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)|
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
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.