It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones). I will start, if I may, by thanking everyone with whom I have had the honour to work in this place. In particular, I wish to put on record my thanks to my amazing staff both in the constituency and here in Parliament.
I had the privilege to serve for eight years the constituency in which I grew up and where most of my close family still live—Enfield, Southgate. That result in Enfield, Southgate in 1997 was once voted the third greatest television moment ever. This was in a survey in 1998, so it was fresh in people’s minds. In that poll, the greatest television moment ever was the first man on the moon, the second was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the third was my defeat of Michael Portillo in that election. I have told this story once or twice over the past two decades, and I should point out that it was a poll of The Observer readers and Channel 4 viewers, so was not necessarily a cross-section of the public as a whole.
When I lost in 2005, I sought refuge in Liverpool, and I am immensely grateful to my local Labour party and to the people of the great constituency of West Derby in the city of Liverpool for electing me three times since 2010. Liverpool is a city with a truly amazing spirit, and that spirit is embodied by the campaign for justice for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough 30 years ago. I pay tribute to the families and campaigners who did so much to ensure that that injustice was properly addressed. It is a city with a very vibrant community and voluntary sector. One of the things I have done is to volunteer at a local food bank at St John’s church in Tuebrook in my constituency. I think there is something profoundly wrong when people in this day and age are relying on food banks, but I pay tribute to those who work in them.
Education has long been my No. 1 passion, and I served for three years as Minister for Schools. In that role, I set up and led the London Challenge programme to improve schools here in the capital city. In Liverpool, I have run the Liverpool to Oxbridge Collaborative to encourage more state school students to consider Oxford or Cambridge. I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on global education.
Since 2015, it has been an honour to chair the Select Committee on International Development. I thank its staff and all its Members, past and present—in particular, my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). It is so important that the UK remains engaged globally, and one of the ways in which we do that is through our commitment to development and humanitarian relief. We can be proud of our 0.7% commitment and that we have an independent Department—the Department for International Development—that leads in the delivery of those programmes. We face huge challenges of climate change, conflict, poverty and inequality, and we have the tool of the sustainable development goals to address these crises, but we also need to maintain our focus on some appalling humanitarian situations in places such as Yemen and Syria, as well as the Rohingya crisis covering the people of Burma and Bangladesh. I hope that whoever takes over from me as Chair of the Committee will pick up those challenges.
In 1997, my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and I were the first ever Members of Parliament who were openly LGBT at the time of our first election. I pay tribute to our friend Lord Smith of Finsbury, who for a long period was the only openly gay Member of Parliament. I am very proud that there are now 45 Members in this House who are openly LGBT and that we have seen huge legal progress in this country, although we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality across the world. Thanks to civil partnerships, I was able to marry Mark 13 years ago. We always called our civil partnership a marriage, but I was then very proud to vote with others across the House for equal marriage. I really thank Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, all of whom showed great commitment to the cause of equality for people who are LGBT. As we move forward, I hope that we will address some of the very big challenges that LGBT people face around the world and ensure that part of our soft power and our approach to global human rights is about addressing those injustices, wherever they rear their heads.
I conclude by echoing comments made by a number of Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), who talked about the importance of appealing to the best instincts of the British people, and the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who spoke very powerfully about how we need to bring people together. We have seen a growth of a particular strand of authoritarian populism across our continent and in the United States, Brazil and other parts of the world. It poses a huge challenge for our politics. Here in the UK, Brexit is in a sense both a consequence and a cause of some very fundamental divisions and inequalities that scar our society.
Against that backdrop, I hope that the new Parliament will be able to do its best to bring people back together. I have never liked the adversarialism in this place. I did not like it when I was a Government Member with a majority of almost 200; I certainly do not like it in opposition. I think we do really have a lot in common with each other. We need to be more open about the need to address the evidence that is available on the policy challenges that we face. One of the reasons I have enjoyed chairing a Select Committee is that it is cross-party working and it is based on the best available evidence, not the best available slogan for carrying the headlines that day. I hope that is something that we can all reflect on in the weeks, months and years ahead.
I want to finish by quoting the late Jo Cox. I stand here in front of the shield in Jo’s memory. I only got to know Jo in that very brief period from her election in 2015 to her murder a year later. Jo said that
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
That message is one that I hope we can all take forward in this election campaign but also into the next Parliament.
