Margaret Beckett debates involving the Cabinet Office

There have been 12 exchanges involving Margaret Beckett and the Cabinet Office

Wed 30th December 2020 European Union (Future Relationship) Bill 3 interactions (430 words)
Tue 4th December 2018 European Union (Withdrawal) Act 3 interactions (1,737 words)
Wed 29th March 2017 Article 50 3 interactions (103 words)
Wed 6th July 2016 Report of the Iraq Inquiry 3 interactions (83 words)
Tue 7th June 2016 Draft Representation of the People (England and Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2016 (General Committees) 3 interactions (113 words)
Thu 11th February 2016 Short Money and Policy Development Grant 3 interactions (167 words)
Wed 2nd December 2015 ISIL in Syria 5 interactions (785 words)
Thu 19th December 2013 Detainee Inquiry 3 interactions (85 words)
Mon 9th December 2013 Tributes to Nelson Mandela 3 interactions (537 words)
Wed 4th September 2013 Oral Answers to Questions 3 interactions (34 words)
Mon 9th July 2012 House of Lords Reform Bill 13 interactions (950 words)
Mon 6th September 2010 Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill 5 interactions (832 words)

European Union (Future Relationship) Bill

(2nd reading)
(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 30th December 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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No, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

When my father, who survived serious personal injury during the war, was involved in the first negotiations about joining the European Union, I asked him for his views on the economic impact. He said that, on balance, it did not make much difference. We joined in 1973—two years before I was elected to the House of Commons—but it did not make a big difference to our economy until after 1979, when the change in Britain resulted in us going from being the sick man of Europe to being people who were looked on with respect, with many asking, “How did you do it?” The answer was in part by chance and in part by freedom and a cautious approach to a free market economy, led by Margaret Thatcher, who also led the significant debates to stay in the European Union in 1975. That was one of the best speeches she ever made and it can be read via the Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

I was nominated, or vouched for, as a candidate by Sir Robin Turton, a leading anti-marketeer. Margaret Thatcher and I—and, I argue, the country—won the June 1975 by-election after Neil Martin, a leading campaigner against staying in the European Common Market, asked Conservatives to vote for me, even though he and I disagreed, in the same way that Sir Robin Turton and I disagreed when he supported me.

We are often taken down paths we do not expect—the Prime Minister can probably vouch for that himself. I believe that we have to make a success of our present situation, and we have to make sure, as one of my friends kindly said, that we open a new chapter in a vibrant relationship with our continental cousins. We can, some of us, look with affection on the past, with admiration at what has been achieved in this past year, and with confidence to the future.

We ought to stop using this as an argument for Scottish independence. We ought to accept that the Labour party has, in many of its proud traditions, put the national interest before party interest. I say to the Prime Minister, as I said to him in reasonable privacy one day, that we want a leader we can trust and a cause that is just, so will he please lead us in the right direction in future?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab) [V]
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Today is the day on which the Prime Minister promised us that he would get Brexit done, in one of the many sermons and catchphrases that have not illuminated but rather obscured this debate. At the weekend we had a good example of that obscurity—the Prime Minister mentioned it today—with the £660 billion deal that enables us to trade with the European Union with zero tariffs and zero quotas. I am sure that many fairly casual observers get the impression that this is some kind of negotiating triumph that we have wrung from the European Union. The fact is, however, that these are privileges and rights that we already had. The £660 billion is what we have salvaged—it is what we have left from what was a much greater package of rights and freedoms.

I am not knocking it—it is a good thing—but it is important to recognise that it is not a net gain.

That is not all that is obscure and misleading. The Prime Minister spoke today about fishing rights—I think his phrase was that we would be able to catch whatever we like. If we look at this agreement, we see that that is not the case. He said that there were no non-tariff barriers, as well as the tariff agreements on trade, but that is not true either. The agreement makes it clear that there is much more bureaucracy and many more rules and regulations—the very things that the Prime Minister claimed we would be escaping. Littered throughout the agreement are working parties, specialist committees and the partnership council, to negotiate when there are differences.

Even for the stuff that has been agreed, a great deal of bureaucracy and negotiation surrounds it, and there is much that is left out, including the protection of designated products such as Stilton so that quality can be maintained and we can be assured that our producers have their rights in the market—that is all put on one side. It has already been mentioned in the debate that the huge issue of financial services has been left on one side and will have to be addressed in the future. This weekend, a blogger described the provisions in the treaty as “negotiations without end”.

Today, we have a Hobson’s choice: we are for or we accept this deal, or we have no deal. That is why my vote will be cast to accept the passage of this legislation to the statute book. I do not accept that that means we cannot criticise it in future; I certainly intend to do so.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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In these historic days, as we regain our freedom and independence, I pay a profound tribute to our democracy and to the sovereignty of the mother of Parliaments, but above all to the voters in the referendum and the general election last December and, of course, to our Prime Minister, who, against all the odds, led us out of parliamentary paralysis last year to victory, delivering us from 48 years of subjugation to EU laws and European Court jurisdiction and regaining our sovereignty. Our Prime Minister—a great classicist—is, like his hero Pericles, the first citizen of his country and, like him, has saved our democracy. Like Alexander the Great, Boris has cut the Gordian knot. Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would have been deeply proud of his achievements, and so are we.

This Bill on our future relationship with the EU provides for a new exciting era for our trade with Europe and the rest of the world on sovereign terms—not on those of the EU, as with the Chequers deal. We must pay tribute to David Frost, Oliver Lewis and the Attorney General and her advisers for the successful outcome of the negotiations. There remain challenges on fishing and in relation to Northern Ireland; we must use our new and renewed sovereignty to exercise the political muscle that it gives us to resolve those challenges. We can, and I believe we will.

Regaining our right to govern ourselves is a true turning point in our great history. In peacetime, it compares only with the restoration by Monck in 1660, on the absolute condition of parliamentary consent, then followed by the Hanoverian succession in 1689 and the evolution of our modern parliamentary democracy, which has been the bedrock of our freedom and which enabled us, with the leadership of Churchill, to repel the danger of conquest in May 1940.

In April 1990, I was asked by Margaret Thatcher to lunch at No. 10 with members of the Cabinet. Margaret Thatcher asked me what I felt about Europe. I replied, “Prime Minister, your task is more difficult than Churchill’s. He was faced with bombs and aircraft. You are faced with pieces of paper.” Our Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has achieved what all those years ago I was told was impossible. I refused to believe that. So did the Maastricht rebels and, last year, the 28 Tory Spartans. That opened the way to where we are today. We have now won back our sovereignty, despite those European pieces of paper, and we in this country owe our Prime Minister our deepest congratulations on his achievement.

European Union (Withdrawal) Act

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Tuesday 4th December 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Graham Brady Portrait Sir Graham Brady
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4 Dec 2018, 8:42 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not going to enlighten him on that, although I could enlighten him on so many other things.

There is so much that is good and sensible in the proposed withdrawal agreement. Crucially, the implementation period gives business a degree of certainty and the time to accommodate to changes. That is critically important. Also, I think that Members on both sides of the House absolutely welcome the mutual protection of citizens that is embodied in the agreement. That has been very important to Members on both sides of the House ever since the referendum over two years ago.

The Prime Minister was clear in her assessment when she said that there are those Members who would like to see much closer integration than is proposed in the withdrawal agreement. There are also those who would like to see a much looser relationship than is proposed. I am firmly in the latter camp. I find much in the agreement disagreeable. I think that it does propose to tie us in too closely to the European Union in the future. But like many others in this House, I recognise that there is a need to compromise. I recognise that at a time when we are negotiating with 27 other countries, and at a time when there is no overall majority in the House of Commons, some compromise is necessary.

