Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming dissolution.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)
None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I call the Mother of the House.

12:44
Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
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This is my last speech. The House of Commons records show that I have spoken in this Chamber 9,880 times. [Hon. Members: “More!”] I have to say that, when you discover that the Prime Minister was only two years old when you were first elected, you realise it is time to move on. Every time I have spoken in this Chamber, I have had a profound sense of how important this House is, and what a great honour and privilege it is to be a Member of this Parliament. Through good times and bad, I have felt that great sense of privilege and responsibility to my constituents. The thing about being an MP is that you are your constituents’ one and only MP, and it is down to you to be standing up for them, speaking up for them, and on their side through thick and thin. I thank my constituents of Camberwell and Peckham for being on my side through thick and thin as well.

I pay tribute to all the staff I have worked with over the years. Even my brilliant members of staff cannot calculate how many times I have voted during those 42 years—many thousands of times—but I would say two things about that. First, for the first 15 years, between 1982 and 1997, I voted assiduously every night, sometimes even through the night, and did not win a single vote. Opposition is undoubtedly public service, but we would rather be in government, and I profoundly hope that the person who I hope will be elected as my successor to Camberwell and Peckham, Miatta Fahnbulleh—I think she will make a great contribution to the House—will sit on the Government Benches.

Secondly, I have never voted against the Whip. That is not because I cannot think for myself or because I am stupid or supine; nor is it because I think my party has always been perfect—far from it. Indeed, I fought for change from within my party, but I recognised that I was a Labour candidate. I was elected as a Labour Member of Parliament, and I have been proud to be that, proud to be one of the team of Labour Members in my constituency and all around the country—that great Labour family.

Towards the later years of my time in this House, I have had the great joy of working much more cross-party and of chairing Select Committees. I pay tribute to my colleagues on those Select Committees for the very important work that those Committees do. I also thank the House of Commons staff: the Clerks who do such excellent work, and all those who work in this House, whether that is the security people who keep us safe, the caterers or the cleaners, many of whom are my constituents. They are all part of our democracy, and we should be grateful for their work.

Latterly, it has been a joy and a pleasure to work with women from all sides of the House—I see some of the sisterhood sitting on the Conservative Back Benches. That has been a huge change for the better. Although it was as long as 42 years ago that I first came into this Chamber, I remember so well coming in—I was elected at a by-election—and standing at the Bar of the House. It was just ahead of Prime Minister’s questions. I remember looking at the serried ranks of men on all sides of the House, standing there in my red velvet maternity dress and feeling completely out of place. Of course, I was out of place in a House of Commons that was only 3% women and 97% men. To those people who look back through rose-tinted glasses with nostalgia and talk about the good old days in the House of Commons, I would say that the House is better now: it is more representative. The women who are in this House now—it is now 30%, up from 3%—also know that it is not that we are doing them a favour, letting them be here. They are a democratic imperative, to make this House of Commons representative. They need to have their voices heard; they will not be silenced. They are an essential part of a modern democracy.

People sometimes ask me, “What would you say to a young woman now, given all the difficulties, the threats, social media and so on? Would you really encourage her to go into politics?” I say, “Absolutely, yes. Although it is hard, if you feel that you can make a change—and you can—it is really important that you come into this House of Commons.” At times it has been hard for me, but I do not regret a single day of being here.

When I was first introduced to the House 42 years ago, my husband, Jack Dromey, was sitting up in the Public Gallery, beaming down his 100% support on me, as he always did. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Obviously he is not here today, but my three children are in the Public Gallery, beaming down their 100% support. I am so grateful to them for that.

In a few hours’ time, these Benches will be cleared and the House will fall silent until July. Then, they will be absolutely packed with new, freshly elected MPs from 650 constituencies across Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. Those Members of Parliament will hold our democracy in their hands; they will hold in their hands the future of our country. Now it is time for me to pass that responsibility on to them. So, no pressure.

12:51
Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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It is indeed a great pleasure to follow the speech of the Mother of the House, who has a longer record in this Chamber than I do. I pay tribute, in particular, to the way she has championed the cause of women in this place, and women’s issues more generally, throughout her time in the House. It has been a pleasure latterly—perhaps in our early days we did not work together quite so well—to champion those issues together.

While I am talking about women in this House, may I take this opportunity to say to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the Chairman of Ways and Means, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), what a pleasure it has been to have you both in that Chair, and to thank you for the good humour and kindness—but also firmness when necessary—with which you have dealt with our proceedings? I wish you both all the very best for the future.

I would like to give a few more thanks before coming to some remarks to be made before the Dissolution of Parliament. First, I want to thank my Maidenhead constituents, who at seven general elections over 27 years have elected me as their Member of Parliament. I have always put great store by the relationship between a Member of Parliament and their constituents, and I consider my Maidenhead constituents to be the best of British. They are hard-working, they are entrepreneurial and they are compassionate. In all my 27 years, I have been struck by the enormous effort that they have put into helping others and the voluntary work they do around the constituency. I have been delighted to represent this magnificent constituency. I will be the only Member of Parliament for the constituency, because I was the first and the boundaries are now changing, so there we are—that is my place in history.

I also thank my Maidenhead Conservative association, including all the officers over time and all the activists. We all know how those who deliver the leaflets, knock on the doors and raise the funds are an important part of our democracy and our politics. I also join the Mother of the House in thanking the House of Commons staff, both those who are seen and the many who are unseen and unheard. I thank in particular the police and security staff who keep us safe. It was brought home to us on the sad day of the Westminster Bridge attack, when PC Keith Palmer lost his life, that there are those who are willing to put themselves forward to ensure that we can be safe and that this Parliament and this part of our democracy can continue.

I would like to thank my staff in my office, of whom I have had a number over the years. Currently, they are Cameron Bradbury, Ryan Loveridge, Emma Willis and, in particular, Jenny Sharkey, who has been with me for 23 years, through all the thicks and thins of my time in Parliament. I say a huge thank you to them. Most members of the public do not realise the enormous job that the staff of Members of Parliament do, and the significance of their role, but we owe them a great debt.

My final thanks, before moving on to other comments, are to somebody I think I should describe as my best canvasser-in-chief—he is quite a good leaflet deliverer as well—who has been alongside me and supported me for every one of those 27 years in this place, and for my time standing beforehand and as a councillor in the London borough of Merton, who was also there when I was Prime Minister, in the evenings, when he had to make the beans on toast and pour the whisky when the day had not gone quite as well as I had expected. That, of course, is my husband Philip. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

It will be a great wrench to leave this place. I wanted to be a Conservative Member of Parliament from the age of about 12. I was always a Conservative; I have never been a member of another party. I have always been a Conservative in the room, and I will continue to be a Conservative in the room. Being in this place is a huge privilege, but it also brings with it significant responsibilities, and I want to take a serious moment to comment on some of those responsibilities.

Our responsibility, first of all, is to democracy. Democracy has raised living standards and led to the betterment of people in so many parts of the world. But sadly, democracy today, I fear, is under threat. While it is easy to answer the question, “What is the greatest threat to democracy?” by saying, “Well, an autocratic state like Russia or China,” actually, we should never forget the dangers to democracy from within. The most recent United Nations human development report showed that, for the first time ever, more than half the global population support leaders who may undermine democracy. There is polling evidence that an increasing proportion of young people do not think democracy is the way to run a Government.

We, in this mother of Parliaments, should do all that we can to show the value and importance of democracy, because it is democracy that enables people to have the freedom, to be the best they can be, and to do what they want to do, rather than what the state tells them they must do. So we have a real job, both politicians continuing in this House and politicians leaving, to ensure that we do everything we can to maintain democracy. Sadly, we saw in 2021, in the 6 January attack on the Capitol—that great bastion of democracy—that our democracy is actually more fragile than we had thought over the years. So I urge everybody to champion that cause.

This place is also important because it enables us to be a voice for the voiceless. Earlier this week I was able, as were a number of Members of the House, to attend the funeral of the late Frank Field. He was a man who spent his life in this place giving voice to the voiceless, ensuring that truth was told to power, and we should never shy from doing that. It is important, powerful as this place is, and powerful as they may feel they are, that MPs should always recognise there are those who do not have that power. MPs should be there for everybody and should give that voice to the voiceless. There has been work on a number of issues across the House to do just that over the years, and I am pleased to have been able to help in some of that work.

My final comment about responsibility is about the job of being a Member of Parliament. I think it is the best job in the world. Of course, it has its frustrations. It particularly has its frustrations when you are in government and people, on your own side, do not vote for your legislation. [Laughter.] Three times! But there we are. We get over these things, we carry on and we come back. But it is a really important job, and the key to it is to represent constituents. I worry—I have said this elsewhere, and I will say it here in this Chamber—that too many people in politics today think that it is about them, their ambitions, their careers, and not about the people they serve. Being a Member of Parliament is a public service. We are here to serve our country and our constituents.

I have enjoyed my time—although, as I have indicated, it has had its up and downs. I spent 13 years in opposition, and I say to all Members on the Conservative Benches: “You do not want to do that. Go out there and fight to ensure that a Conservative Government are re-elected.”

I wish all the very best to my successor in the new Maidenhead constituency, and to all those who return to this Chamber after the election. I ask only that they remember the importance of our democracy, that they can be a voice for the voiceless, and that their job here is not to advance themselves but to serve the people who elected them.

13:00
Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a great privilege to be able to speak today as the longest-serving Labour Member of Parliament. I made my maiden speech on 3 July 1979, and here we are heading for a 4 July general election. I have been here a darn long time—nearly always on the Back Benches, although, in the mists of time, I sat on the Front Bench for 11 years under various Labour leaders.

I have had the privilege of doing a range of jobs in this House. I have been thinking back in order to give advice to Harpreet Uppal, who will be the Labour candidate in Huddersfield and would be coming to this place for the first time. I was thinking this morning what advice I would give new Members, and it echoes some of the things said by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who has been a good friend of mine over the years. We can be friends across the political divide. She might remember that when she stood down as Prime Minister, I said, “Do not just disappear; stay on the Back Benches.” And she has done, because, as she had said, it is a wonderful thing to do.

I was so privileged to be elected in Huddersfield. I had had a hard time. The first seat I fought was Taunton, against Edward du Cann, and surprisingly I did not win—although I think I was the last Labour candidate to come second there. However, when I arrived in Parliament, I felt that I was representing the classic town—I cannot say the average town—of Britain.

I am an economist. I was at the London School of Economics with some very difficult people—one of whom is sitting right in front of me here. I learned to use the tools of the economist to assess the sort of job that I was going to do. The first thing that I did as a young Member of Parliament was to assess, as far as I could, the strengths and weaknesses of my constituency. Indeed, I raised some money to get Terence Conran to come to Huddersfield and assess the future of its once-vibrant manufacturing industry. We knew that there would be fewer manufacturing jobs, that the world was changing, and that, in order to maintain the high-quality, well-paid jobs that Huddersfield had had for 100 years, we had to have a diverse economy that did other things. One of the great things that his report said was, “Make sure that you expand that polytechnic into a university, because that is the future for the skills that this country needs.”

I had Sir John Major in my constituency recently, giving the Harold Wilson lecture. I reminded him that, thanks to him and Ken Clarke, another old friend of mine, Huddersfield transcended from having a polytechnic to having a university, which is absolutely crucial. I think all Members are aware of just how vital universities are in the towns and cities of our country. Indeed, the only partially political thing I will say today is that we urgently need to address the threat to the long-term stability of the higher education sector in our country. When I chaired the Select Committee on Education and Skills, we produced a very good report on the challenges for higher education worldwide. It became clear that we have to invest in the future of our universities and ensure that they have the diverse income streams they need be viable. We are at a critical point. It is now for all parties to assess that and do something radical about it, because it is so important.

I want to refer also to the role of a Member of Parliament in Parliament. Let us get the message out more, as the former Prime Minister did, about what a wonderful job this is. I am well known on these Benches as a bit of a troublemaker—the Speaker and Deputy Speakers sometimes have a really interesting expression on their faces when they are not quite sure what I am going to say on a particular topic. After my 10 years as a Select Committee Chair, I decided that I would just do Parliament—that I would be here, raise the issues and campaign. Much of the success that I have achieved has come not from just doing the party political job.

The House might not know that, as a young university teacher, I was involved in a head-on crash as I was coming back from our second daughter’s baptism, when someone on wrong side of the road drove into our family car. I thought at one stage that my wife was dead, but she actually was unconscious, and we all survived—the children, myself and my wife. When I got into this House, I was determined to make sure that wearing a seat belt would become the law of the land. It had been defeated 13 times, but we worked together on an all-party basis. My only successful private Member’s Bill was one that banned children from being carried in the front seat of a car without a restraint. Ken Clarke more or less helped me with that, although I think only on the basis that I would stop pushing for mandatory seatbelts.

It was a difficult job. As many people know, back in the day, Margaret Thatcher was against it and Michael Foot was against it, and the Whips would try to stop it happening. We had to bounce the legislation out of the House of Lords at a critical time, the night before the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. Because of the public holiday, a lot of people thought, “What a lovely weekend. We’ll get away on Thursday and we won’t have to come back till Tuesday,” so we hid our all-party troops all over the House, and when the Lords amendment came back down here, we managed to get seatbelts.

A wonderful friend of mine in the World Health Organisation said the nicest thing that anyone has ever said about me, at a conference three years ago, just before covid: “Barry Sherman, with his obsessive interest in transport safety, has probably saved more lives worldwide than any other politician on the planet.” That is rather nice—I do not believe it, but it is nice that it was said.

There was a time where people said that all-party groups were dangerous or disreputable. Some of the best things that I have done in this House have been on a cross-party basis: campaigning on the environment, campaigning for educational change and campaigning for clean water—all the things that we are passionate about. I spent my life as a social entrepreneur looking for people who want to do a little conspiracy—not 36 barrels of gunpowder in the basement but a conspiracy to do something that needs doing. The only criteria I used, and still use, were to attract people with experience, knowledge, passion and courage. We can do that on an all-party basis, and we have. I hope more of that will happen in future, because it is essential to this House that we identify what needs to be done and use those sorts of little plots and plans to make things happen.

We also need to involve people from outside—I am looking at the Chairman of the Justice Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) when I say that, because when we started looking at miscarriages of justice, we found there was a whole world of senior King’s counsel, probation workers and others who wanted to work with us to do something about the real inadequacies of the justice system. The hon. and learned Gentleman and I have become friends over the years, campaigning on a number of things in the justice sector.

By representing a constituency, we learn so much about its problems. If we are doing our job, year in and year out, we learn about child poverty, unemployment and employment. We learn what is happening in the economy. By looking at our constituency, we can see what the need will be not just tomorrow and the next day but over the next five or 10 years.

I sometimes get irritable, and I do not want to criticise too many people who are or have been Members of this House, but people waft in here and have a go at being a Minister or shadow Minister. They think, “I have done that,” and off they go to do something else. I do not believe that is the right spirit. Being a parliamentarian is a sacred trust. Once a person is elected, they have a sacred trust and responsibility to the people who live in their constituency, and they should make them their priority. Members should not try to become famous or try to find a nice little niche somewhere. Their primary responsibility is to their constituency and its future welfare. I am sure that Harpreet Uppal, who will very likely replace me on 4 July, will carry that standard.

I will now say something about the bigger issues. Like my fellow Members who attended the London School of Economics, I have always sought “to know the causes of things”, which is the LSE’s motto. Why is this happening? What has changed socioeconomically?

I have been in the House when really good things have happened and when absolutely disastrous things have happened. I am a totally committed European, but I have not always been. When I was a very young candidate for a council in south Wales, somebody asked me to speak to the local women’s Labour party because the local Labour MP was much too enthusiastic about Europe, and I spoke against Europe. And then I grew up. I saw the huge benefits of being linked with Europe, both for our common defence and for the future of our economy.

My constituency has a high level of exports in top-quality fashion, womenswear and menswear, and top-quality engineering. Everything top quality in Huddersfield depends on the export market, and we have had some very severe cutbacks since we left the European Union. Huddersfield is like everywhere else. Two of the Kirklees constituencies just voted to remain, and two constituencies just voted to leave—the picture was very mixed.

I finish by saying that not only should we all be looking to our constituencies, listening to the voices of our constituents and campaigning, but we should not get too depressed about life. Many Conservative MPs are desperately envious of me, because I was taught at the London School of Economics by Michael Oakeshott, who some people regard as one of the greatest conservative philosophers. I did not only his history of ideas course, but his special subject: for two years, a group of eight of us studied Machiavelli—what a privilege. Because I was interested in the history of ideas, I used to lecture on the subject, and I was always absolutely struck by the work of Thomas Malthus, who was the rector at Bath. He wrote the theory of population, which held that so many people were breeding so quickly that the country would not be able to feed its people, suggesting that it was the end of the civilised world. As I lecture on Malthus, I think about the present concern with global warming and climate change, which is the existential challenge that we all face.

I want to end on this note: I am an optimist. Malthus was wrong, because he underestimated how clever human beings are. We revolutionised agricultural production with the crop rotation system. We developed fertilisers. We invented not only canals, but railways. We transported goods and people. We changed the whole basis of the Malthusian project. Today, there is the existential challenge of climate change and global warming—it is going to happen. I recently helped to launch “Here Comes the Sun”, a book on this issue by Professor Steve Jones, and the fact of the matter is that that challenge is coming, but we humans are clever. Through our universities, businesses and Members of Parliament, we will get the answers so that our planet does not start to fry and life does not end. That is my message today.

It has been a privilege and an honour to be here. I have wonderful staff in Yorkshire and wonderful staff here. I have given hundreds of young people the chance to get into politics through all the internship programmes that we have had with the LSE, Cornell University and so on. Thank goodness that I have had the chance to be here all these years. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker; thank you, fellow parliamentarians. I love you all.

13:17
Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con)
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We do not have time for me to share all my anecdotes about my experiences during my 19 years of being a Member of Parliament. I could tell the House about my trip to Iran with Jeremy Corbyn and Jack Straw, which was like something out of Monty Python—I turned out to be the most pro-European of the three, and it was a certainly an extraordinary experience—or about the touching and important time when, as the Security Minister, I joined the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) on a visit to a mosque in her constituency. She has campaigned against antisemitism for years and years, and she has represented the very best of Labour’s position on Jewish communities and the Jewish members of her party for many decades. As an MP, those kinds of things touch you and go with you in your memories.

I would first like to thank my family. The people who make the real sacrifices for us to be in this House are not us; they are the wives, the husbands and the children, who put up with bullying, separation and all sorts of concerns. In today’s world of social media, they put up with hate as well. Without them, none of us could be here at all.

I will mention the staff in my office. I am very privileged that Zoe Dommett has worked for me since three weeks after the day I was elected 19 years ago. Some of us have colleagues who seem to get through staff like a rotating barrel but, luckily, Zoe, Alf Clempson, Susan Hunt and Una Frost have worked for me for many years. Alf Clempson was my sergeant in the Army, and he is still working for me today.

I turn to the staff of the House. Without the Clerks, the waitresses, the maitre d’s and the Doorkeepers, none of us would be able to our jobs. Long after the debates have got interesting, they still have to hang around this House when many of us can go home or elsewhere. They are absolutely key. They do everything for all of us, without judgment or party political bias, and, in my experience, they are never anything other than polite and supportive. I thank them all the way.

I was going to list all my civil servants—not all 240,000 from the Ministry of Defence. I have been very privileged in this House to serve in government and to govern. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for giving me the chance to be her Security Minister. Our job is to represent all our constituents, but it is to govern on their behalf as well. That is a true privilege and it is also luck.

I used to see colleagues who would think it was their right to govern and that only they were the special people. We are chosen by Whips and Prime Ministers, often at random, but we are not special, not “the one” and should never take it personally. We may have months or years—although, let us face it, in the past few years in this Government, it could be weeks. I felt incredibly lucky to govern on behalf of my constituents and the constituents of this Government, alongside the team that is the Government—that is what it is: a team. I never voted against the Government—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] There are the Whips. Luckily, the smoking ban legislation never made it or I might have been voting against that part of the Bill, so my unblemished record will remain.

It is a team; we should not forget that what allows us to govern are our civil servants—hundreds of them. My private offices and my private secretaries put in hours and hours, unknown, unnamed and often blamed by some colleagues and the media for things not going right. If it does not go right in government, it is because the Minister is not governing right, is not a good Minister, is not doing the extra hours needed, is not making themselves clear and is not taking an interest in how they govern. We govern not just by brand, declaration and policies; Ministers govern by using process, the right people and policies, and by communicating. Those who are good govern across the House as well.

The House was at its best during discussions about Ukraine. It was at its best when I worked with colleagues in all parties, including the then leader of the Scottish National party at Westminster, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), and when I could sit down and talk to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) about secrets and threats to our constituents. It was at its best when we had a Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, who knew security, and took the hours and days needed to read the intelligence and treat it with the severity it needs.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
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The right hon. Gentleman is making an outstanding speech. I thank him for the role he played as Defence Secretary and the courtesy he showed to Members across the House, including the Leader of the Opposition, the then leader of the Liberal Democrats and myself. He was gracious enough to ensure we were briefed on a bi-weekly basis, because there are times when the House must come together over matters of national security. What an example the right hon. Gentleman set, and I thank him for the role he played during that time.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear.

Ben Wallace Portrait Mr Wallace
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One of the lessons I learned when I was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999—it was a bit like being behind enemy lines for a Conservative; there were 13 of us out of 123—was that it was a surprise who was nice or helpful. I remember Dennis Canavan, a former Member of this House, who never quite made it past the Tony Blair vetting system to be a Labour Member in the Scottish Parliament, and who was hard-left in definition, was extremely supportive and kind to me as a new Member of Parliament. Members never know where they might get support, and they should be open to it. It is amazing how people’s politics are often separate to their kindness or their need for support for what they want to do.

We are all in this House to do the best job for our constituents, who are the people I would like to thank finally: my constituents in Lancaster and Wyre and then in Wyre and Preston North. I won a seat in 2005 and I won in opposition. I remember sitting in the Cabinet of Liz Truss and realising I was the only member of the Cabinet who had been in opposition. When I stood down last September, I was the last Minister appointed by David Cameron who had continued to be a Minister throughout. I have served five Prime Ministers, which I think is a record, although probably self-inflicted by the Conservative party. Nevertheless, to serve five Prime Ministers as a Minister uninterrupted is not only an experience but shows the times of change we are living in.

I do not think any party is going to be insulated from those types of changes. Our public, our discourse, our media and the social media pressures are changing our society and not for the better. People are not wanting to take time in making decisions; people are trying to do things at a rush. There is a lack of stability in our society, there is disinformation, there is division, there is aggression, and I fear very much, as someone who has studied the threat every day for seven and a half years both as a Security Minister and a Defence Minister, that we are moving into a period where the world is less stable, less secure and more anxious—and that is also the case here at home on these beautiful shores. It saddens me, because as a young man and indeed as Defence Secretary I often or sometimes would have to inflict violence on behalf of the state to defend others. It is no easy thing to do and we should never celebrate it, but we have to do it to keep ourselves safe. Yet I always think of the victims or the consequences of those actions that we take.

People do not realise that the sole authority in Government for the use of lethal force lies with the Secretary of State for Defence and that it can be vetoed by a Prime Minister. They are the only two who in the end make decisions that often affect people’s lives and deaths and that send people into harm’s way on behalf of the state. That is a very important responsibility and I know that whoever, from whichever party, does that job next will be well supported by the men and women of the armed forces and the civil servants and the security services, who absolutely put sacrifice and duty first and should be an inspiration to us all.

At Sandhurst I was taught the motto “Serve to lead”: that the way we lead people, whether our troops or the public, is to give up ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves for their service, and that means sacrificing our ego and sometimes our ambition and, sadly, sometimes costs our private life as well. Ultimately, if we in this House do not realise that duty and service are how we serve this country, I do not know who else will. We must maintain those standards and maintain that principle for eternity, because as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead said, across the world people are not believing in democracy or the rule of law, and people look to Britain. When going around the world as Defence Secretary or Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary or representing the Opposition, we learn that people look to Britain still for tolerance, for democracy, for the rule of law. We must recognise that that is part of our DNA and our core.

I am sad that we will have another general election, although of course that is the nature of this wonderful democracy. It will be my sixth general election, but I will not be fighting it, and I know that across this House many of our colleagues of different parties will lose their seats through no fault of their own. They will have done everything in their time here: they will have served their constituents, sacrificing family time; they will have done their very best. They will have tried to answer the email from the impossible constituent, they will have put up with threats, and they will lose their seat because on polling day someone will decide they do not like their Prime Minister or their leader, and that is the way of things. People should not take it personally, and I say to colleagues present who may not return to this House that, in my experience, “If the boundaries don’t get you, the electorate one day will. Don’t take it personally—you are loved by all of us and you will remain so.”

So, Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you: thank you to this House, which I used to dream about joining when I was a young boy at school. Politics was the only A-level I actually enjoyed; I was inspired by a teacher. I got a D in it I am afraid to say; my children laugh at that whenever I tell them. Nevertheless, politics is about people and when we forget that we are in trouble and the worse for it.

The final thing I would say as an election is approaching—we are almost already in it—is that I always tried to make sure that defence was a core part of Government, not a discretionary spend stuck on the end. We hear, in all parts of the House, lines such as “Defence does not win elections.” Well, it can lose them. I live in the north-west of England and I am not trying to be party political, but loyal, patriotic Labour voters rejected the Labour party in 2019 because they felt that the leader at that time did not care about defence and about them. Defence matters. It is not an add-on after health and education.

When we come to writing our manifestos, let us please include investment in defence. Let us ensure that it is core, and let us not allow leaders to say things like “when economic conditions allow”. We do not say that about health, and we do not say it about education. Having read so much intelligence for so many years, I am frightened to think that by the end of this decade, if our armed forces and our security services are not match-fit for the threat that is coming our way, we will have only ourselves to blame. It is our children who might have to go and fight for us, and they deserve to be as protected as possible, with the best equipment and the best allies.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. Before I hand over the Chair to Nigel Evans, I hope the House will forgive me if I indulge myself slightly by taking this last opportunity to thank everyone for the kind remarks that have been made over the past day or so about my stepping down.

I was deeply touched by what Mr Speaker said this morning, and I thank him for all the support he has given me over the years, as well as my fellow Deputy Speakers. It has meant so much. We have had some difficult times in this Parliament, and Mr Speaker’s leadership and that of his team have essentially got us through it. Despite those pressures, however, we have managed to have quite a lot of fun and laughs, and it has been a great team to be part of.

It has been a privilege to be in this Chair and to witness at first hand the work that Members of this House do on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of the country. Yes, it can get a bit argumentative, and yes, it can get rather passionate sometimes—as I witnessed recently myself—but that is the price of our democracy, and, as others have said, we are lucky to have it. I am proud to have been able, as Deputy Speaker, to play a part in that.

I also want to thank, once again, all the staff of the House for—as others have said—making the House work so effectively. I thank the excellent Clerks for their wise and calm advice, and, of course, I thank the utterly magnificent Doorkeepers who look after us all so well. This really is water in my glass, by the way; it is not gin and tonic, as someone suggested to me yesterday.

Like others, I have been extremely lucky to have had a brilliant team in my constituency office, and excellent advisers here in Parliament. I have also been very lucky with my local Labour party, whose members have worked so hard and so diligently over the years. I wish all right hon. and hon. Members well for the future, whether or not they are standing for election again. Finally, I want to thank the people of Doncaster: I have been honoured to serve as their representative in Parliament for 27 wonderful years.

13:34
Margaret Hodge Portrait Dame Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab)
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Let me start by thanking you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have been the fairest, most tolerant, most patient and most wonderful Deputy Speaker—as, indeed, have the others—and I think we should all thank you for the calm and disciplined manner in which you have conducted what have sometimes been very difficult debates.

I also acknowledge the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) for being incredibly kind to all hon. Members when he was Security Minister and we faced challenges. I was always astounded by the amount of time that he was willing to spend with us individually to support us through those difficult times. I hope that he carries on being a strong voice, in a different capacity, to ensure that we do the most important thing that we can do as a Government, which is defend the British people.

I acknowledge the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who is no longer in her place. She and I were both candidates in Barking in 1994. I beat her, but I have a wonderful video of us both, she as Essex girl, me as rather harassed mum. She quickly transformed herself from Essex girl to Maidenhead woman, and then had an incredibly successful career here. I thank her.

