. I extend my warmest best wishes to my hon. Friends for the future and look forward, as I am sure we all do, to hearing their continuing contribution to the political debate in our society.

I also pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who, as he reminded the House, was elected to this place in 1959--I was three years old at the time. One of the things that has always struck me about this place is the continuity between the generations, which speaks volumes not only for this place, but for the people who serve here. We get a bad press. Some of it is justified, but those of us who know about Parliament and the House of Commons would not want to call into question the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to this place and his service in the cause of parliamentary democracy. It is a distinguished record and I am happy to pay tribute to it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page