It is a great honour to follow my friend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), from whom I have learned a huge amount, both in the time when I served under him on the International Development Committee and, indeed, as a friend.
I would like to echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) said. In doing so, I quote a former Member of Parliament for Stafford, the great playwright Richard Sheridan, who said:
“remember, now, when you meet your antagonist, do everything in a mild and agreeable manner.”
I entirely agree with that.
It has been a great honour to represent the people of Stafford for the past nine and a half years. Stafford has a breadth of landscapes, from the Trent valley to Cannock Chase, where we have the beautiful memorials of the cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers, mainly New Zealanders, but also the main German cemetery in the United Kingdom. I would encourage Members to visit that cemetery. It is in the most beautiful valley in Cannock Chase. We have farmlands. We have lovely villages such as Penkridge, and we have Stafford itself. Again, I would encourage Members who have the chance in June or July to see the open-air Shakespeare by Stafford castle—one of the best performances of Shakespeare that you could possibly hope to see, with a different play every year.
I pay tribute to all those in my constituency who have worked so hard through often very testing times around our hospital, then called Stafford Hospital and now called County Hospital. There were those who lost their loved ones and who saw their loved ones suffer, but also all those who worked in the NHS and tried so very hard, both at that time and subsequently, to give us what is now, I believe, a very good service. That led to the Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015, which I had the honour to present as a private Member’s Bill. When I see the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), the former Health Secretary, has done on patient safety, and the work he is intending to do now with his charity, I am relieved that the issue of patient safety has come to the fore.
I cannot let that pass without paying tribute to my hon. Friend’s outstanding work in that field, which typifies his whole approach. His care, his insight and his dedication to purpose are exemplary. The whole House will miss him. Might I just cheekily ask him to work with me, when he has more time, on the campaign on haemochromatosis, which affects nearly 380,000 people? He can work from outside Parliament; I can work within it.
I can never resist anything that my right hon. Friend says, so I will most definitely do what I can.
I would like to pay tribute to all those who work in our schools and colleges, police service, fire and rescue service, ambulance service and the local councils. We have three very good local councils, with excellent staff and councillors who make a real difference. I would also like to pay tribute to the businesses in my constituency. We have two new business parks. General Electric could have relocated elsewhere in the UK or, indeed, the world, but we were able to retain it in Stafford by having a wonderful new business park at Redhill, where we are the only manufacturer of large transformers in the UK. We manufacture many other things in the constituency, including the world’s best lawnmowers and some of the world’s best washing machines. Never let it be said that all these things are only manufactured outside the country. They are not; they are manufactured right here.
My constituency has a wonderful agricultural sector. People have told me that the constituency of Stafford produces about 10% of the UK’s strawberries. I do not know whether that is the case, but it certainly produces a lot. The former resident of Stafford, that great author Izaak Walton, said:
“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”
We also have the country’s largest producer of spinach, as well as one that produces 1 million lettuces a week in season, alongside other arable and dairy. It is a great pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) in his place—I had the pleasure of being defeated by him in 2005.
The voluntary sector is very large in Stafford, and I would like to place on record my desire to see an awful lot more done for unpaid full-time carers. I am working with a constituent on providing more breaks for unpaid carers. They often do not have the resources, and they do not have the time, but they need those breaks. We all value our holidays. Why should they not have them, even if it is a week a year? I would like to see that become a priority.
I would like to pay tribute to my neighbours, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Stone (Sir William Cash), for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), as well as others in Staffordshire, all of whom have been most generous to me. When I had the misfortune of falling ill and fainting during the address of President Obama in Westminster Hall, it was my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) who looked after me and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin who visited me in St Thomas’ Hospital.
I must pay huge thanks to my staff: my magnificent chief of staff, James Cantrill, who has had to endure a lot in these difficult times, and Pauline Ingall, Sonya Redfern-Price, Alex Simpson and Jan Owers. In my constituency, I would like to thank Ann Foster, who has chaired the Conservative association for many years, Ray Sutherland and Amyas Stafford Northcote; at this difficult time for him, I wish him God’s blessing. I also want to thank Owen Meredith, James Nixon and Hetty Bailey, who have all worked for me in this place. Above all, I want to thank my wonderful wife Janet, who has combined supporting me here with being a full-time GP and university lecturer at Keele medical school. I simply could not have done it without her support.