I made my maiden speech from this position. I remember it well; I was absolutely petrified that I was going to stutter, but I got through it. My husband and four children were here watching me. I did the usual thing of sitting down and listening to a couple of speeches, then we all went to have a cup of tea and some scones. I came back for the wind-ups and sat up in the corner. Suddenly, I heard the mighty voice of Betty Boothroyd admonishing me for having sat in the wrong place, because I did not have a clue that the protocols of the House meant that we had to sit where we had given our speech when we came back for the wind-ups. I felt really told off, but I realised that that was the role of the Speaker.

Another early experience that I must share with the House reflects the challenges that many hon. Members face in balancing our responsibilities as Members of the House and our roles as parents and carers at home. It happened early in my career, when Tony Blair had just been elected as leader of the Labour party. I knew that if I sat behind him at Prime Minister’s questions, the good burghers of Barking would think that I was really working hard. To do that, I had to bag my place about half an hour before it started, so I sat down feeling pleased with myself and waited for it to start.

In those days—this is so long ago—we did not have phones but pagers, and as PMQs started and Tony made his first contribution, my pager suddenly went off. It was my 15-year-old daughter saying, “Mum, ring home. Emergency.” She was supposed to be revising for her GCSEs, so I thought, “Goodness, has the house caught fire? Is she going to tell me she’s pregnant?” I had no idea what it was. I gave up the seat, rushed outside, picked up the phone and said, “What is it, Anna? What’s happened?” She said, “Oh nothing, Mum. I just wanted to see whether you had your pager on silent.”

That may be enough of the funny reflections, but perhaps I will mention one more—the time that my dental bridge fell out as I was giving an impassioned speech on transparency in British tax havens. I suddenly thought, “What on earth’s happened?” I was rescued by my true friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), to whom I will always be indebted. She immediately intervened, which meant that I could sit down and sort my mouth out before getting up to continue my contribution.

As other hon. Members have, I want to thank everybody. I thank all the staff in Westminster who make our lives easier, safer and more effective. It is only now that I am about to leave this place that I realise how well we have all been looked after by everybody here. From those who keep our rooms tidy and clean, to those who provide endless food and drink, keep us safe, support us in Committees and the Chamber, make sure that we stick by the rules and record the words that we speak, we have the most brilliant team of people, who put up with a lot, on whom we are all very dependent, and to whom I express my heartfelt gratitude and thanks.

I thank, too, all the staff who have served me. I have not managed to hang on to anybody for 30 years, but I have had endlessly wonderful staff supporting me, both here in Westminster and in the constituency—and of course I thank all my constituents in Barking, whom I love deeply, and the party that has supported me down the years.

I also want to thank the very many Members of this House, both in my party and across the Chamber, from all the political tribes, who have shown friendship down the years and displayed willingness to work together across the House to achieve changes that we all believe will make Britian a better country. So often, politics is portrayed as poisoned, polarised, personal and painful, and sometimes it is, but the best work we do in this Chamber, in Select Committees and through all-party parliamentary groups happens when we come together and find consensus, and when a shared ambition and approach bring us to a collective solution that we can all support. When we work together, we achieve much more lasting changes that really will make the world a better place.

As I leave this position, I would like to share one reflection with the House. We are living through a period of increased and increasing mistrust of politics and politicians. When I first became an MP, I was always really proud to tell people I met that I was an MP. For me it was not a job, but a vocation. I am sure that many of us in the Chamber share that feeling. Like most people who seek election, I just wanted to play my little part in making the world a better place, and in equalising life chances in every community, but things have changed in the last few years. I do not know whether others feel the same, but now I often feel that I have to apologise to people for being an MP. We are too often distrusted as a group, and our efforts are ridiculed and mocked.

It is not that people are apathetic about politics. It is that they are angry about politics. They feel that we do not listen, that we exist in our own bubble here in Westminster, that we are in it just for ourselves, that we put party before country, and that we put self-interest before our constituents’ interests. That may not be true, but that is what people feel. We all know here that politics really does matter. It matters a lot. It matters in every family and every community. I know that; we all know that. From my very first campaign as an MP, to change the rules governing the prescribing of a particular painkiller whose side-effects had a life-changing impact on a constituent, to the recent campaigning I have done for smarter regulation to turn the tide on dirty money, politics matters. What we decide here can make a difference. My fear is that the anger that people feel will turn to apathy, and people will not use their democratic right to vote in the general election. A low turnout could well be the main headline from this coming election.

Of course we need to clean up politics and stop the abuse that has become too commonplace in too many ways, from Ministers not abiding by the Nolan principles to money—too often dirty money—buying access, peerages, honours and contracts. We must also go back to our basics: the basics of listening to our constituents, responding to their needs and not ours, and reflecting their priorities in the work that we do here. I hope that the next group of Members of Parliament, when they are elected on 4 July, will take all that really seriously, and see rebuilding trust in politics and democracy as a prime objective that they have to meet during the next Parliament.

Leaving is bittersweet. I have already signed up to piano lessons, and I am hoping to spend a bit more time with my too many grandchildren, who have not seen enough of me, but I also know that this has been the privilege of my life. Being a Member of Parliament, meeting and mixing with so many talented, generous, warm, committed and principled people, has been a pleasure, a joy and a privilege. I will miss it like mad, but I wish everybody really well.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Margaret. We will miss you like mad, too. We love you.

13:45
Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con)
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I was not expecting to speak today, as I did not know there was a slot today for valedictory speeches. During yesterday’s statement, I spoke about the importance of the NHS, and said that that would be the end of my contributions, but I saw Mr Speaker last night, and he explained that some time would be given over to valedictory speeches today. Having had the Conservative Whip restored this week, I am delighted to say that many, many colleagues have said, “You should say something and reflect.”

I start by saying what an honour it is to follow the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who taught me an enormous amount when I was a new Member of Parliament and I served on her Public Accounts Committee. It was our Public Accounts Committee in theory, but as she was Chair, it was very much her PAC. I undertook to read every word of every draft report, because she was brilliant at occasionally —[Interruption.] She is laughing, which I take as an admission of guilt; she knows what I am going to say. She would occasionally stick in a sentence that put the boot into the Government, but she would put it on about page 29, hoping that nobody else in the Committee would notice. I took it upon myself to read the detail, and I learned that from her.

I have, of course, found serving in this House to be the privilege of my life—I am sure we all feel that. I agree strongly with the words of the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and the former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), about the importance and value of public service. Politics, no matter how difficult it can be, is public service, because in a democracy it is the only way to translate the will of the people into the governance of the nation. We are the channels through which that should happen, and I want to thank some people who have helped make it happen for me.

I want to thank the people who got me into politics in the first place, particularly Dr Michael Hart, who is also the man who spotted my dyslexia, and Nick St Aubyn, the man who suffered most from my dyslexia. I was his agent in the 2001 general election, when he was the Member for Guildford. Let me retell a terrible story. He had written his election address and I had put it into a very early version of PowerPoint. He had written this lovely phrase, “I want to unite the community”. I thought it was great, so I put it into the headline. It was only when 42,000 copies of the election address had been delivered that he picked a copy up from his doormat and said, “Matt, why have your written, ‘I want to untie the community’?” He took it very well, but unfortunately he lost the seat, and I did not speak about my dyslexia for 20 years after that because of the shame it brought me. He also forgave me, which was a truly heroic act.

I thank my staff here, particularly Helen Dudley, who retired a few years ago, and Elizabeth Hitchcock. I thank the countless others who have supported me in my office here in Parliament, but those two have always held the thing together. Especially in times in government, when it is hard to give as much time as one would want to one’s constituency duties, they really have taken action. Both of them were preferred to me in West Suffolk and did a much better job than I could have done. I thank all the civil servants with whom I served and worked so closely, but I also want to put in a word for special advisers. Let me give one short story about why special advisers are such a valuable and important part of our political system. In the pandemic, Members might remember that during the vaccination programme there was an interval—a gap—between two doses of the vaccine being given. I cannot remember how long it was—it might have been 12 weeks. One of my political special advisers spotted a tweet from an American statistician saying that, because the first vaccine had a much greater impact than the second, if we reduced the number of weeks between the first and the second being given, we would save many lives. He spotted the tweet and brought it to me. I took it to the clinical leads, Professor Whitty and Professor Van-Tam, who ran the maths and verified it. We spoke to the regulators and, despite this being novel, within nine days the information spotted in a tweet by an American statistician became Government policy, announced here, and that was followed throughout the world. That alone is calculated to have saved 10,000 lives in the UK.

There are many more staff I would like to thank, including my three agents in West Suffolk over the years: Dorothy Whittaker, Lance Stanbury and Bobby Bennett. And, like the former Defence Secretary, I also thank my family, in particular my children, because the impact of the scrutiny of politics, especially when people make mistakes, has a huge impact on them, and they have put up with a lot.

It is in the nature of politics that people do not see what a team effort it is. Many people have said that today. What will I miss most? The single unambiguous answer to that question is that I will miss colleagues the most. In difficult times, the support of colleagues, both on this and the other side of the House, has been incredibly powerful. I will also miss the opportunity to contribute to national debates. The single vote that I regret not having taken part in is that on assisted dying, which surely will come and which I have come to support very passionately.

Politics is also noisier and harder than it was 14 years ago, when I first came to Parliament. The nature of social media has made it more difficult, and the nature of the world has, sadly, made it more dangerous. Even through this, one of the things that I have tried to promote is the power of technology as a force for good. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and I have campaigned on that together over the years. Yes, we must ensure that technology is harnessed for the benefit of humanity, but by God, we must make sure that harness it we do. We cannot stand in the way, and the UK is at its best when we are at the forefront and when we harness the power of modern technology. My prediction is that, over the next 14 years, the impact will be far greater not just on the economy but on society and politics than it has been even over the past 14 years. We are living through the slowest rate of change of our lives. It is only going to get faster, and I hope that this place is ready for that.

I cannot finish without a word on the NHS and the role it plays in our national life. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead asked me to be Health Secretary she said, “We need to improve the tech in the health service. Could you do that?” For 18 months, I thoroughly enjoyed myself trying to improve the tech in the health service. Then, of course, the pandemic struck. For one last time I want to say thank you to all of those who rose to the occasion and did so much to get us through, delivering the necessary safety measures, including the shielding programme, which is not mentioned as much as it should be, protecting those who were most vulnerable. And, of course, the vaccine programme was without doubt one of the country’s finest achievements in peacetime. I want to thank the colleagues with whom I worked incredibly closely and who helped make that happen; some of them were heroes of the pandemic too. 

I leave by saying this. I think it is impossible for a political party—those aspiring to govern—to win without some of those lodestars. It is impossible and wrong to win without being on the side of the future and trying to represent the youth of our country who are coming through. They may see things differently from how we do; I say that even as a 45-year-old. It is impossible to win or to deserve to win without a true love of the NHS. I am proud to serve a Prime Minister who is from an NHS family. That true love is important because the people believe it and it is true.

Finally, it is impossible to win unless we truly want to serve our country. I believe that everybody comes into this place wanting to make their country a better place. I have tried my hardest to do that for 14 years—to reach out, to try to do things differently and to try to embrace the future. It has been a honour and a privilege, and I thank you.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Matt, and thank you NHS.

13:56
Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
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It is a real privilege to speak in this debate and listen to all the reflective speeches from right hon. and hon. Members right across the House. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). I do not know whether he recalls the engagement we used to have when he was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I actually regret that he moved on to the health portfolio because at the time we had had an important meeting about support for Gaelic broadcasting. He was generous in recognising the strength of the argument that I had put about increasing that support. What happened? He left, and the moment was gone.

I cannot help reflecting on my engagement with another Government Minister, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), when he was the Secretary of State responsible for agriculture. We were having some debates about support for Scottish agriculture. It was a typical, feisty Scottish debate. There was a lot of passion, and perhaps some surprise among the officials in the room. But it ended up with the right hon. Gentleman asking me to come with him to the Treasury to make the case. I thought, “Hang on! You’re the Government Minister—you’re supposed to be doing this.” But I am glad to say that in that case we were successful in getting the convergence uplift money to Scottish crofters and farmers. That is a good indication of when this House is at its best—when Members of Parliament across the House can come together and we can achieve decisions for the benefit of our constituents.

It is an honour and privilege for every Member to serve in this House, but for me there is something particular about representing a remote and rural constituency—the largest in the United Kingdom: at 12,000 square kilometres, it is the same size as Northern Ireland. Engaging with constituents is so important. My one regret about the election coming this early is that I have had to postpone my summer surgery tour. Those who know the west highlands—I can see smiling around the Chamber—will be aware that that is a three-week tour, visiting many islands: 32 different places to hold constituency surgeries. I spent yesterday unravelling all my plans for that, and I wish my successor every success.

My last constituency engagement was on Tuesday, when I was up in the Isle of Skye celebrating 50 years of the Gaelic college in the presence of the Duke of Edinburgh. I am glad to say that the college continues to flourish. But we all have the important role of representing our constituents. Many other right hon. and hon. Members have talked about the importance of coming here to serve. We all do that because we believe in public service—we all believe that we are here to try to make our constituents’ lives better. But of course we come from different political persuasions. In my and my party’s case, although we respect this place and the job we are here to do, our aim is, as Winnie Ewing famously said, not to settle down but to settle up and make sure that we advance the cause of Scottish independence.

When we come out of this Chamber and pass through those doors, we leave the arguments behind, because in the end we are all here to do the same job of representing our constituents. Members on the opposite Benches are not our enemy; they are our colleagues. We should remember the importance of having respectful debate and dialogue. Like other Members, I regret the polarisation we see in society and the toxicity of our social media. Each and every one of us, including those in the media, has a responsibility to ensure that we show appropriate leadership and get to a better place. As was said earlier, young people need to feel encouraged to come into Parliament and politics and must not be put off. I am sad to say that many people today will question whether they want to serve.

I was elected to the House in 2015, making my maiden speech on 28 May 2015. It was one of my shortest speeches, at only 11 minutes—though I will not attempt to detain the House too long this afternoon. I quoted Donald Stewart, the first SNP Member of Parliament to be elected at a general election, who said:

“If I stray into controversial matters, they will, in a sense, be impartial controversies, since as a Nationalist Member I shall be in controversy with both sides of the House from time to time. For that reason, if I stray I hope that it will be less objectionable to the traditions of the House.”—[Official Report, 2 December 1970; Vol. 807, c. 1345.]

I can remember giving my maiden speech, and I have to say that, when the 56 SNP MPs arrived, we were made to feel very welcome by many colleagues across the House, not least by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who I see is in his place up at the back. Having given my maiden speech on the second day, and with the SNP having to respond early to every debate, we found very quickly that we were being asked to speak on subjects I knew little about. I will not say what the subject was, but I took some advice from the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole when I asked him, “Andrew, what am I supposed to do?” He said, “Ian, it's easy. Just attack us.” That was the best advice I was given, and I hope I have been true to it over the last nine years, but in a constructive manner.

The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who is no longer in her place, spoke about never having voted against the whipping advice. Early in the 2015 Parliament, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) moved a ten-minute rule Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said to me, “Go into the Aye Lobby and I’ll offer to tell for the hon. Lady.” I went through the Lobby only to find out that the whipping advice had changed and we were abstaining, so I became the first SNP MP to rebel in that Parliament. I didn’t keep it up, and I suppose I was giving the whipping advice for most of the period after that.

Let me come back to 2015. When 56 SNP MPs and only one Conservative MP, one Labour MP and one Liberal Democrat MP were elected in Scotland, it was almost a complete whitewash. That came several months after the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. It is worth gently and politely reminding the House that we had just had the Smith Commission and were told at that point that Scotland was to lead the UK and that it was a partnership of equals. I have to say, with regret, that that has not often proven to be case over the last few years.

With respect to the result of the 2014 referendum, it is our right to continue to put the case for Scotland to be an independent country in elections to Westminster and to the Scottish Parliament. I say to the House that that constitutional question has yet to be resolved. There is a fundamental question, given that this is a Union of equals, as to how Scotland is permitted to leave that Union if it chooses to do so. I make that point because in the election to the Scottish Parliament in 2021, there was a majority of independence-supportive Members. What mechanism is there—this will have to be addressed at some point—if the people of Scotland show through the election of Members of Parliament here or elsewhere that they have a desire to achieve a different solution? I accept that, for the SNP and those who believe in independence, we will win that argument only if we can win the economic argument by showing that Scotland can, should and will be a prosperous country. We heard earlier from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about everything that is happening with green energy. We are faced today by many challenges, but, my goodness, what an opportunity we have with the potential for wind, solar and tidal. That will become an opportunity for us only if we can command the supply chain and drive the investment we need into that industry.

Of course, that desire to achieve economic growth ought to be for a purpose, and that purpose is ensuring that we can improve our public services. I say to Conservative Members respectfully that when we have that debate about the future—whether it is here or in Scotland—we need to have that engagement with everybody.

Let me quickly reflect on economic growth. It would be my contention that ever since the financial crisis in 2008, we have struggled to create the circumstances of sustainable economic growth. Indeed, this morning I was looking at statistics showing that growth in the US economy since the pandemic has been 8.9%, but relative growth for the United Kingdom over the same period has been 1.7%. Now, we can discuss Budgets, financial statements and all the rest of it, as we do, but we need to have that debate about the fundamentals. How do we up our game? How do we drive up investment? How do we drive up productivity? All the pressures that we have, along with the talk about tax cuts and the talk about investment in our public services, will be addressed only when we consider the fundamentals of how we deliver sustainable economic growth in this country.

We had, if I may say so, the disastrous premiership of the previous Prime Minister, which exposed weaknesses in our mortgage market from us not having long-term fixed mortgages, for example. We can talk about the fact that, yes, there are some encouraging signs with the economy, but when it comes down to real people, we know that 5 million households have been exposed to rising mortgage rates since the beginning of 2021. Analysis by the Bank of England shows that, given where we are now—and even with, I hope, the prospect of some reduction in interest rates over the coming period—another 5 million households will still be exposed to rising interest rates over the coming period. We can stop and think about what that means—it means that, on average, people are paying 40% more for their mortgages than they were prior to the rise in interest rates.

If I may, let me quickly reflect on what has happened over the course of the past nine years and, my goodness, the pace of change with Brexit, covid and, of course, the situation with Ukraine and now Gaza as well. I accept that, across the United Kingdom, people voted for Brexit. In Scotland we did not; we wished to remain in the European Union. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) talked about the three votes that she lost in this House. If I have one regret from all of that period, it is that as I think back to the 2015 to 2017 Parliament, or indeed the 2017 to 2019 Parliament, I would contend that in this House there was a majority for staying in the single market and the customs union. It is a pity that we did not come together across the House. Yes, we could have allowed the Brexit that people in the United Kingdom voted for. That did not mean that we had to come out of the single market and the customs union. I regret the economic self-harm that we have had as a consequence.

I am glad about the progress that has been made this week on infected blood and on Horizon. My one regret is that we have not yet successfully dealt with the WASPI women. I know that will fall to the new Government, but I hope that, on a cross-party and consensual basis, we can recognise, accept and deliver justice, as we must, for the WASPI women who faced an increase in women’s pensionable age that simply was not communicated in the right manner.

I see the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work on the Front Bench. I say respectfully that she will know that the other issue I want to see resolved is footballers with dementia. We think about the suffering that they and their families are going through. This needs to be classified as an industrial injury, and I hope that in the next Parliament there is some closure on that issue.

I will begin to wind up, Mr Deputy Speaker. For much of my time in this House, I have had the privilege of being not just the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, but the SNP Westminster leader. I am grateful for the opportunity that I was given by colleagues and, I have to say, for the relationships that I had across the House in that period. I have talked about the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) and his engagement with others, which is an example of the co-operation that needs to happen when we face the situations that we do. Indeed, we reiterate today that all of us will stand by our friends in Ukraine. We must see Russia pushed back and see liberty, freedom and security delivered to those people.

I do regret that the House has not been able to come together to the same extent over Gaza, because we are all watching the humanitarian crisis that is taking place there. I hope that we can show leadership on that issue, agree on the need to bring peace and security to the region, and recognise the importance of delivering a two-state solution so that both communities can live together, and the responsibility on this House to show leadership to make sure we can get to that point.

Finally, let me thank the staff in the House of Commons, who work day in, day out to make us feel welcome and to support us—the security staff, the Doorkeepers and the catering staff—and also the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, for the roles they play and the courtesy they have always shown me. I want to thank my constituency staff and the leadership staff that I had at Westminster. The job that we all have as politicians, we only do because of the abilities of those who tirelessly work in support of us all.

Leaving this House is a bittersweet moment for all of us who are departing. I thank everyone for their co-operation, and for the arguments that we have sometimes had as well. We should remember that all of us come here to serve. What a privilege it is for each and every one of us. I thank all the voters of Ross, Skye and Lochaber. It has been the privilege of my life.

Finally, I first came to this place in 1980. I came with my partner, who is sitting in the Under Gallery, so there is a sense of closure. Having come here all those decades ago, today we will be leaving. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Ian, and good luck to you both.

14:12
Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con)
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As I was watching this debate, sitting in this beautiful Chamber, I was thinking of my constituency of Harlow. Not so long ago, I was campaigning outside a Lidl supermarket, which I did regularly, handing out leaflets. One time—this is genuinely a true story—a lady came up to me and said that my leaflet had come through her letterbox that very morning. She said how handsome I looked, but followed that up by saying, “You look bloody awful in real life.” I tell that story not just because it is true, but because, however wonderful this place is and however incredible it is to be an MP, our constituents, especially in a place like Harlow, bring us back down to Earth with a bump.

That is very good for us, because we go back to our constituencies and do our community days every Friday and Saturday, and often on Sundays, and our constituents tell us what is going on. Almost every Saturday, I go to a wonderful sandwich café serving incredible coffee in the centre of the town, and my goodness, the constituents in that café tell me what is what. They tell me what is really going on, whether it is someone whose child cannot get special educational needs support or somebody who cannot get a house, or whatever it may be.

Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)
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I was driving through Harlow one day, and to my shock, I suddenly saw my right hon. Friend sitting by the dual carriageway under a bloody great big sign reading “Vote Halfon”. You could not miss him, and I thought, “My God, there’s someone who knows how to campaign.”

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
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I thank my right hon. Friend—my truly honourable Friend—for his intervention. It is true; it is going to be a strange election. I have done six from 2001 onwards, including in 2005 when I lost by 97 votes, and at every single election I have stood by the roadside with a massive sign, usually “Please cut fuel duty”, from 6.30 am to 9 am or from 4 pm to 7 pm, waving at all the cars. One time, there was a van that used to pass every day, and they used to scream obscenities at me. They even brought an inflatable “up yours” sign to wave at me, and a few days before polling day, they threw a mild water bomb at me—just a balloon; it was fine. On the last day, on polling day, with this having gone on for almost six weeks, they got out of the van. I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, what are they going to do to me?” They slapped me on the back and said, “Good on you, mate. We’re voting Conservative.”

As I have said, Parliament is an incredible place. An Essex MP came to my school, although I was brought up in north London, and said that the Houses of Parliament had over 1,000 rooms. I demanded to go and see those 1,000 rooms—I had to see every single one of them—and I came here on a tour, but sadly I did not see all 1,000 rooms. To this very day, I still have not seen all 1,000 rooms, but I decided on that day, at 10 years old, that I would be a Member of Parliament, because I thought this Parliament was so beautiful. I thought Central Lobby was so incredible. I loved history, and every single one of us in Parliament is part of living history.

I wanted to be in Parliament for another reason. Although I very rarely talked about it, because I did not want to be known as a disabled MP, when I was a child I could not walk. I used to walk on tiptoe—perhaps I should have gone into ballet at Covent Garden—and I was told that I would never be able to walk. I was told that I should go to a special school; the doctors wrote to my father saying so, and I remember seeing the letters, even at a young age. Then my father found this incredible professor at Great Ormond Street Hospital who understood what was going on, and I had operations throughout my childhood, right through to adult life.

What is being an MP about? It is about giving public service, looking after your constituents and serving the public. Professor Lloyd-Roberts at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the person who started it off, was the man who changed my life, and I felt that being an MP was my chance to help change other people’s lives for the better. I should say that I was in another hospital and then moved to a nursing home, and none other than Nadine Dorries, the former MP for Mid Bedfordshire, was a nurse while I was in that hospital—so she tells me, and I think I sort of remember it. She is perhaps the only MP who has seen me in my birthday suit—less “The Plot”, more the pot, as it might be.

As an MP, you do things for your constituency and you also champion causes, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) said, you sometimes have a chance to govern. When I came in, I wanted to do three things: the first was to build an even better Harlow, and the second was to champion the cost of living. We think a lot about the cost of living now, but the cost of living in constituencies such as mine has always been tough. I have constituents where often, one partner works in the day and the other works in the evening, and people say to me, “We work for 48 hours and still find it hard to keep our heads above water.”

I started the fuel duty campaign because my local McDonald’s had started charging for parking if people stayed beyond a certain time. I asked the franchise owner why he was doing this, and he said, “People are parking overnight because they can’t afford to drive back home.” People were parking overnight and sleeping in their car because they could not afford the cost of fuel, which I realised was the central issue. It was also why, as a Conservative, I campaigned for the living wage. I was proud to attend Cabinet when George Osborne, the then Chancellor, announced it.

I was also proud to be George Osborne’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. PPSs are usually known as “bag carriers” but, because of my legs, the Chancellor sometimes helped me to carry my briefcase, so I think I was the first PPS in history whose bag was carried by the Secretary of State, rather than the other way around.

The other most important issue to me has been championing apprenticeships and skills. Way back in 2008, when I was a parliamentary candidate, I went into a building in my constituency and met some young kids who were being looked after by the Prince’s Trust, which is an amazing organisation that I love with every fibre of my body, and Catch22. They talked about apprenticeships, and about wanting to do skills, but there were no offerings for them. These kids were from very disadvantaged backgrounds, and I said to myself on that day that, if I were elected to Parliament, I would champion apprenticeships and skills. My first speech in the House of Commons was about trying to get more schools to encourage their children, pupils and students to do apprenticeships, as well as go to university, by transforming careers advice in our schools so that people understand the apprenticeship offering.

I am very proud of what this Government have done. We often talk about successes in education and reading, but I am very proud of what this Government have done on skills. I believe that history will show huge apprenticeship reforms. People can now do an apprenticeship in everything from aeronautics to zoology.

Degree apprenticeships were introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), and there have now been more than 200,000 degree apprentices. People can take one in every subject, and they are now regarded with prestige. Our T-levels are prestigious vocational qualifications. We have more than 20 institutes of technology teaching prestigious tertiary education. I love Harlow College, which I have visited more than 110 times since becoming a Member of Parliament, because the college, the staff and students have taught me everything I know. They helped me along the way when I was championing apprentices.

I was twice the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and, latterly, Higher Education, for which I am hugely grateful to the Prime Minister. It was a huge moment for me, because Select Committee Chairs and Back Benchers can campaign, and I got apprenticeships for prisoners and more careers advice for students in schools through, but Ministers can make policy. It is an incredible honour to be able to do that, and some of our reforms over the past couple of years, such as the lifelong learning entitlement, which will revolutionise adult learning, the improved apprenticeship levy and the £2.7 billion being spent on apprenticeships by 2025 will make a huge difference.

We stand up and get the credit for all these things, but I could not have done one thing without—without—

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
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I will in a second.

I could not have done one thing without the incredible staff here. They are the people who work for long hours. They look after us, they are loyal, they do the hard work, they do the research, and they help to prepare the speeches. I want to name a few who have been with me over the years. Some have gone, but I hope the House will forgive me if I name them all, because these people really have been incredible. They are Ann Russell-Day, Paul Abbott, Victoria Thornton, Janet Ballard and Melanie Torino—watching from above in the Gallery today—Maria Bellissimo, Hannah Ellis, Holly Papworth, Ethan Harries—watching from above—Natalie Dilworth, Anna Taylor—watching from above—Alex Griffiths, Simon Carter—who started me off, as my agent—Dan Swords, leader of Harlow Council, the youngest ever leader of any council in political history, and a former apprentice in my office—Emily Burditt, Clive Russell-Day, Aaron Farrell, and Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. There is also, of course, my wife Vanda, who is watching, and who has stood with me through thick and thin.

I will take an intervention now.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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Only if you need it.

Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon
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I always love interventions from my hon. Friend.

I must also thank the wonderful residents of Harlow. They are tough. They want their Member of Parliament to work hard to champion and fight for Harlow, and they expect the best from their MP. I have worked hard to help regenerate our town, and some wonderful things have been happening. I want to give particular thanks to the editor of our local newspaper, Michael Casey, who is a very special individual. We used to have three newspapers in our town, which were free and went to every home. This man set up an internet newspaper that now receives literally millions of hits. He gives me a hard time, which is his right, but if it were not for him we would have no news in Harlow.

