Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11.46 am

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My hon. Friend the Minister has given a very substantial response to the debate, which was initiated by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I do not think that I can usefully add to what he has said, other than to say that, over the years, I have had a number of constituents who, having come to me on those matters, will reflect on his comments.

May I also thank my hon. Friend for his very generous remarks? I realise that this is an Adjournment debate, and I think that I have some understanding of procedure, but I should like to go slightly wider than procedure may strictly allow and still remain in order. I should just like to say one or two words to the House before I disappear off into the sunset in my retirement.

Often in the past few days, like many of my hon. Friends who are retiring, I have had cause to reflect on why I sought election to the House of Commons. I first sought election to this place in 1974, in a general election, and tried again in a by-election, in 1976, which I lost. Subsequently, in 1979, I was elected.

My reason for seeking election to this place was based on a conversation that I had with my mother when I was in my late teens. She told me that, in this life, to make a real contribution to the way in which the world works, one has to engage in public service in some way. Many

11 May 2001 : Column 402

of us who were then in our teens and twenties, formulating our political views, chose the political route as a way of entering public service. Some of us went on to become Ministers or parliamentarians; others, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), became great and eminent parliamentarians.

Over the years, I have watched with great interest new generations of young people coming into the House. I have often set out to help them in their early days and given them my advice, because I had been given advice. I was given advice by one man--the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam)--who, although he subsequently defected to the Conservative party, was very good to me when I was elected. I was also given advice by the late Bob Cryer.

I have always remembered that. They helped me when I knew that many were not being helped, and I resolved that I would help others. I really think that that pays. Over the past few days, I have had a number of letters and many conversations with people who recalled times and occasions in their early political lives when I was able to give them some advice which they took and which proved useful to them. I hope that when the new crop of Members comes to the House after the election, there will be people who set aside time to help them, because it is rewarding for the giver and, in particular, for the receiver.

Over recent years, I have watched the developments in the Opposition with the new crop of young Conservative Members who, in many ways, reflect the approach that we took when we entered the House, which was to oppose the Government. To be frank, I have been quite impressed. The problem is that there are not enough of them engaged in the practice. It is strange that when I came here, some of the people who used to say to me, "Get on with it," were Conservatives. They said, "It is often easier for you, in the Opposition, to deal with issues that we find politically embarrassing." That is true.

We had a good crop of Members; we used to call them the "fighting 40". I remember that we used to come to the Chamber and hold the Government to ransom--we would run all night if we could, and we did so on memorable occasions.

The point is that opposition is an art, and one learned it and mastered procedure. We spent hours in the Chamber just learning. We looked forward to the procedural feasts when Members would get themselves in difficult procedural wrangles. I remember George Cunningham, who subsequently went to the SDP, and Alex Lyon as great parliamentarians. Such people were very good at teaching us how this place worked. There is no politics in that; it is about being a parliamentarian.

My plea, as I leave, is that more people recognise that being a great parliamentarian is more important in many ways than being a great Minister. Great parliamentarians, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, will be remembered for generations, whereas Ministers may well be forgotten. I say that with no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, because he will be remembered. He is my tip for the Cabinet in the next Parliament.

I want a whole career structure to be built up whereby Members choose a route when they are elected. They will decide whether they want to be held to account or whether they want to hold others to account. That is important. When we secure a Parliament with a career structure

11 May 2001 : Column 403

within which people can develop and within which Chairmen of Select Committees are paid, that will give Members an incentive to be part of the legislature and the House will benefit immeasurably.

I read what I regard as pap and drivel in the press about how my hon. Friends have formed part of a compliant Labour majority in the House. That is simply untrue. The quality of questioning by many of my hon. Friends over the past four years has been excellent. Many have been prepared to ask awkward questions of Ministers and to hold them to account, inside and outside the House. The problem is that the press are not prepared to face up to what is really going on. There is accountability, and all I would say is that it could be improved in future.

I have loved this place, as indeed have many of my hon. Friends, including those who are leaving and those who will remain, and I will love it more into the future. It has been a huge honour for me to be here. I am indebted to the people in my constituency who put me here, to my party and to all the friends whom I have made over all these years.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) wishes to make a point of order, but before he does so I have something to say. The Clerk advises me that is not normal for Back Benchers to rise after the Minister has spoken, and there is no precedent for the Speaker taking part in a debate, but I am going to do so today.

With a general election coming, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) could have applied for an Adjournment debate on a subject with more relevance to his constituency, which might have given him a political advantage, but he did not. He raised a matter that affects each and every one of us and our communities--the problem of diabetes. I hope that the tradition of the Adjournment debate, whereby a Minister can come here and give an account of his stewardship of any matter, always continues. The hon. Gentleman has done a good thing.

I look at our small gathering and I can say to everyone that I regard you all as friends. It is said that Speakers should not have any friends, but I say that they should have as many friends as possible, but no favourites.

I look at the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) and I remember that when I was on my first Select Committee he was very helpful. He showed me a generosity and a kindness that I realise is typical of him. On our first trip abroad--it is not fair to say which land we visited--we went to a factory. There was no proper roof; there was coal and charcoal on the floor; molten metal was being pushed on a trolley and, to keep it from spilling, rags and sand were being thrown on to it by labourers. I was a great man with a camera, and I said, "Peter, I'm going to take a photograph of this, put it in my election address and call it 'Thatcher's Britain'." I wish the right hon. Gentleman very well indeed. I know that we will see him again because he is going to do a lot of work for the retired Members.

I remember that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) entered the House on the same day as me. We were very confused, and he decided that every day he would spend hours in the Chamber and learn procedure. I nipped off to the Tea Room, saying, "No, Dale, I don't want to do that", but he did it. Eventually,

11 May 2001 : Column 404

not only the younger Members but the older ones came to him to ask him about procedure. I take on board what he said about the fact that no new Member should come into the House and be thrown in at the deep end. They should be helped, and that is a tradition that I always upheld as a Member because I knew that some, but not all, of the senior Members did not bother with the new Members. They should give them every piece of advice possible. I will miss the hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will recall mentioning to me that his dear wife Caroline had written a book about Keir Hardie. We in Glasgow always talk about the specific district we come from. I say that I came from the district of Anderson, and next door is the district of Partick, where Keir Hardie came from. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, "Please tell Caroline that she will find that Hardie spent some of his childhood years in Partick, where my mother and father had their first tenement flat--what we in Glasgow called a single end." The following day, a book arrived--the biography of Keir Hardie, signed by Caroline. It is now up in the Speaker's Study. I shall always treasure it. It was so nice that my conversation with the right hon. Gentleman in the Tea Room was carried home. I greatly appreciate that book, personally signed by the author.

I wish you all the best for the future. I say to those who are going out to participate in the election, I wish you all well.

Next Section

IndexHome Page