Keir Starmer praises Diane Abbott and hails diverse Commons in first speech to parliament

Sir Keir Starmer and his cabinet took their seats on the Government frontbench for the first time for Labour in 14 years as parliament returned.

A new cohort of 643 MPs gathered on the green benches at 2.30pm to re-elect Speaker Lindsay Hoyle who is responsible for the House of Commons and the debates that take place in the chamber.

Sir Keir said his first words at the despatch box as prime minister, having secured the keys to No 10 Downing Street after last Thursday’s general election.

He said: “Mr Speaker-elect you preside over a new parliament, the most diverse parliament by race and gender this country has ever seen.

“And I’m proud of the part that my party has played, proud of the part that every party has played in that.

“Including, in this intake, the largest cohort of LGBT+ MPs of any parliament in the world.

He also paid tribute to the new Mother of the House, Diane Abbott, who was re-elected as Labour MP Hackney North and Stoke Newington, following a Labour row over her selection as the candidate.

He said she “has done so much in her career over so many years to fight for a parliament that truly represents modern Britain. We welcome her back to her place”.

Ms Abbott made her own tearful speech to parliament, where she warned the country was heading into “very tumultuous times”.

Diane Abbott has become Mother of the House (PA Wire)
Diane Abbott has become Mother of the House (PA Wire)

Meanwhile Sir Keir vowed to “put an end to a politics that has too often seemed self-serving and self-obsessed”.

In his first Commons speech as the country’s leader, he promised “to replace that politics of performance with the politics of service”.

“Because service is a precondition for hope and trust, and the need to restore trust should weigh heavily on every member here, new and returning alike,” he added.

“We all have a duty to show that politics can be a force for good.

“So whatever our political differences, it’s now time to turn the page, unite in a common endeavour of national renewal and make this parliament a parliament of service.”

Rishi Sunak has made his first speech to parliament as leader of the opposition.

Sunak spoke for the first time as leader of the opposition (Sky News)
Sunak spoke for the first time as leader of the opposition (Sky News)

He said: “Can I start by congratulating the prime minister on his election victory and as he takes on his formidable task, he and his family deserve the good wishes of all of us in this house?

“In our politics, we can argue vigorously, as the prime minister and I did over the past six weeks, but still respect each other, and whatever disputes we have in this parliament, I know that everyone in this house will not lose sight of the fact that we are all motivated by our desire to serve our constituents, our country and advance the principles that we honourably believe in.”

Mr Sunak described being an MP as the “greatest honour, privilege and responsibility” and added: “One of the great aspects of our system is no matter how high you rise, you still have that constituency which keeps you grounded.”

The 643 members each have to swear an oath before parliament’s state opening on Wednesday July 17, promising to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles, his heirs and successors, according to law”.

Sinn Fein which won seven seats across Northern Ireland, including two in Belfast, have a long-standing policy of abstentionism so do not take their seats in Westminster.

Before they elected the Speaker, Black Rod Sarah Clarke summoned MPs to the House of Lords.

She crossed through Central Lobby to fetch Father of the House Sir Edward Leigh, and walk him to the Lords, where a Royal Commission was read directing MPs to choose their speaker.

Sir Edward is the longest continuously serving MP, having had a seat in the Commons since 1983 – the year when Margaret Thatcher won a 144-seat majority and when Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown first became MPs.

He presided over the selection.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle put himself forward as Speaker, having served in the role since 2019 and contested the Chorley, Lancashire, without a party affiliation.

MPs decided he would stay on in the role.

MPs dragged him to the Speaker’s Chair to serve in the once-perilous role, seven speakers were executed by beheading between 1394 and 1535, according to parliamentary records.

Sir Lindsay thanked his colleagues.

Black Rod Sarah Clarke
Black Rod Sarah Clarke

Swearing in begins the same afternoon, led by the Speaker, Father of the House Sir Edward, then members of the Sir Keir’s cabinet and Mr Sunak’s shadow cabinet.

Lawmaking and debates in the House of Commons remain on hold until after the formal state opening of parliament, a ceremony at 11.25am next Wednesday, where the King will read a speech from the sovereign’s throne in the House of Lords, setting out the Government’s agenda.

While MPs wait for the Labour Government’s plans in full, opposition parties have already begun setting out their priorities.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has accused the Conservatives of leaving the NHS “at crisis point”.

His party has called for an emergency budget to pump more money into health and social care.

“Patients cannot wait any longer after years of Conservative chaos which has left NHS and social care services at crisis point,” Sir Ed said.

“As I travelled the country in recent weeks, I heard devastating stories of pensioners waiting hours for ambulances, young parents waiting weeks for a GP appointment, too many left with anxious waits for cancer care.

“We need an emergency health and social care budget to get the NHS back on its feet after the Conservative party brought it to its knees. Patients and their loved ones need to get the care and the fair deal that they deserve.

“New Liberal Democrat local champions will fight in Westminster to restore local health and care services after years of neglect.”

The Green Party has made a series of demands – among them to “settle a pay deal with junior doctors”, “prosecute major water companies” that discharge sewage into rivers and seas, develop a “local rail link plan”, “recognise the state of Palestine” and “introduce a natural history GCSE”.

Adrian Ramsay, the party’s co-leader, said: “These are not lofty ideals but practical actions that can be implemented quickly. They will have a real, positive impact on people’s lives and the environment.

“I am delighted that as we meet to enter parliament Labour have already committed to reversing the de facto ban on onshore wind. Now they must go further and faster still and make solar power mandatory on all suitable new build homes.

“They can, and they must do this in their first 100 days.”