But—this is my central point for my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—while recognising that compromise is necessary, there is one compromise beyond all others that makes this withdrawal agreement very difficult for many of us to support. It is the possibility, however remote, that we might be leaving a treaty that allows us to give notice to quit to join one that can only be left with the consent of the other party. To do that in the name of taking back control is very difficult for many of us to accept.

Over the next seven days, I urge the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister in the strongest possible terms to redouble their efforts to find a way to give real reassurance that we, the United Kingdom, could leave the backstop in the event that we have to enter it and to recognise that if negotiations on a future trading arrangement were to break down, there has to be a way to leave that backstop agreement. We have seven days of debate and discussion ahead of us. Many of us are hoping to hear that reassurance and are willing the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister well in that process.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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4 Dec 2018, 5:12 p.m.

Over 20 years ago, as the new President of the Board of Trade, my first overseas visit to a major trade partner—Japan—was dominated by the most overwhelming concern. Business and politicians alike wanted reassurance that the then new Labour Government would not be leaving the European Union. They were polite, but they were blunt. They had invested in the UK because the UK was in the European Union, and if we left, so would they. Just today, their ambassador re-emphasised their nervousness.

So in 2016, I could foresee serious economic harm to Britain’s interests, but I accepted that we had to abide by the referendum result and concentrate our energies on damage limitation. Despite the mixes messages from the Government, I voted to trigger article 50 and the process of withdrawal, but frankly, since then, it has been downhill all the way. First, it became clear that those who had clamoured for us to leave the European Union had not the faintest idea what to do next. There was no concrete plan for the nation’s future—just a series of sweeping assertions about how easy, swift and painless leaving would be and the golden future that awaited us.

Then we saw that the Prime Minister’s decisions were being taken not in the best interests of the country, but to satisfy her Brexit extremists. The withdrawal Bill then proposed that the control we were taking should be returned not to Parliament but to Ministers, with little, if any, real parliamentary scrutiny. Asserting Parliament’s legitimate role has been an uphill struggle, as we saw in the most recent Division today.

Article 50 allows only a two-year window for negotiations, so I expected the Government to seek the fastest possible progress. I agreed with them that withdrawal and future partnership were best considered side by side, but when that was rejected, concluding negotiations on part one—the withdrawal agreement—became all the more urgent. Leaving is one thing; what matters more is where we are going and on what terms, and that dialogue has yet to begin in earnest.

If anyone had said that we would reach the end of our two-year window struggling to reach any deal at all, I would never have believed it. But it is hard to negotiate successfully if we cannot agree on what we want, wilfully throw away our negotiating flexibility and sack people who tell us what we do not want to hear.

Over these two years, while the Government have wrangled endlessly about how to proceed, one disastrously unforeseen consequence of leaving the EU after another has been revealed. Government Members keep insisting that everyone who voted knew exactly what they were doing and what the possible consequences would be. It may be so. All I can say is, I did not.

When I heard the Prime Minister pontificating about escaping the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, it never crossed my mind that that meant leaving Euratom—the watchdog not just for cancer treatment, but for the safety of nuclear power stations. I know from ministerial experience that we have, and have had for years, a shortage of people across the world with those skills and capacities, and we are about to leave behind some of those on whom we presently rely. However, whatever I did not know, I did know how much we rely on Dover for our import and export trade. I had not focused either on the losses to our scientific and medical research, or things such as the Galileo project.

As each of these problems emerges, I keep hearing that it is all right because the Government will continue all this investment—for example, to support our farmers—all on our own, so clearly the Prime Minister has found another of those magic money trees. Much of our consumption—for example, our food consumption—relies on the frictionless trade that we now enjoy, so, too, does modern manufacturing. Key goods and components are perpetually whizzing around the European Union and back to the UK, and thousands of jobs across Britain depend on this just-in-time delivery. That is why I was appalled to hear the Prime Minister announce, casually, that Britain would leave both the single market and the customs union—and, what is more, that these were red lines.

The economist Professor Patrick Minford declared the other day that just as the Thatcher years saw the demise of major industries such as coal and steel, so, too, leaving the EU, which he nevertheless supports, will probably—and, in my view, disastrously—see the end of what is left of UK manufacturing. I know that, nevertheless, most of the business community urges us to vote for this deal to provide the certainty that business always, understandably, seeks. I understand that totally; I have dealt with it for years. But no one should be under any illusions. Bluntly, these are not commitments to invest or stay in Brexit Britain. These are perfectly justifiable attempts to keep business going for the next two to three years to give them a breathing space, without disruption, to make their long-term decisions, which may not be in our favour.

I recognise, too, the concern that staying in a customs union may restrict our ability to negotiate other trade deals, say, with the United States. Personally, I am not starry-eyed about such deals. For a start, it is frankly inconceivable that any American President, let alone this American President, would do a trade deal with the UK without making it a key condition that giant US health corporations be allowed unfettered access to our national health service. I can well imagine that that might suit some right wingers who hanker after a privatised NHS and would let those companies use a free trade deal to accomplish exactly that, along with in other public services, while leaving the hands of Tory politicians clean. Equally, we would face demands to admit chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef, and no doubt other delights on which we have not yet focused.

Other trade deals would not be consequence-free either. India and China, to name but two, would, again understandably, want additional visas for their citizens—I have no quarrel with that—but the Prime Minister’s emphasis on the end of free movement may give some people the misleading impression that she is offering an end to immigration. She is not. According to the most recent figures, it is non-EU immigration that is increasing.

Not satisfied with the grave red lines misjudgement, tying her own hands and restricting her room for manoeuvre, the Prime Minister added to that the crass folly of selecting a date—not just a date, but a time—for our leaving and, to please and reassure her Brexiteers, she put it into the Bill. As that self-inflicted deadline approached, some began to say that it would be best to leave the EU at the end of March, giving up our prime negotiating cards and our strength, and work out afterwards what would be in our interests in future. I do not think that I have ever heard anything so criminally irresponsible from any Government or the supporters of any Government.

The Prime Minister says that people just want it to be over. Of course they do. Heaven knows, I think we all probably share that sentiment. But it is a con, perhaps the biggest con of all. If we pass the deal, it will not be over. The really serious stuff has not even started and it will go on for years.

Of course, to guide us, we have the political declaration. We have already heard from the Governments of France and Spain how binding they believe its warm words to be. The point is that it settles nothing. All is to be “explored”, “continued”, “considered” or “discussed”. Nothing is settled.

From the outset, the Prime Minister resisted the idea that this sovereign Parliament should have the chance to vote and express its opinion on any deal she might secure. She forcefully resisted the notion of a meaningful vote, and now that we have one, she is doing her utmost to make it meaningless by insisting that there is only one way for MPs to vote: for her deal.

The outcome of the series of votes is unpredictable and could well be indecisive. I have seen such a thing happen in this House before. Should there now be a further people’s vote? I hear “no” from most Conservative Members. But I am in no doubt that I know infinitely more now about the potential consequences of leaving the EU than I did in 2016, and I think, having been in the Cabinet for some 11 years, I probably knew a little bit about it before. I know, too, that what leave campaigners promised is not on offer, mostly because it was undeliverable.

The hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Bracknell (Dr Lee) have reminded us that a major medical intervention must be preceded by an assurance that informed consent has been given. Consumer protection law gives a 14-day cooling-off period for people to make sure they know what they are doing. This time, the very future of our country is at stake.

