The job of Shadow Leader of the House is proving very worthwhile. There is great scope for making contributions on ANY subject. Tradition demands that the exchanges should have a strong element of humour and knockabout politics but serious points are also needed. Yesterday I spoke twice at the starts of Business Question and in conclusion of a series of final day debates.:Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.
It is a great pleasure to echo the words of the Leader of the House, particularly concerning Noeleen Delaney, who we all know as a valued friend, adviser and comforter over many, many years, and all the other members of staff who serve us so faithfully. After the recent days, we might consider accelerating progress on making this place a habitable accommodation for staff, many of whom have suffered severely in the recent heat, and perhaps we are thinking of following your example, Mr Speaker, of having less formal dress, which members of staff are forced to wear and which must be very uncomfortable at this time of the year.
It is right to note that we have lost the previous Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), now the Secretary of State for Transport. I regard it as a bit of a challenge—I have to pay tribute to his services, which were considerable over his period as Leader of the House. All these bouts of Question Time between Leader of the House and shadow Leader of the House have their own personality. We remember with fondness the number of questions that the previous Leader of the House answered; his answers were occasionally related to the questions asked. What we will miss is the rapier-like wit of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), striking against the steamroller solidity of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell.
It is, however, an undiluted pleasure to welcome the present Leader of the House, but I fear, as a long admirer of his, that his political career might not be on an upward trajectory in this appointment, because his career has been blighted by his solid devotion to the three R’s—rationality, restraint and reasonableness—which are not attributes that go well in his party at the moment. He was a splendid spokesman on European affairs, and the voice of sanity on so many issues, and I am sure that we look forward to his continuing with his restrained and mature performances at Question Time.
The right hon. Gentleman is also, I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the supreme champion on the television programme “University Challenge”. Not only did he win splendidly in his own time, but when he came back for a challenge of challenges, he was the supreme winner. It is great to know that he is doing this job from the platform of his own scholarship and knowledge. I believe that it is going to be a vintage year and a vintage period for a leadership of the House.
We have the Welsh Bill returning. It is a great shame that we did not get it right the first time. Welsh Bills are not just for St David’s day; they are for eternity, and we keep having them, and O that we had got it right the first time. I am afraid that when the first Welsh Bill was introduced in the ’90s, the attitude of this House to devolution reflected the fact that it was not then a popular cause; but although it is now universally accepted, devolution to Wales is still seen as a grudged gift—it is doled out in small parcels, a little bit at a time, and some is then pulled back. I hope that the generosity of the Government, in seemingly becoming completely converted to the idea of devolution, will be expressed in this Bill, with the support of all parties, and will help to serve the wellbeing of the people of Wales.
Baroness Altmann made a contribution this morning about her resignation, and I believe that all parties in the House should listen carefully to what she said. She gave as her reason for retiring that the parties—her party, which is the Conservative party, but this is also true of the Labour party—pay too much attention to their internal divisions, to the detriment of policy making. That is a very penetrating criticism of both the Conservative and the Labour party, which we would all do well to heed.
As we look forward to the new Session of Parliament, we should bear in mind the dreadful event that still casts a terrible shadow over this place. The family of Parliament was bereaved by the cowardly, brutal murder of one of our family members, Jo Cox, and the grief is still raw. We could do no better than ensure that our work here is illuminated and inspired by her thought: there are more things that unite us than divide us.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House. The Leader of the House is indeed perhaps our most illustrious egghead.
Mr Speaker, I am not sure how I respond to that compliment. I have felt, as a student of Elizabethan history, that the last three or four weeks have been the closest thing to living through one of the crises of the 16th-century Tudor court that any of us is likely to experience, and I suspect that events in British politics this year will have given Hilary Mantel ample material for her next trilogy.
I thank the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) for his warm welcome to me and for the deserved tribute that he paid to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who indeed did act as a champion of the House, not just in the Chamber, but in the many exchanges behind the scenes that fall to the Leader of the House. I, I hope on behalf of the House, wish him well in his new responsibilities.
Listening to the shadow Leader of the House, I felt that the three R’s he laid out before us—reasonableness, rationality and restraint—summed up our Prime Minister’s approach to Government and to politics. In fact he may have presented us with a motto for my right hon. Friend’s Administration and approach to Government.
The shadow Leader of the House is a man of undimmed ambition who has leapfrogged on to the Opposition Front Bench after so many years of parliamentary experience, and for whom two shadow Cabinet roles are just a bagatelle—something with which he can easily cope. I think his ambition should not be restrained, even now. I have been studying his remarks and I note that he said of the Leader of the Opposition that it is very difficult to see how he can unite the Labour party, and he said:
“We’re in the worst position we’ve been in the whole history of the…party”.
I think there is an embryonic leadership campaign there. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to disregard any taunts and to throw his hat into the ring while there is still time.
