When I was an MP, I represented a neighbouring constituency to the one Dennis represents. But I did not normally sit next to him in the Commons in case I looked as if I was trying to be his apprentice. I was, however, sat next to him on his 65th birthday when much to his embarrassment Betty Boothroyd as Speaker congratulated him. So I hope that I am not doing the same in a smaller way.
For a good number of years we both had offices off the same committee corridor. If I needed advice on how to tackle an issue, he was the best person to turn to. He is just the same today.
Happy birthday Dennis. I don't need to tell you to stick to your principles.
Clarification 12 February : My memory of what Betty said on 11 February 1997 is incorrect, although in response to a point of order related to Dennis being 65, she did briefly respond. It was, however, John Major as Prime Minister who took up the point. This is the Hansard record -
"The Prime Minister: I should like to wish the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) a very happy birthday. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] That is warmly echoed by my hon. Friends. Wrong though the hon. Gentleman has been on almost every issue during his long parliamentary career--in a minute, he is going to say that he is not 65 and I am fiddling the figures--I hope that he smiles before he is 66.
Mr. Skinner: Perhaps the Prime Minister would now deal with the real issues in Britain today. He has been in power since 1990. He has doubled the national debt, and the public sector borrowing requirement is now more than £25 billion. He is the Prime Minister who came from the belly of the banking establishment, even though he only swept the floors at Standard Chartered. He is the Prime Minister who, on Black Wednesday, 16 September 1992, along with his right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, lost this country £10 billion in an afternoon--and never went near a betting shop.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is becoming quite curmudgeonly in his retirement. The fact is that we have the lowest debt ratio of any of the larger economies in Europe. It is far lower than in 1979. [Interruption.] "Doubled it," shout the Opposition. If we had continued their policy, it would have more than quadrupled."