The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Departure of Speaker Weatherill – 12 March 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement to the House of Commons on the 12th March 1992 giving thanks for the work of the departing Speaker of the House of Commons, Bernard Weatherill.


The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : With the permission of the House, I beg to move.

“That this House tenders its warmest thanks to the right hon. Bruce Bernard Weatherill for the skill and distinction with which he has maintained the traditions of the Speakership through momentous changes in the practices of the House; thanks him for the genial and wise exercise of his authority; records its appreciation of his fairness and tolerance in dealing with all Members; and unites in wishing him a long and happy retirement upon his departure from the Chair and from this House.”

For almost the last eight years, Mr. Speaker, every formal speech or intervention which each of us has made in the House has been directed to you. In many of those cases, you have been the innocent medium for a message targeted elsewhere. On this occasion, however, I–and I know others if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye–wish to speak to you directly and personally.

The end of this Parliament is an especially momentous one, marked as it is by the departure of so many distinguished right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is made all the more momentous by the departure of our Speaker.

There is no office within the House more important than yours, Mr. Speaker. It is an august and ancient role. You are, I understand, the 154th Speaker. More than 600 years of history loom at your back–at your back, but never on your back. That sense of the past could easily have overwhelmed a lesser man. However, we in the House know that it has not done that to you. It has not prevented you from developing your historic position to respond to the conditions of the present, and you have always done so in your own very individual way.

As no one knows better than you, Mr. Speaker, you have to govern the House in accordance with a host of rules, some laid down in the minutest detail, some apparently set in stone. But so much of the smooth running of the House depends on a wise interpretation of those rules. You have provided, over many years, the necessary wisdom to keep the House on the right path.

You have known when to turn a blind eye and when to be eagle-eyed. You have known when to be stone deaf and when to swoop on a muttered sedentary interjection at 50 yards. You have known when to exercise a short rein and when to use a long lead.

Above all, Mr. Speaker, of vital importance to the House, you have preserved the rights of the individual Member, however new, however junior, and from whatever party. Your impartiality has shown that, despite your long and honourable service in the Whips Office–an institution for which I retain the greatest affection–you have shown that one need not be terminally tainted by that pit of partisans when one leaves it.

When you were first elected, Mr. Speaker, my noble Friend Lord Colnbrook, then the hon. Member for Spelthorne, said of you as Deputy Chief Whip :

“never did I hear him get angry, lose his temper, or even raise his voice, even though sometimes the provocation was great”.–[ Official Report, 15 June 1983 ; Vol. 44, c. 3.]

I think that even after eight years, Mr. Speaker, I can say the same : you never got angry, never raised your voice and never lost your temper–well, as W. S. Gilbert might have put it, hardly ever. It has been your privilege, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps sometimes your penance, to preside over our first televised proceedings. You were the first television Speaker and, as a result, you have become a star–if not of stage, certainly of screen. Your appearance, your voice, are known throughout the world, and in wig and knee breeches you are recognised from Perth to Patagonia, from Teesside to Tuvalu. Most tellingly, not only are you known : you have become respected all over the world as well.

The arrival of television must have added immeasurably to your responsibilities, but you have borne them lightly and with dignity. I believe that your performance has enhanced the reputation of the Mother of Parliaments in scores of countries and among hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

The job of Speaker is a lonely one. You have had to shun the camaraderie of the Tea Room and the Smoking Room in almost monastic fashion, and it must therefore have been all the more important that you had the active support of Lyn, “Mrs. Speaker.” Your joint hospitality in Mr. Speaker’s Apartments has been a notable feature of your time in residence here, bringing immeasurable pleasure to all of your many guests. May I, Mr. Speaker, through you, tender our thanks to Lyn as well as to yourself?

Closer to home, it is not only we who will miss you, but your constituents in Croydon, North-East, whom you have served loyally since 1964. Despite the pressing demands of your Speakership, I know that your constituents have had no cause to feel neglected.

In future, you will have more time to spend on the good works that you support, on your favourite golf and tennis, and on the hobby that you list in “Who’s Who”–playing with your grandchildren. I know how much you must look forward to that. None the less, I suspect that you will be sad as you prepare to lay down the Speakership. We, too, regret your going–but you have made your decision and we must respect it. As you depart, I hope that you know that you do so with our respect, admiration and affection. You, Mr. Speaker, may miss the House; we, Mr. Speaker, shall certainly miss you.