Finally, I would like to echo the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) about the importance of looking outwards and discussing what is happening in the world much more than we do, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said. We are sometimes told that we talk too much about what goes on outside this country, but all those things are relevant to our constituents. Africa has a population of 1.2 billion, which will go up to 2.4 billion. We need to support them in the creation of hundreds of millions of jobs. Otherwise, they will look elsewhere. People do not want to migrate. They want to stay where they are, with their families, but if they are forced to for a better life, they will. We have to look at what we can do.
In terms of world health, Ebola is still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has spread into Uganda. We have to do more research on antimicrobial resistance. Otherwise, we will face great challenges. There are also the issues of climate change, conflict resolution and freedom of speech and religion; I pay huge tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who have done magnificent work on the latter.
I will finish with two quotations from Izaak Walton. He said:
“He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping.”
And, for those of us who are not standing again, he said, “Be grateful for the simple things in life. Don’t take them for granted.”
I would like to thank my fantastic family, my friends and my staff, who are amazing, as well as all the people I have worked with here and in the constituency, but most of all I would like to thank my husband, who nine years ago put his life, dreams and ambitions on hold so that I could follow mine.
When you come into this place, it is the strangest thing. The first thing I did was to look for a job description, and as hon. Members all know, there is none. You become a combination of a councillor, a barrack-room lawyer, a trade union official and a social worker, yet an MP’s power, particularly in opposition, is more perceived than real. People ask you to get involved in everything and anything. When I was elected, I got 22,000 emails in the first year. The level of expectation from people is that you can solve everything from mice in their flat to conflict in the middle east, and of course the bins—there is always the bins. There are myriad ways that people can watch you now, and I am told by my constituents that I need to be at all these events in the constituency, but then the same people say to me, “I was watching the Chamber, and you weren’t in there. Where were you?” And at the same time, they want to know why you have not answered the 22,000 emails, which is why many people receive replies from me at 1 o’clock in the morning.
There was much I wanted to say this afternoon about the things I had done and the things I wished I had done, but we have sat here and passed the Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland) Act. I listened to that testimony and it was familiar to me, so I have changed what I planned to say because I needed to say this. I could talk about what I have achieved, but what has been achieved by me here has actually been achieved because of my parents. Both of my parents were brought up in care—my mother in the infamous Nazareth House, which we heard about earlier, and my father by the Christian Brothers—and I can give personal testimony about the damage done to them for the whole of their lives. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who is no longer in his place, asked from the Dispatch Box: what must those children have thought of adults, and how could they ever trust? Well, I can tell the House that they never did. It became increasingly difficult as they got older, when we needed to get carers or meals on wheels to go in, because everybody who came in who they thought was from the authorities they sacked immediately the same day. They feared to the very end of their lives losing their liberty, because they had lost it as children when they had been incarcerated.
It is testimony to my parents that they never visited on me and my sister Rose the horrors of their childhood, and it is testimony to them that I am an MP now. My mother lived to see me elected, and she was as proud as punch. Sadly, my dad died in 2009, so he did not get the same bragging rights. My dad, Arthur Farrington, was what people would call a bit of a character. He had a tendency to embellish the truth, and sometimes he just made things up. He used to say to me and my sister that he was born in the workhouse, but then he used to say a lot of things so we did not take a lot of notice. When I was elected and was doing research on children’s homes in the 1930s, it came as a huge surprise to find that his parents were actually resident in Ormskirk workhouse at the time he was born. It seems I owe my dad a bit of an apology, as he was actually telling the truth. However, I still do not believe that the ring that my auntie had, which clearly came from Woolworths, was given to her by the Pope.
It is a privilege to hold the office of MP. I left school at 17, got married soon after and became a mother, but at 18 I found myself deserted by my husband and facing the world alone with a small baby and bleak prospects while the rest of my friends went to university. However, thanks to a small council flat in Belvedere, a GLC-funded day nursery and a Bexley Council-funded careers adviser, I was set on the road to independence, self-respect and a career. I have been successful and my family has thrived because society invested in me, and that investment has been paid back over and over. Sadly, however, those services no longer exist for many who find themselves in the same circumstances and do not have that ladder. In fact, the safety net of the welfare state that once saved me no longer exists in that real sense. It is more like a trapdoor you fall through and you may never get back up. That is why I have spent the last nine years trying to speak up for Erith and Thamesmead, so my neighbours get the opportunities that I had and can turn around their lives when they fall on hard times.