There has been a determined effort to keep people in the dark. Economic assessments of Brexit’s impact prepared for Ministers were withheld, like the Government’s legal advice. The real-life consequences of leaving with no deal, which clearly still attracts some Conservative Members, are not being fully spelt out. The Chancellor, like the Governor of the Bank of England, publicly accepts that we would be economically better off staying in the EU, but he points out—and this is fair—that many who voted leave thought that a price worth paying to recover our sovereignty. But the deal on offer, which the Prime Minister says is the only deal on offer, does not recover our sovereignty. It leaves us rule takers from the European Union without any voice in shaping those rules. It represents what may well be the biggest transfer of sovereignty ever proposed by any British Government, because this time sovereignty is not being shared—it is being surrendered.

None of us can know today just what decisions or options, if any, will emerge from next Tuesday’s votes. The Prime Minister demands—she repeated it today—of all MPs that, when we vote, we do so not in any party or personal interest, but for what we honestly believe to be the interests of our country. I shall, Mr Speaker, and it will not be for this deal.

Mr Speaker
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4 Dec 2018, 9 p.m.

Order. With immediate effect, an eight-minute limit will now apply.

Article 50

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 29th March 2017

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Theresa May Portrait The Prime Minister
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I know that my right hon. Friend has always had a particular interest in the impact of the common fisheries policy, and he has looked at that issue very carefully. We are looking very carefully at the London fisheries convention and at what action needs to be taken. He is right that this would require two years, but we of course expect to conclude the deal with the European Union within two years and there will then, as I have indicated, be an implementation period beyond that particular time. We hope to be able to say something about the London fisheries convention soon.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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There are many across this House who will be very aware of the sheer scale and complexity of the negotiations that will face our team, and very conscious of the importance of getting those right. It has never been more true that the devil will be in the detail. As the detail emerges, will the Prime Minister ensure that everyone in her team stops the practice that has been so prevalent of claiming that every awkward question is evidence of a desire to overturn the will of the British people, because nothing will more surely destroy the unity of purpose that she seeks?

Theresa May Portrait The Prime Minister
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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that these will be very complex negotiations. It was right to wait the nine months we did before invoking article 50, so we have been able to do a considerable amount of preparation. As we move forward, some very technical discussions will of course need to take place, as well as the higher level discussions that will be required. I assure the right hon. Lady that we consistently ask ourselves difficult questions to ensure that we are testing every approach that we put forward, so that we can get the best possible deal.

Report of the Iraq Inquiry

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 6th July 2016

(4 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
The Prime Minister
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The Foreign Secretary will be giving evidence to his Committee. The Prime Minister is always asked to give evidence to every Select Committee of the House. I try to stick to answering questions here in the Chamber, and at the Liaison Committee and the National Security Committee, which bring together members of a number of different Committees. I do not think what he asks will be possible but I always consider any request.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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May I first wholeheartedly endorse the Prime Minister’s remarks about those who lost their lives? Does he agree that each of us, in Cabinet or in this House, are responsible and should take responsibility for our own individual decisions, albeit taken in good faith on the basis of evidence before us? Equally, does he agree that the men of hatred and death in al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIL should take responsibility for their actions and for the blood and horror that they inflict on others?

The Prime Minister
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The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I was a relatively new Back Bencher who sat up there on the Opposition Benches listening to the arguments and coming to my own conclusions. Anyone who voted for the conflict has to take their share of responsibility. I do not choose to go back and say, “Well, if I had known then what I know now,” and all the rest of it. I think you make a decision, you defend it at the time and then you have to live with the consequences and bear your share of responsibility. That is the position I take.

The right hon. Lady makes a very good point about the evil of violent extremists, whether al-Qaeda, Daesh or others. This problem in our world existed before the Iraq war. It exists and is worse today. We are doing all sorts of things in all sorts of ways to try to combat it. Although the debate about what happened in Iraq and the decisions that were taken is vital, we must not let it sap our energy for dealing with this cancer in our world, which is killing us in our own country.

Draft Representation of the People (England and Wales)(Amendment) Regulations 2016

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Tuesday 7th June 2016

(4 years, 10 months ago)

General Committees

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Cabinet Office
John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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The hon. Member for Ashfield is absolutely right. Some of those alternatives are prompted for later on in the website user journey, to use the jargon. If someone cannot provide their national insurance number, other alternatives are listed. For example, documentary evidence can include passports and driving licences. It can involve attestation. That is usually the most time-consuming for all concerned, but if someone runs out of all other alternatives, they can get someone of reputable standing to say that they are who they say. Local data can also be used, because many councils have some information that they can use. She is absolutely right that clarity is helpful, but for most people—not all—national insurance numbers are usually a very good place to start.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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I do not want to detain the Committee, but national insurance numbers are not necessarily a terribly reliable guide. I understand exactly the point he is making, but in my case, I have been fortunate enough to have been the Member of Parliament for my constituency for 33 years and to have lived in the same house throughout, but when the process was first started I was asked whether I could prove my identity on the grounds that the Department for Work and Pensions said it had never heard of me and so far as it was concerned, I did not exist. It had been paying my pension for a few years, too.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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That means there is little hope for any of us. I assure the right hon. Lady that I think we got to well over nine out of 10 electors in the transition from the old system to the new individual electoral registration. They were able to be confirmed through checks with the DWP, but she is absolutely right that there are some cases where that cannot be done. In some cases, a partial match comes back, and the level and weight of evidence that can be provided is not satisfactory. In those situations, electoral registration officers will come back and ask for further evidence. I am sorry that she was put through that, particularly since she should be one of the more recognisable local residents in her area, if I can put it politely.

The hon. Member for Ashfield also asked what we were doing to promote and encourage registration among young people. She and I have corresponded several times on that already. There are a number of things that we could do—she came up with a couple of examples in her remarks—to do with some of the schools proposals. Some are being used in Northern Ireland, although there are equivalents that are not quite the same in the mainland UK. There are also things to do with students. Many of those ideas are helpful and useful, and we are considering them in the broader programme which I alluded to, but they are far from the only things that can be done.

We are all aware of some under-represented groups because they are people who knock on our doors regularly, or we encounter them when we are out canvassing or they have a particularly vocal lobbying group, but we need to be careful to be aware that other under-represented groups are perhaps not as politically visible, and we should not forget them. Clearly, we need to be as even-handed as we can if we are to ensure that our democracy is firmly based.

One group that people tend to forget has the worst level of registration of all, and that is overseas electors. Those who have been overseas for less than 15 years are legally entitled to vote under the current franchise, and at the last election only 5% of them were registered to vote. Looking at some of the figures for some of the other groups, the hon. Member for Ashfield is absolutely right. In the case of students, for example, 28% are not registered to vote; 71% or 72% are. However, 95% of British citizens living abroad who are legally entitled to vote are not registered. We need to make sure that we are even-handed and that we are giving everybody the best possible opportunity to join in. I can promise everybody here that we are looking at a range of options, including some of the ones that the hon. Lady has mentioned, and we are trying to rank them by how much impact they are going to have and how fast, and to get through as many of them as we can in due course.

The hon. Member for Ashfield’s final question was about the boundary review and the data. One of the things which the last piece of primary legislation on the boundary review did was reduce the frequency or length of time between boundary reviews. It used to be every 10 years and sometimes even longer. That is now going to be reduced to five years. That will mean that a process which was always based on a snapshot and was always therefore to a degree out of date will be much less so in future. It is still not perfect, but it is a great deal better than it used to be.

