Speaker John Bercow officially opened last night’s PinkNews Awards held inside the State Rooms of Speaker’s House at the Palace of Westminster – here is the speech in full.
“Friends and colleagues, there are a number of unusual preliminaries with which I would like to begin my remarks.
“First, I hope that you will agree that it is a testament both to the greatness of PinkNews and to the magnificence of this occasion that the Deputy Editor of PinkNews, one Joseph Patrick McCormick, who has come out from the shadows to reveal himself, has this evening, here in Speaker’s House, a matter of minutes ago, proposed to his partner James Hansom. And the proposal has been accepted! So, I would argue, and I do, that PinkNews, on the one hand, and the Speaker of the House on the other, have established their reputations as matchmakers.
“That is my first point. My second point is that I think, with great pride, and with a mixture of appropriate solemnity, but also, huge warmth, we should tonight welcome with gratitude our parliamentary colleague and today’s genuine hero: Mr Stephen Gilbert. And if you don’t know why we’re celebrating and thanking Stephen, it is because Stephen, last night on the Terrace, through his own foresight and quick-wittedness, rescued someone who otherwise could have lost her life. And, she was in the Thames. And she was struggling. And it could have been disastrous. And Stephen did what was necessary at the time that it was required and disaster was averted. So, Stephen—thank you for that.
“My third point won’t be regarded as unduly flippant—parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen—ordinarily when I attend an event in the support of the LGBT community, I think: ‘Right well, I’m going to put on (you may think it’s slightly stereotypical, but well intentioned) a very bright and, probably, pink tie’. Tonight I have no such tie, I am wearing my House of Commons tie, which isn’t especially bright, and you may well think it’s well, it is another kind of club tie. But the significance of it is that it is the House of Commons tie. I am wearing it today, actually, with this morning coat, because this morning I had the great privilege of greeting one of the bravest people on the face of the planet and a hugely resourceful and articulate campaigner for human rights, Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I know Nick [Clegg] has met, and Ed Miliband, and, of course, the Prime Minister has met a number of times. And I thought it was a mark of respect to Daw Suu, that I would wear this apparel.
“The significance of this occasion is that the House of Commons, with members from across the House, from all three parties and beyond, in concert with PinkNews is welcoming courageous members of the LGBT community and those are who are not part of that community, who are straight allies but massively supportive. I always feel that’s invidious on these occasions, ladies and gentlemen, because when I name my parliamentary colleagues, which I do with great enthusiasm and pride, there’s a huge risk that I will fail to spot a colleague, especially one, who is like me, is vertically challenged and who is standing at the back and that person may take grave offence. But just to give you an indication of the breath, we’re hugely delighted to have the Deputy Prime Minister amongst our number from whom we are going to hear in a few moments. Someone whose track record on these matters are of long-standing and speaks for itself. A source of pride, I hope, to him, but to everybody from across the spectrum here present. Nick, thank you, as Leader of your party and Deputy Prime Minister of our country, for your presence.
“Helen Grant, the Minister at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport with a responsibility for tourism, but more significantly, with Equalities responsibilities. And track record is here, and I think will be featured later on when she is presenting an award. Helen, we welcome you here, thank you for coming.
“Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, and someone with a huge track record on these matters, who made a quite outstanding speech in the debate on 5th February. I remember the uplifting character, the note of positive enthusiasm, for a deed well done that she articulated so powerfully that night. Yvette, thank you for being with us.
“I think Tina Stowell is here, she certainly should be, and I feel sure she is. And I’m not going to boast that I know Tina Stowell, Baroness Stowell of Beeston, especially well. But, I know her speeches. It’s fortunate for me to be able to say rather better that she has to suffer mine. I’ve heard her speeches at a distance, watching the Lords on parliamentary television. And she is one dexterous and adroit performer. And the role that she played, not just in the speaking capacity, but in facilitating the smooth passage of the same-sex couples bill, through the House of Lords, is testament of the array of qualities that she brings to her work in the House of Lords. So Tina, thank you for being with us.
“And there are so other people here present: Gloria de Piero who has equalities responsibilities on the Labour benches is an exemplar of that role. And so many other people: I think I’m right in saying Mike Freer is here, Conor Burns is with us, and I’ve just been speaking a few moments ago to Anne Jenkin, Baroness Jenkin. And no disrespect to Ann Jenkin, but at least is importantly, in fact some would say even more importantly, Lord Jenkin of Roding, shortly celebrates 50 years uninterrupted service in Parliament in the respective Houses is with us. So, Patrick thank you for being with us.
“This is a great event. There are all sorts of awards to present. And I just want to conclude, before I had over to Benjamin Cohen, the founder of the great PinkNews. And I want to underline the point: we have travelled a huge distance, have we not, on LGBT matters, over the last decade or so. I think it is fair to say that that there is credit to be reflected in all of the three main parties and far beyond. Within the political parties, it is, I think, a record of matter of record, that Liberal Democrat members were long in the vanguard in those arguing very, very, very forcefully for equality, Not just Nick, but Evan Harris and a great many others. There are motions going back years at Lib Dem party conferences of these matters. So, their credentials are not in doubt and there are inferior to no-ones.
“I believe, ladies and gentlemen, as somebody who has served for a Conservative Member for many years, that the historical evidence is very explicit and incapable of contradiction.
“In the period 1997-2010, there was the single greatest raft of reforming equality legislation that has taken place under any government of any colour at any time. And that’s something of which Yvette, Gloria and Ed Miliband are hugely proud and rightly so. The equalisation of the age of consent; the repeal of the Section 28; the removal on the ban of gays in the armed forces; the change to adoptions regulations; the Sexuality Orientation Regulations, Civil Partnership legislations. It is all there on the record and I hope they take great pride in what have they accomplished.
“And the fact is that nobody would have anticipated it even five years ago, let alone ten years ago. It has been under Conservative-led administration. A Coalition Government, but very much led from the front by Prime Minister Cameron, that the final step in the legislative course has been adopted and we have moved from a position fifty years ago where the criminalisation of a type of love to the imminent practical prospect of complete legal equality. That is quite a trek. And if all of the parties deserve credit, and many people outside of the formal party structures, that serve as independents or members of minority parties braves souls like Naomi Long in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. There is huge credit PinkNews, to Stonewall, to other civil society activists who’ve urged us on at every step of the way and said: ‘Look, do this! Because it’s the right thing to do’. And in the end, you will carry people with you. And I think that in five times years time, people will say: ‘What was all the fuss about? Having an equal marriage law? It is surely the right thing to do’. So, I feel a great sense of personal thrill to be present for these awards.
“I have for the last fortnight been suffering from a rather heavy cold and somewhat truncated voice project as a consequence. The benefit of which from which your point of views, colleagues, is your mighty relief that my opening speech is at an end.”
John Bercow is Speaker of the House of Commons and the MP for Buckingham.
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