Mark Harper delivered a classic car crash speech in the Commons on Friday 18th November. It did everything wrong-egotistical, meandering & vacuous. He persuaded the Speaker to call him first by claiming ill-health. In spite of a long list of MPs waiting to speak Mark Harper took 40 minutes to deliver his thoughts including his belief that the Speaker would recall his maiden speech. He did take interventions but also indulged in historic ramblings of no consequence.
This is a mercifully edited version of the speech's low lights. It scores very high on the 'I' "me" 'my' count. Below is also a model brief speech from Stephen Kinnock.
Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
Mr Speaker, you may feel, as I do, a slight sense of déjà vu. I declare an interest as the Minister in the coalition Government who, during the last Parliament, took through the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. I very much look forward to the speech of my successor but a few, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office. I will start with a bit of the context, but I will not try your patience by going on for too long with my opening remarks.
(PROMISE HE FAILED TO HONOUR)
I will make a little more progress, because I think Mr Speaker would want me to do so.
The first big change in the redistribution of seats was the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885. Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to know that I will mention it only tangentially, and for one reason. The Minister who steered the Act through this House was the then President of the Local Government Board, the hon. Member for Chelsea, Sir Charles Dilke. You might not be aware, Mr Speaker, but Sir Charles Dilke had some personal issues—to put it delicately—and then ceased to be the Member for Chelsea. He then had the enormous good fortune to become the Member for the Forest of Dean, my constituency.
(POINTLESS HISTORICAL PADDING OF NIL SIGNIFICANCE)
Sir Charles was, in some senses, more successful than me. First, in those days, constituencies apparently wrote to prospective Members inviting them to become Members of Parliament without some tough selection battle against others competing for the seat. You might remember, Mr Speaker, from my maiden speech, that Sir Charles Dilke, after getting elected and then re-elected, was fortunate, the third time he sought election, in being elected unopposed. I said in my maiden speech that that was a record worthy of emulation. I am afraid that I completely failed to be elected unopposed at the 2015 general election, but fortunately for me, despite my being opposed, I was indeed elected.
(POSSIBLY A FAILED ATTEMPT AT HUMOUR)
Order. I am sorry to advise the right hon. Gentleman that I do not have a verbatim recall of his maiden speech. It might greatly sadden him, but it has the advantage of being true. I gently say to him that I agreed to call him early in the debate because I was advised that he was suffering from a heavy cold and sore throat and was keen to speak sooner rather than later. From that, I deduced that he would not wish to exacerbate his malady by speaking at inordinate length. I feel confident both because of that and because at least 14 other Members wish to catch the eye of the Chair that before very long he might approach his peroration.
(RARE WARNING FROM AN IRRITATED SPEAKER THAT HARPER UNWISELY IGNORED)
That is very thoughtful of you, Mr Speaker, although I am surprised, knowing of your enormous powers of recall, that you do not have a verbatim account of my maiden speech in your head, but then, sadly, we were not blessed in 2005 with having you in the Chair; otherwise, I am sure that you would remember it. Taking your advice, Mr Speaker, I will not go on at length, but, for those who are interested and want to follow this issue at length, I refer to an interesting article in the Washington Post on 15 May 2014. Obviously, in the House we are not allowed to introduce written material or pictures, but the article referred to three districts, and the descriptions of them gave a sense of the interesting boundaries in America. Maryland’s 3rd is called the “Praying Mantis”; Pennsylvania’s 7th is called “Goofy kicking Donald Duck”; and Texas’s 35th is called the “UpsideDown Elephant”. The point is that we do not have gerrymandering in this country; we have independent boundary commissions following clear rules set out by Parliament, and they are specifically not allowed to take into account the partisan or party political effect of their decisions. I wanted to knock that argument on its head straightaway.....
I was the Minister who drew up the proposals and brought them before the House, and I do not recognise the provenance that the hon. Gentleman maintains.
Mr Kevan Jones
I am not sure what role the right hon. Gentleman played in drawing up the 2010 Conservative manifesto, but the boundaries legislation, as well as the attacks on trade unions and some of the other right-wing policies that came forward, such as stopping charities lobbying, came right from that playbook. I am sure he was not involved in that; he was just the poor Minister who had to implement it.