Furthermore, we are talking about a register which, as a result of individual electoral registration, will now be more accurate than it has ever been, although it could still be more accurate. It is still 84% or 85% complete, and still needs to be made a great deal more complete, along the lines of some of the things we are now doing. I hope we are on a trend of improving accuracy for the data which inform not only our polling day get-out-and-vote operations and eligibility to vote but also the accuracy of the constituency boundaries on which we all depend. I hope that answers the hon. Lady’s questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Short Money and Policy Development Grant

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Thursday 11th February 2016

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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The shadow Leader of the House delights in using the standard format, “There is a word for that.” He has used that rhetorical device on several previous occasions, but one of the words he has not used is “shambles”, which is perhaps what my hon. Friend is suggesting about Labour’s performance on at least one or two issues.

I can happily confirm that the cost of Spads has started to fall since the last general election, which is tremendously important. I also heartily endorse my hon. Friend’s point that, in order to remain in touch with both the feelings of the House and those of the electorate, Governments need to listen to Back Benchers as well as to others very carefully indeed.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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Is the Minister aware that I was fortunate enough to be the Leader of the House who put through the settlement on Short money to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has referred? At the time, we had a massive majority and every opportunity to use office to disadvantage our opponents, had we wished. The Conservative party was politically on its knees, and financially as close to it as it had ever been. We had experienced one of the features of the proposal that is being considered, namely the freezing of the grant after it has been cut. We experienced inflation of 10% to 15% under the triumphant preceding Conservative Government. Consequently, not only did we treble the money and make special provision for the special needs of the Leader of the Opposition, but we inflation-proofed it. That is why the money has gone up for the past five years: it is his party’s own record on inflation that the Minister is criticising.

John Penrose Portrait John Penrose
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The right hon. Lady makes a very important point, but there is a crucial difference between the situation when she was in charge and the current situation: we have a huge deficit to deal with, while Labour inherited an economy that was doing incredibly well and a set of Government finances that were in a far stronger position. The difference is the deficit, and the reason for the deficit is sitting opposite me. I am afraid that that is why politicians and the rest of the country have to tighten our belts.

ISIL in Syria

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd December 2015

(5 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Crispin Blunt Portrait Crispin Blunt
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We all have to come to our own conclusions. I say to him and to the House that nothing I have heard in the past month has pointed towards anything except the opposite of that conclusion. Ministers have been clear about that evidence. When we asked that question in every single country that we went to, we were told that the UK’s position was compromised by the fact that we were only half in and half out of the coalition. It is a position of no conceivable diplomatic benefit, and it is one that this House should rectify this evening.

Part of the Prime Minister’s challenge is that we were both in the House 12 years ago when another Prime Minister delivered an utterly compelling performance and we made the United Kingdom party to a disaster in the middle east. It is right that we should be mindful of our recent history, but we must not be hamstrung by it.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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This debate centres on national security and the safety of our constituents. There will be differences of view within and between every party in this House. In good faith and conscience, Members will reach different conclusions. Anyone who approaches today’s debate without the gravest doubts, reservations and anxieties simply has not been paying attention. We are sent here by our constituents to exercise our best judgment—each our own best judgment. This is a debate of contradictions.

The terms of today’s motion, echoing the UN resolution are stern, almost apocalyptic, about the threat, which is described as

“an unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, the proposal before us amounts to only a relatively minor extension of the action that we are already undertaking. We have been asked to agree to act in both Iraq and Syria, precisely because that is what Daesh does, and its headquarters are in Syria. We have been asked to make a further contribution to an existing international effort to contain Daesh from extending the mayhem and bloodshed that accompany its every move even more widely across the middle east.

Serious questions have been raised, and I respect those who raise them. There is unease about ground forces. There is proper concern about the strategy and endgame, about the aftermath, and about rebuilding. Some say simply that innocent people are more likely to be killed. Military action creates casualties, however much we try to minimise them. Should we, on those grounds, abandon action in Iraq, although we undertake it at the request of the Iraqi Government, and it seems to have made a difference? Should we take no further action against Daesh, which is killing innocent people, and striving to kill more, every day of the week, or should we simply leave that to others? Would we make ourselves a bigger target for a Daesh attack? We are a target; we will remain a target. There is no need to wonder about it—Daesh has told us so, and continues to tell us so with every day that passes. We may as well take it not just at its word but, indeed, at its deeds. It has sought out our fellow countrymen and women to kill, including aid workers and other innocents. Whatever we decide today there is no doubt that it will do so again, nor is the consequence of inaction simply Daesh controlling more territory and land. We have seen what happens when it takes control. The treatment, for example, of groups such as the Yazidis, in all its horror, should surely make us unwilling to contemplate any further extension of Daesh-controlled territory. Inaction too leads to death and destruction.

Quite separately, there are those, not opposed in principle to action, who doubt the efficacy of what is proposed: coalition action which rests almost wholly on bombing, they say, will have little effect. Well, tell that to the Kosovans, and do not forget that if there had not been any bombing in Kosovo perhaps 1 million Albanian Muslim refugees would be seeking refuge in Europe. Tell that to the Kurds in Kobane who, if memory serves, pleaded for international air support, without which they felt they would lose control to Daesh. Tell them in Sierra Leone that military action should always be avoided because there would be casualties. Their state and their peace were almost destroyed. It was British military action that brought them back from the brink.

Of course, that military action took place in conjunction with political and diplomatic activity, and I share the view that it is vital that such activity is substantially strengthened. I was heartened by what the Prime Minister told us today. Our conference called for a United Nations resolution before further action, and we now have a unanimous Security Council resolution. Moreover, that resolution calls on member states in explicit and unmistakeable terms to combat the Daesh threat “by all means” and

“to eradicate the safe haven they have established”

in Iraq and Syria. Although it speaks of the need to pursue the peace process, the UN resolution calls on member states to act now. Moreover, our French allies have explicitly asked us for such support. I invite the House to consider how we would feel, and what we would say, if what took place in Paris had happened in London and if we explicitly asked France for support and France refused.

George Kerevan
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
- Hansard -

I am sorry, no.

These are genuinely extremely difficult as well as extremely serious decisions, but it is the urgings of the United Nations and of the socialist Government in France that, for me, have been the tipping point in my decision to support military action.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I refer the House to the amendment standing in my name and that of other hon. Members.

There are many Members on both sides of the House who feel that extending airstrikes to Syria is not a wise move in the absence of a long-term, realistic strategy, both military and non-military. Otherwise we risk repeating the errors that we made in Iraq, Helmand and Libya, and which we would have made only two years ago in the House if we had allowed the Government to intervene on behalf of the rebels. That strategy must include a comprehensive lay-out of military plans. Thought must be given to, and plans made for, the aftermath—and, indeed, an exit strategy.

Many of the questions that we have asked remain unanswered. We all accept that there are no easy answers in foreign policy—just a series of tough decisions—but there has to be respect on both sides for the views held. One or two people have suggested that one is playing politics or personalities with this issue. I refer them to my voting record on Iraq, my opposition to the extension of the Afghan mission to Helmand, my opposition to Libya and, indeed, my position two years ago in the House when we were asked to support a proposal on arming the rebels and striking Assad.

I have been called a pacifist and worse; I refer those people to my military record—as a soldier, I have the medals to prove that I am certainly not a pacifist—and to my record in Northern Ireland as a platoon commander in the 1980s.