I would like to thank my constituents for the support they have shown me for the last nine years, electing me three times. It is now time to pass the baton on to someone else, and I am sure that they will show her the same support.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, and commiserations on yesterday—I congratulate the new Speaker. I apologise for being unable to be here at the start of the debate. I had not intended to speak, but I decided only last night to stand down as the Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, the constituency that I have been honoured to represent for nearly 15 years.
It was a pleasure to listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin). Some 33 years ago, while working as a young researcher, I helped a young candidate who was standing in a by-election in West Derbyshire. I claim that the 100 votes that my right hon. Friend secured to win the seat were won by me, and he claims that he would have won handsomely had it not been for my disastrous research.
I went on to stand for Berwick-upon-Tweed in north Northumberland. Unfortunately, that was in 1997, the year of Armageddon. My efforts in that beautiful rural constituency were not helped early on when I opened a coffee morning with a speech urging everyone to vote Conservative, only to be told that I was in fact at a meeting of the Methodists. I could not have been expected to know that that particular village had two village halls, but I learned an important lesson about knowing your constituency.
I was immensely privileged to be chosen at the very last moment to stand for Arundel and South Downs for the Conservatives, and I believe that someone else will be very lucky indeed to be chosen at the very last minute to stand for what I believe is the best constituency in the country, full of the most wonderful people and strong communities. I will miss it a very great deal. I fought four general elections and my majority has gone up every time to a record level, and I know that it is smart to quit while ahead.
I made my maiden speech in a debate on rural issues. I spoke last in that debate, too, and nobody told me that I was permitted to go to what the Americans call the restroom while waiting to make my speech. I waited for what seemed to be hours, absolutely desperate for it, and then made the shortest maiden speech in history as a consequence.
I then went to see the Whips to explain that it was very important for the new Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs to watch Australia play the Duke of Norfolk’s XI at the Arundel castle cricket ground. The Whips told me that not only was that entirely possible, but I should submit any request, at any time, for any sporting event that I felt I needed to attend. I had no idea that they were being sarcastic and so proceeded to give them a long list of all the sporting events I wished to attend that year. I have never lived it down.
I soon found myself on the Front Bench and, for a very brief time—this is a salutary lesson for all the young people who will enter the House after the election—was billed as a rising star. I then plummeted into the depths of the Home Office, a fall from which I never entirely recovered.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) that attending this debate, in which we have heard some marvellous speeches, is rather like attending the reading of one’s own obituary. I am not entirely certain that everyone would be effusive enough, so I intend to list some of the things that I have been involved in—my serious point is that I intend to continue working in a number of important areas that I have worked on in this place. They include LGBT rights, which my friend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) mentioned, the campaign for equal marriage, setting up the all-party parliamentary group on global lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, and setting up the Global Equality Caucus, run so ably by Alan Wardle and supported by Andrew Slinn.
I also set up the all-party parliamentary group on global tuberculosis, to help fight the world’s deadliest disease. The Global TB Caucus has succeeded in driving TB up the agenda, with a high-level meeting at the United Nations. It is ably led by Sarah Kirk, with support on the APPG from Janika Hauser, and it was set up with brilliant initial work by my friend Matt Oliver.
I have recently assumed the chairmanship of the Countryside Alliance, which I intend to devote a lot of time to, returning to my roots, because I believe passionately in supporting rural communities, in the freedom to choose and in ensuring that we protect the rural way of life. I will be running the think-tank that I have set up, the Project for Modern Democracy, just as I previously set up the think-tank Reform, because I believe we need new thinking on Whitehall reform, planning and how we ensure markets operate fairly in the modern world.
I just want to say something briefly about Brexit. I set up the national no campaign against joining the euro. For a long time I was thought of as a Eurosceptic, but I led the Conservatives In campaign to remain in the European Union. Nevertheless, I accepted the result of the referendum immediately. I want to dispute the idea that the only principled position for remainers to take is somehow to gainsay the referendum result. I do not believe that that is true. Actually, I think it is a principled and honourable position to accept the result of the referendum, because in the end it is about democracy. I have done that, which is why I support the Prime Minister in successfully seeking a deal. I do not think that we should demonise the millions of people who voted for remain, but have accepted the result and think a deal is possible. Rather, we should investigate more closely why people voted for leave and what exactly they wanted, and have a more mature, sober and sensible debate on those issues.
