New Forest East



Sir Julian Lewis: If I may, Mr Speaker, I will share with the House just two personal anecdotes of my experience with the late, great Betty Boothroyd. The first occurred in May 1997, on the day of my swearing in – at least, I hoped it would be the day of my swearing in, because I had inquired, checked and double-checked that on that day the new intake MPs were to be sworn in. As it was my first time, my father, Sam, had come from Swansea in south Wales. He had caught the train on time, it had arrived on time and I had picked him up on time, so I knew that something was bound to go wrong. No sooner had I got him settled in the Gallery than the then Deputy Chief Whip [Patrick McLoughlin] told me that there had been a change of plan and the previous MPs were to be sworn in on that day; the new MPs would be sworn in on subsequent days. However, he said that I could go and have a word with the Speaker’s Secretary – the gentleman [Nicolas Bevan] at the time who was standing by the Chair. I did that, and he understood and said, “You can go on the end of the queue and be sworn in when all the pre-existing MPs have done so.”

For the benefit of anyone watching these tributes who does not know the procedure, I should say that one lines up, takes the Oath at the Dispatch Box, signs the register and shakes hands with the Speaker, with whom one has a gentle exchange of words. In my gentle exchange of words, I said that I was so pleased that it had been possible to be sworn in on that day as my father was 84 and he had come 200 miles to see it. Betty paused, looked up at the Gallery, spotted this gentleman with silver hair who was beaming and looking very proud of being part of this wonderful occasion, and said, “Is that him up there?” When I said that it was, she said, “Well, strictly speaking, we are not allowed to make reference to anyone outside the boundaries of the Chamber itself. But as it is a special occasion, let’s give him a wave.” So Betty the Speaker and I gave my dad a big wave.

The second anecdote I would like to share is from June 2000. As a result of a debate on the armed forces, I was in the proud position of welcoming four second world war veterans of the Fleet Air Arm, all of whom had been decorated with distinguished service orders, conspicuous gallantry medals or, in one case, the distinguished service medal for their participation in near suicidal attacks on the German battlefleet going up the channel in 1942 or on Japanese-supplying oil refineries in Sumatra in 1945. I thought that it would be nice to get some extra tickets so that they and their wives could attend Prime Minister’s questions. I went along to the Speaker’s Office and, when I explained the situation, the member of staff graciously said, “Yes, of course you can have these extra tickets, but why not bring them round, because I am sure Madam Speaker will want to see them.”

Not only did she want to see them, not only did she give them a personal tour of the Speaker’s apartments, but at the end of it all she made a little oration to them that was perfectly judged. We must remember that, in their day, these elderly gents had been heroes of the second world war, but many, many years had gone by and most people of that generation did not even know about the channel dash raid or the Palembang oil refineries raid. She said, “I want to thank you, because, without what you and your comrades did, we would not have a free Parliament today.” Impishly, she added, “And with my views, I would probably have ended up in a concentration camp.” Quick as a flash, Pat Kingsmill DSO said, “Yes, but we would have been in there right alongside you all the way.” I could see the backbones of these four elderly gentlemen straightening because of the way that they had been inspired by the empathy, the kindness and the dignity of this wonderful woman.

I close by reminding the House that I was one of hundreds of MPs. Those are my two anecdotes, and if some of those hundreds were here, they could tell many more.