Detainee Inquiry

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Thursday 19th December 2013

(7 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Clarke
- Hansard - - Excerpts

First, I share my hon. Friend’s determination that we get to the truth of these matters and that they are investigated. Indeed, I share his concern that anybody from the United Kingdom should be involved in unlawful rendition, and I used to support his campaigns when we were both in opposition. I disagree with him about the way we are progressing now. The judge-led inquiry cannot proceed with taking evidence from people and publishing evidence alongside continuing police investigations which may or may not lead to some further criminal proceedings if anyone is eventually prosecuted. The question is do we, frustratingly, just continue to wait—I think it is more than three years since the Prime Minister made his statement—or do we seek to demonstrate that we really have now got a parliamentary Committee with the powers and authority required to do the job and report back to this House and the Prime Minister on its findings and recommendations?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is dismissive of the Committee’s powers. He took part in the debates last year. We have considered them and the Committee has far more powers than it previously had. One of the things it will be looking at is how, when the previous Committee investigated treatment of detainees and rendition, it did not appear to have been supplied with information that was in fact being shared with others inside the Government and which had been assembled by the agencies for their own use. I think it is highly unlikely that that will be repeated and I think the present Committee can be relied upon to use the powers to demand papers and to go to the offices and look through the records of the agencies in order to revisit its conclusions on those matters.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
- Hansard -

May I ask the Minister to confirm my understanding of what he has said, which is that Sir Peter and his team have identified a large number of questions, many of them fairly familiar, to which they have been unable to find answers in the documents they have studied, and that in consequence they have not drawn conclusions? I ask him to reaffirm that that is the case, because my strong suspicion is that there will be those who will try to draw conclusions nevertheless.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Mr Clarke
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Given that somebody has been briefing in advance, which I give the assurance is certainly not me or anybody with my authority, it is already clear that people are drawing the conclusions that we would anticipate them drawing if they already happened to be on one side of the argument or another before we started, and that, I am afraid, will continue. The right hon. Lady makes an extremely important point, and Sir Peter makes it clear at least twice in the report he is publishing today that it is quite wrong, and indeed impossible, to make findings of fact, and certainly any findings concerning any individuals involved, before he has called evidence, called them before him if necessary, given them an opportunity to explain and completed these investigations. That is why this inquiry identifies issues, which the ISC will now consider and decide whether and how to pursue. It has not made any findings of fact. In this country it would be quite wrong to make findings of fact of any kind, or to draw adverse inferences against anybody, when nobody has given any evidence, nobody has been challenged, and nobody has been given a chance to give their own explanation of events.

Tributes to Nelson Mandela

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Monday 9th December 2013

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is a real privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who speaks with an authenticity that few others could have in these circumstances. It must be the case that the vindication of history sits comfortably on his shoulders and on those of all in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He is entitled to his day today, and he has spoken very well of the things that matter so much to him and to so many of us.

I remember as a small boy writing to Basil D’Oliveira when he was excluded from the test team, and I remember cheering when a test series was cancelled. My parents were convinced I had become a communist. They are now, like one or two others of my colleagues, merely uncertain.

In 2000, Nelson Mandela visited Bedford to pay tribute to Archbishop Trevor Huddleston in the town of Archbishop Huddleston’s birth—Archbishop Huddleston, who gave so much to the Anti-Apartheid Movement. It is said that a photograph taken that day was used as the model for the statue in Parliament square. Mr Mandela’s host on that day was the mayor of Bedford, Councillor Carole Ellis. Sadly, Councillor Ellis is seriously ill at present, but I know that she is so proud of her own and of Bedford’s part in Mr Mandela’s story.

Between 1986 and 1990, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), I and Peter Pike, the former Member for Burnley, made three visits to South Africa at the invitation of the followers of Christ working for a peaceful resolution of the situation there. On our return from our first visit, on 17 June, we made joint speeches in a debate here in the House of Commons, referring to each other as our hon. Friends—a point duly noted by Hansard. We had gone together—safety in numbers—at a time when the ANC was still banned, the political situation was deteriorating, violence was abroad, and the isolation of South Africa was impacting on the flow of anything but very polarised information. We were able to report back to our respective party leaders on what we found. I had half an hour with an anxious, worried and very uncertain Margaret Thatcher. We reported back on the tragic success of apartheid in separating one person from another, on the urgency of the need for change to avoid a looming catastrophe, and on how the United Kingdom’s public position also needed to change. But we also, apparently rather unusually, reported some hope. I said in the House:

“There is a large group of people in South Africa whom many have ignored. They are those of all races who are working patiently for simple fellowship and reconciliation in pure human terms by meeting each other and sharing their lives and experiences. It was largely with those people that we spent our time, and through their friends across the political spectrum that we had contact with their politics.

Some of those with whom we stayed were white opponents of apartheid and had been so for decades, but all were people who realised that the abolition of the legislative structure of apartheid is almost secondary to the struggle to change hearts and minds. They should not be ignored, for if any group epitomises hope in South Africa, it is that group.”—[Official Report, 17 June 1986; Vol. 99, c. 960.]

We met on our visits, even in 1986, South African Government figures who worried about the impact of the release of Nelson Mandela but who knew that his death in prison would be a tragedy beyond comprehension. Like many others, we knew that only a miracle could save South Africa from violent confrontation, but unlike others, perhaps, we saw some of the groundwork being patiently prepared. South Africa was a land in which Jesus Christ was the person around whom so many could meet together, especially if they were those who were allowed to meet in no other circumstances. That task became easier after the Dutch Reformed Church publicly recanted its misplaced biblical support for apartheid.

South Africa’s people were readying themselves for a different future but uncertain if the miracle of leadership would be there. In the end, of course, the miracle was Nelson Mandela, with a passion for reconciliation and forgiveness that astonished the world. It was built on a base that had been prayed for and actively worked for in South Africa for years before his release. Nelson Mandela was the pivotal figure around whom all this work became based and whose attitudes overcame the fear and negativity from people who knew intellectually what needed to be done but simply could not see how it could happen. It is impossible to predict what would have happened without such leadership.

I regret that I did so little for the struggle here in the United Kingdom, but my friend Peter Pike, with 26 years in the Anti-Apartheid Movement before he even set foot in South Africa, deserves to have his voice heard today. I asked him over the weekend what he would say if he were here, and he told me of his memories of the visits. He reminded me that one MP had believed God created reptiles, birds, animals, black people, brown people and white people and that they should all keep their places as species—and he thumped his Bible to prove it. He undermined his argument, however, by declaring that he had proof that Mrs Thatcher was “a Marxist infiltrator”.

Peter reminded us of how, on our next visit, he had asked why the security was building up as we approached the security gate at Johannesburg airport. I said it might be because of the large “Free Nelson Mandela” badge he was wearing on his lapel. He asked one of the security guards, “Is it illegal for me to wear the badge?” He was told very briskly, “It is not illegal, but it is extremely inadvisable.”

Peter wanted to say this in particular:

“I believe one thing so typical of Nelson Mandela was when he addressed the large meeting in Nelspruit. At the end he had young white youths asking him what would their future be in a black South Africa. He put his arms around their shoulders and said he was not removing the domination of South Africa by the white minority to allow it to be dominated by another race. The new South Africa would be for all South Africans and that they were the South Africans of the future. He ended by saying it was a pity that they had wasted 27 years and could not have talked like this before.”

I wanted Peter Pike’s words—the voice of a true, authentic anti-apartheid supporter—to be heard in this House today.

