On Monday, 18th May I addressed the House of Commons as Interim Leader of the Labour Party for the election of the Speaker. John Bercow was elected as Speaker.
You can read my speech below, or follow the link here.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) on becoming Father of the House, but to prevent us all from falling headlong into patriarchy, perhaps I may remind everyone that there is a mother of the House—and it is me! Together, we are going to do good parenting. As the Prime Minister said, my right hon. Friend has had a long and distinguished career, including writing that book, “How to be a Minister”, which we were all hoping we would be poring over right now—but it seems that was not to be and that Conservative Ministers will have the benefit of my right hon. Friend’s wisdom.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) on returning to the House as Prime Minister. We applied for the job but we did not get it, and he did. However, we have the very important job of being the official Opposition, and we will be fearless and effective in carrying it out. That is what people in this country expect of us and that is what we will do.
Members from all parties have been elected for the first time, and I warmly welcome them all. One in five of our own 232 Labour Members has been elected for the first time. As the Prime Minister said, there are now
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many more women MPs in all parts of the House. When I was first elected to Parliament in 1982, only 3% of MPs were women; today, we are nearly 30%. We still have a long way to go, but we have made real progress.
To all those entering the House for the first time, I want to say that we are all on an equal footing. You are not trainee MPs or apprentice or junior MPs: you are the real thing. You, along with all of us, have been elected by constituents to stand up and be a fierce champion for them. When you get the inevitable advice in the coming days telling you to learn the ropes and keep your head down—possibly for five or 10 years—I would say, ignore it! You did not get elected to keep your head down; you were elected to stand up for your constituents.
In doing that, you will all have a strong ally in the Speaker, whom I congratulate on his reappointment. He may be small in stature, but make no mistake: in this office, he is a giant. Of all the Speakers who have sat in the Speaker’s Chair since I was elected, he is the best. Whether you be a Government Back Bencher or on the Opposition Benches, when you want to speak up for your constituents, Mr Speaker will make sure that your voice and your case are heard. This Speaker is the fifth since I was elected, and this Prime Minister is the fifth since I was elected, too. Of the two of them, I will leave Members to guess which is my favourite!