Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 3:18 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 3:18, 26 Mawrth 2015

What a momentous day today, Mr Speaker. I was able to vote for a victory on the Labour side, which makes it a great day for me to finish my parliamentary career.

Coming here was the last thing on my mind when I left school at the age of 15 and I went down the pit on my 16th birthday. I worked in the collieries for about 20 years through the dark days of the miners’ strike. I shall touch on that, because it is relevant to what is happening now. We lost our manufacturing base over the 10 years that followed—indeed, Britain’s manufacturing base was wiped out. I spent a couple of months in jail during that time. Before anybody thinks I have made a mistake, let me add that I was found innocent at the end of it. I was found innocent by a jury. It was the only trial jury in Scotland at the time. Thank God there was a jury and not just a judge.

You learn from such things. When I came down here many years later, after being blacklisted for two and a half years, I depended solely on my wife, who had to do two jobs to keep me going. The first tribute that I must pay is to Jean and my family—I have five grandkids now—who have stood by me through thick and thin. If Members think that it is hard for a wife to stand by them in Parliament, I can tell them that it is even harder for a wife to stand by someone who is in jail, and during a miners’ strike. My wife stood by me throughout all those times. I received texts from her and from my daughters today to wish me well, and I promised them that I would not become too emotional.

Next, I became a councillor in Midlothian. That, at the time, was the greatest privilege that I had experienced: representing, as a councillor, the area in which I had been born. For 20 years before that, I had been a union representative in the pits, so I have represented people for most of my life. It will be a strange experience to leave here and, for the first time ever, go home to my wife every night. I do not know how I shall cope. It will be a strange experience for both of us, after 14 years.

You may have forgotten this, Mr Speaker, but you were the first person I met in the Smoking Room. I had been to London only three or four times before—the first time I visited the House, there were police officers outside, and I was starting to attack some of the people in here—and when I finally got into Parliament, I had no idea what the place was like. The election took place in June that year, 2001—as Members may recall, it was postponed because of the outbreak of foot and mouth—and Wimbledon was on. It was impossible to find a place to stay anywhere in London. Eventually, the then Member for East Lothian and I found a boarding house, and, Mr Speaker, you and a good colleague took us there because we did not even know where it was, or what form of transport to take.

You were probably the first Tory that I had ever met, Mr Speaker. It was the first time that I had come to a place and been looked after there by the Opposition. I have always had a soft spot for them for that reason.

It gives me great pleasure to follow a Member—Sir John Randall—who was a Deputy Chief Whip for the Opposition. My right hon. and good Friend Dame Anne McGuire was my Whip when I was first in the House. I learned very quickly—and I say this as a senior Whip—that you must mean what you say and say what you mean, because if you do not, the Whips will go after you. At the first sign of shuthering, they will pick on that. I have been a Whip for five years, and I love it.

What you learn very quickly is that you have to stand up for what you believe is right. That is something that anyone who enters Parliament should understand. We have had to make some difficult decisions in the past, and that includes the decisions that have been made during the last three parliamentary terms has been difficult. The decision on the Iraq war was one of the most difficult. I was on the side of the righteous and voted against the war, and I still believe that it was the right side.

Let me make a point about that, though. People talk about war crimes and the like, but it was this Parliament that made the decision. It was parliamentarians who made it. We can blame other people for things that have happened, but everyone had to stand up and make their own decisions then, and I congratulate the then Prime Minister on having allowed that. Nowadays, we would never think of going into a conflict without Parliament being consulted. We should stand up and take it on the chin when we make a mistake.

The other occasion on which I voted against the then Government was the debate on the 92-day detention period. That was one of the most difficult decisions that

I ever had to make, and I was criticised harshly for it in my own area. That was the only time I have ever been criticised by my own folk.

I am running out of time. Let me end by saying that I will miss this place, and I will miss the Whips Office. I believe that the Whips do a really good job, and the side of their job that no one sees is the compassionate side. When people are in trouble—