Finally, I would like to thank my brilliant staff: Michelle Taylor, my wonderful constituency assistant; Alex Black, who runs my office; Lynsey White, my wonderful secretary; and Chris Cook, my researcher. I would like to thank members of my Conservative association and my chairmen, Angela Litchfield, Sue Holland, Malcolm Gill and Peter Griffiths. I thank my constituents for doing me the great honour of returning me to Arundel and South Downs. Above all, I thank my partner, my closest and best friend, Jason Eades, without whose tireless and unquestioning support I would never have been able to do this job in the first place. Thank you all for doing me this great honour. I am very sad to be going, but I know it is the right time to do so.
What a privilege it is to follow that heartfelt speech. It is also a coincidence, because, as the majority of the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) has gone up at every successive election, mine has gone down. [Laughter.]
In 2010, when I first came into the House, we achieved the lowest swing away from Labour in the entire country. In the most recent general election, in 2017, I hung on by a mere 209 votes. As most people who looked at that will know, it is a total miracle that I am here at all. I never expected to be able to make a valedictory speech and I have viewed every single day of this Parliament as an extra, unexpected bonus. It was hard enough to hold the constituency of Barrow and Furness, the home of the Trident nuclear submarine programme, with the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). People, probably understandably, did not trust him entirely on the issue of Trident. However, it was an impossibility to hold the constituency with the current Leader of the Opposition. It was only by completely disavowing him that I was able, against all expectations including mine, to hang on.
I have, of course, paid in one way or another since then, but I will never forget the moment at 1 o’clock in the morning of election night when I thought, “My goodness, we might actually hold on here.” I had to get on the phone to my ex, Mandy, who ran my campaign to get me into Parliament in the first place, and say, “Look, you know I’ve offered to take the kids all summer, well…” I am deeply indebted to her for her forbearance on that and on so many issues, as we have made a crazy modern family life work. More on that towards the end of my speech.
I want to say how sad I am to be leaving, but I think we can be really proud of some the things we have achieved over these past nine and a half years. The brand new maternity unit literally would not have happened without the campaign led by local mums, including Mandy. Of course, I supported the campaign wholeheartedly —I knew what was good for me—but it showed that when the people of Barrow and Furness stand up, they are able to make themselves listened to. Together, we have effected real change.
The Leader of the House knows that it is more unusual to win a vote at the moment than it is to lose one, and 18 July 2016 will always be etched on my memory as the day that this House voted by 472 votes to 117 to renew Trident and fire the starting gun properly on the Dreadnought submarine programme, which, even now, is providing 9,000 directly employed jobs and sustaining the whole Furness economy. I am just sad to be leaving at a time when we are making critical decisions on how we ensure that that investment can lift the whole area out of the still really appalling pockets of deprivation and the lack of hope that remains in the Furness area. If I can play any role outside this place—possibly in a David Brent way, if I keep turning up to former offices—I want to play whatever role I can to ensure that that can happen in future.
I came into this House having been privileged to serve as a special adviser for a period in No. 10, and I never thought that the life of a constituency MP—trying to help the community change and lead that change—would be what drove me. That is what I will miss most of all from the job. It is well known in this place, but completely unknown outside it, how relatively little of that we drive ourselves as MPs, so—like many others—I need to give my heartfelt thanks to my team. Frank, Natalie, Angela, Carmen and the new arrival, Sian, have done extraordinary things. Literally thousands of people have had their lives changed for the better in ways that, more often than not, I have not known about personally, but they have delivered. I am so pleased that Cassie, my office manager, has come all the way here—it is a hell of a long way to get down from Barrow; it takes four hours on the train on a good day— and is in the Gallery today. Like a number of my staff—but this is particularly so in her case—she has stuck with me through some really difficult times and has stayed loyal, and I will always be grateful for that.
As a constituency MP, I am proud of what we have done, but I wish that I could be proud of what we have achieved in our politics over the last 10 years. We are not standing here as a Parliament of success. I am sorry that my attempt to wrestle my politics—the politics of the progressive centre-left—out of the hands of the extremists that have gripped my former party has not been a success. I am really grateful to my friends—who will remain my friends—in the Labour party, even though we have taken a very different view on how best to tackle that extremism.