I do not need to suck up to you any more, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am not standing again, but you have been a wonderful person to me, as have all the other Deputy Speakers. I am a huge fan of Mr Speaker as well, and I hope he remains in place for many years to come. He has shown me nothing but kindness.

I especially want to thank the Doorkeepers, one of whom is sitting in the Chamber. I hope he will not mind my mentioning him, but he knew me when I was a researcher. Every single one of the Doorkeepers is extraordinary and decent, and I am enormously grateful to them all. I should also mention the staff of the Tea Room. I love the Tea Room: I call it the lorry drivers’ caff for MPs. Its staff have helped me every single day, and I love every one of them.

Let me end with just three asks. First, as I will not be here any more to make a nuisance of myself on fuel duty, I ask now that, whichever party is in government in the future, we continue freeze fuel duty and to cut it. Let us remember that the Prime Minister cut it by 5p when he was Chancellor. Secondly, I ask that we continue, as a House, to champion apprenticeships and skills. I was the first MP to employ full-time parliamentary apprentices in my office, and I hope that one day the Speaker will set up a scheme, additional to the intern scheme, to put more apprentices in MPs’ offices and not just in the civil service of the House, however brilliant that is.

As I have said, I never talk much about my legs, but I am going now, and I am very lucky to have benefited from, for instance, the kindest officers and Doorkeepers in the world—as well as the Segway. I have run over a few Members’ toes with it, from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) to those of a former MP for Milton Keynes and a few others in between. Everyone has been very kind. It will not be the same not to be scooting through here and asking everyone to put their legs up, especially the ladies.

However, this is a terrible place for people who have difficulties. The lavatories are never working, the lifts are never working, and the doors are always shut. There is just not enough understanding. It is not about producing a press release saying, “We’re an inclusive and diverse employer.” That means nothing. I have had great chats in the last few days with brilliant House of Commons staff—as I have said, every single member of staff is brilliant—but there has to be change. Everybody should be able to access this place easily and comfortably, whatever their background, so I urge the new Parliament, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers to make that happen once and for all.

Finally, I pay tribute to the wonderful party that I joined at 15 years old. It is a family—a dysfunctional family, but a family nevertheless. I feel as though I am leaving home. It is a wonderful honour to have been a member of the Conservative party; I will still be a member and will help as much as I can. Let us go out there and be a compassionate Conservative party that puts social justice and helping the disadvantaged at its heart. Let us not sound too angry, which we can do from time to time. Let us go out and support the Prime Minister, and let us try to win this general election.

I have come to my last words. When I resigned, I quoted J. R. R. Tolkien, whom I love. I am looking forward to the Tolkien Society’s annual Oxonmoot later this year. Those who know “Lord of the Rings” will know that when Gandalf takes the hobbits back to the Shire after they have all conquered the ring, he says that he is not going with them:

“I am with you at present…but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire…My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help…among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.”

I am more Bilbo than Gandalf, because I am small, I have fat feet, I do like a smoke and I love the countryside. For me, although I will not be in Parliament, as Bilbo said:

“The Road goes ever on”.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear!

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Robert. We will miss you.

14:32
Julian Knight Portrait Julian Knight (Solihull) (Ind)
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It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who has been a tireless and unflinching worker for motorists, as I know. I am glad that, in his valedictory speech, he gave a nod to the legendary Howard Cox, who has been a friend to me over the last two difficult years. I did not follow the advice that the right hon. Gentleman offered to candidates about standing by the side of the road with a sandwich board, but I did get in a cab and ask lots of questions.

I put on record my thanks to my constituents, who have been a source of comfort, support and enlightenment over the past nine years. I also thank my wonderful staff, past and present, who have been unstinting in their support, but who have been well and truly put through the mill—more on that later.

The best thing about being an MP is the interaction with constituents. It has been a privilege to represent the wonderful communities of Solihull and Shirley. Privilege seems such an inadequate word, but it is the only one we have, and I truly feel it. My chief wins include securing a £60 million investment in the local hospital, getting a fairer deal for our superb schools that do so much with so little, and fighting the outrageous plans to strip the borough of police services. In Parliament, it was a huge honour to be the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee from 2020 to 2023. The Committee made a real contribution, particularly post pandemic, in helping the industries and on head injuries in sport.

Until December 2022, I would have encouraged anyone to become a Member of Parliament. Sadly, I would not do so now, due to the toxicity of the working environment. Be assured at this juncture, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I will be careful, as a wide-ranging criminal investigation into conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, fraud, and forgery involving multiple individuals, is ongoing.

Against all precedent, I was named in December 2022 in connection with an allegation by the Conservative party. Why was I named when multiple Members who have actually been arrested were not? A special case was made for me. I believe that that was for the following reasons. First, there was the pressure from hon. Members about my work to combat racism at Yorkshire county cricket club. It is no coincidence that this occurred three days prior to Mr Rafiq giving evidence once again to the Committee. He testified to exactly the same dirtying of his name that I have faced over the past two years. It was exactly the same modus operandi.

Secondly, I lack friends in high places. I played a major role in the current Prime Minister’s failure to win the leadership. In addition, I made two complaints to two different Chief Whips about drunken bullying and harassment by a Government Whip. All I wanted was an apology and for it to stop. That bullying was witnessed by an independent female friend, who has supplied an affidavit that is currently with the police in order for them to take action. What is more, I blew the whistle on two occasions about the Islamophobia and racism that I had seen in my party, and nothing was done. In fact, one of the culprits is standing at the next election.

Finally, I think those in the party wanted to make an example of me. They had had their fingers burned over the issues relating to Mr Pincher, and the new Prime Minister wanted to be seen to be getting tough, regardless of the fact that I had told the Whips Office about the allegation back in February, and kept them informed throughout the time until my suspension. When I was cleared by the Met police without an interview, I became aware of a horrendous campaign of lies emanating from certain people within my own party. A boycott of my Select Committee was arranged, and I felt compelled to resign. Friends were pressured to drop their association with me. There is an allegation on the Byline Times website that an investigation that had been closed by the Met was moved to Essex at the behest of Government Ministers. That is utterly unprecedented. I think that my being cleared by the police so soon after the Government had taken the unprecedented step of naming me publicly was deemed a serious political embarrassment. The vultures were already circling around my seat, and hon. Members know exactly who they are.

Let me briefly outline the effect that this has had. I think of myself as a real Conservative, and I have been driven from my party—I am sitting on the Opposition Benches rather than the Government Benches. I have contemplated suicide on multiple occasions. Every night, I wake at 3 am—every night. I have lost my position and my future. My family has been placed under unbearable toll and misery. We are ordinary people: I drove to my selection night in a Skoda Fabia; I did not take a helicopter. Staff, both past and present, have been made ill by the barrage of innuendo contained in a malicious dossier and by relentless press harassment.

Hon. Members, we must be very careful for our future. I am actually irrelevant in this—I will go off somewhere else—but if what has happened to me is allowed to pass, it will happen again, and it could change the course of this country’s history. An hon. Member could be removed from a hung Parliament by unfounded accusations and disgusting rumours—just imagine what that would have done in 2019.

Now I will retire to private life, relieved but saddened. I hope that one day we will see a real Conservative party again—a party that does not tax until the pips squeak, that believes in liberty and a small state, that does not hang innocent men out to dry. The last 14 years will, I am really sad to say, prove to have been a bit of a waste. Our legacy will be a Labour Government with bankrupt ideas and uninspiring leadership. Only true conservatism has the answer that this country needs, and my only hope is that the crucible of this election will lead to a rebirth of real free-market conservatism. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Thank you very much. I call Colonel Bob Stewart.

None Portrait Hon. Members
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Hear, hear!

14:39
Bob Stewart Portrait Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Ind)
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I am very sorry to have to follow such a speech, and I feel sympathy.

It has been a real privilege for me to be here. Fourteen years have gone like a flash. In my 28 years in the Army, I never thought for a moment that I would come to this place. After all, most of the rank and file in the Army view politicians with deep suspicion. When, a few years after I had left the Army, I told my Army colleagues that I was trying to be a Conservative MP, they accused me of having smoked dope. In truth, for 14 years I have felt that I have still been in metaphorical uniform. All of us are in metaphorical uniform, because every single Member of this place serves their country. They may not wear a uniform but, my goodness, they could easily do so.

I have never sought advancement; I like the Back Benches. I never wanted advancement. I told this to David Cameron when he was Prime Minister, and he said, “You won’t get it either.” I have made my share of mistakes in this place. [Hon. Members: “No!”] I will mention one malapropism. I once intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) and stood up to say, “I would like to thank my hon. Friend,” but what I actually said was, “I would like to spank my hon. Friend”. I then corrected the mistake. Hansard very kindly suggested that they could amend their transcript, but I said, “By no means do that. It’s far too good.” If they remember me for anything, it is for spanking the hon. Member for Tewkesbury.

May I end by thanking colleagues for putting up with me? [Hon. Members: “No!”] I have made some pretty decent friends, considering they are not in the Army. I like the staff. I particularly like the Doorkeepers, many of whom are ex-military. I thank my office staff, particularly Dr Reza Tabrizi and Neil Cropper. I also thank my wife, Claire Podbielski, for putting up with me for 30 years so far. After all, she has given us four children. [Interruption.] I think that should stand, whatever it was—I am sure it was very rude. I would like to thank my wife for bearing four children: Julie, Delphine, Ophélie and Xavier. I have to say that at least two of them are inn the military. Hooray!

Old soldiers are not meant to die. Apparently, they just fade away. Well, to hell with that—I do not want to fade too quickly. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Thank you, Colonel Bob. You have been a true and absolute friend ever since I have known you, and you went beyond in helping me in my greatest time of need. I love you, Bob.

14:44
Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is not without a sad heart. When I was thinking about what to say, I thought, “Should it be a thank you?” We are sent here by our constituents; in my case, they have sent me three times, for which I am inordinately grateful, but the greater privilege is that they have let me into their lives, to help them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said, we should always remember that we come here to serve. We should serve with courtesy and with a smile, and ensure we are always second in the queue to our constituents.

I have had the most enormous amount of fun, whether in my constituency or in this place. I find it very difficult to run through my list of thank yous, but my first thank you is to my team, particularly to Lesley. Lesley started walking the streets with me—no comments, please; I am sorry for the turn of phrase, Lesley—when I was selected as a candidate back in 2014. She is still in my office, running it and being a star. Supporting her now are Wendy, Laura and the wonderful Helyn, who previously worked next door for my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock). Lesley has served this place for 42 years. It is people like her, and Carolyn, who came before, and Harry, who I thank. It is them, as staff, who do the lion’s share of caring for our constituents, week to week.

I place on record, as many others have done, my thanks to the Doorkeepers, who are the glue who stick us all together. As they hugged me this morning and yesterday, their gold emblems jangled—[Laughter.] Come on, ladies and gentlemen! They are the Crown jewels.

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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It’s not going anywhere. They are the glue, as are those in the Tea Room—I will be sad never again to have that special cup of coffee, with the little heart on top, poured by Godfrey; those who ensure our Committees are ready and our Select Committees are doing the important job of holding us to account; and the Clerks, who will answer any question of process. I give my thanks to them. If it were not for them, we could not uphold democracy; we do that and we do it well. We work across the House as people who come here to serve. When we lose the ability to do that courteously and kindly, and to work for the betterment of each and every person in this country, we are all losers, so long may that work continue.

After the glue, I want to thank all those who have served me in my private office or in the civil service. I had the privilege of being asked to go to the Whips Office. There are many former and current Whips in the Chamber. The Comptroller of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), is in my view a star among us. She makes sure this Chamber runs. She will sit in the early morning and have her breakfast, which is often a piece of brie or gorgonzola that she picked up from Marks & Spencer on her way in. You are never quite sure if it is your feet, or if she is having her breakfast. She is an institution. Long may the people of Castle Point return our special star.

To the Deputy Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and to others, I say thank you. Thank you for never disclosing that I probably have one of the bawdiest senses of humour in this place. Near or far—if anyone remembers—we serve. Although the Whips Office perhaps is not always spoken about in the best of terms, we care. Those of us there care very deeply about ensuring that our colleagues in this place are looked after. It is not only about the votes; it is about making sure that, in one of the toughest jobs that we are called to do—because others are right that it is a vocation—we are supported. We support those in our “family”, and also look across the House to help others where we can. To the Whips Office, in which I was a retread, I say: thank you very much. It was truly the honour of my life to serve in the Royal Household, to be at the King’s coronation with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and my right hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton, and to walk in front of the coffin of Her late, beloved Majesty.

I went from the Whips Office to the Department of Health and Social Care, and a pandemic occurred. In many ways, our finest and our best came to the fore. We should never forget that. It took a toll on our country and our finances, but we showed ourselves at our best: agile, committed, caring and inventive, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), under whom I served, said. The vaccine, developed by the fine minds that we have running our businesses and employing our people, did us proud. Serving alongside the chief medical officer and the two deputies, the chief dental officer and others was another privilege of being in this place.

Taking the gene editing Bill through Parliament when I was in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was a Brexit bonus to me, and hopefully it will serve as a lasting legacy to farming. It was not the way I would have chosen, but it is the way we are walking, and you are better off finding sunshine when you walk than always seeing rain when you look upwards.

I came here as a cancer campaigner, having had it three times. Life is a joy. To represent is a joy. I will leave this place as Employment Minister, doing something that I think is incredibly special and very Conservative: making sure people have jobs. If we are about anything, it is making work for people and giving people dignity. With dignity, people can make choices, and with choices they can thrive.

That brings me on to the final bit. Our jobs mean that we can look after our families, and for me, my family is everything. I would not be here if my husband had not said to me, “Be happy and work for your constituents; I will support you all the way.” Many have spoken about the toll taken on families; for my family, it has been no different, so I am going to enjoy them—the whole noisy, bawdy bunch of them—because they are the very best thing in my life.

I leave here with a heavy heart because I adore this place. We are lucky. I adore many of you. I think we are a fantastic party. To be one of the blues is to be on the best team, in my view, and I will carry on fighting for the blues, because this country needs compassion, hard work, and people who believe that we are the best to represent them. I have represented the very best of this country in Bury St Edmunds, and I will miss you all. Serve our country well, because it truly is the best. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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And thank you, Jo. I gave you a hug last night; I am sorry there was nothing jangling!

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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If hugs paid, I would be very rich. The last couple of days have been wonderful. To all those constituents who have written to me, thank you.

14:56
Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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I welcome this opportunity to put on record my heartfelt thanks to all those with whom I have worked during my time as a Member of Parliament for Reading West. I am enormously grateful to my constituents for putting their faith in me through four successive general elections, and over the past 14 years as an MP—and indeed, during the four years prior to that, when I was a parliamentary candidate.

I have had the great joy of working with so many brilliant people and organisations across Reading. Together, we campaigned successfully to set up one of the first free schools in the country, the All Saints Junior School, which is still rated outstanding. We founded a new secondary school, the Wren School. We won funding for upgrades for local train stations at Theale and Tilehurst, and money for a new station in Green Park. We got the money for and ensured the construction of flood-alleviation schemes in Tilehurst and Purley. We secured a vital road crossing upgrade on Dee Road in the vicinity of several primary schools. We kept Pincents hill green. We campaigned successfully together for stronger sentences for dangerous driving, and to strengthen legislation to deal with illegal encampments. We got the No. 33 bus redirected from the Birds estate. I could go on, and every colleague here will have a similar and probably longer list, but the one thing that I hope we will all agree on is that without the strength, energy and commitment of our constituents, none of what we do locally would be possible. I therefore thank each and every one of my constituents from the bottom of my heart.

It has been a real privilege to serve in government in a whole range of roles and Departments. I came into the role of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary as the covid pandemic came upon us. I want to thank everyone, in the Government system and outside, who played such vital and important roles in making sure that we got support to millions of businesses and supported jobs up and down our country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) said, we should be proud of what we did as a Government during the covid pandemic.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) is not in his seat, but he talked about vaccines. The vaccines taskforce sat within the Business Department, and we worked collaboratively across Government. If ever there was a beacon for how a national mission should be deployed, it would be the vaccines taskforce. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds, I place on record my grateful thanks to all the scientists, the folks in industry, the NHS, and the civil servants who worked so hard to ensure that our country was the first in the world to deploy a vaccine.

The last of the roles that I did in government was on COP26. I have been told by very many people internationally, including those in foreign governance, that COP26 was one of the biggest soft power wins for the UK in decades. We led the world on the green agenda, and that would not have been possible without the tireless work of so many of our brilliant civil servants, many of them unsung heroes, and, of course, the UK’s outstanding diplomats across the world. When I worked on COP, I genuinely felt that I stood on the shoulders of giants. We have for many years enjoyed a strong political consensus on the need to reach net zero in our economy. I believe—and I know that many friends here believe it, too—that we are stronger for it. I very much hope that that consensus is maintained in the critical decades ahead, because I can tell you that the world wants our country to continue to lead on the green agenda, and I hope that we will.

I also thank my friends in the Reading West Conservative Association, who first put their faith in me when they selected me in 2006. As all other colleagues have done, I thank my brilliant parliamentary staff from over the years. It is always invidious to name colleagues and pick them out, but I particularly want to place on the record my thanks to Jessica Inns, who has patiently worked with me for many more years than I think she would care to remember, and to Will Saunders and Rachel Quinn, who will continue to work right to the last day for the constituents of Reading West. I know that all their mums and dads will be thrilled that they are getting a mention in Hansard.

I also thank my family: my wonderful mum and dad, my fabulous wife Ingela, and my brilliant daughters Isabella and Charlotta. As we all know, we could not do this without their support. Serving as a Member of Parliament is a rare privilege, and I will always carry a piece of this place in my heart.

15:02
Tracey Crouch Portrait Dame Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con)
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I suspect that this will be one of the most emotional speeches I have ever made in Parliament, so I apologise now for any snotty, ugly crying that may follow. I had hoped to hold it together, but given that I am following my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma), it is just not going to happen.

I was the 305th woman to be elected to the House of Commons, in 2010. I would like to thank very much the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), for being pioneers to people like me entering this place. I do not come from an ordinary political background. My parents were not interested in politics and I did not go to private school. Coming here was very much beyond what I thought was my reach, but it is because of the work that those women did to encourage women like me and others, including friends sitting around me, that we are here and I am able to make what will be my final speech in this place after 14 years.

I keep reminding myself that I have taken this decision to leave, and for what I think are all the right reasons. Everyone’s cancer journey is different, but for me, my breast cancer was life-affirming. It has given me a renewed sense of the vulnerability and fragility of our short lives, and with the big five-oh on the horizon, this election was the opportunity to seek a new adventure. I do not know what that is yet, but I guess that is part of the excitement.

Clearing out the office has been a wonderful way of reminding me and my team—more about them later—of some of the incredible things that we have done. I found a newspaper cutting from 2010. Shortly after I got elected, I intervened to secure a wheelchair for a young boy who had faced months of delay in getting one, and was therefore housebound. The cutting has a picture of him in his chair, which had images of spiders on it. He looked so happy. That is a reminder that while 99% of what we do never gets into the public domain, it is important and, for some, life-changing. Mr Deputy Speaker, stop crying; you will set us all off.

I am not a particularly sentimental hoarder of things, so perhaps I do not have as much packed up in the loft as colleagues, but it has been fun to find old election leaflets—goodness, I looked so young in 2010—letters from Prime Ministers, plural, and colleagues past and present. It was good to read again some of my big speeches that the office got bound for me, such as the most terrifying proposal to move the Loyal Address and my ten-minute rule Bill to protect youngsters from abusive sports coaches, and it was nice to flick through ministerial documents such as the sport strategy and the review that cut the stake for fixed-odds betting terminals, something I shall remain incredibly proud of, even if I was a thorn in the side of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead by resigning from her Government.

It is easy to forget in the chaos of any day’s inbox how much we actually do in this place. It is also easy to forget how often we work across party lines. I found in my piles of stuff the Christmas card Paul Goggins sent me 10 days before he died, inside the order of service for his funeral. Paul and I worked on the issue of mesothelioma together. I came in during the recess after he died to add my name to all his amendments to the Mesothelioma Bill so I could move them for him, and then pushed two or three to a vote. I worked with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) on loneliness having met her before she came to Parliament at a reception with her parents to honour her sister Jo, whose plaque has always been in my eyeline.

I have worked cross-party on countless sports-related issues as well as played in many cross-party sports teams, including netball, cricket, rugby and of course football. I take home treasured medals, including the Guinness world record medal that I and the women’s football team secured, trophies, such as the much-coveted pancake race trophy, and various politician, parliamentarian and campaigner of the year awards, which will all thrill my husband as he seeks to carry the weightier ones up the ladder into the loft.

But everything we do here is only because of the trust that our constituents have given us and it is beyond words how honoured I feel to have been elected four times to serve the people of Chatham and Aylesford. I cannot begin to describe how lovely the vast majority have been to me over many years. I am not some fancy-pants posh Tory to them—just Trace, the girl who goes and stands on the terraces of Chatham Town football club, or politely tells the ref how he may have made the wrong call at Aylesford Bulls. I got IDed in my local supermarket at the age of 42 because I was wearing a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms and the new young worker did not know who I was, much to my delight but to the abject horror of the supervisor. However, during my time as their MP, I have seen much change in the constituency. There have been enormous housing developments that have not only altered the rural landscape forever but put incredible and unforgiving pressure on our infrastructure, which in turn brings an immense amount of casework.

This is where I turn in my speech to thank my team. In 14 years, I have only had 14 members on my payroll. Two of my team have worked for me in that entire time and I am truly indebted. Theo was with me on my campaign in 2010 and I offered him the job when I stepped off the platform. We recruited Sarah-Jane shortly after, who is the most brilliant caseworker. They often know what I think before I have thought it myself. Theo knows from the way I type whether I am sending back a strongly worded email. From the way I hit the “enter” key, he knows whether to dive straight into the sent items to see if he needs to batten down the hatches. SJ knows how much I hate injustice and will fight the authorities to the end on behalf of residents. Given that they have been in my life longer than my husband, I shall miss them enormously.

Current team members Will, Harry and Nicci have been amazing support, despite my decision to stand down impacting them, and Nicci in particular has been amazing in that she organises all my constituency events, such as the over-55s fair, the apprenticeship fair and community heroes, the output of which means I have met tens of thousands of constituents in person in positive, inspiring environments. I am so proud of the previous members of my team who have gone on to incredible jobs both inside and outside Parliament. I have tried not to think of any of them as staff; I think of them as a valuable part of who I am and what I do. I have respected their contributions to my work on behalf of local residents and tried hard never to let people think that I do it all alone.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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In the spirit of not doing everything alone, will my hon. Friend confirm whether it was members of her team, or perhaps unnamed colleagues, who supported her in putting a row of question marks behind the Leader of the Opposition’s seat on the Benches a few weeks ago, or in decorating other colleagues’ offices with certain items?

Tracey Crouch Portrait Dame Tracey Crouch
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I am not sure what my right hon. Friend is referring to. Nor would I ever, ever, Mr Deputy Speaker, on reshuffle day, call my most ambitious colleagues pretending to be Downing street. I wouldn’t have done that at all.

I thank all the people here who make Parliament work: the cleaners, the posties, the wonderful catering staff—we have already heard about the Tea Room. I particularly thank Godfrey, the absolutely wonderful young man who brought in some Ghanaian honey especially so that I could make honey and lemon, and allowed me to smuggle in my son during the October half-term when we were not on recess and cook some sausages and beans. I also pay tribute to the late Julia, who, when I was pregnant refused to let me have egg from the hotplate—sorry to anyone who eats egg from the hotplate.

I pay tribute to the Clerks, Hansard and the Doorkeepers; I see the Principal Doorkeeper standing in his place. He once caught me on a school day, shall we say, having a drink in a pub in Maidstone. My only defence is that he was also there. John, who is standing next to him, was in this place when I first started in 1996, as were some of the security staff, including Geo and Michael—or “Sticky”, as he is known. I promised I would make reference to Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the two Doorkeepers behind the Speaker’s Chair. They are always quick with a sweet or glass of water, a chirpy smile and some crack about South Africa winning something at rugby. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds, I got some good hugs in with many of the staff yesterday. I am so grateful for their support; they have looked after us incredibly well.

Finally, I thank my family and friends. I particularly thank my husband Steve, who has supported every decision that I have taken in this place. He is very proud of me and knows how to use the washing machine better than I do. He is also exceptionally keen for me to get another job as quickly as possible so that I do not get under his feet. At eight, my son Freddie does not really understand—he sort of gets it, he sort of doesn’t. But he is very much looking forward to my being at home a lot more often—at least he says that until he realises the regime of homework that I will be imposing upon him. Ultimately, I am looking forward to having the summer off and spending some time with them both.

I made the choice to go, but I did not expect it to be so soon. I still had things to do—laws to pass, issues to raise and casework to finish. But ultimately, it has been a pleasure. I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) since he was a young student working at McDonald’s. I taught him how to make a Big Mac—he was going on to bigger and better things in management at McDonald’s. I wish my hon. Friends who are standing a safe election, and I wish everyone, those who are standing and those who are not, the best of luck for the future, whatever or wherever that may be.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Tracey—I love you. I think we had better hear from your mate, Andy Percy.

15:15
Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. You have been a friend, an ally and a support since I first came here, so thank you.

It is honestly a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Dame Tracey Crouch). We have worked together three times. When I was 16, I was working at McDonald’s in St Andrew’s Quay in Hull and she was my floor manager. She was much more senior than me: she had a white shirt and she was the one who told me, if I remember, what to do with my pickles and where to place them. We then worked together for our right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Sir David Davis) for a period, so this is now our third time working together. I can also confirm she has already offered me a job washing her windows, which I might well do. It has been a real privilege.

In the run-up to the 2010 general election, my hon. Friend and I used to have a thing every Saturday where, if a song from “Dirty Dancing” came on, and especially one particular song—I am sure she remembers which—we would ring each other up and sing it down the phone at one another. Or, if I missed her, I would pick up my voicemail to have Tracey Crouch singing “Hungry Eyes” or “She’s Like the Wind” down the phone. I really wish her all the best. She has been incredibly brave these last few years, and I love her to bits.

When I spoke at the boundary commission review to argue in favour of the abolition of my constituency, I said that it was the closest I could get to speaking at my own funeral. That is how I opened, yet today also feels a bit like that, because as I look at my name on the Annunciator, it will be the last time I speak and the last time that we see “Brigg and Goole”, because Briggand Goole is being abolished at this election and split four ways.

Today also marks the end of 24 years in elected office for me—I was expecting howls of disbelief at the idea that that could be true of someone with such good skin and who looks so young. Over those 24 years, I did 10 years in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, 10 as one of two Tory councillors on Hull City Council—there are now none of us—a period as a parish councillor in my village of Airmyn, and of course 14 years here. I thank all the people who voted for me for those various positions locally: the electors of Newland and Bricknell wards in Hull, who gave this working-class lad from the worst comprehensive, in the worst-performing education authority in the country, his first opportunity in elected office; and then, of course, the absolutely wonderful people of Brigg and Goole, and the Isle of Axholme, who returned me last time with 71% of the vote. I will be forever thankful. It is genuinely the privilege of my life to have served them here.

I also want to thank the Conservative party. I started leafleting for the Conservative party when I was 11, in part thanks to a lady who has long since departed, Mrs Stonehouse, who at that point was in her 70s or early 80s. I was the local paperboy, and I started delivering leaflets. The Conservative party is a family. It is a thoroughly dysfunctional family, and there are times when I do not want to spend another moment with those members of my family, but then, at the end of the day, I remember that we are all family, and I love them dearly—some more than others.

I want to thank Mr Speaker in particular—and of course you, Mr Deputy Speaker; he is not here and I have already thanked you, so it is not one over the other—for his support over these years, and also all the House staff, including the Doorkeepers and everybody who does everything to keep us and this place functioning. Obviously I thank the Tea Room staff, but I also thank Anthony and Richard in the Strangers’ Bar, who are thoroughly wonderful people.