In conclusion, world leaders have on their plate a series of conflicts, which I know only too well from the past three and a half years. A better tribute to Nelson Mandela than all the fine words we are going to hear at the funeral would be for the leaders involved in just one of those conflicts to echo reconciliation and forgiveness, the magnanimity of power and the true service of their people and to lead their people in humility and peace rather than grandeur and war.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
- Hansard -

For me, as for so many of my generation, the story of Nelson Mandela and his comrades and colleagues has been inextricably interwoven with political life and campaigning. Events such as Sharpeville helped awaken and shape political awareness. Campaigns against the evils of apartheid have run throughout the years of my political and trade union life. I think it is right to recognise today that the whole trade union movement, including my own union, Unite, of which I am proud to have been a member for almost 50 years, was resolute in its support and solidarity throughout those difficult years.

As those years drew to a close, I recall, like the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), a conversation with President de Klerk, who asked me, quite anxiously—I was surprised at how anxious he seemed—if I thought that reaching agreement would in fact transform South Africa’s standing in the world and end his country’s status as some kind of international pariah. He seemed relieved and almost grateful when I assured him that I thought that a free South Africa—or a South Africa with its people free—would be welcomed everywhere with open arms.

I think there is going to be much emphasis today on what we can learn from Nelson Mandela. As has been said, he was in no way a saint, as he himself acknowledged. He was, however—this point is not always mentioned, although it has already been made today—a politician, and a party politician and party leader at that. Born into a community that lacked wealth and power, he understood it was both honourable and desirable to band together with others of a like mind to fight to change things for the better. That, after all, is what every political party, in its own way, is about.

It was as the leader of the ANC that he took part in those historic negotiations. I say that in particular because the tone of some comments that have been made about him—not so much here today, but elsewhere, and for the best and most well-meaning of reasons—is such that it is almost as if he was somehow above politics. Of course, he became admired and revered, quite rightly, but he was not above politics; he was practising politics. He was engaged in politics, and it was through politics that the transformation of South Africa was secured.

Like many here, I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela on a number of occasions. One I particularly recall in these days was in 1998 when I attended the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the general agreement on tariffs and trade. Seated in the hall, I heard a tremendous commotion at the rear. The delegate from South Africa had arrived, and a kind of wave passed through the hall as delegates from every country in the world rose spontaneously to applaud him. I was both honoured and humbled when he took his place beside me.

We all honour him as a hero of the armed struggle. Unlike some others who were also honoured in that vein, particularly during my student years, he became also a hero of the peace. That is why we remember him in this way.

Mr Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I follow on exactly from the comments of the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and her reminiscence but also her mild remonstrance, which is absolutely well made, that we are talking here about a politician. Certainly in the civil encounters with President Mandela in one capacity, and with Mr Mandela post-presidency in other capacities, not only was his sense of humour telling, but so was the self-deprecating use to which he put that humour, lest there was any thought that a political halo could be bestowed upon him. He certainly did not want that, and he would not want that to be part of his legacy today.

I mention humour because my first introduction to Nelson Mandela was far from fortuitous. He was then President, and enormous numbers of parliamentarians had somehow all descended on South Africa at the same time. They had come from New Zealand, Australia, here, Ireland, France—all on fact-finding missions. It was interesting that these fact-finding missions all coincided with the rugby world cup that was taking place in South Africa. Given that there were more visiting foreign politicians in the country than even visiting foreign rugby players, the President held a great gala reception. The leader of our delegation, my friend Rupert Redesdale, Liberal Democrat hereditary peer, was introducing the British delegation to the President, and he was pretty apprehensive in the presence of the great man. It came to my turn, and he said, “Mr President, one of my colleagues from the House of Commons in London. This is Nigel Kennedy.” The President’s characteristically firm handshake and jovial welcome confirmed two things for me there and then. First of all, he had never heard of Nigel Kennedy, but far more distressingly, he sure as hell had not heard of me either.

Things got worse on that visit. The hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson), the then Member for Govan, who I am glad is in his place today—looking back, I was not so glad he was in his place on that occasion that evening—and I were photographed with President Mandela. What a wonderful memento to have. A few months later I was passing through Glasgow, my favourite city, and as I always do when I am there, I picked up a copy of the Glasgow Evening Times. The front page photo and lead story was that the South African Government had confirmed that the Clyde would be very much on the preferred bidders list for the latest warship that they were seeking interest in globally, and there was a photo of the hon. Gentleman and the President himself, with the caption, “Local MP, Ian Davidson, lobbying President Mandela on a recent visit to South Africa”. But the funny thing was that when I looked at the photo, I discovered that I had been airbrushed out of history. Perhaps that has been the story of my life ever since. I think, however, that President Mandela would have admired the hon. Gentleman’s guile, and the way in which he exploited that opportunity. He did not do it in a mendacious way, but it was not particularly helpful to me.

Another meeting that I recall took place when he was plain Mr Mandela again, post-presidency, when the years were beginning to show. It was the night of the concert in Trafalgar square and, as we would say at home, it was a gey dreich night. It was cold, windy and wet, with horizontal rain. Mr Mandela was tired, and he was wearing an overcoat. First, he insisted on working the room in South Africa House and speaking to everyone there. Then he went outside and enthralled the young, if rather soaked, audience who had been listening to the music. At that point, his minders were pretty keen to move him along and get him to his bed, which he clearly needed. But no—the coat came off and he came back up the stairs in South Africa House and worked the room again. We came face to face for a second time. He looked at me and said, “We talked earlier”, and I said, “Yes we did, Mr Mandela, it was an honour to meet you and we had a very nice chat.” “Oh good,” he said, “I will move on, but I did not want you to think I had been rude.” That is the difference, is it not? That was a man who, when he needed votes, could weigh them in quantities that we practising politicians can only dream of, yet when he was beyond the need for votes he still conducted himself with that extra special magic ingredient that separated him out, like the wheat from the chaff, from day-to-day jobbing politics the world over.

Today I am wearing the tie of Glasgow university, where I have the role of university rector. Glasgow gave Mandela the freedom of the city at a time when it was unfashionable to do so, and he came to celebrate that on another dreich day in the years following his release. Exactly a week ago, we were in this place paying tribute to those in Glasgow who had suffered as a result of the terrible helicopter crash. Many of the most heartfelt international tributes from outside this place came from South Africa. A week is a long time in politics. Last night, as rector of the university, I had the privilege of contributing to the beautiful annual carol service in the chapel. The format at the end was changed, so that instead of singing the university’s anthem “Gaudeamus igitur”, the choir sang a beautiful version of the rainbow nation’s wonderful national anthem. The thoughts that came to Glasgow from South Africa this time last week were returned with generosity and good will this week.

Mandela was in many ways simply the best. When President Obama said that we should not see his like again, I guess he was right on one level. But let us look at what Mandela did and at the fact that his words and deeds moved Table mountain, and let us hope that we do see his like again. Let us hope that we see his like in the middle east or in the vicinity of the Koreas, for example, where people are crying out for a generation of politicians of a quality that can move mountains and minds in the way that Mandela did. He reminds us that our trade need not be as awful as it is often depicted. He has given us something better to work for in ourselves.

Oral Answers to Questions

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Wednesday 4th September 2013

(7 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I can see that my hon. Friend has certainly put his summer to very good use, and I am grateful for his question. Obviously, we need to see a run of opinion polls before we can see a true trend.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
- Hansard -

Why does the Prime Minister believe that his plans to restrict lobbying are opposed by organisations from the Salvation Army, the Countryside Alliance, Oxfam, the British Legion, and so on, right through to “ConservativeHome”?