I am really excited about the challenge that I am going on to as the Government’s special envoy on countering violent extremism; I want to continue to play a role in public life. Although I am sad to be leaving, I am leaving for absolutely the best reason: it was not part of the script that Issy and I would be having a baby, but it is a wonderful, wonderful thing on which to leave. Their two sisters, Maisie and Molly, are going to be wonderful big sisters, and I just cannot wait for the future that we have got together.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend from Barrow and Furness—I suggest that he tries for size a majority of 30 on the third count at 6.30 in the morning.
I am sorry not to have been here to listen to all the speeches, Madam Deputy Speaker. Once upon a time this was going to be a normal working day; I had a delegation from Slovenia here for a tour. Everyone will know that being a tour guide is an occupational hazard in the Commons, not least as I am the chair of the all-party British-Slovenia Group, the chair of the all-party British-German group and the vice-chair of the all-party group on Japan. Present difficulties notwithstanding, the internationalism of this place has always been a surprise pleasure that I will certainly miss.
I also thank the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for kindly losing to me in 2005—in the nicest possible way and as only he knows how—because otherwise I would not be here making these remarks. I still have his campaign T-shirt, which I found tidying up my cupboard, and which I asked him for as a present. I will keep it and cherish it.
It feels strange to clear an office after 18 years. While packing up, I came across umpteen spare copies of my maiden speech from 2001, and I remember it well. I felt I had drawn the short straw, having to follow the lyrical Welsh tones of Adam Price, now the leader of Plaid Cymru. It felt like trudging in the footsteps of Richard Burton in a theatre audition. In making my speech, I felt sure I was the only grandson of a rabbit trapper from County Meath in Ireland to take his place on these green Benches. Now as I leave, I can burnish my Celtic credentials further, because on 2 March—my 57th birthday—the perfect present popped through the letterbox: my Irish passport. Whatever happens after the election, I will be remaining—no ifs, no buts, come what may—a citizen of the European Union, as will my three long-suffering children.
It has been a privilege to serve as the MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, my home town. I was the first born and bred “castle black”, as we say, for—well, I haven’t been able to find another going back 500 years. But 2001 was not my first general election; that came when I stood in Chesham and Amersham—my dry run—in 1997. So one of my first thanks this afternoon goes to my agent 22 years ago, Peter Ward, and his wife, Doreen, who wished me all the best again this week. I must also mention again the wonderful Keith Kingswood, the local constituency secretary back then. Just before the ’97 election, Keith flew to New York to see his son and collect a postal vote but tragically on the flight over contracted a mystery illness from which he did not recover. The day after the Blair landslide, while Labour was partying on the south bank, we were all attending Keith’s funeral in Chesham. My thoughts today are again with his wife Janet and his family.
This job would be impossible without the support of families, so I have to thank my wife Victoria for putting up with all the late nights, the weeks and weekends away, the overseas visits and all the football and, in particular, rugby—she curses Commons and Lords RUFC. She was also the one person I forgot to thank on election night in 1997. In turn, I have never been allowed to forget it. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, I want to pay a special tribute to the first person I met when I first went back to help in 1993: a truly great council leader, Eddie Boden, who turns 80 in a few weeks. Happy birthday from Westminster, Eddie. My agent in Newcastle all these years, David Leech, has been a rock of support and strength. Sadly, he lost his wonderful wife and soulmate, Cynthia, last year. Newcastle is much emptier without her.
Nothing could prepare me for this place. I was never a student politician or part of any network. I first got involved in politics in 1987, aged 25, when I took the day off work in London to do something, finally, about Margaret Thatcher. Through the occasional rebellions—student tuition fees, the dreadful war in Iraq, the dreaded B-word today—David and my officers in the constituency have always been loyal, steadfast and true. It was because of their efforts that a week last Friday in Newcastle-under-Lyme we were able to celebrate 100 years of continuous Labour representation in Parliament. We are one of only five constituencies in the whole of the UK to be able to do so. My majority might be a bit tight—we are one of 11 reluctant members of the “under 100” club—but I keep reminding people that at over 21,000 the Labour vote in Newcastle in 2017 was the biggest of my five general elections and the highest since that landslide under Tony Blair in ’97. It is the task of my successor as candidate, who was selected on Friday, to recreate that progressive alliance.
