Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown pays tribute to Chesham and Amersham MP, Dame Cheryl Gillan who passed away on 4 April.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know the family will appreciate your words. As the House knows, Cheryl passed away on 4 April, courageously fighting against the odds with cheerfulness and bravery.
Cheryl, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), now a Deputy Speaker, and I came into the House together 29 years ago and became firm friends. I attended the funeral of her beloved husband Jack in 2019 and I was in touch with her throughout her illness. It is with enormous sadness that I am privileged to pay tribute to such a special person.
After several jobs in the Conservative Opposition years, Cheryl was appointed Secretary of State for Wales and was much respected for singing the Welsh national anthem in the Welsh language. After leaving Cabinet, as you said, Mr Speaker, she stepped up her opposition to HS2. There was not a debate or question in this House on the matter where she did not speak. After the House changed the rules, on 19 January this year, Cheryl was able to make her final speech, fittingly, on consideration of Lords amendments to the High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill. Despite her advancing illness, she was in her usual feisty form, denigrating the whole HS2 project. I know that the opportunity meant a huge amount to her. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to change the rules.
As you said, Cheryl campaigned alongside autistic people and their families for many years and successfully introduced the Autism Act 2009. She was also a champion for people with epilepsy, raising the profile of the condition throughout her parliamentary work. Cheryl rejoined the Public Accounts Committee after the 2019 election and many a permanent secretary feared the force of Cheryl’s direct and well-informed questions, but it was working with Cheryl on the 1922 executive, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), that I observed her real qualities. Her bright mind always enabled her to calmly put things into perspective and provide quiet, sensible and sound advice. She had a real sense of caring for people, particularly when they were in difficult or sad circumstances. She would always be there, offering them words of comfort.
In saying farewell to Cheryl—her family and friends, her constituents and staff—the whole House has lost one of its hardest working Members. She had an enormously generous heart. She was always prepared to have a kindly word for anyone in trouble. Above all, she was a fierce and effective defender of the interests of her constituents in Chesham and Amersham. People such as Cheryl, who enter politics for the very best of reasons, are rare indeed and she will be sorely missed.