I also thank many different colleagues. There are so many I have made friends with over the years, some whom have gone: Guto Bebb, who was my greatest pal in this place over those first couple of terms; James Wharton, who is now Baron Wharton; and my former flatmates, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who I lived with in that first term. I also thank my new colleagues since the 2019 election, who have been particularly fun to be with, including my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) and for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft), my wonderful constituency neighbour, who in her maiden speech described me as like a father figure to her. I can reveal today that we are very much family—if anyone comes after this one, I am coming after them—but it is not a case of father and daughter; it is brother and sister, and she will forever be my elder sister. [Laughter.]

As I look around, I see so many great colleagues and friends who I am so proud to have served with. Although he is not here, I will pick out my chum and mate the Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). When we all got here in 2010, we used to hang out in James Wharton’s tiny office—my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) would be there—and we had such fun. We knew why we were here, we were all part of a team and we knew where we were heading. It was the best of times for me.

I also want to thank David Cameron for giving me this opportunity. I was put on the A-list. When I came here, lots of people who did not like the A-list used to come up to me and say how terrible it was with all these A-listers—they would look at me, listen to me, hear my accent and think, “He couldn’t possibly have been on the A-list.”—but being on the A-list allowed me to stand in my local constituency. However, I did text him this week saying, “I am sorry that I ended up being a disappointment,” because I did vote against the Whip 80 times in that first Parliament. When he once pulled me up for it, though, I did point out that that meant I voted with the Conservative Whip 90% of the time, which was a lot better than the Labour MP I had replaced.

I also want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who gave me the honour of being a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as our current Prime Minister, who I think is a thoroughly decent human being.

Of course, I want to thank my family and all my friends, my mum and dad and my grandparents, who are not with us any more. I thank in particular my parents, who did not need degrees and family money to give me the values that I believe I have exhibited in this Chamber. There are lots of other people I want to thank—so many friends over the years. I thank my constituency neighbours: my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe.

I am proud to have served as a Minister, but I am most proud of having served as our trade envoy to Canada, a country that I have had a lifelong love affair with. [Interruption.] There is a drinking game going on over how many times I can say Canada. I want to thank two people who supported me in that role in particular: our two consul generals, Kevin McGurgan and Nicole Davison, and her wonderful partner Karen Ferguson. I also thank all the high commission team and all the people in the high commission in Canada who helped.

I am conscious of time. I am coming to my staff—a couple of them are here—but I am keeping them till last because I said that I was really going to spill the beans on them.

It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. We are the best of this country. We tell people what we think and we like what we say. We are blunt and we are clear, and we are concise about it.

I am proud locally to have helped deliver on some of the things that I hope have made life a little bit better. That includes cutting the Humber bridge tolls. My right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) did a lot on that, but you would not know that by the time it got into my literature—I had completely and utterly written him out of it. I am proud to have brought the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to my area—we will shortly be delivering the millionth book from that scheme—which has had a real impact on our pre-school literacy rates.

I also set up a first-responder scheme and have spent 12 years at weekends volunteering in the NHS with Yorkshire Ambulance Service. This past Saturday I was out at 1 o’clock in the morning responding to calls. That has put me in some of the most difficult of positions, but I am proud to have done it, as well as to have supported the steel industry, to have secured huge amounts of money for flood defences—I represent the most flood-prone constituency—and also, through the bid writing service that I set up, to have secured £2.5 million. We have got defibs all over, secured the town deal for Goole and, in more recent times, funded and produced in my constituency—thanks to the brilliant work of Oliver North—156 ambulances for Ukraine.

I am coming on to my closing remarks, but I have to thank my local councillors. My local party has been brilliant, particularly Councillor Rob Waltham, the leader of our council who has been my agent in all of these elections. He is utterly brilliant at making you do things you do not want to do in the pouring rain, so I thank him. I also thank my staff who have worked alongside me: the ones who presently work for me are Kassim Qureshi—who is in the Gallery—Julie Reed, Sarah Hayes, Elaine Marper, Mark Kerman, Tom Bramham and Pedr Owen, and my former parliamentary staff are Robert Lingard and Andrew Barrett. We all live on as friends to this day in the beer club. There is a game going on with my former staffers: if I get “beer club” into this speech, I am doing all right. I also thank others who have come and gone: Corey, Craig, Aiden, Liam, and so many more. I thank Pat and Liz—Pat worked with me for 10 years when I was a councillor. When I was made a Minister, the private office rang up my Goole office and asked her, “How does the Minister like his tea or his coffee?” She said, “I don’t know, he gets his own,” which I thought was wonderful. Then she said, “Some people rang up asking about this bloke called the Minister, and I had to ask, ‘Who do you mean?’” They never failed to make absolutely clear to me that my presence in the constituency office was nothing but a pain in the backside for them. I thank Pat, Liz, Georgina and others, as well as all of my interns who we have had over the years, particularly those from the US and Canada.

I also want to thank other teams I have worked with, including Conservative Friends of Israel, particularly James Gurd, the political director, who is now a close friend of mine; the European Leadership Network; and the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which I have worked very closely with, including with Danny Stone, who is also in the Gallery today. I also thank SurrogacyUK, which I worked with on my all-party parliamentary group on surrogacy.

I am so proud to have served in this place. It is an amazing privilege to get that opportunity, but I am sad to be leaving at a time when a couple of issues particularly close to my heart are in the news and are of such concern. The first is the appalling rise in Jew hate—antisemitism—in this country. It breaks my heart to see Jewish people in this country frightened and afraid to go about their business, showing their faith. It is a stain on our democracy and our country, and it is happening across the west. Antisemitism is the canary in the coalmine.

The second thing that breaks my heart is the tone of political discourse, and the way in which we seem incapable of having a discussion and a debate without it turning into threats, personal abuse and all the rest of it. I am the first one to be blunt. I believe in being clear and firm: tell people what you think, and do not be afraid of how you say it. Be forceful at times, if you need to be. But there is also a need to be respectful and to appreciate that, at the end of the day, the people on the other side of politics are motivated by the same thing, which is to do good; it is just that we disagree about how to get there. Unfortunately, today our politics is becoming so toxic and awful that we sometimes forget that all of us in this place are motivated by exactly the same thing. I have been proud to work across the Chamber with various colleagues. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), who was in the Chamber earlier, was very generous to me, and I will be generous to him too. I have also worked with the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell); we worked together very constructively in the Brexit years.

I will end by saying that I have met some absolute rotters in my time in this job, but none of them is in this Chamber today. Actually, I have just spotted one—no. [Laughter.] Generally, despite the rotters, I have worked and served with amazing people in this place across the political aisle. As I have said, it has been the privilege of my life to be here. I never thought I would be, and I count everybody in this place as a friend and thank everybody for serving alongside me.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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You are a true friend, Andy. I know we will see lots of you in the coming months when you come up and campaign for me at the election, and stuff like that—love you loads. I call Chloe Smith.

15:29
Chloe Smith Portrait Chloe Smith (Norwich North) (Con)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I begin by thanking all the House staff through you, as so many colleagues have done. The first thing I need to say to right hon. and hon. Friends is that it is literally my fault that we are having a snap election, because it was I who legislated for the removal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, allowing the Prime Minister to call an election whenever he chose. I am sorry for that emotional rollercoaster.

I, too, will start by thanking my constituents, who have placed their trust in me five times. That makes me the longest-serving Member of Parliament for either of the two Norwich constituencies in modern times, and I am deeply proud of that. I would also like to thank all the volunteers at Norwich Conservatives. I, too, need to thank my office team, including the wonderful Alice Burt, who has worked for me for 14 years, since August 2010.

After some tough personal times, which I have shared with a few colleagues on these Benches and beyond, I really want to thank my friends here in this place, including but not limited to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), who helped me through these times. It is the right time to step back, for me and my family, and indeed to step forward to the next chapter of life. I came here as the baby of the House, at age 27, and now I am at the ripe age of 42— I can feel a few Douglas Adams jokes coming on here, so I will just say that I now know the meaning of life and can say, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” [Interruption.] Come on, that deserved more than that. Are there no more readers of Douglas Adams on these Benches than that?

It has been an absolute privilege to serve Norwich North. I am most proud of the employment project I began in my constituency called Norwich for Jobs. I am proud of the investment I have been able to secure for the area, with new train carriages now serving the whole of East Anglia. That is material to people’s jobs and prosperity. It has been a huge honour to be able to serve in Government and lead both the biggest Department and one of the newest. The passions I have from those Departments—for the labour market and technology—are ones I will take forward into my new challenges, especially in my continuing work to help those who are economically inactive into the right jobs for them.

Like many others who have spoken this afternoon, I am very proud of this House. I want to give the example of when we came together, across parties, to pass the British Sign Language Act 2022. We all know how important that is for many constituents, and in many cases it was downright iconic. I am very proud to have done that. Can I take this opportunity to urge Members who are standing to be accessible in their campaigning? I am afraid to say that includes making sure that there is a sign language interpreter in Downing Street whether it is raining or not. The same goes for all major announcements and from all parties. Let us do that so that 100% of voters and citizens are included in our political discourse.

I am glad to note that one of the last, quite substantial things the House has done is to make progress this week for the victims of the infected blood scandal, which reminds us of what we have to do better and what we must get right. From the last Parliament alone, I expect that we will be thinking again about the major decisions we had to take in those five years. I think about all the policy choices and terrible trade-offs that came from the pandemic alone; I regret some of those, and I do hope that they are the subject of a real debate in years to come.

From my roles in Government, I have a deep respect for a number of things that I want to touch on. From my first Government role in the Treasury was the notion that the public finances must be sound. From effectively a decade as the Constitution Minister and serving in the Northern Ireland Office, I have a huge respect for how our constitution and democracy work and how our Union holds together. As others have mentioned, working in the Whips Office gives you a deep respect for elected accountability through this place.

The role of Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, shared with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), reminds us of the importance of public services and our duties to them and reminds us of our opportunities to help people into work and find positions that are best for them. Finally, I was able to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) by covering for her as Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. That allowed us to write history in how we do maternity leave at the highest levels, and it gives one personally a great sense of perspective and possibility about what is ahead for our nation.

Having served as a Minister under all five Conservative Prime Ministers, I need to gently correct my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) by saying that I share that record with him. The sixth Prime Minister that he and I served in the House under was Gordon Brown.

I add a further anecdote at this point: I wonder whether I might be one of the only Members of the House who has been mistaken for not one but two other Members of the House, one of whom is a man. I speak, of course, of the wonderful and late James Brokenshire, who it was a huge pleasure to work with in the Northern Ireland Office and in many other capacities, as many hon. Members did. It was, I think, Quentin Letts, then of the Daily Mail, who called us robot twins with bog-brush hair. I thought to myself, if that is what it takes to match up to James Brokenshire’s record of public service, I am proud to have been his twin.

The other hon. Member who I have been mistaken for is none other than the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), which is perhaps more unusual. I met an absolutely wonderful resident in Norwich brandishing a Green poster from her garden two doors down the street from my house. She said, “I think this poster is yours.” I said, “I really don’t think it is. I think it must be yours. Allow me to return it to your garden.” She said, “I think I recognise you.” I said, “No, I’m sure you don’t.” She said, “I do. You’re that Caroline Lucas.” I corrected her, moved on, and left her to her Green activities. I hope that she and others vote Conservative at the election to come.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who has briefly left the Chamber, who was the campaign manager for my by-election in July 2009. I am deeply grateful to her for that and for the number of other ways in which she taught me how to do this job. From that, we should all remember the joys of July elections—let us put our sun hats and sun cream on, and let us not forget to have an ice cream. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), who I think will speak later. I still owe him a dinner for the leg that he broke while campaigning for me in Norfolk that summer. I thank him and many others who came from across the country to help us in Norwich in that by-election.

To return to Norwich and Norfolk, it is an enormous privilege to have served in my home county. Having grown up in Norfolk, it was as great an honour to speak at my old high school as it was to speak at the United Nations on Government business. Both are equal in the work that we do for our community and our country. I thank my mentor, the noble Baroness Shephard in the other place, who was my Member of Parliament while I was growing up. She first met me when I was 12 and probably recruited me to the party and to the cause. Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to my parents and my family, which has have grown since I have been an MP. As we say in Norfolk, in a phrase that sums up tenacity and determination, keep a-troshin’ on—keep going, Mr Deputy Speaker.

To finish on a semi-comic note, my recent experience has been election, referendum, baby, election, baby, election, pandemic, cancer. Perhaps I am looking for a quieter life, but I hope that I never lose the sense of service, of empathy, of listening and of care for what people do, need and believe, because that is absolutely what we are here to do. I wish the next generation of public servants the courage to change what can be changed, the serenity and determination to keep a-troshin’ on on behalf of constituents, and the wisdom to serve both our communities and our country.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you, Chloe, and best of luck for the future.

15:39
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I rise to speak for the last time in this place. I am the 505th woman to take her seat in Parliament, but the first to represent the Cities of London and Westminster. The seat was established in 1298, so it took us a while, but we got there eventually. I am proud that I was given the freedom of the City last year.

Following on from what so many colleagues have said, it has been such a privilege to represent what I consider to be the capital of the capital. It is the home of Parliament, the monarch, the legal profession, the City of London and the amazing west end. The Cities of London and Westminster is the most amazing constituency to represent, and it has so many iconic sites, but the most important parts of my constituency are the people and the neighbourhoods: Soho, Marylebone, Pimlico, Fitzrovia, Covent Garden, Belgravia, Knightsbridge and the City—I could go on.

There are amazing people, residents associations and amenity societies in every part of the constituency, and I thank every single one of them for supporting me. I have been very proud to receive quite a lot of emails and letters since I announced that I am stepping down, with many saying, “I have never voted Conservative, but I voted for you.” I thank them all.

It has been a short time. I did not expect it to be one term, as I hoped that I might scrape a second. I started on the greasy pole, the ministerial ladder, during those four and a half years. I was appointed as a PPS in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government quite early on, but I found that it was not for me. [Interruption.] The Whips probably realised, too. Being on the payroll, I could not say anything. As colleagues know well, I do not like to be quiet, so I asked the then Chief Whip whether I could step down, and he said, “Okay.”

I have since been able to campaign, which is what I love. I am delighted that, in my one and only term, we have secured short-term lets registration. One of my proudest moments is securing an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill so that children are now recognised as victims if they live in a household in which domestic violence or domestic abuse exists.

I am sure the now Lord Chancellor will never forget the conversation we had when I was a very new, green MP and did not realise that, as a Government Back Bencher, I should not really table amendments. He said that he would not take through the amendment, and we had what I would call robust conversations, but he came around to my point of view eventually.

I have also campaigned to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes it illegal to sleep rough. I am very sad that the Criminal Justice Bill will not go through wash-up, and that the Vagrancy Act will therefore remain on the statute book. I plead with whoever leads the next Government, and I hope it is a Conservative Government, to repeal the Vagrancy Act.

I am also proud of the new-born baby screening, which was the subject of one of the first ministerial meetings I ever had. The heel prick used to test for only nine diseases in new-born babies, the lowest number in the western world. By working with the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), we changed that, and babies are now tested for hundreds of diseases.

There is also the fertility workplace pledge, on which I had a private Member’s Bill—we all know what happens to some of those. I therefore set up the voluntary fertility workplace pledge, working alongside brilliant organisations including Fertility Matters at Work, Fertility Network UK and others. Companies across the country, big and small, are now signing up for workplace fertility policies.

I recently had the idea of a British Jewish history month, and I hope very much that the next Government will see it through. I have given this task to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds), and I know that he will see it through, because he knows what will happen if he does not. However, of all my campaigns, if there is one that may be particularly well known, it is the one on pedicabs. I have to thank all my hon. Friends for their support. They were quite surprised to find a reference to pedicabs in the King’s Speech—and so, to be honest, was I—but believe me, it has been my life’s work to secure a pedicab licensing scheme for London. It took two private Members’ Bills and a Transport Bill that was never concluded, and then there was the King’s Speech.

I have to put on record my thanks—some will be quite surprised by this—to the former Member of Parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. During a conversation with me, he asked, “What is happening to pedicabs regulation?” I said, “Well, you may want to have a conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.” I cannot tell the House exactly how he responded, but he did make it clear that there were no pedicabs in Christchurch. I said, “I know that.” A couple of weeks later, however, I received a text from the then Prime Minister, saying, “Where are we with pedicabs?” I replied, “We are still not getting it through.” His response was “Leave it with me.” This was at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning. By four o’clock that afternoon, the then Transport Secretary was ringing me up to say, “We are going to put pedicabs in the Transport Bill.” Obviously that did happen, but then my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) became Prime Minister, and I will always be grateful to him and his team for putting pedicab regulation into the King’s Speech. I was absolutely delighted when that happened, and it will make such a difference in central London—to tourists, to the safety of women and girls, and to the amenity of local residents.

There have to be some thank yous before I leave this place. Obviously I must thank my amazing office staff, who are here today: Louise Parry, Ben Sewell, Lucy Scoffin, James Lloyd and Harry McKay. I could not have achieved anything like what I have achieved without them. Apparently there have been 32,000 pieces of casework—not that I have done much of that. [Laughter.] You all know that you do not do your casework! I must also thank my amazing Conservative association team, including Reece and Paula, and my long-suffering agent James Cockram. I also thank my dear and close friends outside this place, because friends are so important. Kate and Andrew McCarthy, Clare Hambro, Christabel Flight, Daniel Astaire, Sally Vernon-Evans, Josie Lyon and Julie Molloy have kept me sane.

I must of course thank my amazing parliamentary friends as well, including the “Trophic Women”; I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) for pointing out that they were not “Trophy Women”, as I had thought. I shall not be able to name all my parliamentary colleagues, but I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones), for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) and for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), my right hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley) and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), my right hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Sir Alec Shelbrooke), and my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young)—whom I must thank for pointing out to me once on my birthday that I was old enough to be his mother, and that he would be my firstborn.

I must also thank my friends across the aisle. As we have heard, it is so important in this place to have friends from across the aisle, and I will always be grateful to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who has been an amazing constituency neighbour. We did so much together, particularly last year in marking the fifth anniversary of the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack. I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan); many Members have been surprised to hear me refer to him as “Sir”, but that is because he was my teacher at school. The last of the many Opposition Members I have to thank is the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck). She and I have campaigned together on many issues in Westminster over the years. I know she is stepping down, and she will be greatly missed.

I have to thank, and perhaps blame, my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who is no longer in his place, for getting me into the Conservative party when I was 19, which was a long time ago. I will always be grateful to him.

I thank all the staff, including the Doorkeepers, those who work in the Tea Room and everybody else. I will always miss having our sweepstakes with the Doorkeepers outside on what time we are going to finish.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We have known each other far too long—30 years, I think. I also thank Mr Speaker, who has given me amazing support over the years—first, when I was leader of Westminster City Council, and then in this place.

I have to thank my family, including my husband Alex. It is his fault I am leaving, I am afraid. He is now living the dream in Abu Dhabi and working very hard. I thank my son Harry, who is doing his English A-level today and who would be here otherwise. I was seven months pregnant with him when I was first elected, so he has known nothing but me being an elected politician. I thank my gorgeous daughter Georgia, who is the reason why I am here. When she was born in 2004, I was determined to show her that women can achieve in public life—so it is all her fault, really.

That is how I want to end. I want to say to any girl or mum of a girl watching this that they have every right to stand for public office. No matter what their background, where they are going or where they have been, they must consider standing for public office. We have got to hear more women’s voices in this place and across all political spheres. We are 51% of the population, and we give birth to the other 49%. We need to be heard. If this girl from Cardiff, who had a comprehensive education, can become leader of Westminster City Council and then the first woman MP for Cities of London and Westminster, you can too.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Diolch yn fawr, Nickie. Thank you for reminding us that if it was not for our staff, we would have to do the work ourselves. I look forward to seeing you and Alex in the UAE sometime soon.

15:52
Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), who reminded me that, as a young girl, she lived in Bromley. I am delighted to see her here.

Like my hon. Friend, I started my career in local government, and it is exactly 50 years since I was elected to Havering Council. I was younger and somewhat more acned, which indicates something about the quality of social life that I had at the time. I was lucky enough to take responsibilities on the council quite early, and I enjoyed doing so. I was chairman of the environment committee—we had a committee system back then, rather than portfolio holders—and I was able to initiate important measures, such as cleaning up the streets of Havering, Romford and Hornchurch. That triggered a headline in the Romford Recorder that read, “Dog mess Neill steps in”, which may have set the general tone for what was to be the early part of my political career.

I then briefly found myself on the Greater London Council. That was useful, because I managed to keep pace with Ken Livingstone in the bar from time to time, which came in handy later when I became the London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley, and leader of the Conservative group on the London Assembly. Of course, that background in London politics has enabled me to meet many of my hon. Friends who are here today. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster is one, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who is sitting next to me, is another.

As I was engaged in London politics, I was also practising as a barrister, and I will say more about that in a moment. My journey, which started 50 years ago, comes to an end today, and it has been an amazing privilege. I am not quite sure what my maternal grandfather, a staunch trade unionist, would have made of it all, but I hope he is looking down favourably.

Eventually I was fortunate enough to be elected, after a couple of mishaps. I fought Dagenham twice—Dagenham fought back. It was perhaps the only election campaign where one of my former clients volunteered to deliver leaflets for me. When I was elected at the by-election in Chislehurst, another former client came up to me and said, “Ah, Bob. I voted for you.” Given I had got him acquitted a year or so before of a £250 million bearer bond fraud, I thought that was the least he could have done. In the end, the Bromley and Chislehurst constituency came along and I was elected at the by-election.

I had become the London Assembly Member under the usual circumstances: I did not live in either Bexley or Bromley, but the people of Bexley did not want anyone from Bromley and the people of Bromley did not want anyone from Bexley. I arrived and served on the London Assembly. I pay tribute to the work that is done in local government, across the piece and everywhere. I had the privilege thereafter of being local government Minister for a time, so I know how important the work of local government is.

I have now represented the wonderful constituency of Bromley and Chislehurst for the past 18 years, and I have made many great friends there. Bromley was Harold Macmillan’s constituency; I have always felt that very strongly as I see myself in the Macmillan tradition of one nation Conservatism. I am a politician on the centre-right. In my book, the centre in that phrase is as important as the right. Long may we continue to hold to that tradition of pragmatism, compassion and sensible moderation that has been the hallmark of our party over the years, which Macmillan epitomised and which inspired many of my generation.

The seat has changed over the years, but it is a still a wonderful part of London to live in, as I do and intend to continue to do. It has been split up by the Boundary Commission. Among other things, that has triggered my decision to leave, as well as perhaps the passing of the years, although not really. I wish both Charlie Davis in Chislehurst and Eltham and Peter Fortune in Bromley and Biggin Hill every good fortune in carrying on the fight—if they are successful, as I hope they will be, at the election.

Having arrived in the House, I served as a shadow Minister and was then appointed a junior Minister at the Department of Communities and Local Government in 2010. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and I arrived at the Department on the same day. I seem to recall it took 24 hours before the civil service would let us into the building, because a fax needed to be sent to confirm who we were and that we had been appointed as Ministers. Lo and behold, who was the then Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State Eric Pickles, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon?

It was a privilege to serve as a Minister. As well as local government, I dealt with the fire service. Interestingly, Eric asked me to become Minister for community pubs—I cannot think why that came about. I noticed that far more officials were willing to come with me on visits when I was dealing with community pubs than they were when I was dealing with local government pension funds. In the course of that local government work, I met the Deputy Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is now sitting on the Front Bench. I appreciated David Cameron giving me the opportunity to serve as a Minister. He once described me at a Conservative councillors’ conference as “Eric’s mini me”. Somebody once said junior Ministers were there to be the Secretary of State’s human shield; well, I don’t think I was much of that.

That time in Government passed, and for the past nine years I have had the greatest privilege of my career in Parliament: to Chair the Justice Committee. The law has been central to my life and always will be. Dealing with those issues in this House, and reminding people that a functioning justice system is as important a social service as functioning education, health and care systems, matters.

My brand of conservatism, and indeed all safe forms of constitutional government, depend upon respect for institutions, checks and balances, and the independence of our judiciary. I gently say that anyone in politics who has attempted to attack lawyers for doing their job, or judges for coming to their independent decisions, is not understanding of checks and balances—that is neither constitutional, nor, I say gently, very Conservative. I hope that I have done my best to make that case, and that there will be other ways in which I can continue doing so from outside this House.

I thank all members of the Committee. We have had a magnificent team over the years. When I started, two bright young Back Benchers came on to the Committee. One is now the Attorney General; the other is the Lord Chancellor. I rather feel that I have become a sort of legal-political Banquo—not king but father of kings. It is a great source of pride to me to see that serious lawyers are still prepared to come into Parliament and carry out essential public service. Frankly, we need more of them, because to scrutinise legislation, a forensic mind and approach is of genuine value.

I also thank the Committee Clerks. They have been absolutely brilliant. We have had numbers of them, most recently Rob Cope and his team, and David Weir, who many hon. Members know, before him. I thank everybody who has worked with me in that role. I like to think that we have been consensual and dealt with things on a cross-party basis, and I hope that we have made a difference in a number of areas. My only regret in my farewell being brought forward somewhat unexpectedly is that there is still business undone that I would like to have returned to, such as the service and work of the probate registry, the situation in our prisons, and the pressures in our courts—there is still much more to do. The people who work in the justice system at every level provide a great service to our country.

I have also had the chance to pursue other causes dear to my heart, and I hope to be able to continue that, too. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, which is a matter of great pride to me. Gibraltar is a proud part of the British family, and we owe it to Gibraltarians to have a good deal with the European Union in order to enable the free-flowing border that is absolutely essential to Gibraltar’s wellbeing. It was our choice—although not my personal choice—to leave the European Union. That was the democratic decision, but as many people will know, it placed Gibraltar under particular pressures. We owe it to them not to obstruct any sensible deal. I am sure that that will be the case in the hands of this or any future Government, because we have built cross-party consensus on supporting Gibraltar.

I have also been able to do that sometimes very dangerous thing in politics of owning up to an interest in the arts. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on opera, and am delighted to have worked across parties with the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) in our campaign to rescue great institutions such as the English National Opera from at least some of the damage done by the cuts by Arts Council England. I have never understood the inverted snobbery that we sometimes have about public figures talking about an interest in the arts. I got interested in opera when I was a teenager, when I did a bit of amateur acting, would you believe. I never saw any contradiction in going to Sadler’s Wells or Covent Garden, up in the gods on a Friday, and going to Upton Park to watch West Ham on a Saturday. It ought to be perfectly possible to enjoy both, and I hope that we have a future generation of politicians just as willing to talk about their interest in theatre, music and all other art forms as they are about sporting activities. They are all part of what enriches our souls.

Finally, the other thing that I have dealt with is stroke care. I very much hope to continue with that as it is very personal to me, as the House will know. For Ann-Louise’s sake, and the sake of many others, I want to continue to ensure that we get better stroke care. We are great at the lifesaving bit, but we need an awful lot more to be done for therapy and recovery thereafter.

And so, as the greyhound of destiny catches up with the electric hare of fate, to quote those immortal words that we used to get on “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue”, I had better draw my remarks to an end with some thank-yous. I say a particular thank you to my office staff, who have looked after me throughout—to Vanessa and Rory, who are up in the Gallery, to Jane, to Lewis, to Sam, who was with me for many years, and to Joanne in the constituency office. They have all been stars. They have been very tolerant of me. They have collected things that I have left in all manner of unlikely places. I could not thank them enough. They are like a second family.

I, too, thank all the members of staff of the Commons, at every level, from the Doorkeepers right the way around. All of you have been magnificent. I do hope that the Smoking Room will remain financially viable when I have gone. I shall always miss all of you.

The final thank-yous are to my family: to Anne-Louise, who has always been there for me—now it is my turn to be there for her—my two wonderful stepchildren, James and Victoria, and my little grandson, Aneurin, who is one this week. We are a very ecumenical family in political terms, as colleagues can tell from the names. For him, I want to make sure that the world is better when he grows up than it is in some respects at the moment. That is an ambition that we all have. Maybe watching this at some point will be my old mum, who is 100 in September—I just hope it is in the genes.

As for what the future holds, we will see. My practice was, of course, always at the criminal Bar. I found it useful sometimes when the witnesses could not see where the cross-examination was coming from. Anyone who knows the criminal Bar will not be surprised to hear that I had a message earlier today from my old head of chambers, Jim Sturman KC, saying, “Ring the clerks about coming back.” Who knows, but it has been the privilege of my life to represent Bromley and Chislehurst and its wonderful people—my friends and neighbours—and a privilege to have had the chance to do the jobs that I have done. Now is the right time for me to go—before, as happens with all old lawyers, I lose my appeal.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Sir Robert—Bob, as you are known to everybody—we are going to miss you. Love to Anne-Louise. You have always been there for her; we know that. Maybe there will be a bit more time now for opera. We wish you incredibly well.