The Prime Minister
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I was listening to the exchanges before I came in for Prime Minister’s questions, and it seems to me that a concerted lobbying campaign is being run by the trade unions, who have mysteriously managed to convince Member of Parliament after Member of Parliament on the Opposition Benches to raise this problem. We all know what is going on—they do not want the trade unions brought within the law; they want the trade unions to go on spending millions after millions trying to alter an election campaign, rather than having them properly controlled by the law. That is what the lobbying Bill is about.

House of Lords Reform Bill

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Monday 9th July 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
The Deputy Prime Minister
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Of course I will always refer to the views of Winston Churchill with a great deal of respect, but I point out only that he expressed those views in 1910, when of course he was a Liberal, not in the 1920s. I know that he changed his views later, and they are a matter of record.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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Will the Deputy Prime Minister cease also to say that the Labour party has supported reform of the House of Lords since 1910? What we supported in 1910 was abolition.

The Deputy Prime Minister
- Hansard - - Excerpts

If the Labour party’s views have evolved over the past 100 years, which in this matter, if not in others, they may have, I hope none the less that the right hon. Lady will confirm that there was a clear manifesto commitment from the Labour party not only to support the principle of House of Lords reform, but to deliver it in practice.

Break in Debate

Sadiq Khan
- Hansard - - Excerpts

On a number of occasions, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have said that they will use the Parliament Act to get the Bill through, which means that the second Chamber’s ability to revise and improve will have gone and the Bill must leave this Chamber in the best state possible. If debate is guillotined, that will not be possible.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
- Hansard -

My right hon. Friend has made a point in his effective speech of referring to the previous Government’s record on reforming and improving the House of Lords and of the Liberal Democrats’ failure to support us. Let me remind him that when we introduced the House of Lords Act 1999, if I recall correctly, we allowed four full days of debate on the Floor of the House on the five-clause Bill and we did not programme that discussion in any way because it was a constitutional matter.

Sadiq Khan
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I apologise for correcting my right hon. Friend, but in fact there were nine days of debate, not four, on the Floor of the House. She is absolutely right in all other respects.

Break in Debate

Sir Malcolm Rifkind
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I take no pleasure in not being able to support the Government and the coalition, in which I am a very strong believer, but it would be unworthy of anyone to argue that a constitutional measure which will have a profound impact on the well-being of this country and of our political system should in any way be influenced by its impact, if it were to be defeated, on other legislative proposals.

I have not voted against my party on a three-line Whip for a very long time. I last did so in the 1970s. I do not know what effect it will have this time on my future ministerial career. All I can say is that the last time I did it, in the 1970s, two years later Margaret Thatcher appointed me to her Government. So my right hon. and hon. Friends should be of good heart and vote as they believe, and that means voting against the Bill and against the programme motion.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
- Hansard -

I regret to have to differ in this matter from my Front-Bench colleague, for whom I have the utmost respect, but in my years in the House I have never supported the establishment of a second House to second-guess this Chamber. I have voted for and would prefer the outright abolition of the second Chamber, if that is what it comes down to, but I have not voted and will not vote for an elected House. I have made that clear to my electorate on the rare occasions when they have shown any interest in the matter whenever I have stood for election—that whatever was said in my party’s manifesto, I would not be voting either for a change to the electoral system or for an elected upper House—and I have made that clear, I should add for the avoidance of doubt, in government as well as out, to a succession of Chief Whips.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
- Hansard -

I am very short of time.

I completely agree that further reform is both necessary and desirable. It is time, for example, to terminate the arrangement for the remaining hereditary peers which was the price in 1999 for ending their complete control of the upper House, and I share the approval of Lord Steel’s recent Bill, which makes many sensible suggestions. I entirely understand why, looking at an upper House whose Members had their place on the basis of being the eldest in their families—not even the best qualified or most interested—people should conclude that reform was necessary and that election was the only way.

However, that original hereditary House has been changing and evolving over many years, ever since the Conservative Government of the past introduced life peers. Nearly all those in today’s House are Members because of the contribution that they themselves have made in a variety of ways to the nation’s life, not because of the contribution, dubious or otherwise, of their ancestors. So gradually and with some reluctance, I have over the years come to recognise that there is some merit in an advisory and a revising Chamber with a membership of variety and experience, but my view that we do not want and we do not need a competitive Chamber remains unchanged.

I recognise the argument that is put that we can somehow prevent that Chamber from being a competitor, but I do not believe a word of it. Not only is that my own long-standing view, but it was powerfully reinforced. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) expressed dismay that the Government did not give the Joint Committee the services of the Attorney-General. A former Attorney-General, as I think he was, the late Gareth Williams, a brilliant and distinguished lawyer, told us that if the second House were elected, it would be entitled to compete for power with this Chamber. He said, “You cannot confine, for example, decision making on finance or discussion of the Budget to the House of Commons if you have an elected upper House.”

Two other matters lead me strongly to oppose the Bill. The first is the specific proposal for the elections. The Deputy Prime Minister has waxed lyrical about the fact that Members of the existing upper Chamber are there by reason of patronage, but that is also what a party list system is—everyone in this House knows that that is the reality—so he proposes replacing one patronage system with another. He also claims that the elections he proposes would convey accountability. As has already been said in the debate, people who are elected for a 15-year, non-renewable term do not need to be, and will not be, accountable to anyone.

That brings me to my other major concern. The Liberal Democrats have been particularly vocal about the need for constitutional change, on behalf—they always say—of the people of this country, but they have shown a marked reluctance actually to consult the people of this country. In the coalition negotiations that preceded the formation of the Government, they tried to blackmail each of the major parties into giving them a change in the electoral system without a referendum, and now they are trying to get us to change this whole Parliament without giving the people a chance to express their view. I know that in opinion polling people will say, “Surely it is better to elect the upper House.” As we all know, it all depends on the question that is asked. If people were asked, “Do you want to set up a second Chamber of politicians with all the facilities that would be required, certainly at a cost of tens of millions of pounds, if not substantially more?” I suspect we might get a different answer.

The Bill seeks to reshape this entire Parliament and, into the bargain, introduce a different electoral system for the upper House, and all without consulting the people. I shall not vote for it, and trying to force it through without a referendum is the most undemocratic thing about it.

Viscount Thurso Portrait John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD)
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In 1970 I had the privilege of sitting on the steps of the throne in the other place to listen to my father’s maiden speech. In 1995, following what I thought was his untimely death, I had the opportunity to go there myself to make my own speech. In the intervening period I often sat on the steps of the throne, largely because doing so was free and, as a trainee in the Savoy company, I was able to spend afternoons on split shifts there. I listened, watched and learned a great deal about the House of Lords. I remember many great noble Lords making many great speeches, but I came to the view that, however wonderful it was, it was no way to run a legislature. When I arrived in this place, in my maiden speech I made it clear, as I had done in speeches in the other place, that I would seek to work for reform of the Lords and would not rest until it was an elected House.