Politics is a difficult and demanding trade, and that has never been more true than in these testing time, in the age of social media, but in this job one really can make a difference and be proud of doing so, for constituents and causes and projects that leave a legacy for the future. At the outset in Westminster, I was rebellious enough to stand up for students over high and variable tuition fees and had the temerity to organise a rebellion. I next crossed swords with my own Government through a private Member’s Bill to ensure fairer treatment of temporary and agency workers—protections eventually implemented, we should remember, by a European directive that helped vulnerable and low-paid people in 28 countries.
I am also glad to have stood up for my beliefs in not voting for the legislation that paved the way for the referendum, or for the triggering of article 50. I understand that I am the only member of the Labour party to have departed from the whip on both those occasions, and the same applies to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) in respect of the Conservative party.
I am proud, too, to have served for 14 years on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The Committee has certainly made a difference, pursuing phone-hacking and, more recently, investigating fake news and abuse of social media, as well as helping to change libel law in the interests of my former profession: responsible, serious investigative journalism.
Locally, there is much for Labour, and retired colleagues in north Staffordshire, to be proud of, such as our brand-new hospital and the excellent Newcastle college, to name but two. In Newcastle, my favourite place of all is the wonderful Peter Pan Nursery for Children with Special Needs, and I want to record my thanks to Peter Traves, who was Staffordshire’s education director until 10 years ago, for his help in securing its future in brand-new premises opposite my old school in Wolstanton. He is simply the best officer in the public sector with whom I have dealt in 18 years.
Let me end with two final votes of thanks. This job would be impossible without great staff. I have had wonderful staff doing a wonderful job for constituents—Caroline Eardley, who has been with me throughout, Dr Barry Schofield and Martin Bell—and, in Westminster, Hannah Matin, Thomas Brayford and, for so many years, Dr Neil Watkins. We always need good officers in our constituency parties, and I want to thank the chair of my constituency party, Allison Gardner, for her wonderful support. Her drive and motivation, and her great sense of humour, made the last two elections enjoyable, and without her help I would not be standing here today.
Finally, I thank colleagues across parties for all the work that we have done here in those years. I will certainly miss them, and I will miss it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I congratulate you on your victory, and I know that you will make a very good Speaker.
When I first sat here today, 60 Members were saying that they would be leaving the House. The number has now risen to 62, following the announcements by the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the ex-Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond) that they would be standing down.
The speeches were a bit like maiden speeches to start with—everyone has such a beautiful constituency—but what was clear was the amazing array of talent that we are losing. The right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) has served his party so well. He has been an excellent Chief Whip—I do not suppose that many people say that, but I will—and has given 33 years of devotion to the House. I also thank Mrs McLoughlin. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) has had extensive experience of posts ranging from parliamentary private secretary to Chair of a Select Committee.
The right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey)—I know that he added “Didcot”, but the annunciator said “Wantage”—is not standing down; he was contributing to the pre-Dissolution debate. He talked about the arts, and I want to thank him, because when he was in opposition he visited the New Art Gallery in Walsall, where anyone who goes into the lift will hear the voice of Noddy Holder.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) was true to herself. She is also a formidable coach of Arsenal Ladies Football Club. I agree with her about Balj Rai—he is absolutely fantastic—and I want to pay tribute to Max Freedman, in her office, who made a great contribution to the independent complaints and grievance process.
The right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) leaves a huge legacy. He was what people refer to as the “dead cat on the table”—he was always the one who diverted people and moved them to another point in the debate—but his nickname was “the Minister for the ‘Today’ programme”. He is right about debates on foreign affairs: we need more of those. I hope the Leader of the House does not mind my raising again the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and expressing the hope that she will soon be released from prison.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) is an extensive human rights champion, and a champion for miners’ compensation—the subject of miners was a thread running through the debate—and, of course, she was a human rights envoy. She has produced an incredible body of public service, both as a Member of the European Parliament and as an MP. Wales is also losing my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), whom I have worked with. I hope he will continue his work with Welsh tourism.
What can we say about my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas)? An outstanding solicitor and an outstanding Minister who has a great way of asking important questions. He has made an important contribution to the debate today about how we run our elections. He will be missed, but we can see him in the documentary “The Great Hack.”