16:07
David Jones Portrait Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con)
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It is a huge privilege to follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill).

It is sobering for me to reflect that almost 19 years ago to the day, on 23 May 2005, I was sitting on the Opposition Benches waiting to make my maiden speech. All colleagues will know what a fraught moment that is. It is a bit like standing for the first time on the high diving board: you are hoping to make a bit of a splash, but not so much that you damage yourself in the process. Now, at the end of those 19 years, I am finally bidding farewell to this wonderful old place.

It was my ambition to come here from the age of nine, when I visited this place with my father. I fell in love with the Palace of Westminster and decided that I wanted to become a Conservative MP. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, will know how remarkable that is, because of course I am Welsh—but I am also a Londoner. I was, in fact, born in the London Hospital, which is within earshot of the Bow bells. That makes me the rarest of beasts: I am a Welsh cockney. My entire life has been lived in two places: here in our capital city, and in north Wales. I love them both.

It has been the greatest privilege of my life to represent the interests of the people of Clwyd West in this House in five successive Parliaments. I want them to know that they have my deepest thanks for the confidence that they have placed in me over the last 19 years.

My association with Clwyd West began in 1974, when I entered articles with the firm of William Jones and Talog Davies, St Peter’s Square, Ruthin. For those who do not know it, Ruthin is arguably the finest small town in Wales. Its medieval centre is an outstanding collection of buildings, including Nantclwyd y Dre House, which is reputedly the only edifice left standing after Glyndŵr put the town to the torch in 1400, at the start of his rebellion. Almost opposite Nantclwyd is Sir John Trevor House, which takes its name from a former Speaker of this House. John Trevor was in fact simultaneously Speaker of the Commons and Master of the Rolls at the end of the 17th century. He was impeached for taking a bribe and was banished from the Chair of the Commons but, remarkably enough, he was allowed to remain Master of the Rolls, which just goes to show that in those days, higher standards were expected of politicians than of judges. Sir John Trevor was notorious for his very pronounced squint, which, as Speaker of the Commons, was something of an occupational hazard, because people never knew when they had caught his eye. Several hon. Members would stand up at the same time, and Trevor used to get terribly upset about it.

Over recent years, Ruthin has experienced many of the same difficulties as other small market towns up and down the country, so it was an unequivocal boon when it was awarded almost £11 million under the levelling-up scheme. The award will benefit not only the historical town centre, but the nearby villages of Bryneglwys and Gwyddelwern, which will have new community centres. The award also means that we will have a new, much-needed visitor centre on Moel Famau, which is the great hill that overlooks Ruthin. The award will help restore civic pride, and it will of course also act as a boost to the visitor economy. Most importantly, including to me personally, it will result in the removal of the ugly, intrusive roundabout that has been a carbuncle on the otherwise virtually perfect St Peter’s Square since the 1960s.

I was pleased to work closely with Denbighshire County Council under the leadership of my friend, the excellent Councillor Hugh Evans, in producing the levelling-up bid, and I was delighted when it was granted. Towns such as Ruthin and many others in north Wales have in many respects been forgotten about over recent years. The levelling-up fund was developed to address the needs of such places, and I very much hope that other north Wales towns, such as Colwyn Bay and Abergele in my constituency, will also benefit from it in future.

Over my years in this House, I have tried my utmost to advance the interests of north Wales. The levelling-up fund is a great initiative, but much more needs to be done. In particular, transport links need to be improved. Pleasingly, the Government have allocated £1 billion to the electrification of the north Wales coast main line. That is indeed welcome, but we need more flesh on the bone. My plea is that whoever is in government next should press ahead with that project, to ensure that north Wales has the sort of rail infrastructure necessary in a 21st century economy.

I have been privileged in my time in this House to serve twice in government. My first ministerial roles were at the Wales Office, where I was ultimately appointed Secretary of State. In that capacity, I of course had many dealings with the Welsh Government. Many of them were positive, but my experience was that there was an unfortunate and undesirable tension between the two Administrations who are responsible for the governance of Wales. Too frequently, that relationship is perceived as a competition. That is probably the result of an inherent fault in the structure of devolution. I believe that it needs re-examining, so that both of Wales’s Governments work in co-operation, whichever party is in power, for the benefit of Welsh residents.

I therefore recommend that the next Government conduct a review of the constitutional settlement, with the aim of replacing the current state of affairs with something that is more beneficial to Welsh citizens. Such a settlement would require recognition that some things are done best here at Westminster, some at Cardiff, and some at the local government level. Indeed, Welsh local authorities should be trusted more in the administration of their areas. If they were, there would possibly not have been the problems that we have seen as a result of the unpopular decision to impose a 20 mph speed limit across all built-up areas in Wales.

My second ministerial position was at the Department for Exiting the European Union, and I am very pleased to see my former colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), in the Chamber today. That was the most challenging and, in many respects, the most satisfying experience of my time here at Westminster. I always felt that the United Kingdom was an individualistic country, and that it was very different from the continental nations, and therefore not really fitted to be part of a supranational organisation such as the EU. I campaigned actively for Brexit, and I was delighted when the British people voted in favour of it.

The proudest moment of my time here at Westminster was when I took the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 through this House, which triggered the legal process of withdrawal. We have, of course, now completed that process. We are once again a sovereign, independent nation, although I retain concerns about Northern Ireland under the Windsor framework. I also recognise that Brexit has been controversial, and that some divisions have been caused by it. Nevertheless, I believe that Brexit was ultimately the right thing to do and in the interests of the country.

Anyone who spends any time at all as a Member of this House is hugely privileged. We are supremely well served by erudite and brilliant Clerks, both in this Chamber and in Committees. We have the benefit of one of the finest research libraries in the world. We have the services of the immaculate Doorkeepers. We are fed and watered by excellent catering staff. We are kept secure by brave police officers, one of whom, Keith Palmer, gave his life for us; he was quite rightly—though, sadly, posthumously—awarded the George Medal. And we all have our teams of bright, highly motivated, talented, and sometimes very young people, all of whom will probably go very far in life. I want to mention my team of Ted Wilson, Greg Wynne, Leanne Kennedy, Isobel Barrett and Isabel Turnbull, who are known in the office as “the two Izzys”. We are highly blessed in this extraordinary community, and I thank each and every member of it.

Finally, I thank the staff of Hansard, who record our every utterance, no matter how profound or banal, with absolute accuracy for the benefit—and probably the bemusement—of future generations. Indeed, such is their accuracy that I have no doubt that they will faithfully transcribe the names of some of the loveliest villages of my constituency: Llanrhaeadr, Llansannan, Llangernyw, Llanarmon-yn-Iâl, Clawddnewydd, Clocaenog and Cyffylliog—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—whose people I have been privileged to serve, and who I will miss so very much.

16:19
Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
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Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you so much for allowing me the honour of speaking this afternoon. I start by thanking you, and your fellow Deputy Speaker, for all your service to this House. May I also thank Mr Speaker for the kindness that he has shown me over so many years?

It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones). We came into the House at the same time, and as he suggested, he and I probably have different views on what he regards as his greatest triumph. It is also a great privilege to follow my great friend, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), although there was one moment when I thought I was not his friend. When I had the honour to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to Eric Pickles, he said to me one morning, “Will you come in on Friday, Stephen, there’s a meeting I want you to attend?” It was a particularly tricky negotiation with the Fire Brigades Union. Bob opened the meeting. He then said “I have brought along the PPS to the Secretary of State today. Stephen, what would the Secretary of State like to say?” at which point I was completely blindsided—a bit like with much of his cross-examination.

I realise that as I stand here today it is 19 years and five days after my maiden speech in this House. I was elected on 5 May and I spoke on the 19th. I said then, and I still believe, that Wimbledon, combined with Raynes Park, Motspur Park and Morden, is the best place in the world to live. We have a unique suburban village, a revitalised town centre, and a business community which I described then as “lively” but which is now vibrant.

The tech sector in Wimbledon is thriving and home to many brilliant companies, but I think particularly of various companies such as Rockborne and a med tech company which is changing the way we can treat arthritis. Wimbledon has many small businesses and is often portrayed as a leafy suburb, but the reality is that as many people commute into Wimbledon as commute out. I still believe it to be the best place to live and it has been an honour to represent it.

Since announcing I was standing down, I have found people say, “What is your greatest achievement while in Parliament?” I suspect all colleagues here can think of a few. I am particularly proud of the fact that I have been part of a Government who have transformed school standards across Britain. That gives life opportunities and life chances that were not there before. I was very pleased to be PPS to the inspirational Eric Pickles and it was a great honour to serve with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) in his team as a Minister of State.

But what I particularly remember was a visit on 13 May 2005 when I held my first surgery. A constituent came to that surgery as the flat above had flooded her flat. For six months she had wanted for a piece of carpet to replace the carpet that had been taken away. That piece of carpet cost £77. She came to me as her last resort: she had been to Citizens Advice and to the local council; she had phoned her local councillor. I took up the issue with the council and two weeks later a cheque for £77 arrived.

That is actually a part of my proudest achievement: the service that I and my team have given to thousands of people. We should never forget that, when we are here in this place, there is the excitement, the pressure, the gossip, the chance to have a drink with a friend, but it is our work and help to our constituents that changes their lives.

I believe that we act as the advocate for our constituents against authority in the widest sense of the word. We should never forget that, for that is the power of good. I was saying something similar on the Iain Dale show about two years ago. Valerie from Wimbledon phoned in and said “Stephen Hammond is a wonderful MP; he is really great for the local community.” Iain Dale said, “Well I’m sure he’s pleased to hear that.” She said, “I doubt it, I’m a Labour voter and I’m never going to vote for him.”

But actually that is the whole point. Once we are here, we are here to represent all our constituents. We would like them all to vote for us but we know not all of them will. For those colleagues who are going out on the fight, I say, “Remember that, go out and fight for every vote, for you know not where it may come and it may well serve you in time.”

I think of a lot of things that I have heard in this Chamber today, and I am pleased to have sat through so many wonderful speeches. One thing that I think is important is that as Members of Parliament we should remember compassion. What we do and how we help is hugely valuable. It is a bit like what my great friend, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, said: centre-right, compassionate conservatism is the way forward for our party, and it is the way back for our party to Government.

I particularly remember a constituent who came to me a few years ago. His wife had given birth to a child in Greece about 13 or 14 weeks premature. She was airlifted back to St George’s via various methods. Her son was treated at the wonderful neonatal unit at St George’s that I have had the pleasure and honour of visiting several times. I met that constituent a few years later.

I have been proud to campaign for summer born children. I believe that summer born children have the right to start school a little later; that improves their lives and life chances. It makes them happier, more confident, more academically successful and more likely to achieve their real potential in life. I am grateful to successive Ministers at the Department for Education, who have listened and changed the guidance to local councils at least three times. Although that is not law, it is now guidance—and up and down the country summer born children have benefited.

Over the 19 years, much about this place has remained constant. As many colleagues have reflected, there is still the camaraderie of friendship and the wisdom and knowledge of colleagues. To be fair, I also remember that on my first two days in the House two colleagues, meaning very well, told me how to run my constituency office and organise myself. Their versions were completely contradictory. What that tells all of us in this place is that the camaraderie binds us, but we each represent individual and different constituencies. I have always believed that everyone in this House, of whatever political colour, comes here for the right reasons. All too often, people forget that we are in this for the right reasons and although, as some colleagues have reflected today, politicians are maligned, what we do in this place for our constituents is important. Almost everybody I have met has come here for the right reasons.

The role of MPs has changed dramatically. When I arrived, there was a postbag every day; now I am lucky if I get one letter. But I do get well over 100 emails every day, which bring huge expectancy of a faster and greater response. Yet the reality is that sometimes the local council, the housing authority and—dare I say it—even Government Departments frustrate our ability to provide that for constituents. We also have a much greater local role than ever before. That is hugely important, but we should not forget that we are elected to this place to contribute to national life as well. In playing that important local role, we must remember that we are here to scrutinise and hold Governments to account. That is becoming increasingly important since we left the European Union because there is a greater burden of scrutiny on this House.

I join several colleagues in mentioning that the coarseness of political discourse is a concern and should be not just for the future but particularly for the next six weeks. People should, if possible, talk about hope and the sunny uplands and what they want to do for their constituents, rather than badmouthing opponents. Remember that they are in this for the right reasons.

I am pleased to see that the Government have made some real steps forward on social media, but some actors on social media still engender political hate. We must remain vigilant against that. Like so many colleagues, I would like to use this Oscar moment to say a few thank yous. I thank the Clerks and the Doorkeepers, and the police and security men who keep us safe. Many colleagues have commented on the wonderful people in the Tea Room. I think that I should acknowledge the people in the Pugin Room, who always used to say, “Ah, Mr Hammond—white Burgundy, family size.” I always seem to arrive.

I have been fortunate to have a wonderful political Conservative association in Wimbledon. I thank all my friends there. I recognise, like so many colleagues, that we are here only because we are part of a team—this is the Conservative team—and what I do for my constituents is because of the team of people I have. Over the years, the team has included Jerry Sherman, Ben Carleton Jones, Charlie McClelland, Alice Hopkinson, Paul Holmes—I can say that, even though he is now my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh—

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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That must have been a dark time in your office.

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond
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Yes, our productivity went down.

Paul Holmes Portrait Paul Holmes (Eastleigh) (Con)
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So did your majority. [Laughter.]

Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond
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May I gently advise the deputy Chief Whip of that when he is thinking about future Government appointments? Jay Crush, Miles Jordan and Louise Stevens have also worked with me and put in extraordinary efforts.

As ever, my biggest thanks, like those of so many here, are to my family: to my wife, who is looking after her father today; and to my daughter, who is in the Gallery. No one could have wished for a more supportive family. They went through the ups and downs—mainly downs in my case— of political life and put up with it so tolerantly.

Finally, I thank the people of Wimbledon, who for the past 19 years have put their trust in me to represent them here, to serve their interests and to look after them in this House. It has been a huge and extraordinary privilege to be a Member of this place for 19 years. As I go, I do so, like many, with regrets that I am going, but it the right time to pass on the torch. I am hugely privileged and thankful for having had the opportunity to be here for so long.

16:31
Tim Loughton Portrait Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) , who had been my good friend for many years before he became my hon. Friend. We had a long-standing shared interest in his wife—[Laughter.] That is perhaps not the appropriate thing to say, given that his daughter and my goddaughter are in the Gallery, but we have been chums for a long time.

I have to admit that, unlike many other hon. colleagues, I have had no hugs in the last few days. [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] That may be because I have been in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, far away from this place, watching the incredible events of the last few days unfurl. I was able to come back here early in time to join this last hurrah, to vote on something—goodness knows what it was—just now and to speak in this valedictory debate.

Many hon. Friends may not have been to Lesotho. The former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), spoke earlier about the importance of defending democracy. It is interesting that there is a small, close Commonwealth country friend that absolutely shows love and respect for this House. The Speaker of the Lesotho Parliament said to me that, whenever he is vexed by something about procedure or what he should do, he always turns to the House of Commons. It is at a different end of the planet and in another hemisphere, but so many people around the world look to this place. What we do here matters beyond our walls here, beyond our shores and beyond our constituencies. It is really important that we all remember that. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I look slightly dishevelled and below par today, but I spent the last 20 hours on a series of planes to get back here today.

Earlier, people promised anecdotes about various trips. I am not going to give any anecdotes. I am not going to talk about going to Syria with the now hon. Member for Rochdale (George Galloway)—good grief—going to Yemen with Keith Vaz, or going to Greenland with Mr Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), who was in the Chair just now; it is probably just as well.

Madam Deputy Speaker, in the 27 years you and I have served in this House—two life sentences, as my wife constantly reminds me—we have seen great events; some better than others. We have seen the Iraq war, the financial crash, Brexit, covid and the transition of monarchs.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you and I were elected on 1 May 1997, with 33 first-time Conservatives, I think—those of us who scraped through the battle of the 1997 election —as well as 176 first-time Labour MPs and one new Ulster Unionist party Member. Out of those numbers, today some 13 Conservatives remain, including you, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, and various others. Only 18 of those 176 Labour MPs have survived to this day, as well as the one Ulster Unionist who is now a DUP MP, so on our side the 1997 intake was resilient, as you and I know only too well. I became an MP on 1 May, and I will cease to be an MP on 30 May next week, which happens to be my birthday. What a birthday treat that is going to be.

First, I probably owe Mr Speaker an apology. I am one of the longest-serving members of the naughty corner—or the rough trade corner, as it has been known—the source of much heckling, noise and verbal exercise, the source of that one famous quote at Prime Minister’s Question Time when the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) made the rookie mistake of leaving a question open-ended. He said that he had just been with his comrades in the European socialist group at the European Parliament, and guess what they said to him? The heckle from this corner was, “Who are you?” and various other heckles besides.

I apologise for the heckling and the noise over the years, but of course, during the tenure of the previous Speaker, we wore a badge of honour as members of the BBB club. It was a literal badge; I have tried to find it. That was—I hope this is in “Erskine May”—the “bollocked by Bercow” club, of which there was a league table in The Sunday Times, alongside a story about those of us who had been upbraided by the Speaker on the most occasions. It certainly was a badge of honour; thank goodness that things have moved on and the quality of the Chair has improved hugely over the past few years. Fuelled by jelly babies in this corner, as well as good banter and good camaraderie, I hope—I should leave a little note—that whoever occupies the naughty corner after the election, be it on the Opposition Benches or the Government Benches, upholds the best traditions that we have tried to uphold.

As you and I know, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a privilege to be in public service. It is a privilege to be a Member of Parliament, to serve this House, to serve as a Minister—for those of us who have been given that opportunity, for however fleeting a time—and to serve on Select Committees. I have been the deputy Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for 10 years now, and those Committees are one of the great strengths of this House. The Home Affairs Committee was described by Quentin Letts as probably the best Committee in Westminster. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) and her reference to dealing with Quentin Letts, I had the great advantage, because when I first arrived and he was—I think—the sketch writer on The Daily Telegraph, he and I were often mistaken for each other. In those days, certainly, we looked quite similar, so when he wrote up any references to me, they were usually prefaced by “The Adonis-like Tim Loughton, the epitome of charm and handsomeness”, or whatever. Try looking like the people who write the columns, rather than those who are written about in the columns.

But the greatest privilege, of course, is to serve one’s constituents. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead has also said, and as others have echoed, the first and last reference point of being an MP should be our constituents: their problems are our nation’s problems, and we need to understand those problems if we are to provide the solutions for all of our country. As many of us know—goodness knows it is going to be the case this time around—the seat for which one is selected is something of a lottery. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead was going to be the candidate in East Worthing and Shoreham, because the people compiling the shortlist rather preferred her to me, but then she was selected for Maidenhead and so the way was clear.

Sussex is where I was born, grew up and went to school. The constituency was where my relatives lived and where my father had gone to school. To have that sort of connection to one’s constituency is particularly special, as many hon. Members have pointed out. It has been a joy to represent the best county in the United Kingdom as its Member of Parliament for 27 years. I am grateful to my constituents, in a constituency whose boundaries have been completely unchanged, who have had the foresight to elect and re-elect me in seven elections. In 1992 I pitched my tent in the soviet republic of Sheffield, Brightside—alas, I narrowly lost on the day by 22,500 votes due to the inclement weather—but we have all been through that. So I thank my constituents first.

Like everyone who has spoken, I want to thank my staff, starting with Fiona Chadwick, who I inherited in 1997. She had worked for Terence Higgins in Worthing and other MPs in the House of Commons since the 1980s. She was part of the coven, as it was called, in the basement. She has great expertise and still works for me part time. I also thank Kari Sargeant, who has worked with me and run my office since 2015, as well as Justine, India, Ellie, Liza and others in my office. I only employ women; I know my place. They run a very efficient office.

I have employed a number of researchers over the years, many of whom have gone on to greater things. Some have become millionaires; some have become Ministers for the Cabinet Office with disgracefully larger majorities than I have in my constituency, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) will testify. I thank all my staff and the many researchers and others who have worked for me over the years. I have never actually had to sack anybody, which is quite a surprise to my hon. Friend.

As other hon. Members have done, I thank all the staff of the House who make this place tick. I will not read them all out, and I will certainly not mention the bar staff, who seem to get the biggest cheer from my colleagues when they are mentioned. The staff are the unsung heroes who make democracy work so that we can do our job.

I thank my civil servants from my time at the Department for Education. The secret of having good civil servants is to have happy hour. At 6 o’clock, the drinks cabinet in my office was always open for those members of my private office who were still around. I do not think anyone would be allowed to do that these days, but it worked really well. If I had a particularly difficult subject that I wanted a civil servant to have a meeting with me on, I invited them during happy hour and gave them a very large gin and tonic, and I always got my way. That is what good Government is actually about.

As my colleagues have done, I thank all the Conservative party officers and volunteers who do all the work behind the scenes, in all weathers, which makes it possible for us to get elected and do our job.

Most of all—I am glad that many other hon. Members have mentioned this—I thank our families. This is the most family-unfriendly job. It was a particular irony for me, having been the shadow Children’s Minister for eight years and then the Children’s Minister, that my job did not enable me to be as good a father as I would like to have been. When I was first elected in 1997, my son Hector was under three; Freya, the gobby one, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon is godfather, was just one; and Tilly was minus six months. We give up so much, and our families give up so much more, to enable us to do our job.

Many other hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who opened the debate, have said that this place has changed a lot and that it has changed for the better, and I agree. In 1997, the security briefing that we were given was five minutes with a police officer, who gave us our locker key and said, “Right, Mr Loughton, you’d better put your name on everything, ’cos crime happens in this place as well, you know.” That was the entirety of the security briefing. The only other briefing was a nice 20-minute video from Betty Boothroyd, with wonderful vistas of the river and the Palace. That was all the preparation we had. Things have moved on greatly, I am glad to say.

In those days, we had all-night sittings—the best place to sleep was under the tables in the Strangers’ dining room. Fortunately, those days have gone. When I served on my first Finance Bill Committee with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Nick Gibb), we had to keep the business going until 5 o’clock in the morning. He and I spent several hours reading out the Southern train timetables between Worthing and Bognor Regis, and talking about related matters, to keep the Committee going. That sort of thing was a bit silly and does not happen anymore, so things have got better.

I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, who said, “Don’t want to go back into opposition.” We were both elected in 1997. Only by 1 May last year had we been in government for longer than we had been in opposition for those 13 long years beforehand, and government is better.

I end by urging future Governments on a couple of issues on which I feel strongly. I have championed, I hope, the cause of children and young people, particularly disadvantaged children in the care system. As Children’s Minister, I worked on reforming children in care regulations and on adoption—although, I was surprised to read in the biography of the former Prime Minister, now the Foreign Secretary, that that whole piece of work on adoption was actually his idea and only started after I left office. But hey, that’s politics.

We should never forget that children and young people are 20% of the population, but 100% of our future. We lose sight of that at our peril. We have not done enough on children’s social care. It is a false economy not to do that as early as possible and not to work on prevention rather than having to fire-fight the symptoms of neglect. That is why the Best Start for Life programme, championed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), and the first 1,001 days, which is something I have been involved in, is so important, because it is life changing if we deal with children and their parents at the beginning of their lives, not later in life. Future Governments need to remember that. The work we did on child sexual exploitation and early years is also really important.

Let me turn to one piece of unfinished business. I have here a copy of my private Member’s Bill—I always carry one around—which is now the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, of which I am very proud. It has enabled more than 25,000 couples to have an opposite-sex civil partnership since 2019, and has enabled people getting married to put the name of their mother on their marriage certificate—something that had not happened since 1837.

That may seem like a little thing, but it was brought home to me when I received a wonderful letter from somebody I had never met before whose daughter had just been married in Bath in the same church where he and his late wife had been married. He said that being able to put his late wife’s name on the marriage certificate made such a difference, and that it was as though she was actually there, even though she was not there physically.

The bit of unfinished business is section 4, which gives powers to coroners to investigate stillbirths. It is as vital now as it was when that became law back in 2019 for the Government to get on with it and issue the regulations. I urge the next Government to treat that as a priority.

The job has changed. The job, I think, has got harder. Three people have been murdered in my time here: Jo Cox, David Amess and the police officer Keith Palmer. Social media has made our job harder. It has divided society, and promoted hate and the cancel culture. But those of us who work here—those of us who work together across the Chamber, across Committees and across all-party groups—all share that devotion to public service and making the lives of our constituents and our nation better, regardless of party difference.

I will continue to work with friends across the political divide on other platforms outside of Parliament. After 47 years as a party activist—I joined at the age of 15 —eight elections and 12 years on the Front Bench, I hope that I have made a bit of a difference through legislation in this place and a bit of a difference for my constituents, and that I have gained a bit of respect for what I have tried to do.

Finally, there is an old adage that poses the conundrum: what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, but wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad. This place is full of knowledge, but I think we have seen today that we are losing a lot of wisdom from this Chamber. That is a great sadness, with various colleagues moving on for whatever reason, but this place is a source of wisdom. When we use that wisdom wisely and with consensus across the House, we can achieve great things, and we have. I am proud to have played a small part in that.

16:50
Mark Menzies Portrait Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Ind)
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After 14 years, I still have not worked out how to write a beautiful speech. Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) reminds me of how eloquent he is, and he will be a sad loss to this House.

My entry into politics as a wee boy from Ardrossan—you come from Paisley, Madam Deputy Speaker, so you will appreciate this—was something of an unconventional background. I was influenced by the colossus that was Margaret Thatcher. I was influenced by a grandmother who would shout at the television when Ted Heath was on. I was influenced by a mother who would walk through picket lines to get to work, because she had to work to keep a roof over her head. We were a single-parent family, and she was a grafter who always did the right thing.

And I was influenced by the Scottish National party councillor across the road—a woman called Marjorie Forrest, who is still alive to this day. I was influenced by seeing election posters appear in the window, and I wondered what they were. I would see loud speakers appear on top of her car, and I wondered what they were. I thought that politics and campaigning was something everyone did, because I saw it in the house opposite, but I also saw desperate people going to her to get help on simple matters that, for a person in desperate need, was life-changing. I have carried that desire to help people with me ever since.

As the many Members in this Chamber know, that is not always seen by the press and the media, and we do not often share it publicly because we see people at their lowest, their most vulnerable, their most frightened and their most scared. We often see people when we are the last port of call and, because we are the last port of call, each and every one of us does everything we can to turn their situation around. We can all think of situations where we have done that, which makes me incredibly proud.

I also think of how I got here. Had I followed the path of least resistance, I would have joined the Labour party in Scotland because, by that time, we were down to 10 seats, and then we went down to none. But I was a Conservative, so I was my association’s deputy chairman. I was president of Glasgow University Conservative club. I fought for Michael Forsyth in Stirling in 1992, and again in 1997. That defeat in 1997 really hurt, and I thought, “Never again shall we see that.”

The first seat I contested was Glasgow Govan. The saying goes, “I fought Dagenham, and Dagenham fought back.” Trust me, there is a thing called a Glasgow kiss that involves the forehead and no other part of the anatomy. I luckily avoided the Glasgow kiss, but I had a few close shaves.

The day after the election, I woke up in my hotel room at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, pulled back the curtains and said to mum, “That is my constituency over there.” And she said, “Not any more, it’s not. If was your constituency yesterday, but the election has been and gone. You have no connection with it any more.” That was not the first time that my mother brought me back down to earth with a bang.

The reality is that we build up relationships through the campaigning we do. We are identified as being the Conservative candidate or the Conservative MP. We take on issues that we never otherwise would. We take on issues that we never otherwise would. We do it because of our role, but when that role gets taken away—as is its very nature—some of those relationships will change. That for me will be one of the things I will find very hard.

I fought Selby in 2005, and I was supposed to win. Michael Howard even came to Selby to close the national election, and that same night Tony Blair went to Scarborough to close Labour’s campaign; so my advice to any candidate in the selection is to not have the Leader of the Opposition in your constituency on the eve of the poll if you are a Labour MP and think you will win or the Prime Minister if you are a Tory MP and think you will win. We gained Scarborough and we lost Selby. Take it from me, sometimes candidates are best left on your own.