Therefore, I rise to support my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister’s Bill. When I made my maiden speech in this House, what I said on Lords reform was said more in hope than expectation, but let me tell him now that the expectation is high, because this is the right reform, at the right time and in the right context. I believe that for two fundamental reasons. First, in my view the House of Lords is broke. It does not actually work. An hon. Friend referred earlier to the number of Government amendments that the Lords voted against in the last Parliament, but the crucial point is the number that survived scrutiny afterwards in this place. As we all know, when an amendment that is made in the other place arrives here we are told that the Lords have asked us to think again but, as they are not legitimate or elected, let us, the legitimate and elected House, strike it down. That is the critical fix that we need to make.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Margaret Beckett Excerpts
Monday 6th September 2010

(10 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Cabinet Office
Greg Hands Portrait Greg Hands
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That is a bit of a red herring because judicial activity that is happening through the current system, with the local reviews, is extremely expensive. I personally think that those matters are not for the court or lawyers—they are administrative matters. They should never have been given over to QCs and other lawyers because they are simply not matters of law. We are considering reviews of how parliamentary boundaries are drawn, and they should be more frequent and more effective.

I want to end by examining the Labour party’s position. It has set out to oppose equal-sized parliamentary constituencies. Let us consider that for a moment. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) used the word “gerrymandering”. He should know better; his use of it was an abuse of the English language. One cannot describe a way of formulating a set of seats as gerrymandering, but one can so describe its execution, for example in an irregularly shaped constituency, particularly one made for party political purposes. However, that will be down to the Boundary Commission, so thankfully there cannot be any gerrymandering—we have an independent Boundary Commission to conduct the execution.

Let me mention three points of 19th-century history. The right hon. Gentleman studied law at university. Perhaps he is like Tony Blair, who, having completed his time in politics, thinks that he should have studied history instead of law. The Labour party did not exist in 1832, but many Labour party members believe that the Great Reform Act of 1832 presaged the development of the modern Labour party. Yet that was all about abolishing rotten boroughs and trying to create a system of parliamentary constituencies of equal size. Before that, we had constituencies such as Gatton with seven electors, Old Sarum with 13 electors, Dunwich with 32 electors and so on, while the whole of Yorkshire, including the great cities of Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, had some 20,000 electors.

I shall pray in aid the Chartists. The right hon. Gentleman knows that their people’s charter of 1838 is frequently cited as one of the origins of the modern Labour party. Many people in the Labour party hark back to the six points in the people’s charter. Point 5 is:

“Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors; instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of larger ones.”

That is from the people’s charter of 1838, which Labour is seeking to revoke.

I welcome the commitment that AV is a constitutional matter. I welcome more frequent and faster boundary reviews, but I am afraid that Labour’s opposition to the Bill is cynical and self-serving. Their predecessors would be deeply ashamed of what they are doing today.

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab)
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The Bill is as dangerous as it is dishonest because it is rooted in a set of false premises. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) completely demolished the argument that it is either necessary or desirable to redraw almost every constituency boundary, especially when the independent Boundary Commission has just redrawn them. He highlighted the danger of removing the previous process of scrutiny and appeal.

I want to address the second half of the gerrymander—the proposal to change our electoral system. We are told that it is necessary to change—“reform” is the word used—because our current system is “unfair”; that the reform will give greater power and influence to the people, and that that is what the people demand. I contest each of those premises. It is dishonest to say that our current system is somehow unfair and that proportional representation is fair. There is no such thing as an electoral system that is absolutely even-handed and fair in every respect. Each has its own fairness and unfairness.

It is legitimate to argue that our current system can give majority groups an outcome that is somewhat disproportionate to the scale of that majority, but it is equally true—I believe that it is even more so—that the major effect of more proportional systems is to give wholly disproportionate power instead to minorities. The views supported by a smaller number often hugely outweigh in the balance of power those of the majority of the population. There may be reasons for saying that that is desirable—I can see from their reaction that the Liberal Democrats share that view—especially, of course, for those in minorities, but I struggle to see how it is more democratic.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD)
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Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Margaret Beckett Portrait Margaret Beckett
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I am sorry, but time is so short.

I recognise the argument that the alternative vote does not create a fully proportional system, but I oppose the proposal for exactly the same reason that the Liberals support it. Like them, I regard it as the thin end of the wedge, and I oppose their ultimate goal. Incidentally, it is now clear that in the formation of the coalition, the Liberals tried to force both the Labour party and the Conservative party to push through the change to alternative vote without a referendum and without seeking the views of the British people at all, so I hope that we will not hear much from them about what a great idea a referendum is.

Our current system has substantial strengths and virtues. It is simple and easy to understand, and the British people know exactly how to operate it to get the result that they want. For decades, I have listened to the most arrant rubbish about how our electoral system somehow cheats the British people of the Government whom they want. I have never believed that, and I do not know how anyone can continue to argue it with a straight face after the elections of recent years.

In the ’80s and ’90s, those who support PR argued that votes cast for the Labour party, the Liberals and others outweighed those cast for the Thatcher and Major Governments, and said that our system prevented the people from removing them. However, people knew perfectly well that if they voted Tory or for a third party rather than the Labour alternative, they were actively choosing or risking the re-election of a Tory Government. I deeply regretted their decision, but I never doubted that it was a conscious one. The argument that our electoral system stood in their way was surely demolished for ever by how they voted in 1997. Indeed, so well did they understand our system, they could even produce a Parliament such as this one, when no party has a clear majority.

The people therefore have the influence and the power, and they understand how to make change if that is what they choose. It is not true that the Bill will give more power and influence to the people. The Bill takes power away from the people and gives it to the politicians, as the coalition Government daily demonstrate. If the Bill is enacted and if the British people choose to give away their power in the referendum that the Liberals tried to deny them, so be it, but they must be told the truth about the choice that they are making and the effect of their decision. They must not have the wool pulled over their eyes by politicians who believe that they stand to benefit.

Over the years, many people, especially in other countries, have asked me to explain why Britain has such comparative political peace and stability. I believe that that is in large part because the British people know perfectly well how to make dramatic electoral change if that is what they want. If on the basis of a false prospectus of giving them more power and influence that power is taken away or diminished, I believe that there is a risk of a backlash that jeopardises precisely that stability.

Robert Syms Portrait Mr Robert Syms (Poole) (Con)
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I rise to support the Bill. I am a supporter of first past the post, but frankly the system will not work unless there are regular reviews of electorates by the Boundary Commission. I helped and participated in the last boundary review, which was really a kind of 18th-century procession around the country. The commissions managed to do inquiries for north and south London, and for west and south Yorkshire, but did each individual area on its own, which took such a long time. There is no reason why the process cannot be speeded up and yet remain impartial and allow for representations.

There are five days to discuss the Bill on the Floor of the House, which is ample opportunity to make further representations regarding some form of public inquiry, but we do not need barristers and others to turn up to give evidence in each individual county of three, four or five constituencies. That is too slow. As we have heard from a number of my hon. Friends, we have just fought an election that is already 10 years out of date. Unfortunately in the modern age, people move, which causes disparities and unfairnesses. That has to be addressed by this House. If it is not addressed, we will end up in a situation in which one party wins most of the votes and another party wins most of the seats. That sometimes happens because of bizarre quirks in the electoral system—for example, in 1951 Labour had more votes and we had more seats—but broadly speaking people get what they vote for, if the boundary system is up to date. So reform is necessary.

It is sensible to proceed on the basis of the Bill. No one can argue that this is being railroaded through, as it will have five days on the Floor of the House. At times, in opposition, we pleaded for more time to discuss constitutional Bills, but we were given no more time, we faced guillotines and we could not discuss them. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) was his most genial and persuasive self this afternoon and I agreed with much of what he said, but I sat on the other side of the House when we discussed electoral reform for the European elections—a list system that was introduced without a referendum, and without even the boundary commissions looking at how the regions were drawn up. We had massive disparities between Wales and Scotland and the south-east of England. That change was railroaded through by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman’s case would be more persuasive if he had not put that legislation on the statute book.