I certainly was not “the poor Minister”. I hugely enjoyed my role as Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform. I got to spend an enormous amount of time in the Chamber, with Mr Speaker frequently in the Chair, although I am not sure he enjoyed listening to the debates as much as I enjoyed speaking in them. “The data does not support the suggestion that using the later version of the register”,
I wonder how my right hon. Friend came up with that figure. If we as Members of Parliament will have more work to do and more areas to cover, we will presumably have more expenses. Could it be that the figure produced by my right hon. Friend is fictitious?
I will answer my hon. Friend’s question, but not at length, as I do not want to try your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We were informed by Mr Speaker earlier that the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) was called early because he apparently had a cold. May I suggest that if he is suffering—I am sure that he has the good will of the House if that is the case—it might benefit the rest of us if he went away and took his medication? If he does not genuinely have a cold, has he brought this House into disrepute by duping Mr Speaker?
(PROOF OF ANGER BY MPs WAITING THEIR TURNS TO SPEAK)
Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel)
That was obviously not a point of order, but I, too, heard Mr Speaker say to the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) that he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would come to the end of his speech quite rapidly. A great many other Members wish to speak. I appreciate how learned the right hon. Gentleman is and how personally involved in this issue he was, but I think that everyone would be very grateful if he brought his remarks to a conclusion.
Mr Kevan Jones
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Mr Speaker made very clear that the right hon. Gentleman had asked to be called early because, as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), he was suffering from a bad cold. Either that was not the case, or the right hon. Gentleman has discovered some miracle cure. If he has, could he share it with us?
I had moved on to dealing with the specific points in the Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me just tackle the last couple of points made by the hon. Member for North West Durham before I conclude my remark I served as the Minister responsible for these matters. I looked into the resourcing of boundary commissions, and had conversations with their secretariats about the work that was involved. I think that what is really at work here is a set of changes that would, in practice—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch put his finger on it—make a boundary review before the next general election impossible. This is a repetition of what the Labour party, along with the Liberal Democrats, did in the last Parliament. The aim is to push things out so that we can have a general election in 2020 based on boundaries that are 20 years out of date, on the basis of registers that do not effectively include people over the last two decades. I think that that would be an outrage.
I hope that the Bill is not given a Second Reading, but if it is, we shall want to amend many parts of this wide-ranging legislation in Committee to ensure that it does not make progress in its current form. If it were to do so, we would be ensuring that voters were not equally represented and their voices were not equally heard. I think that this is a very retrograde and bad Bill.
Later there was a model brief speech of two minutes by Stephen Kinnock - vivid language, terse and pointed.
Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)
Under the terms of the boundary review, Port Talbot, the town at the heart of my Aberavon constituency, would be cut in two, quite literally down the high street, and the steelworks would be cut off from the housing estate that was built for its workers. The clear and unified voice of Port Talbot and its people is being threatened by a Government who are determined to smash it apart.
Port Talbot and Aberavon have had a difficult 50 years, given the challenges faced by the steel industry, but we are starting to see the benefits of investment in our area. If we are to build on that and overcome the current uncertainty about the future of our steel economy, we must work to remain as one community and retain our unified political representation. That is why the Boundary Commission’s proposal is completely unacceptable. As much as iron needs oxygen to be transformed into steel, so our area needs unity if we are to build a future of security and opportunity.
Mr Jim Cunningham
Does my hon. Friend think that it is fair that some votes will not be counted because the Government have excluded nearly 2 million people from the register that was used in the referendum?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. This is a barefaced gerrymander on so many levels, one of which is the missing 2 million registered electors.
By running a dividing line through the heart of Port Talbot, the Boundary Commission’s proposal threatens to shatter the unified political representation that our communities so desperately need. Instead of pressing forward with this act of constitutional vandalism that will disfranchise and fracture communities, strip this House of its independent voice and compromise our ability to serve our constituents, let us stand up for the power of Parliament, fight for our communities and support this Bill.