On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman made about the legacy of Jo Cox, the security risks that Members face need to be considered very carefully and action needs to be taken. Without going into details on the Floor of the House, I can say that there has been agreement among members of the House of Commons Commission that new measures should be taken. We will be able to go into further details very soon after the House returns in September.
Finally, I hope that Members of every political party would look to Jo Cox and see someone—whether we agreed or disagreed with her on a particular issue—who was motivated above all by a drive to improve the lot of the people whom she served in her constituency, nationally and globally. In that sense, I think there could be few finer examples for us to follow.
Summing up Adjournment debate.
It is heartening to end on a climactic point and to congratulate Mrs Fitzpatrick on her award. This has been a splendid debate. It is one of the joys of Parliament that we have a day on which we can discuss these matters. It is politics in miniature, as we discuss matters that are of protozoan importance nationally, but of vast, gigantic importance in our constituencies.
I have the pleasure of welcoming the new Deputy Leader of the House to his post. We have jousted together on the Home Affairs Committee, where his ferocious skills as an interrogator terrified witnesses, who were subject to a cross-examination that would be worthy of a mass murderer in the High Court. Many of them, when they left the Select Committee room, went out seeking the number of Samaritans or a trauma counsellor.
The hon. Gentleman has already reached the peak of his parliamentary career, which he cannot overtop. During our debate to congratulate Her Majesty earlier this year, he told an anecdote that will live long in the legends of this House. It concerned the vital matter of the positioning of a chain around the unicorn’s neck in the stained-glass window in Westminster Hall. This anecdote was described in The Daily Telegraph, by a writer who uses the traditional and admirable English gift for understatement, as
“the single most boring anecdote of all time.”
I ask you—where can he go with his career after that major achievement?
We have had a fascinating list of possible holiday destinations laid before us today. For anyone who is interested in yoga, Harrow is the place to go; it is the yoga paradise of the world. But they should watch out, because it is a hellhole for those who accumulate garden waste; it has the highest collection charges in the whole of the United Kingdom. We have heard about the joys of the Gillies in Stirling. Gillie is the Gaelic word for a servant, and we heard about the magnificent occasion when the Gillies came out and banged their saucepans and drums and convinced the English Army that reinforcements were on the way. We have heard about the joys of Bushy Park in the constituency of Twickenham, where, we were told, the airport should not be bigger but should be better. And for those with exotic tastes, there is a festival of engineering in Chippenham, which will set all our pulses racing.
A theme that ran through the debate was transport, and at least seven Members bemoaned the deficiencies of the privatised rail service. I commend to all of them a report on privatisation, published in this House in 1993 on the advent of privatisation, under the great parliamentarian Robert Adley—who tragically died on the Sunday before the Wednesday on which the report was published—which forecast in minute detail the problems that we are talking about today. Of course, Robert Adley was a great expert on railways, and I believe that is the supreme report of any published by a Select Committee in my time in the House. We are seeing the legacy now. The problems that we face spring from the difficulties of privatisation, rather than from any disputes that have taken place.
To his great credit, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) cleverly used the debate to point out that today the Government have published 29 reports, which cannot be scrutinised in the House. He brought attention to the very important increase in the level of fees, and ultimately loans, that students will suffer, and to the withdrawal of bursaries for student nurses. Those vital matters are the subject of just two of the 29 reports that have been published today—in order, presumably, to bury bad news.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made an impassioned plea on behalf of those who are suffering from Government policy on poverty. We often talk about the state of the economy generally, but she talked about what happens at the level of the family—the difficulties that they face. I think that we will all read her speech with great interest and learn a great deal from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) raised the crucial problem that worries us a great deal: the alienation of young people post Brexit. We realise that we have a legacy from the referendum and the deficiencies in our electoral system, for which we will pay a high price unless we tackle them with major reforms.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised, quite legitimately, the problems of the defence budget. Spending on conventional weapons is being delayed, while spending on the useless symbol of national virility has, sadly, been approved by this House.
I offer great congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan). I noticed from her maiden speech that she has the good luck to be married to a Welshman, which is rather like being upgraded on a plane. She made the very powerful point that what the Government are doing with their plans for the health service is trying to stretch the funding for a five-day health service over seven days. She pointed out that key weakness, and spoke about this matter with great knowledge and experience. Again, she is a great asset to this House, and I am sure she will have a great career. It is disappointing that the former Prime Minister’s forecast that she would be in the shadow Cabinet within a day has not been fulfilled, but perhaps it will come true during the next few weeks.
I thank everyone for what they have said today. I cannot go into all the details of what was raised, but I am sure this is Parliament at its very best—doing the work not on the great issues we pontificate about, but the bread and butter issues that concern our constituents. I believe all the issues raised will have the attentive ear of the new Leader of the House and his Deputy, and we look forward to instant results before we return in September.