I failed to get reselected for Selby. I was supposed to be fast-tracked and all the rest of it, but I was not. That was a painfully low point for me. My mum came into my bedroom one Saturday morning, and my duvet was over my head—I had been having my duvet over my head a lot recently—and she said, “Listen, you fought two parliamentary seats. Most people never get to fight one.” Those were her words of wisdom. She was trying to be helpful, but I responded by saying, “No, I fought two parliamentary seats and the next one I fight I am going to win.” That became my sole focus and my drive and determination.

I was blessed that I got Fylde, a seat that I had never been to before in my life until I applied, to be honest, but one I naturally fitted with. It is a beautiful constituency and one with so much diversity. It has everything from BAE Systems, which is building the Typhoon fighter jet, to Westinghouse, which makes nearly all of the UK’s nuclear fuel, and so many other diverse businesses. It is also very beautiful. People look at Lytham St Annes on a map, next to Blackpool, and think it must be a challenging place, shall we say, but it is not. Madam Deputy Speaker, you have talked about your visits to the Clifton Arms Hotel in Lytham, which is certainly a very fine establishment. Lytham St Annes continues to go from strength to strength. It is not posh Blackpool, it is Lytham St Annes.

There are many other fine towns in the constituency. I was very proud to be able to secure regeneration money for Kirkham and see the town on the up. I had leaders of the council and various other people tell me multiple times that the M55 link road would never happen—that it was too complicated, that there were just too many different funding pots that kept flooding about. I said, “I will get that link road built.” It nearly killed me. It took me 10 years. But that link road is opening next month. It was something that others found too complicated, too boring or too detailed, but that is my legacy, because sometimes boring and detailed is what makes the wheels turn. So when people drive over that M55 link road, just spare a little thought for me.

The timing of my departure, unlike for some people, was not entirely of my choosing. There was much work I intended to carry on. I say to whoever succeeds me that I will stay out of their way or I will give advice—it is entirely up to them. That applies to whether that person is from my party or another. When I became a Member of Parliament, I got no support from my predecessor, to be frank. I came in here one night, feeling like Cinderella. I had three big bags and had been invited to a reception—the first of many—but I was sat up in a Committee Room with three giant sacks of mail.

The only reason I knew I had mail was that I saw people come in with these green envelopes. I went down to the post office that used to be down here and said, “Have I got any mail by any chance?” He said, “Oh yes, Mr Menzies, you have a lot of mail.” When I asked how much, he said, “This much”, and there were three sacks. I was set up there opening it all, so I know what it feels like at the start. My advice to any new Member starting is to find that mail as soon as you can.

We have talked about campaigns and the things we have secured, and we have talked about casework. As other Members have said, the people who deliver that are our parliamentary staff. I have been blessed to have had some of the most outstanding and loyal people over the last 14 years, which I appreciate now more than ever. Shirley has been my office manager from day one, and Adam has been with me for the last five years. I also have Liam, Roger Small and Max Smith. They are the team who go out day in, day out, do the detailed work and make me look good. They allow me to go on foreign trips or do stuff on a Select Committee while casework is being done. When I have been looking after my mum, they have allowed me not to be here while casework is being done.

Some of my earlier staff are now earning multiple times what I earn. Maybe that is because I recruited bright, talented people, or maybe it is just because MPs are not destined to earn a lot of money, but the one thing that is sure is that all my staff will be earning a lot more money than I will be in a few weeks’ time, even the most junior member. With that in mind, I have to think about looking to the future. I say to my staff: you are brilliant people. Whatever you go on to do, people will be very lucky to have you.

We, too, are lucky to have the people who support us in our roles, be they the Doorkeepers, who are incredibly polite and who know more about what is going on in this place than anyone else, or the people who work in the Tea Room and keep us fed. I think back to the horrible day when PC Keith Palmer was murdered during the terrorist attack on Westminster bridge. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and I left Parliament and got to the rope line at Lambeth bridge. Gladys, the elderly lady who works in the Tea Room, was waiting behind the rope line, because she wanted to make sure that her Members were okay. That is the level of dedication. It is not about making bits of toast; it is about caring. My goodness, the staff of this House care.

I would like to point out that the people who work in health and wellbeing, which is not always talked about and which, until recently, was not as good as it should have been for Members, have helped many people, including me. The pressure on MPs is extraordinary, regardless of whether it comes from the long hours, being away from family, the demands on us or social media. That pressure is huge, so I urge the parliamentary authorities to keep investing in health and wellbeing, and to look after MPs, be they those who are currently serving or those who will come into this House after the next election. They should be nurtured and cherished, because they are people who want to do good, but they are also fragile souls.

In my time here, I have never been a Minister. I started off by being a PPS. My first Minister got sacked and my second Minister got sacked, so when I was appointed as Sir Alan Duncan’s PPS, he was frightened, because my track record was not a good one. Where I came into my own was being a trade envoy. Again, my advice to colleagues coming into Parliament after the next election is that you should sometimes be polite, but also know when to stamp your feet, because occasionally—just occasionally—the squeaky wheel gets oiled. It was after the 2017 election that I thought, “Stuff this. I want to be doing something.” So I created merry hell about my desire to become a trade envoy. To be fair, the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) phoned me up the next day and said, “I know you want to be trade envoy for Argentina, but we’re going to appoint you trade envoy for Colombia, Peru and Chile. How do you feel about that?” I bit his hand off. Argentina was then added a year later.

I have served as trade envoy for seven years. At the time of Brexit and huge change in this country, it was something that was incredibly relevant, and I felt really privileged to be out there batting for British business, sometimes really small businesses. When I was in Colombia in February, we were helping a cheese supplier from the constituency of Mr Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), to enter the Colombian market. That is a small supplier entering the global stage as a result of what we do.

As trade envoy, I secured the largest ever infrastructure deal in Latin America. I was the chairman of the UK-Peru infrastructure taskforce and we secured a £1.7 billion infrastructure deal, the largest in living memory. With the help of Sir Mark Kent, who is now the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, we also got Argentina to unilaterally drop its whisky tariff, boosting Scotch exports. Experts—we should always be careful of experts—told me that that would not happen. They had been working on it for years and they thought Argentina would want something in return. Sometimes you draw on your past experiences, and my experience of working in retail is that sometimes you put forward a simple offer or a simple ask and you make them see that the numbers stack up. We did that and, three weeks later, Argentina signed the unilateral dropping of Scotch whisky tariffs. My advice to people is, “If someone tells you something is too difficult or complicated, don’t believe them.”

Some of the best advice I got in my early days as an MP was, “Be kind to the House and the House will be kind to you.” I have seen people who on occasion have not been kind to the House fall by the wayside. My dear friend Sir David Amess, whom I miss terribly to this day, was incredibly kind to me. I would go and see him, often daily, and we would chat things over. He was always there as a stalwart support. He said to me, “Don’t try and be too clever; never be too political, because sometimes that boot will be kicking your backside.” He was right. Sometimes we hold strongly different views, not just from Opposition Members but from those on our own side—take Brexit, for example—but there is much more that unites us than divides us.

I will try to bring my comments to some sort of natural conclusion—this is where I wish I had allowed Adam to write my speech. The one thing that has kept me going is the privilege of serving Fylde. My constituents are fantastic, kind, Lancashire people who want the best for their communities. I always strove to deliver that for them. The Fylde that I leave behind is a better Fylde than I inherited. Many people will be able to say that about their respective constituencies.

I would also like to thank the people who took me on the many trips over the years. I was once accused by the media of being the second most travelled MP in Parliament. I objected strongly from Gibraltar. A lot of the travel I did—my trade envoy work and my Inter-Parliamentary Union work, for example—was not something that would appear on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. In actual fact, I got more than my fair share of trips. As a result, I became a more rounded and well-balanced Member of Parliament. It allowed me to see a broader view.

I thank Sir Mark Kent, whom I met in Argentina, who is now chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association, for allowing me to see how top-quality ambassadors work. I thank people such as His Royal Highness Prince Sultan and Prince Khalid at the Saudi embassy for opening my eyes to a country that I knew nothing about but which my constituency depended on for jobs. I have more people working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia than any other Member in this House because of the aerospace defence relationship.

I also thank the Inter-Parliamentary Union for opening my eyes to some of the most interesting things in the world. Anyone who has ever been on an IPU or Commonwealth Parliamentary Association trip will always come away much better informed. Rick Nimmo, Dominique Rees and the team have done tremendous work in that field.

For the last seven years, I served as chairman of both the all-party parliamentary group on Latin America and the APPG on Saudi Arabia. That is something on which I feel fulfilled leaving this House. I have also spent time on Select Committees. I joined the Transport Committee thinking we were going to get lots of travel, but the furthest we got was Vauxhall bridge to check vehicle emissions, and that was after two and a half years. We did travel, though, with the International Development Committee, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley, and I also went to New York with some great people on the Scottish Affairs Committee a few weeks ago. We were flying the flag for the UK.

It has been the greatest honour of my life to serve in this place. The wee boy from Ardrossan, where people told me when I was growing up, “Just don’t get carried away. If you ever become a councillor, you’re doing well. People like you don’t become MPs.” My mum worked in an explosives factory for 32 years and was a member of a trade union. She was widowed a month before I was born and brought me up on her own. “People like that don’t have sons who become Conservative MPs.” Well, I did and I have. I have served this place well, I think, for the last 14 years. I will miss it terribly. I do intend to be one of the sad gits walking around with an orange pass, so you have not seen the last of me.

I also want to say that I would not have been here without my family, and my family is my mother. She encouraged me when I was growing up, and she encouraged me when the chips were down. Over the last three years, she has been in hospital 38 times. She has almost died five times and officially been put on end of life twice. She is 89 but she is still going strong. If my mum can cope with all that, get through adversity and demonstrate what true resilience looks like, so too can I.

I do not know what the future holds for me, but I am optimistic, because the experiences and friendships that I have earned in this place will do nothing but stand me in good stead. Some things I would change, for sure, but the majority of it I would not. It has been an honour and a privilege. You are my friends; you are my family. I will miss you, but I will see you around. Thank you very much, and God bless.

17:13
Robin Walker Portrait Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con)
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I shall be brief, mainly because I have to leave shortly to collect my son from nursery. Like many other Members here, I want to start with thanks to family. The immense patience of my wife over the past 14 years with my career in politics has been something to behold, but my mother has dealt with 45 years of having a husband or son as Member of Parliament for Worcester. She has done immense service to the constituency and to our country from the way she supported my father, and she has been an inspiration to me.

I want to very briefly talk about my passion for education. I made my maiden speech on the importance of education. It was great to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who spoke about what we have been able to do as a Government for education. I have been banging on about school funding for my entire time in Parliament. It is a deeply nerdy subject, but it is vital, and colleagues on both sides of the House have engaged in the debates. We have made some real strides, but there is much more to do.

I point to recommendations of the Education Committee with regard to properly funding the work of teaching assistants in schools as a key objective for the next Parliament. We have had some great debates with contributions from Members on both sides of the House about the importance of meeting special educational needs; the House passed some fantastic legislation in 2014 but it has not achieved its objectives, and weneed to ensure that those needs are better funded in the future.

I have been honoured to chair the Education Committee for the last year or so. I pay tribute—as has everyone else—to all the staff in the House, but I pay particular tribute to the Clerks of our Select Committees, who work incredibly hard behind the scenes to ensure that we can produce great recommendations on a cross-party basis. They helped me to produce a report just last week; I have it here, and I commend it to the House. Given some of the comments that we have heard from hon. Members in all parts of the House about the challenges of social media, I am delighted that we were able to hold a meeting yesterday in the Reasons Room, where the brilliant hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) was able to deliver cross-party support for our report on screen time. I seriously recommend that the next Government, from whatever side they come, engage with the recommendations of that report to better protect our children from the perils of social media. I think there is real concern about that across all parties in the House, and there are strides that can be made.

Let me end by thanking my constituents in Worcester for giving me the privilege of my life by enabling me to serve such a wonderful constituency, and thanking colleagues across the House for being such great friends.

17:16
Dehenna Davison Portrait Dehenna Davison (Bishop Auckland) (Con)
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Alas, we find ourselves here. I never thought I would be speaking for the last time in this Chamber, let alone doing so under the age of 30. Indeed, I never thought I would even make it here before the age of 30. My former boss, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), often says that I make him feel exceptionally old because his former intern has not only made it to Parliament, but is retiring before him. My thanks go to him for all the wisdom that he has passed on over the years.

There is an irony, is there not, in standing up in a place where words are of paramount importance, and then finding it difficult to find words to express the bittersweet nature not only of having served in this place, but of leaving this place. So many people have said today that being a Member of Parliament is an honour. That is one of the most horrendously clichéd words we can use but also one of the truest, because it is an honour and it is a privilege. As MPs, we have the opportunity to really make a difference—to make a difference to the individuals we help through casework and the families whose lives we touch day in, day out; to make a difference to whole communities; and, of course, to make a difference to our entire country. I think we all know, if we search deep down, that the reason we want to be here is that we want to make a difference, and to try to make the world a better place. I say that not just of colleagues on this side of the House but of those right across it, because I think we are all united in having come here with good intentions.

However, this is also a huge responsibility. You stand up every day and have to search your soul to do what is right. Sometimes it is easy to know which way you will vote, but at other times it is very difficult, especially when you find yourself on the opposite side of the argument to friends, family, colleagues and many constituents—although your constituents will definitely be the ones to let you know when you are on the opposite side to them. Ultimately, we all have to look ourselves in the mirror and know that we have made the right decision. I have been proud of most of the decisions I have made in this place, although I think we can all say that we are human and have made mistakes, and there may be things that we would change.

I have used the word “I” a lot already, and I shall probably use it a lot more, but so many colleagues have expressed the sentiment that this is not a single-man sport but a team sport. I would not have been able to achieve anything in this place—and I mean anything—without my incredible team: Joanne Howey, Niki Trotter, James Middleton, and the two who are up in the Public Gallery, Jack Bell and Ellie Varley. I am an only child—I have never had siblings—but through doing this job and hiring those two incredible people up in the Gallery, I have gained a brother and sister. They are not getting rid of me just yet—or if they are, it is only as a boss, never as a sibling.

We have achieved some incredible things here, but what makes me proudest on a national level is the awareness that my team and I have managed to bring to the issue of one-punch assaults. Only last week I was here in the Chamber making an emotional speech—one of the few emotional speeches I have made; I was tearing up a little—not expecting to have to make another for a while. I talked about the impact of my dad’s death through a single punch, how that has motivated me, and all the work that I have done and the incredible people I have met—those at One Punch UK, and other families campaigning to improve awareness and improve the outcome for victims. I secured some brilliant commitments from the Government, which is now a laugh, isn’t it, given that I will have to have to fight the next Government to make sure that they carry those over? They can rest assured that I will not be off their backs until I get those commitments honoured, once the election has passed.

I thank all the activists and local volunteers who put in so much effort to help me get to this place. I particularly thank Councillor Richard Bell, the Conservative group leader in Durham. He is also now deputy leader of the council, because back in 2021, through a massive effort from all our volunteers and activists, we secured the massive feat of knocking Labour out of power in Durham for the first time in more than 100 years. Richard Bell serves in that role brilliantly, as do all the new councillors who were also elected. I thank the three chairmen I have served under in Bishop Auckland: Ted Henderson, Philip Leech, and Luke Allan Holmes, who, at the ripe old age of 21, is standing for City of Durham at this general election. Of course, I wish him well in that.

So many colleagues have said this, but my biggest thanks have to go to my constituents, the brilliant people of the Bishop Auckland constituency, who put their faith in me. I was a young woman who was not even from the county, but they put their faith in me as a Conservative; this was the first time they had elected a Conservative Member of Parliament since the seat was created in 1885. I am so grateful to each and every one of the 24,067 people who put their cross in the box next to my name. I could tell so many tales, but I will not now. All I will say is that in meeting so many constituents over the years, I have had moving experiences and incredibly supportive conversations. There has been a lot fun, as well as a lot of heated debates at points. I am particularly grateful to those constituents who may not have agreed with me or some of the decisions I have made, but who have handled all the communication and the debate well, and with respect.

This place is such an adventure. I do not just mean getting lost in my first few weeks here, when I would accidently find myself in the kitchens or on a rooftop where I was not supposed to be. I find being here as a young woman particularly funny, because mine is not the face of a traditional MP, as most people like to point out. I have been quizzed so many times on whether I am an intern or here on work experience. Now that I am 30, I find it incredibly brilliant to know that I still have a youthful face. Even today, on my final day in this place, I was quizzed by security when I was going out on the Terrace with my lunch. They asked, “Excuse me, madam, do you have a parliamentary pass?” It is wonderful that our security are doing their jobs so diligently. It is also nice to know that I have clearly made a substantial impact in my four and a half years here!

Like so many colleagues, I must pay tribute to all the staff in this place, because they are nothing short of exemplary. The service they offer us to make sure that the wheels of democracy keep moving is second to none. I will always remember one of my first interactions with the brilliant Doorkeeper Wayne, who took me on a tour on my first day. I remember walking through those doors, and my eyes lit up as I wandered into the Chamber on a Sunday evening, wearing a T-shirt, bovver boots and a woolly hat. I said, “Oh my gosh, I am in here.” I was standing by the Opposition Benches, as I had not got my bearings and did not know which side was which at that point. Like a schoolgirl, I asked, “Am I allowed to sit on these Benches now?” He said, “Madam, the Benches are yours now; of course you can.” That memory will stay with me right until my final days.

I must say thank you to all the Doorkeepers; the catering team; Anthony and Richard in the Strangers’ Bar for always letting me know when the new ciders are coming in—they know me well—all the team at the Speaker’s Office; the Speaker and the entire Deputy Speakers team; the Clerks; those in the Public Bill Office; security; and the cleaners. I have probably forgotten lots of people, but a huge thank you to everyone who makes the wheels of this place turn.

I am surprised that no one has mentioned them yet, but I must also say thank you to Kelly and Jackie downstairs, for helping to keep so many of us looking tame. You cannot tame this mop of mine, but they do their best. I am so grateful to them, not just for making my hair look swish, but for the friendship they have offered over the years and the service and dedication they have offered to so many Members from across the House. This is an incredible workplace, but it is not just a workplace; it is like a huge family.

I did a short spell as a Minister. I managed a year, which is more than a lot of colleagues have done, given how tumultuous it has been in recent times. Let me pay a small tribute once more to the brilliant team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for all their support—to the private office, and all the civil servants who worked so well with me, giving me honest advice and challenging me at times, when that challenge was reasonable. Ultimately, they were serving the people of this country to make its communities the best they can be.

Of course, I come back to colleagues; they make this place. It is about coming in every morning and seeing colleagues, sometimes smiling and sometimes with grumpy faces, and knowing that we are one team—comrades—here to make this country the best it can be. There are too many memories to share, and I do not want to name too many individuals for fear of offending others, but I pay tribute to the man sitting right beside me, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt). I have fond memories of our first rebellion together—the first of not too many, colleagues will be pleased to know. We basically egged each other on, and admitted only once we were out of the voting Lobby, “I wasn’t going to do it if you weren’t!” To the Whips, I am sincerely sorry for that, but I have no regrets about sharing that special memory with one of my closest friends.

I genuinely wish all colleagues—whether they are departing, by choice or not, or staying in this place—the best of luck for whatever comes next. Given the breadth of talent right across the Benches, Members will go on to brighter and better things and will continue to play their part in serving the country and making the lives of individuals and communities better, every step of the way.

This place sometimes feels a bit like battle. Certainly, the bits that we see on TV—the Punch and Judy of Prime Minister’s questions—look like battle, but there is also the battle of ideas, in which we often fight so well and so constructively, even when we disagree. I think back to the battle against covid, when this House really came together in the best possible way, fighting not among ourselves but that horrendous pandemic, to keep our constituents safe. If you will indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I must quote Taylor Swift just once in this speech. This is to colleagues of all rosette colours: in the battles that we have faced together,

“I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you.”

I thank them for picking up their swords and fighting so diligently.

I did not anticipate that my time here would be so short. As I said, I did not anticipate being here so soon—I thought that it would be in 10 years’ time, if I ever made it at all. Leaving here means that I can now fulfil my key responsibility, towards my friends and family. I regret to say that I have probably neglected them a little over the past four and a half years. We all know how intense and all-consuming this place can be, and that our friends and family deal with it the most—they deal with the backlash, with our grumps when we come home after late-night votes, and with seeing all the vitriol that we get on social media. In many ways, it impacts them more than it does us.

I thank my wonderful dad, who is no longer with us but inspired me to make it to this place; my late nan, who inspired me to be the sort of strong, independent woman who I always aspired to be, who could make it here to Parliament; and my mum, who is tuned in somewhere on the airwaves, I hope. The person I need to thank most of all is my absolutely brilliant, inspiring and dazzling partner Tony, who ensures that when I get home from a late-night vote, there is food on the table, and who picks me up and really lights me up on my darkest days, and makes me want to be the best I can be. I am looking forward to joining him on his next adventure. Colleagues, thank you, and best of luck for whatever comes next.

17:27
Will Quince Portrait Will Quince (Colchester) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my dear and hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison).

It has been the honour of my life to serve as Colchester’s Member of Parliament for the past nine years, the last four and a half of which I have been a Government Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care. I put on the record my sincere thanks to my superb, hard-working constituency team, the brilliant civil servants with whom I have had the pleasure of working, my local Conservative association, and all those who have supported me in so many ways over many years. Together—I genuinely mean together—we have achieved so much.

Locally, our work has included dealing with over 70,000 cases on behalf of local residents on a wide range of issues; securing £40 million of Government town deal and levelling-up funding to regenerate our city; getting over £75 million of investment into Colchester Hospital, including for an upgraded accident and emergency department and a new orthopaedic surgical centre; getting multimillion-pound investments in the arts and in road and rail infrastructure; and securing city status for Colchester. Britain’s first capital city under the Romans is a city once more.

Nationally, our work includes all war graves now falling under the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in perpetuity; the tampon tax fund, which led to funding of over £86 million going to support women’s health charities; establishing the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss; introducing groundbreaking parental bereavement leave legislation; helping to create the household support fund, which has made over £2.5 billion available for families in need; introducing reforms to childcare, children’s social care and provision for special educational needs and disabilities; working alongside brilliant NHS staff to reduce waiting lists and improve urgent and emergency care; and cementing the UK’s status as a life sciences superpower.

This job, for all its challenges, has given me the opportunity to bring about change and make a difference. I feel deeply honoured to have been able to work to improve life chances for children, in particular. Of course, I am sad to be leaving Parliament and politics today. Despite knowing that it is without doubt the right decision for me and my family, there is much that I will miss about serving as Colchester’s Member of Parliament, not least having the opportunity to meet and help so many local residents and to work with parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House.

I will conclude with a handful more thank-yous: to all the staff and security here at the Houses of Parliament; to my wonderful, supportive family, without whom, frankly, I would not have been able to do this job—especially my wife, Elinor; and, last but by no means least, to the people of Colchester. I thank them for electing me, for putting their trust in me, and for giving me the opportunity to serve them in the best job in the world. I wish my successor all the very best.

17:31
James Duddridge Portrait Sir James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)
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May I first express my sadness that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are also standing down from the coterie of Essex MPs? I thank you for your part in recognising the talents of a young James Duddridge in Melton Mowbray, and rubber-stamping, over a glass of white wine, my aim to serve as a Member of Parliament.

Comrades, time flies in this place. I remember, in 2004, having round my kitchen table Ian Robertson, my chairman, who is a great sage; the late Tony Smithson, who was my first agent; and Tony Cox, who is now leader of the council. I said, “I’m really ready for the general election.” We named it five-five-five, because we predicted, a year in advance, the date of the election—at that time, it was not that difficult to predict. They said, “A year will go quickly,” but 20 years has now passed, which is amazing.

I want to thank the people who selected me and elected me. I must have been doing something right, because at each election, more people have voted for me than at the previous election. I jotted down a few bits of advice, but when I re-read them after hearing former Prime Minister talking about democracy and a former Secretary of State talking about defence and defence spending, they seemed a little low-level. This is my advice anyway. Let someone else manage your bloody email. It is absolutely dreadful and drives me mad. Eat less, and perhaps more importantly, drink less. Join the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which is absolutely amazing and superb for finding out about colleagues and the services. Value family over politics, and do not covet others’ success; help them achieve that success.

My team have been fantastic. Pindie Fanibe runs my office. I call her the boss; every now and again, I am allowed to make a decision. Marcus Llewelyn-Bowen—sorry, Llewellyn-Rothschild; that was a Freudian slip. He is very flamboyant, my Marcus. He is registered blind and he goes into hospital every other day for dialysis, but he still carries on as my caseworker. He is absolutely amazing. Before me, he served another Member of Parliament. I thank James Moyies, who is an exceptional individual. He stood against me twice as the UKIP candidate, but then became my agent and is now my employee. I am sure he will carry on. I also thank Sam Pettengall, who I hope to see leaving politics and joining the Royal Navy, certainly as a reserve, and Cheryll Gardiner, whose son Luke will hopefully come to this place as a Derbyshire Member of Parliament.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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On my hon. Friend’s point about loyalty to him, today in the Chamber we have spoken a lot about how important it is for women to come to this place, but women do not come to this place without good men behind them. This will do nothing for your reputation, but you are the good man who brought me into this place. I know that you may sometimes regret it, but there are few people in this world who meet a young woman twice, each time for less than half an hour, and then, when an election is announced, move them into their house the next day—open their home to them—and put their entire life aside to fight every day for that person. It is no surprise that you have such loyalty from your team, because your heart is so enormous, and without you, I would not be here. I am so grateful to you, and to Katy and your kids, who allowed that to happen. You are a phenomenal man, and I will very much miss you in this place.

James Duddridge Portrait Sir James Duddridge
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You are not going to make me cry. I thank my hon. Friend, and I do think we need to change whom we elect as candidates. For a number of reasons, I hope I am replaced by a woman in Rochford and Southend East—or Southend East and Rochford, as it is now called.

I would like to mention Lucy Paton-Brown, who was with me for 10 years and is absolutely fabulous, and Philippa Buckley, who is now in Zambia but did a great job for me. I also want to mention my wife, because she worked for me, and also because I would get in trouble if I did not mention her. We have three lovely children, and I am going to spend more time looking after our new arrival, the one-year-old. It happens to be a Labrador dog, which is proving to be much harder than the children.

I would not recommend coming to this place—and it is the best job in the world. I have no regrets. I served 19 years, including nine years on the Front Bench in five different Departments under three Prime Ministers. I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie of the Whips Office. At one point, I held the title of the most sacked Minister in the Conservative Government; I like to think of it as the most reappointable Minister in troubled times, but others may disagree. I was the Minister that took through the withdrawal Act, having voted three times against that as a Bill, having never voted against the Government before. I am particularly proud of my time as Minister for Africa, something I got to do twice, building on my previous work as a banker in Africa. That is something I would very much like to do.

I thought I was going to do at least another 10 years. That is not the right thing for me now, but it has been brilliant. I look at everyone, or I would look at everyone if I had kept my glasses on, and I can think of a moment of joy with them, a moment of sadness, an embarrassing moment, a—

James Duddridge Portrait Sir James Duddridge
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A revelation—I thank my right hon. Friend. It has been absolutely superb. I will miss this place, and I say thank you to everyone who has served—in the broadest way—this House.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Just before I call the next hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton made an impassioned intervention—a correct one, making an excellent point—but she kept referring to the hon. Gentleman as “you”. This upsets me so much. I cannot let it go, because what if, when I am not here—which will be very soon—nobody bothers? What if we descend into just an ordinary place, where people use first names, nicknames, “you”, or sloppy language, and wear white trainers? It just would not be right.

This is a very special place, and the fact that we call each other “the hon. Member” and use the third person and not the second person is part of the way that we do things here, with dignity and precision and by stepping back from the personal. I appreciate that what the hon. Lady has just said is personal, and this is a personal debate. There is nothing wrong with that, but in debates about political topics, it is very important to keep the personal out of it and stick to the facts. That is why it is so important that we respect the rule of speaking through the Chair and refer to people, not as “you”, but as the hon. Gentleman or the hon. Lady. I simply cannot miss my last opportunity to say that, and I so hope it will not be forgotten.

17:39
John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye for what will be the last time in my 23 years in this place. Like all Members who have spoken in this wonderful debate, it is going to be a great wrench to leave the House. The only person who may have a slight skip in his step is Mr Speaker, who will no longer have to consider the many applications for urgent questions that I have submitted over the years. It has been a wonderful time and, as briefly as I can, I want to thank all those who have made it possible.

As all other hon. Members have done, I want to thank everybody who works here. Little do they realise, but they are supporting a great parliamentary system. I want to thank the Doorkeepers, the caterers, the security staff and the Librarians—I want to thank everybody who works here, without exception. They keep the show on the road. Every single one of them supports our great parliamentary system. We thank them for that.

Reflecting for a moment, I suggest that much has changed since I joined the House in 2001 and almost all for the better. For a start, the hours are much more family-friendly. As a green MP in 2001, there was no briefing. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) basically made the point that we were thrown into the Chamber—I would not say literally—and told to get on with it and learn. Things have also changed for the better in that we have many more lady MPs, which has been a great improvement to the House.

Things have changed for the better, but what has not changed for the better has been a narrative that has grown stronger in recent times and in certain quarters that our parliamentary system is broken and not performing as it should. I would contend that that is not true. While I accept that it is not perfect, I do believe that it is representative and effective, and is respected around the world. For example, it managed to contain the Brexit debate—probably the most passionate debate that we have had in a generation—and channel it accordingly in an open way that I think few other countries could have pulled off.

This Chamber remains the crucible where the matters of the day are debated and resolved. Its fulcrum is the obligation that we all tell the truth in this place. We should never forget that MPs can still effect great change. I, like other colleagues, look back with fondness and satisfaction at the campaigns and good causes that I have participated in, whether campaigning for our 2015 manifesto to contain the promise of an EU referendum, against arming the Syrian rebels, for official recognition and support of our nuclear test veterans, greater funding for the British Council, or securing a focus on outcomes when it comes to cancer, as was embodied in section 5 of the Health and Care Act 2022. I thank all colleagues—many of them are in their places—who supported that effort.

Of course one has not always been successful; none of us is. We can all list our somewhat disappointments. I opposed our Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan interventions and, despite the passionate debates that we had on those occasions, we still intervened. It was another sadness to me that we did not manage to do more at the time to get the Government to think again about defence cuts.

My amendment in 2019 on the Northern Ireland backstop was defeated by the largest recorded parliamentary majority in history: 600 to 24. It is still fresh in the mind. I remind colleagues that one just has to keep going on. Perseverance has a quality all of its own and my goodness me, there were times in those years when we needed it.

I have heard so many interesting speeches in the Chamber this afternoon, and it has been a real pleasure to be part of this debate, but I would suggest to colleagues that humility is also a great quality. We should never forget that. I was reminded of that recently by my constituency team, who put it to me that, in all the elections I have fought since 2001, the less time I spent in the constituency, the more my majority went up. Indeed, that is true: I have had an increased majority in every single general election. I will not say that I am not a very diligent constituency MP, but perhaps—perhaps—I have eased off just a little bit since 2001.

Overall, I would say that, with hard work and perseverance and by garnering support when needed, MPs can still effect change and truly help their constituents, occasionally with the help of the occupant of the Chair—as you well know, Mr Speaker. It is nice to see you in your place; and now that you are here, may I thank you personally for everything you do for this place? You are the guardian of something very precious in that Chair, and your presence there has been a real source of strength and support for Members across the House in making sure that our parliamentary system remains true to itself and does not meander. Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker.

I have enjoyed my time on Select Committees and all-party groups, which is where we see the best of cross-party work. That is something we all value in this place. I concur with the many observations made by colleagues that we are at our very best if we can foster consensus across the divide and move an issue forward. Like many others, I have certainly benefited from cross-party consensus, when we have been able to engineer it.

I come back to the effectiveness of this place and the minority of individuals, increasingly noisy though they are, who say that this place is broken or not effective, or that it needs to be improved because it does not represent its constituents. That view is completely wrong, and I say that as somebody who has been in this place for 23 years—and there are colleagues who have been here much longer than I. This place is effective, and we should remember that. I would therefore caution against ill thought-through, sweeping reforms, which will harm our democracy. Past innovations, such as the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, have served to highlight the wisdom of convention, I would suggest. We should be wary of talk of, for example, a written constitution, proportional representation or House of Lords reform. We should be careful what we wish for. We are here courtesy of the accumulated wisdom of previous generations. We discard that experience and wisdom at our peril if we do not consider things very carefully.

I wish all colleagues well, past and present, and I wish those staying on good fortune in the next Parliament. I will certainly be keeping in touch with many friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis), a very good friend, has been sitting next to me for most of this debate, although he has had to go, and there are many other colleagues here who I look forward to keeping in touch with after I leave.

Naturally, I would like to thank my constituency association, along with councillors, activists and the many friends I have made in the constituency, for their contributions and friendship over so many years. The association stood by me on a number of occasions when I did not always agree with my party. The closest I came to being removed as an MP was in 2003. It was not an election year, but there was an extraordinary general meeting to—I was going to say “to deselect me”, which I think is what it was in effect, because of the way I voted on the Iraq war.

Opinion was very divided, as colleagues may remember—I see my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), a good friend, sitting on the Bench at the front, who will remember that moment. Having voted against my Whip, I had to resign from the Front Bench. That caused a stir in the association, but we got through it, and since then I have had no issue at all with my association over not always agreeing—or not agreeing, I should say—with our interventions in Libya or Afghanistan, post 2001. The association understood that MPs are representatives, not delegates.

I would like to thank my constituents for their support, and for ensuring that I won increased majorities over the years. I am going to stay connected to my wonderful constituency of Basildon and Billericay, which it has been a great honour to serve, by participating in the annual fun walk—it is now a charity—that I founded in 2002. Since then, it has raised around £1.5 million for good causes across the constituency and beyond. I may be stepping down as the MP, but I will certainly stay connected to the local area by staying involved with that charity event as chair of the trustees.

I would like to thank my staff, to whom I owe so much. My constituency team—Jo Turner and Annie Akinin—have been with me since I became an MP. My London team—Claire Lumby, Selina Short and Benjamin Yates, who is sitting in the Gallery—have been with me for up to 16 years. They have 80 years of service between them, which is a rarity in this place, and my constituents have benefited as a result. I am very grateful to them, and I am proud of them for everything we have achieved together.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife Thalia, my daughters and my wider family—whether they are still with us or not—for their support over the years. It has always added perspective and balance to my endeavours in this place, which I shall miss. It has been a great honour to serve, but the time has come to move on, and I wish you all well.

I have one remaining message for my party: please stay wedded to the centre ground when fighting general elections. I am an old-fashioned, one nation Tory, and compassionate conservatism is the way forward. I do not want us to wander off to the right—I do not think we are going to—because we must stay centred. Delivering economic efficiency, strong finances, robust economies and all the rest of it is not an end in itself; it is a means to help the less fortunate in society, and we have to remain wedded to that idea. The Prime Minister understands this, and I wish him well at the next general election.

17:52
Steve Brine Portrait Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
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It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr Speaker. Thank you for all your service, and for the kindness that you have shown me since you have been in the Chair.

When I was in my early teens, I had a day out in London. I sent my parents a postcard of this building and, rather arrogantly and presumptuously, I wrote on the back, “My future office”. I had forgotten all about it, but when my father passed away just a few days after the last general election, I found that postcard in his house. I guess the dream came true, and they kept it for all those years.

I have won four general elections, and I will be the first and last MP for Winchester and Chandler’s Ford, because the boundary changes will break up the constituency. I have said from the very start that nobody owns Winchester. I would like to think that I won the seat because I worked so hard to get it, and I would like to think that I kept it because I did the job to the best of my ability every single day. Equally, nobody owns the keys to No. 10 Downing Street. The future has not been written yet and, contrary to what people may read, this election is not over. Like many colleagues, I wish my Conservative friends standing on 4 July the very best, especially my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who is a hard-working, decent man. We are very lucky to have him as our country’s leader.

I will not detain the House, but I want to reflect on two things and to thank people. For me, just being an MP was enough—it was clearly a mission of mine from a very young age. I worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) as his PPS in the then Department for Health, and I have been a Government Whip, which is the only team game in this place. I have been a Health Minister, and now I chair the Health and Social Care Committee. It is record of which I am proud. As the Health Minister, I began what would become known as Pharmacy First and I wrote the cancer plan, so it is appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). We urgently need a new cancer plan from the next Government.

I established the HIV Commission alongside the shadow Health Secretary. We worked to produce the road map to get England to zero new transmissions by 2030, and we will do so. I extended the human papillomavirus vaccine to boys, which is not something that my teenage son thanks me for, given that he had to have it the other day. That may seem a small and technical change, but I know that it will save tens of thousands of lives. Sooner rather than later, we will eradicate cervical cancer from our country.

Clearly, there is so much more. Over a good number of years in Government, we do so much and, frankly, I cannot remember the half of it. Working alongside two Secretaries of State—the current Chancellor, whom I have just mentioned, and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock)—I think we did some good things. I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who spoke at the very start of this debate many hours ago, who as Prime Minister asked me to serve in her Government.

Of course, being elected Chair of the Health Committee was a huge honour, and I have worked with some fabulous officials and fabulous Members across party lines—which is the great secret of this place—to produce some really important reports on prevention, assisted dying, dentistry, digital, integrated care systems and pharmacy. I think they will stand the test of time.

I cannot let this moment go without mentioning the armed forces parliamentary scheme, which has just been mentioned. Among all the amazing experiences I have had here, it is one of the best things I have done. I recommend it highly to returning and new Members.

I have a few important thank-yous to my staff of the present—Alice Hammond, Toby Colehan, Alex Pinney and Helen Hill—and of the past, especially Russ Norton and Janette Munro Ford, without whom I would never have won in the first place. Obviously, like everyone, I thank the good people of Winchester and Chandler’s Ford for giving me four in a row. Thank you so much. It has been a great privilege to represent you, and I have always done my best to put the constituency first. Of course, I thank my wife Susie and my children Emily and William, who allowed me to do this in the first place.

Finally, to repeat something I said in the House a few days ago, there is a maxim that I try to live by in my life and that I have certainly tried to live by in the House of Commons, and I hope that those coming after me will too: it is nice to be important, but it is much, much more important to be nice.

17:56
Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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Mr Speaker, I am delighted that you have come back into the Chamber, because it gives me an opportunity to start by saying how delighted I am that your team and my team will be in the Challenge cup final in a few days’ time. I know that your father, in particular, would have been delighted in the Wire taking on the Wigan Warriors.

I have been incredibly humbled this afternoon to sit here among colleagues, friends and people I remember watching on TV when I was not a lot smaller than I am now. They have been truly fantastic servants to this House. I feel that I am a bit of a fraud, really, because I have only been here for four and a half years. It is a remarkable place. I listened with great interest and genuine fondness to the references made to the cross-party support and camaraderie that exist in this place. There is a wonderful spirit that occurs every day when people come to work in this magnificent place. I am regularly stopped in the Warrington South constituency by constituents who ask, “What’s it like to be an MP? What does it feel like?” I can genuinely say that it is the proudest thing that anybody can do. Every day when I walk into this Palace and walk past the statutes of great people of our history, I remember that I am here serving the people who have elected me: the 86,000 people I represent in the Warrington South constituency.

As I have only been here for four and a half years, I will keep my remarks relatively short. I want to go back to before I was elected, because I had never planned to get into politics. In fact, I took the view that, having spent 20-odd years in business, if I got into politics I would probably never get anything done. But that is not the case. You can make a difference. You have to focus your energies and you have to be certain about what you want to achieve. I have looked back over the past four and a half years at the work that this Government have delivered for my constituents, and at the work that I have done to ensure that the people I represent have better lives, and I am incredibly proud.

We focused on improving access to public transport, and we have 105 new zero-emission buses in Warrington, paid for by this Government. I am incredibly proud that people in Warrington travel on public transport at levels not seen for many years. We have also focused on healthcare and broadband, and securing a broadband service for the people of Higher Walton has been an incredible achievement. We have campaigned to strengthen flood defences following the terrible flooding of Storm Christoph in 2021 in the Dallam area.

I have held an annual jobs and apprenticeship fair to help young people find jobs, which has been one of the most rewarding annual events. Each year, a thousand young people come to meet more than 40 local employers and talk about their future with their parents. And it has been brilliant to receive emails afterwards saying, “I am going on an apprenticeship. Thank you for the opportunity.”

I am so pleased that we used the town deal cash not simply to build new buildings, but to help people in the constituency gain new skills. We opened a next-generation health and social care academy, which is training future healthcare assistants and social workers at Warrington and Vale Royal College. We are about to open an advanced construction academy to help the future builders of our homes and settlements get the skills they need.

I have managed to get around every single school in Warrington South over the past four years. I have met every headteacher, and I have spoken to a group of children in every school about democracy and the importance of getting involved with politics as they grow up. I thank the teachers for their efforts. I genuinely appreciate their work, because every school in Warrington South is now good or outstanding, which was not the case when this Government came into office in 2010.

I have not always pushed things forward, as I have sometimes pushed to stop things when constituents have asked for my help. I have opposed development on the green belt, including schemes such as the Six56 distribution centre and the ginormous Stobart distribution centre. Both have gone to a public inquiry because I raised them here in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I quickly proved myself wrong, as you can come to Parliament and make things happen.

I particularly thank the local councillors in Warrington South. When I came to office, we had one Conservative councillor on Warrington Borough Council. Councillor Kath Buckley, who retired a few days ago, is a remarkable woman who fought cancer twice and has flown the flag for conservatism in Warrington for many years. I thank her greatly for all the support she has given to me. I also thank Ken Critchley, Mark Jervis, Linda Butler and Ghazala Chapman, my Warrington South Conservative councillors. Thank you for the work that you have done over the years to fly the flag in Warrington South.

Here in Westminster, I am particularly pleased to have played a small part by serving on a couple of Committees, on Bills with which I have had some involvement outside of this world. The Media Bill, the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, and the Online Safety Act 2023, all of which we legislated for in this Parliament, will set the course of this country for the next 20 years.

I have listened to every speech, and nobody has mentioned the people who make us sound and look great on the TV and radio every day. The people who turn on the microphones, twiddle the knobs and push the faders—they will probably cut me off now—do the work to make sure that our constituents at home can see and hear the work that goes on here. I pay particular tribute and thank the team who work behind the glass in this Chamber.

My first question to the Prime Minister back in early 2020 was about funding for the Peace Centre in Warrington. It was set up by Colin and Wendy Parry following the Warrington IRA bomb that took their son Tim and also killed Johnathan Ball. The circumstances were tragic. This speech would not be complete if I did not mention the Peace Foundation, as the Peace Centre moves into a new phase. I am incredibly grateful for the work they have done in the town I represent.

I want to say thank you to my team in Warrington and here in Westminster: Stephen Taylor, who also served as my agent at the last election and who has stayed with me all the way through as my office manager; Stewart Gardiner, my senior caseworker; Lyndsey Olsen, who gave up being a teacher to come and answer letters from parents about schools—I could not have asked for somebody who has more detailed knowledge to help people navigate their way through the SEND system than Lyndsey; James Parker, who has run my office here in Warrington; Julie Groom, who has joined to make sure I turn up at the right events at the right time; and most recently, Alec de Jongh, who has joined and is a bit of a technical whizz—I have discovered I can do things on Facebook I never knew I could do because of his work. They have been an inspiration and support, and I thank them for their hard work. I also thank them on behalf of my constituents for all the casework and the responses they have given to the 31,000 emails or pieces of casework I have received over the last four and a half years.

Finally, I want to thank my wife, Aggie, and my son Harry. I could not have done it without them; they have made a world of difference.

Standing up for our constituency, I think, is the greatest honour we can have here as a Member of Parliament. I am looking forward to getting behind whoever the Warrington Conservatives choose as the new parliamentary candidate for the new Warrington South seat and putting forward the Prime Minister’s clear plan for securing Britain’s future as we move forward to the general election.

Finally, I want to say thank you to the voters in Warrington South who sent me here. The former Defence Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), said that if the electorate don’t get you, the boundaries will. The boundaries have got me this time; I hope they do not get me next time.

18:06
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
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“Do well, doubt not” is the motto of the Borough of Tunbridge Wells and was my theme when, 19 years ago in this Chamber, from the other side of the House, I made my maiden speech. That motto was not a bad piece of advice and encouragement to a new Member of Parliament, and I have tried to take it to heart during these 19 years.

In my maiden speech I said we needed to get the A21 dualled, we needed to get a new hospital built at Pembury and we needed to help the many people in Tunbridge Wells, a place associated with prosperity, who are in need. Now, 19 years on, we have got the A21 dualled, we have got a new hospital, and it has been my privilege as well as pleasure to help many thousands of people with their difficulties and help them solve some of the problems they have faced in their lives.

Tunbridge Wells is a town with a vigorous voluntary sector. I am proud to be the patron, president or vice-president of many organisations, such as the Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource, the Sea Cadets and the Hospice in the Weald.

For my ability to do all of these things the people of Tunbridge Wells, who for five consecutive general elections have returned me to Parliament. I could not have stood for election without the support of those in my marvellous Conservative association, who first selected me and have been staunch in their support throughout. They are friends as well as colleagues, and I am very grateful to them.

I would like to say a big thank you to my office teams who supported me. I thank my current team, who are in the Gallery with us today: Diane Talbot, and Oliver Gill, who remarkably as a very young man helped draft and get passed a private Member’s Bill to make for the first time it a criminal offence to sexually harass women and girls in public—that was a remarkable legislative achievement for someone very early in his career. We send our love to Fiona Lloyd Williams, who is currently battling with some health difficulties; she herself has battled on behalf of constituents as my caseworker. I thank Annie Jack and Sam Howard, the newest members of my team, and in the past Rachel Godfrey, Matthew Dickens, Adam Hignett, Peter Franklin, David Mercier, Alexine Bullett and Joanna Gunn have supported me marvellously.

Mr Speaker, may I thank you for your kindness and that of your staff over the years, and thank all the staff of the House, particularly the Select Committee staff? I have had the privilege of chairing what has been the most stimulating and exciting Committee of this Parliament: the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee. Our weekly hearings during the height of the pandemic were broadcast live on all the national TV channels. Some of the hearings—a certain one lasted seven hours—attracted an audience in the millions.

Having had the privilege of serving the country in government, I would like to thank all the brilliant civil servants we have. I benefited in particular from two marvellous principal private secretaries, Alex Williams and Jacqui Ward, during my time as Secretary of State. I thank the special advisers I had, including Jacob Willmer, Glenn Hall, Meg Powell-Chandler and Will Holloway.

Finally, I want to thank my family. My parents John and Pat were at the counts, sharing my excitement when I was first elected to this place. I thank my amazing wife Helen and our three children, every one unique and talented and very different. For Allegra, Leila and Peter, their whole lives, almost, have been spent with me coming to this place and with weekends being taken up with constituents—I could not have done it without them.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to serve the country as well as my constituents, which I could not have done had it not been for the people of Tunbridge Wells returning me to this place. I am the son of a milkman from Middlesborough. I am the first person in any generation of my family to have been educated beyond the age of 16. To have been able to do what I have done in this place and in government is entirely down to the people of Tunbridge Wells, so I express my gratitude to them for returning me to this place. There are 650 constituencies in this country, but I defer to the words of H. G. Wells, who when he contemplated Tunbridge Wells said:

“Tunbridge Wells is Tunbridge Wells, and there is really nothing like it upon our planet.”

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Richard Bacon.

18:12
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you slide gracefully into the Chair. I am pleased to see you there too. Before you disappear, Mr Speaker, I thank you for everything you have done. You have been a tremendous Speaker during my time here and, like many others, I am very grateful to you. I hope we see each other again before too long.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is an enormous pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I know that I cannot now say Madam Chairman, as I know you would have liked me to yesterday, but we like to do things properly in this House. If I say “you”, I will be referring to you, and not anybody else.
I would like to thank my South Norfolk constituents for sending me here at six successive general elections. I want to thank my private secretary and office manager Tracy Reeve for 27 years of outstanding service, both to me and my South Norfolk constituents for all of my 23 years as an MP and for some four years before that as private secretary to my predecessor John MacGregor, now Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. You know him well, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you served as his special adviser many years ago, before either of us was in this House. You know Tracy Reeve, my private secretary for many years after Lord MacGregor left the Commons, and you know my constituency of South Norfolk very well too, so it is a great pleasure to finish this debate with you in the Chair. Nothing I have done in the last 23 years for my South Norfolk constituents would have been possible without Tracy Reeve, and I am enormously grateful for her service.
This morning I was lying in bed with my wife Catherine and my dog Beaufort, who had made himself comfortable using the well-known “commando crawl through a non-existent space” technique for which spaniels are famous—by the way, my wife will get very cross if I do not mention her dog Calouste. As I was lying there patting his head and thinking of what I wanted to say, I was reminded about a story I heard from a colleague in the Tea Room the other day. As a Conservative Member of Parliament, she had attended the Conservative candidates’ weekend selection process, and she said that she had heard one of the would-be candidates opine that there was no point in becoming an MP unless one became a Minister. One hopes that he will learn quite a lot before he ever gets anywhere near this place—if he does at all—because, plainly, that is completely incorrect.
My colleague’s story reminded me of another one, particularly in this week when we have finally righted the long-standing injustices of the infected blood scandal—I remember Alistair Burt standing around here talking about it at the end of the 2017 Parliament, and that was very recently in relation to the length of that scandal—and the Post Office Horizon scandal. I remember that, as I left the Public Accounts Committee in 2017, after some 16 years, Tony Collins, the renowned computer journalist, telephoned me about it. Luckily, because I was then involved in other matters to do with housing, James Arbuthnot, and many others in this place, took it up very seriously.
As we finally correct those wrongs this week, and are reminded of other huge wrongs over many decades, such as the one corrected by the work of those including Andy Burnham—the Hillsborough scandal—and of other great work by many other great colleagues, I was reminded of another story. Consider the following:
“Investigations into the allegations have revealed them to be a mixture of unsubstantiated rumour, incorrect information or repetition of earlier allegations which have been fully investigated and found to be unsupported by the facts.
A question: was that official statement aimed at refuting public disquiet about (1) the efficacy of measures taken against Foot and Mouth, (2) the reliability of the army’s S80 rifle and radio sets in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, (3) a government order that police should keep protesters out of sight during the state visit of the President of China, (4) the possibility that BSE can cross the species barrier to humans, (5) the loss of an RAF Chinook helicopter and twenty-five security personnel on the Mull of Kintyre, (6) the existence of illnesses collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome, (7) the export to Iraq of machine tools capable of arms manufacture, (8) the circumstances surrounding the torpedoing of the Belgrano, (9) the radiation sickness claimed by some participants in the British atomic tests of the 1950s”—
which my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) has so assiduously campaigned on, having even joined by telephone a surgery that I had with my constituents because I knew that he knew more about that matter than anyone else—
“(10) experiments carried out at Porton Down during the same period (11) the denial of full pensions to thousands of disabled ex-servicemen (and their widows) for over fifty years, or (12) …the loss of the carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorts in 1940?
The answer is that the statement was made by the Ministry of Defence in December 1994 to refute a body of opinion that there might, indeed, be a condition…referred to as Gulf War Syndrome. But it could just as well have been…those others”.
We all know this. It is a phenomenon that Tim Slessor, in his book, “Ministries of Deception”—which I am quoting from here—refers to as “the Whitehall Loop”.
“At its simplest, this is the closed circuit procedure where, in reply to questions asked of a government department or minister, the answers are put together by the very same civil servants whose earlier judgement is both the subject and the cause of the inquiry in the first place.”
I remember bumping into Simon Burns, who was, at the time, the Health Minister responsible for the national programme for IT in the health service—the NPfIT, as it was called. There were at least eight other Ministers during that period; I tracked it closely from 2002 to 2011. I would not recommend that anyone read it unless they have a particularly masochistic disposition, but in the book that I wrote about Government, I devoted an entire chapter to the NPfIT, where I lovingly detailed the many ways in which what was then called “Connecting for Health” managed to conceal information about how badly things were going. One day, Simon Burns came up to me in the Tea Room and said, “Richard, I am sick and tired of being told things by you, and then finding out six months later that they are true.”
The truth is that, whether it is on the Child Support Agency, the Criminal Records Bureau, the tax credit scandal, the Rural Payments Agency scandal—which has led some farmers, sadly, to commit suicide—the Student Loans Company, or the recruitment of junior doctors, or many, many other things, it is our constituents who, through us as their Members of Parliament, keep Government honest. They so often know far more about how Government is actually working than the Government themselves do. That is why we need Members of Parliament who see their chief job as representing and protecting their constituents, and as requiring the Government of the day, of whichever political complexion, to justify themselves and to keep explaining their actions.
I am delighted to see my friend the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) back in her place. Of the various things I have done in the 23 years I have been here, I have not found any more consequential—or more fun—than the work we did together when I was her deputy Chairman on the Public Accounts Committee, between 2010 and 2015. She performed an extraordinary service and, by the way, wrote a great book about it, “Called to Account”, which hon. Members may wish to read.
It says next in my notes, “Dame Eleanor said,” but that is because when I wrote them you were not in your seat, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you yourself said yesterday, MPs of all parties are the people who do not just shout at the television but
“get up and do something about it.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2024; Vol. 750, c. 1104.]
It is an honourable estate; it is an honourable calling. It is one of the most important things we can do. It is worth devoting oneself to, to the point of exhaustion, in order to keep our people free and to keep our Governments honest.
It says here “self-commissioned housing”, so I suppose I had better say a word about that before I conclude. It is well known that for the past 10 years or so, since I steered through the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015, I have worked very hard to try to implement that. I see the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), nodding. I remember bouncing up to her in the Lobby many years ago, when she was Prime Minister, and saying, “Is it true that self-build housing was discussed at Cabinet this morning?” She said, “Yes.”
I am sorry to report that there is still more to do. I see the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) in her place. I nearly succeeded in coaxing her into giving evidence for the report I did in 2021 for the then Prime Minister—it was several Prime Ministers ago; we have had quite a few. There are some excellent recommendations in there, some of which have even been implemented. I wrote to the current Housing Secretary on 11 March with some detailed suggestions about how the recommendations might be implemented.
I will sit down in one or two minutes, but I must place on the record my huge gratitude to the Culture Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), who, when she was Housing Minister, allowed me to introduce her to one of the nation’s leading planning silks. Silk to silk, they talked through the issues and the things I was proposing. My right hon. and learned Friend said to her officials, “What’s wrong with this?” and they could not provide her with an answer, so that now sits on the statute book as section 123 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023. I hope that a future Government will do their best to implement it, and I shall certainly be encouraging them to do so.
In conclusion, I will just say this. It has always been an article of faith to me that there is no “they”, just “us”. If there are things we want to fix and change, it is we who have to do it. As Karl Popper put it—I am not jealous of many things, but I am jealous of the right hon. Member for Barking because she was at the London School of Economics when he was still teaching there:
“Progress depends on us, on our watchfulness and our efforts, on the clarity of our conception of our aims and on the reasonableness of their choice. Instead of posing as prophets, we must be the makers of our fate.”
18:23
Matthew Offord Portrait Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)
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It is a great honour to be the last speaker on the Back Benches in this debate. We have heard great emotion from many people, and I realise that it is such a wrench for many people to leave Parliament. It has been an honour for all of us to serve, but particularly for me to serve as the Member of Parliament for Hendon. I have been intimately involved in eight parliamentary elections in the past 28 years. In many ways, in some seats, it is no great achievement for someone to be elected. It is in the marginal seats that it is an achievement. We are the ones that have changed Governments.

I thank my constituents in Hendon for electing me on four occasions. At the last election, I received 26,878 votes, the highest number of Conservative votes in the constituency since 1935. It sometimes irked me when I was first elected in 2010 that I had a majority of 106 and over 20,000 people had elected me, while there were others sitting on different Benches who had received fewer votes than me but had huge majorities. That did not feel quite right.

Each and every Member present will claim that their constituency is different from everyone else’s, but Hendon—just like London—is very diverse. As someone who was born and grew up in the south of England and never saw a person of colour until the age of 12, being in Hendon did not come as a great shock to me, but it has taught me a huge amount. I have a large Jewish constituency, a large Muslim constituency, Hindus, the largest Chinese community outside of Soho and Manchester, and the largest Iranian community in the whole country.

There are many issues that connect those different religious groups, which I have always campaigned on, but there has also been a huge amount of diversity in the local economy. We have seen huge development, meaning that the boundary changes that have been applied will make a difference. Under the previous Conservative council, when I was a councillor, we introduced development that created the Stonegrove estate, the Grahame Park estate, Beaufort Park, West Hendon, Upper Fosters and the Peel Centre. All made homes for people in their local area, and we should be very grateful for that.

As I said, I have worked on issues that have brought communities together, but the reason why I have focused on the Jewish community is that they are a small number in this country—about 300,000. The number of Muslims in this country is more like 6 million, and their voices will be heard by the different Members of Parliament in this place. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) raised issues of concern to many of my constituents—issues about antisemitism and education—but I am pleased that this week, Lord Pickles published his report of the Alderney expert review, laying to rest the issue of a concentration camp on British soil during the second world war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole has seen other things as well. A particular issue of concern to my constituents is that of Israel, which is understandable. My hon. Friend and I visited Israel a few weeks after the 7 October attacks. We visited Kfar Aza, and I only wish that each and every Member here in Parliament could experience what we did. I have not said this before, but my hon. Friend said to me that he could not take pictures during that day, and I told him that we must. Just as Bert Hardy and other photographers went into Bergen-Belsen and the other concentration camps, I said, “We have to go there and take pictures, so that the world knows this really did happen.” We have had people saying that it did not happen, but I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it did.

I would be one of those hawkish Members who wants to see the issue in Gaza resolved, but I do not believe a ceasefire now would achieve that. I do not want to see any deaths on any side, but when Members said recently in a debate that there had been 30,000 civilian deaths, I tried to challenge that. We do not know how many of those people are civilians and how many are Hamas fighters—the Foreign Office said that it has not made a prediction of that number—but we do know that 80% of people in Gaza support Hamas, and Hamas has got to be removed.

The decision of Ireland, Norway and Spain this week to recognise an independent Palestinian state is not only wrong, but allows the conclusion to emerge that terrorism works, and we cannot allow that. It is simply impossible to recognise a state that has never existed in any meaningful form, so what exactly are those countries recognising? I gently say to the premiers of Spain and Ireland that they have never particularly recognised their minority communities.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said that you should never ask a question in this place if you do not know the answer. There was an occasion when I asked the former Prime Minister—now Lord Cameron—if he would visit Israel. I have to say that one of the best experiences of being in Parliament was the moment when I visited Lord Cameron in his suite at the King David hotel. We walked past the guys with machine guns guarding him, and we sat and drank whisky with him. I have to say that it was not that different from sitting on the throne in Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad—of course, without Saddam Hussein, and with whisky.

We have lived through an extraordinary period in this Parliament. People often ask me, “What is the best part of being an MP?” I find that easy to answer: it is the people, particularly the constituents. The stories that they tell are sometimes heart-wrenching, often annoying, regularly amusing and always interesting. I have had great people working with me in the constituency—some political, some not. I particularly think of people like Val Duschinsky and Hugh Rayner, who work with me in the Hendon association, as well as Rabbi Ginsbury, Simon Rea and Mushtaq Rehman, the respective leaders of their religious communities. Activists such as Rupa Monerawela, Richard Nash and Manubhai Makwana have been a great support to me. There are also individuals such as Ari Leaman, who has done so much for the teenage community, and Lorraine Bushell for the Grandparents’ Association.

I am asked what is the biggest mistake that I have ever made as a Member of Parliament. That is easy to answer: it was on the military action in Libya, when I walked past my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and thought, “How’s he going to explain why he’s voting against this?” But we not only created a failed state, but significantly contributed to the current immigration and asylum crisis. That was my biggest mistake, and I bitterly regret it.

The right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) said that being an MP is not what it used to be, and she is correct. Several years ago I was on a boat and the skipper said, “What was it you said that you did for a living?” I said, “I didn’t.” Before long, one of the other crew said, “Well, it can’t be as bad as being a Member of Parliament.” It is still vital to be a Member of Parliament; those who come after us will recognise that.

I leave on one note that I am particularly sad about. For 30 years, I have complained about sewage in our rivers and our seas. Not much has changed over the last 30 years; all that has changed is that the Government have implemented a scheme for monitoring the amount of sewage that goes into our rivers and our seas. The Lib Dems are making this a central plank of their election campaign. They should be advised that their MPs voted against the super-sewer here in London, so they do not have a good record on the issue. In my opinion, the EU directive was never fit for purpose, so while Ministers have repeatedly claimed that water quality is improving, it is simply not; it is the way that water quality is measured. Such claims lead me to conclude that this is the same kind of behaviour by Ministers that was witnessed in the contaminated blood scandal.

Having been elected continuously for the last 22 years —for the last 14 as the Member of Parliament for Hendon—has taken a huge toll on me. That is why I have decided to step down, but I would not change it for a thing. I am looking forward to Ameet Jogia, the Conservative candidate, taking forward what we have achieved. He was not only born in the constituency but is a local candidate.

I have to thank my staff for the work that they have done over the last few years. In this Parliament alone, they have undertaken 60,884 pieces of casework. I have had a good staff who have remained friends, beginning with Laura Pike, Hannah Evans, Ness Hirst and Katherine Toone, and now with Eamonn Walsh, George Bose, Carolynne Fisher and Steve Martin, who volunteered, and Hilary Smith, who has been with me for the last 16 years. They have really been true public servants. As was said, they are the ones who ensure that the work is actually completed. Of course, I cannot forget Maximus Decimus Meridius—my Jack Russell, Max—who still attends Parliament on occasions. He has enabled me to concentrate on animal welfare issues. So, in the spirit of a Roman language, I say: veni, vidi, vici.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Just before we come to the wind-up speeches, I hope that the House will indulge me bending the rules for a moment or two to say a few words before I vacate the Chair for the last time—which is a very difficult thing to do. The first time I sat in this Chair, I imagined that it would make me feel like somebody with power and grandeur. I tell you, I felt like Alice in Wonderland—you know that picture of Alice shrinking and the chair getting bigger—because I thought, “This Chair is awfully big and I’m awfully small.” It still feels like that.

I would like first to say a few words about the other occupants of this Chair: the team made up of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers—my dear friends and colleagues. The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton); the Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans); and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), together with Mr Speaker, make up the team who keep this place going every day. It is a brilliant team, and I could not have been more fortunate in having such great people to work with. Not only are they good parliamentarians and great politicians, but they are also great fun, and when we have a moment, we have a very good laugh. I say a very sincere thank you to them all. They stood in for me, looked after me and kept me going when I was seriously ill last year. Thanks to what they did, I am better.

I pay particular tribute to Mr Speaker. At the end of the last Parliament, the House of Commons was in danger of going the wrong way. Sir Lindsay Hoyle has restored dignity, decency, kindness and humour to this place, with a light touch and his own extraordinary personality. I know, because I have seen it every day, how much effort he has put into doing that, and long may he continue.

I thank all those who have helped and supported me over 27 years in Parliament. At the moment, the most important people are those in my office on the Deputy Speakers’ corridor: the wonderful Robi and James. I also thank their great predecessors L-J, Abi, Clemmie, Georgie, Joanna, Sarah and the magnificent Jo-Jo.

I also thank, as lots of Members have, our brilliant Clerks, who are so patient and wise; the Doormen; and the magnificently sympathetic ladies and gentlemen in the Tea Room, especially Mary and Godfrey, who always keep me some fish and chips on a Friday, when the Tea Room closes before the House rises. Of course, I also thank the ladies and gentlemen in the Pugin Room —sometimes we are last in there, too, aren’t we, Mr Deputy Speaker? Don’t tell anybody.

I could never have managed without Jackie and Kelly downstairs. They know who they are; they know how much we rely on and care about them. There are quite a few “Ayes” and “Hear hears!” around the Chamber, mostly—but not entirely—from ladies.

May I also thank the people who have maintained my constituency office and my private office? I am lucky to have such loyal colleagues, all of whom have also become great friends of mine and of each other. There have been very few of them over a span of 30 years, because they have all stayed for a very long time. I really do not know how they have the patience to deal with me, day in, day out—I could not do it. I thank in particular Debbie, Jess, Karen, Beverly, Carol, Iona, Gilly, Frankie, Tom, Sophie and Sean.

Epping Forest Conservative Association is a brilliant team. I see that the hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), who was once its chairman, is sitting on the Front Bench, acknowledging and agreeing with what I say. The association has provided a great many colleagues in this place, notably—as well as my hon. Friend—our late friend James Brokenshire. It will be good to take a moment to remember him, and the other colleagues whom we have lost. James’s wife Cathy—I should perhaps say his widow—has been an absolute stalwart of my office for the last two and a half years, carrying on so much of the good work that James started. The Conservative association team has been led forever, I think, by our wonderful president, the inimitable Valerie Metcalfe, who, having told me what to do over seven general elections, is affectionally known as my fairy god-agent.

Many Members have said this afternoon that the people who make the sacrifices for us Members of Parliament are our families. I am fortunate enough to have a great family and a lot of very close friends, and I am thinking particularly of my lifelong friends. I will not embarrass them by mentioning them, because they are not politicians, but they know who they are. They have stood by me through good times and bad. I will, however, mention my brother Robbie and my wonderful son Matthew, who has spent his entire life with a crazy mother who is a Member of Parliament. It would not be wrong to say that he was brought up in this building. He was born exactly a week after the 2001 general election, and he was very early, something that I have never been. I apologise to all the people whom I have kept waiting over the years, which is most of them.

Finally, let me say a sincere thank you to my constituents in Epping Forest, the people who have given me the chance to be their representative here for 27 years. I have friends in Epping Forest in every political party, in every town and village, in every walk of life. They are brilliant, brilliant people. They are the backbone of this country, and I am sure that they would agree with whoever said, “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that good men”—and women—“do nothing”. They, we, and all the people who have been talked about this afternoon are the good people who do not do nothing, and that is why evil will not prevail.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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This has been the most emotional day of my life. You have caused me to cry a dozen times, you people, and I am still crying. We now come to the winding-up speeches, and I call Lucy Powell.

18:43
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Let me say again, as I have already this week, how much admiration I have for Madam Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing), and the other Madam Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton). They are both marvellous, inspiring, incredibly stylish women. Parliament, and the parliamentary hairdressers, will be all the poorer for their departure. I wish them both well in the future, and I am sure that we will see them again.

It is my pleasure to wind up this valedictory debate, at 6.44 pm on a Friday; I do not intend to make a habit of speaking in Parliament so late on a Friday. We have had 31 speeches today, all of which have been incredibly moving, powerful and emotional. As the main Labour person in the Chamber for the past four and a half hours, I have felt slightly like a gate-crasher at a private party, but I am glad to have been here. Today has shown that all of us in politics know that this is a vocation, not a job. It is a life in service, always in the public eye, and very rarely with an off switch. We have been reminded today, as we often are, that the constituents are the boss, and our families are the bedrock.

A huge amount of parliamentary experience is leaving this place today. I could not even add up the collective number of years of service by everybody who has spoken today. It is a huge amount, and we should recognise that for what it is. While I personally am excited for the general election, I have felt a great deal of sadness today and this week for so many people departing. I have felt today how many of my friends on the Government Benches are leaving. It has been a very emotional day for all of us. These really are the very best days in Parliament. I am sure that we can all agree on that. It has felt a little bit like the last day at high school, which today is for lots of year 11s and year 13s across the country. Perhaps we can all swap shirts at the end of the debate and sign them for each other. [Interruption.] Okay, well, we could all sign each other’s shirts—you know what I mean!

One of the themes of contributions today is the importance of cross-party working, so I will try to respond in that spirit. How fitting it was that the two opening speeches were from such long-standing, powerful women Members of Parliament. This has been very different from many valedictory debates that we have had in years gone by. Those two women, who I will come on to say something about, inspired many of the other women who spoke today. That was a real theme of the debate.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) sends her apologies: she cannot be here for the wind-ups, and wants it noted that she had a bit of an accident with an out-of-control buggy when she was on granny duty. She is fit and strong, but she had to leave to get more painkillers for her shoulders. She really has been an exemplary Member of Parliament—the Mother of the House, and political mother to many of us. She really did create a path for many of us to follow.

It was also a real privilege to be here for the last speech by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), another fantastic sister to all of us who has been a voice for the voiceless. She leaves an amazing track record that she can be proud of. Her words about democracy and respect for democracy were ones that we will all cherish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is not in his place, though it does not really matter if people are not in their place any more, because there is no sanction. Right to the last, he was the enthusiastic, bobbing Back Bencher who was always there, although he is not there now. He was here every day, for most oral statements and questions, and we shall miss him.

A lot of people are not here, actually. We all recognise that the right hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) was an exemplary Defence Secretary in very difficult times, and the whole country felt a great deal of confidence in him.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who is in her place, has had a long career, but she has always been feared and revered, and respected, in equal measure. Tax avoiders and money launderers take note: she is not going very far. She is a real example of joint working on a cross-party consensus.

The right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) will always have a very long-lasting legacy with the public as the Health Secretary during covid, there on our televisions every evening providing that reassurance. I wish him well with his future career.

This is a very sad, emotional day for the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). It is very sad day for all of us because, although it might be a low bar, as I am sure the whole House can agree, he is definitely the most popular Member of this House from the Scottish National party. [Laughter.] We all wish him really well in the future.

My dear friend the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) has been a great campaigner, a great parliamentarian and a good friend, and has a really strong track record on education. Together with the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), the three of us did our best to try to get this House to agree to Common Market 2.0 and take a slightly more sensible approach to Brexit. I regard them both as friends, and I know that this House will be all the poorer without them here.

The right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) was brilliantly brief and very funny in his remarks.

What a wonderful speech the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) gave. It was very funny and moving, and I completely agree with her that family is everything.

The right hon. Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma) will forever be known as the President of COP26, when the whole world was watching. He did that job absolutely brilliantly and has a strong track record to take with him.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Dame Tracey Crouch) and I are both in our 50th year—she is not here either, because she has family duties. I have immensely enjoyed working with her over the years, especially on football.

The right hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) is another strong woman who succeeded both in her career and in motherhood. She is a great inspiration.

In one short term, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), another friend of mine, has achieved a great deal. I have enjoyed working closely with her on the House of Commons Commission, and I wish her well.

What a typically funny, inspiring, thoughtful and informative speech the hon. and learned Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) gave. He will long be known for all his work on justice, and I am sure he will be back in other guises.

To the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones): what fantastic service you have provided to Wales. I wish you well; or rather, I wish him well—if the right hon. Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing) was here, she would tell me off.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) is another popular Member of this House—so many popular Members are going. He reminded us of the importance of the constituency work we do—although he might want to have a conversation with the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster behind him about other people doing that constituency work for him.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is another Member who I have worked with, on early years and the importance of the first 1,001 days. I have really enjoyed the naughty corner, which he talked about, over these last few years. It will be much depleted after today, although I am not sure that I will follow his advice and try to make myself look like Quentin Letts. That might be a step too far.

The hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) and I have been friends for a number of years. I know that it has been a difficult year for him, but I am sure we can all wish him well for the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) for also being brief—I think we all enjoyed that—and for his passion for education and the work he has done as a Minister and as Chair of the Education Committee. I think we can all most definitely take his advice about screen time.

The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), who is not in her place either, might be relatively young, but I think we can all agree that she has made a real impact during her time in the House of Commons.

What a proud record the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) laid out for us today.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) gave us some great words of advice, which I might print out for all incoming MPs after the election, and is obviously well loved by his neighbours.

The hon. Member for Basildon and Biccarilli—[Interruption.] Billericay—there are lots of Essex Members here today and they know better than me, thankfully. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) is a very independent-minded and strong parliamentarian, and he leaves a legacy that I am sure many others will want to follow.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), as a Health Minister, introduced those vaccines and a cancer plan—what a great record that is. I wish him well, too.

The hon. Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and I have worked together on a number of issues, and I know that broadcasters and those in the media will miss him greatly in this place. As my husband works in Warrington Hospital, the hon. Gentleman and I keep in close touch about how well the hospital is doing under his leadership and support there as the local MP.

The right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) has made a real impact in Parliament, both as a Minister and as a Select Committee Chair, and I know that many Opposition Members greatly respect his work.

The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon)—what long service. He did what no one else had done up to that point, which was to mention his pet dog. He was only matched by the Member who followed him, the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), who spoke very well about the importance of the different communities we all have in our constituencies.

In summing up, I want to say a couple of other things. One Member is not here but, during our debate, he announced that he would be standing down: the hon. Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay). I am sure we will all cheer along with his recovery in the coming months. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

We have also lost some good friends during this Parliament: Tony Lloyd; Jack Dromey, without whom my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham would not have been able to be a Member; Sir David Amess, who we all miss greatly; James Brokenshire; and Dame Cheryl Gillan.

This is a remarkable place to work and this has been a remarkable Parliament, in which we have had Brexit, covid and war. In today’s debate, a few lessons have united everyone who spoke: the importance of our constituencies; the importance of our staff; the importance of our family; and the importance of the staff who work here. I wish you all well.

18:57
Marcus Jones Portrait The Treasurer of His Majesty’s Household (Mr Marcus Jones)
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] I am already receiving a note from the Whips telling me that I have spoken too long. Sending such notes is often my role in this House.

I am delighted to be standing in for the Leader of the House today. I observe that it is tradition, week on week, for the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the Chairman of Ways and Means to spend a considerable amount of time at the parliamentary hairdressers. Unfortunately, I have not made it to the salon today.

I pay tribute to the Chairman of Ways and Means, Dame Eleanor, who is standing down from this House. She has done a fantastic job over a long period, as both a Member of Parliament and a Deputy Speaker. It is sad to see her leave the House. I also pay tribute to Dame Rosie, who is also leaving the House. The Whips spend a lot of time dealing with the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, and it is an important relationship for the workings of this House.

I want to pay tribute to several colleagues who have not spoken in this debate, and I hope you will give me some latitude, Mr Deputy Speaker. I pay tribute to our hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), who is a brave, brave man. Sadly, he is not standing again at the election.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who has been ill for some time, and acknowledge the work he has done in this House and on the Council of Europe. I also want to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), who has also been poorly. I am glad to say that he is standing again at the election. I pay tribute to him and the work he has done, particularly for our fishing industry and several other industries that affect his area.

I will try not to speak for too long, but to mention as many of the speeches as possible. There have been some fantastic speeches, some serious comments have been made, but we have also heard some very good humour. First, let me mention the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). It has been a pleasure to be her Whip for the past 18 months, and one could not find a more dedicated public servant. She has had a distinguished career in this House. She has been the Home Secretary and, as we all know, the Prime Minister. Despite holding those great offices, she has always, every week, been back to her constituency to knock on doors and speak to her constituents. I know from a friend of mine that she has had regular surgeries, regardless of the role she has held in this House.

On the way my right hon. Friend has dealt with things since she was Prime Minister, I would call it—this is a crude term—“old school dedication”. She has assiduously attended this House and spoken in a huge number of debates. She is invariably here to vote. As I say, it has been a pleasure to deal with her closely for the past 18 months. I also pay tribute to Sir Philip May, who has been an excellent aid to my right hon. Friend. It was good to hear her talk about our democracy and the threat to it, and why we should always promote democracy. The speech she made was of the highest quality, as ever.

The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) told us that she had made 9,800 speeches in her 42 years in this House and in that time had never rebelled once. That is a Whip’s dream and I have every admiration for her. She is a great campaigner, has done a massive amount for her constituents and has been a great representative in this place.

The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) also made a very good speech. If he does not mind, I shall call him the humble crofter—it is meant in the greatest of spirits; that is how we affectionately know him on the Conservative Benches. I always used to enjoy Prime Minister’s questions when he was the leader of his party. At times, it got a bit tasty and adversarial, on both sides, but I can attest to the fact that in the Tea Room one could always have a good, civil and pleasant conversation with him, and I thank him for that. He was absolutely right in saying that we are all here to try to improve the lives of our constituents and for the right reasons. He was also right to say, “ Leave whipping to the Whips”, which is a very good principle.

I also want to talk briefly about my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who was an excellent Defence Secretary. He saw the problems in Ukraine with Russia’s invasion of it a long time before they happened. He did a massive amount of groundwork that was under the radar at the time. He also reminded us about the part that the families of Members of Parliament play. That is really important and I wish to thank my wife, Suzanne, my son, Oliver, and my daughter, Martha, who have been huge supporters to me over the past 14 years and will doubtless be huge supporters to me during the general election campaign.

The right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) told a lovely story about being chastised by the great Betty Boothroyd, and she was right to mention the conventions and protocols of this House. They can often be easily forgotten when we are in the heat of battle. They are important for the workings of this House. It is important that this House shows how to operate democracy not just in this country, but across the world.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) talked about how he overcame his dyslexia to become a Member of Parliament and a Cabinet Minister. It is important to inspire future generations to overcome adversity and get here. He also talked about what he did during the pandemic to meet the massive challenges across the country. I thank him for his work. He also mentioned the importance of special advisers. I pay tribute to the Chief Whip’s special adviser, Emma Pryor, who has done a massive amount for the Government.

I had two stints with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) at what was the Department for Communities and Local Government, and then the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. My abiding memory of that second stint, which unfortunately was only for two months, is of working on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 in the 40° heat of the Committee Room. We both knew that we were on our bike, so to speak, but I remember that on the final day of the Bill Committee, he came to sit in the Gallery and watch the whole thing. That is the mark of the man. I thank him very much for all the support, guidance and help that he has given me over my time in the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) went through the important work that he has been doing for many years on the Public Accounts Committee to hold the Government and public services to account. I remember spending many a happy hour with him on the Housing and Planning Act 2016, where he showed his depth of knowledge about self-build housing. I hope that, over time, more of the things that he has advocated for come to fruition, because he has made valid points.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Sir Alok Sharma) for his speech, for the leadership that he has shown on climate issues and for his work as COP26 President.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Dame Tracey Crouch) made an excellent speech. Sadly, the Football Governance Bill that she has championed has not made it through the wash-up, but I hope that the next Government will take it up and deliver on it. She was very kind to me. When I was the pairing Whip, I gave her a slip to go and speak to Manchester United. She turned back up at the Whips Office with a signed Manchester United football that I gave to the Warwickshire air ambulance charity, which auctioned it for £400. I was grateful to her for that.

I think forthright is the word that I would use to describe my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who has been an excellent Member of the House. Usually, Members of Parliament display a great deal of loyalty because they want to get preferment and a ministerial role. He spent a lot of time rebelling but, despite that, secured a ministerial role. Having worked alongside him during his stint as the Northern Powerhouse Minister, I can say what an excellent job he did.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) made a characteristic speech. The man is the most expensive MP in Parliament and the MP for white van man—quite literally. His work on the fuel duty, which has been frozen, or actually reduced, since 2011, has been phenomenal. He has cost the Treasury billions of pounds, but he has done a massive service to his constituents and mine—to all of our constituents—to help them cope with the cost of living.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) reeled off a huge list of achievements, particularly as a Health Minister. I thank him for his work.

It was a pleasure to serve with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) in the Whips Office. She does not look like it, but she is a true grafter not just for her constituents but for the Government, particularly in her role as Vice Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household. In the time that I was working with her, she made a huge effort to support the welfare of many of her colleagues, and I thank her for that. She also did a huge amount during the pandemic as a Health Minister. It was good to hear her reflections on that difficult period for the country.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) did not speak for as long as I expected—he obviously was not charging by the unit today. I was lucky enough to be the Minister responsible for local government for two and a half years. He had that role too, and I know how much he enjoyed it and the good work that he did. He was also pubs Minister, as was I, and as you have always wanted to be, Mr Deputy Speaker. If my hon. and learned Friend will indulge me, I recall a Westminster Hall debate in which he was described as the pint-sized pubs Minister. He took it all in his stride and with his characteristic great heart. One someone who has been a Minister, it is quite easy to drift away, but he has not done that. He took on the role of Chair of the Justice Committee, and he is one of the most assiduous and prolific contributors in this Chamber. He will be missed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) talked about the changing nature of the work of MPs since he came into the House. It has certainly changed in the 14 years that I have been here. I know how hard he has worked for his constituents. A friend of mine was eternally grateful when he managed to save the ground of Old Emanuel RFC in his constituency. That is the type of work that is invaluable from a Member of Parliament for constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) talked about the huge events that have taken place since he has been in this House. He rightly mentioned the Iraq war, the financial crisis, Brexit and covid. He highlighted the world-changing events over the last 20 years and what Governments over that time have had to contend with. He mentioned the importance of children’s social care and children’s development, particularly in the first 1,000 days, and I agreed with his points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) talked about his achievements as a UK trade envoy, and I thank him for his service and dedication to that role over a number of years. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) reeled off a catalogue of achievements, especially his work on baby loss, parental bereavement, children’s services and special educational needs, which is so important to many young people and families across the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) made a very pertinent point about Members of Parliament gaining experience. The armed forces parliamentary scheme has a great deal of value for Members of Parliament who have not been in the forces. After being on the scheme, they understand more about our forces and what being a member of our brave armed forces is about and how they often have to work in difficult circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) made a very self-deprecating speech. I recall working with him very closely when we tried to stop the disbanding of the 2nd Regiment of the Royal Fusiliers. Sadly, we were not successful, but he did a massive amount of work on that. All I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) is: pedicabs. I congratulate her on that legislation, because it will make central London safer and more welcoming to visitors. I thank her for that.

On the contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), we all want a legacy from our time here in the House. She certainly has that in the British Sign Language Act 2022 and the work she has done for British Sign Language. She was right to point out the importance for this and the next Government of ensuring that there is support for people who are deaf and that we make things accessible.

My abiding memory of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), from when I was growing up, is him with his head sticking out of a tank—I think it was in Kosovo or Bosnia. He is a very gallant gentleman and, in his own inimitable style, he talked about his 14 years in this place and the hazards of Hansard, with which he may have had issues at times. He is a true friend and a very loyal colleague to many.

Matt Hancock Portrait Matt Hancock
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While the Minister has been on his feet, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has announced that he will not be standing for election again. He has served almost entirely within the Cabinet over the past 14 years, and I am sure that he would have participated in this debate, had he had the opportunity. I am sure that the Minister will want to make some remarks about him, too.

Marcus Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I thank my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who has a significant legacy through his work as Education Secretary. He was not always popular, but we now have significantly more good and outstanding schools in this country following 14 years of a Conservative Government and his work. The English education system has gone up the league table, and we now have the best readers in the western world. We have also gone up the league tables in reading, writing and maths, and he can be very proud of that record, as can this Government.

Before I make my final remarks, I would like to thank MPs’ staff, who do a huge amount of work throughout the year and over the course of a Parliament. They do a lot of work that people do not see or acknowledge, but they give a massive amount of support to Members of Parliament. I would like to thank Jeff Clarke, Alan Farnell, Martyn Punyer, Jonathan Collett, Laura Thurston and Steph Henshaw, who work in my offices.

I would also like to thank the House staff, including the security, the police officers who keep us safe, and the Doorkeepers—if you want to know anything that is going on in this place, ask the Doorkeepers. They are a reliable source of information, but they are also a very important part of the work that we do here. Just like the Deputy Speakers and the Opposition parties’ Whips Offices, the Doorkeepers are an integral part of running this place. That was particularly important when we sent most Members of Parliament back home during the covid pandemic lockdowns and ran a virtual Parliament, when co-operation was most needed. I would also like to thank the officials who support the Whips Office, and I thank the Leader of the House’s officials on her behalf.

To conclude, I wish those standing in the election a very safe campaign. I hope that my colleagues on this side of the House who are standing again are returned, and I wish them the best of luck. On behalf of the House, I wish those standing down the very best in whatever they are going on to do once they leave this place. I thank them for their service, and for their dedication to their constituents and this place, over the time that they have been here.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I agree with the Minister that I was the best pubs Minister this country has never had. Can I also say how much I am going to miss both Rosie and Eleanor? It has been a privilege to be working as a team on the Ways and Means corridor—it has been absolutely superb—and Mr Speaker has been absolutely fantastic with us and, indeed, with the House. It has not been an easy year for Lindsay: as you know, his father was ill, and the great Doug Hoyle passed away earlier this year. I am sure many of us will remember Doug with huge fondness.

The Minister mentioned John Howell and David Duguid, and I wish both of them well in their recovery. I visited Craig Mackinlay in hospital about a dozen times, and I have to say that if you could bottle his positivity, he would be a billionaire. He was amazing with his resilience and his inner strength, and I wish him, Kati and Olivia the very best for the future.

As you have said, all of you who are standing down have been my friends—you have all touched me over many, many years as great friends. I have been an MP for 32 years, and I know that some of you have been MPs for longer; others have been MPs for less time, but you have all been great friends during that time, and I wish you all the very best for the future. For those who are standing, I wish you the very best of luck.

As you can see, there is no Adjournment debate today, and that is why Jim Shannon is not here. [Laughter.]

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Dissolution.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Good luck, everyone.