When I first came to this House in 2010, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) said that Michael Howard had visited her constituency, and had resigned as leader. Maybe he knew—this is what came across to me when I first saw her at the Dispatch Box—that she could be a future leader of her party. I am sorry that she is standing down because I think she would have been an excellent leader and an excellent Prime Minister. She did some fantastic work at the Department for International Development. The logo for UK Aid was down to her, as was the audit of all the money that was given out to everyone; I cited that to some students I spoke to in the House. I thank her for her excellent work on that.
I will put together my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), for Warrington North (Helen Jones) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) as they make me think of Donald Dewar. He said that he could never get selected and then when he finally did, and was elected to the House, he was confronted by people who beat him. Those three Members all beat me; I was runner-up to all three of them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North has made a huge contribution to the Petitions Committee; it is now a very important part of the work we do here and she rightly paid tribute to the Clerks of the Committee.
What can I say about the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington)? He was an absolutely fantastic Leader of the House. I do not have time to do justice to the work that he has done here. He started out as a special adviser to Douglas Hurd and I keep saying, “Where are those members of the Conservative party like Douglas Hurd, like the right hon. Gentleman and indeed like Douglas Hurd’s son, the right hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd)?” They are all going, and all are incredible public servants. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury was very kind to me when I first became shadow Leader of the House and we had very important conversations that we knew were not going anywhere. He made an important point for us to take forward for the future—we must ensure that this House moves forward. I hope he will continue to play an active role in public life because he is needed.
The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) was a Health Minister when I visited him and asked him to take up the cause of John’s campaign with Nicci Gerrard, Julia Jones and Francis Wheen, which was to allow family members to visit people in hospital who have dementia. Nicci Gerrard found that her father did not have an opportunity for interaction with his family—perhaps just playing a game of chess—and that that had a detrimental effect. When the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister he facilitated that opportunity for visiting.
The right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) was an outstanding Minister and an outstanding parliamentarian, and is an outstanding human being. Oh, I am not the right person to be doing this, given my past record of breaking down. I do not know what we will do without him. He has been absolutely fantastic. We walked arm in arm to St Margaret’s church when we paid tribute to Jo Cox. It was a very special day, and I will never forget his kindness. He talks about kindness; he is a really decent person. As he has said to me, his constituency is lucky as it has two MPs, because of course he is ably supported by Eve who did a fantastic job for Christians in Parliament.
I will turn now to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound). There are four of us here who used to be on the council in Ealing together: my hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and I. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North always used to show us up when he was a councillor. People used to say, “You’ve got to be like Steve Pound, because he turns up and fixes our boiler.” He actually went into people’s lofts and did the work—we would write the letters and he would do the work.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) and I served on the Health Committee. It showed how cross-party work can be done in this House, and I hope he will continue with his work on health.
There was an important point of order that you missed, Mr Speaker, and I therefore want to mention the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). She was the first woman Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Prime Minister, a role she performed really well at a very difficult time. She has been an excellent colleague and an excellent Minister, and she will be missed.
I will turn now to the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson). I should not have been in the Lobby with him, but he was in the Lobby with me and I know how deeply he struggled with voting the way he did. He voted for his country rather than his party; he put his personal loyalties aside and made sure that he did that for his country. He will be a fantastic loss. The sad thing about this is that we now see how wonderful everyone is, in the way they speak and the stories they tell. He is truly an honourable gentleman.
I have watched the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) nurse other hon. Members in this House when she was a vice-chair of the Tory party; she has been an assiduous vice-chair. She has been very kind to her colleagues and I know that she has been an excellent Minister. All the replies I have received from her have been absolutely fantastic, and she will be missed. Her manner is a gentle one, but she has a lot of strength. I know that her point about the Official Report and what we can do in that regard will be taken forward, and I am happy to work with the Leader of the House on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) has done some great work in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and I hope she continues to do that, along with her work with universities and higher education. She, too, will be missed.
The hon. Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) is right about mental health care, and I hope that he continues to work on this important policy. He is also right about free TV licences for the over-75s; I am glad that he said that.
Turning to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg): yes, we were all up for Portillo. He and I met a long time ago when we were going down to the Labour party conference. At that time, there was a section 28, which has now completely disappeared, so we know that politics can change and that we can make a difference.
The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) has been a wonderful colleague. We have worked well together on hospital issues and he will certainly be remembered for his work for the Francis report. He has also been a champion for getting funds for the NHS. I also want to thank him for introducing me to Bananagrams, which is like Scrabble without the arguments.
The struggle that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) had to become a Labour candidate has turned her into an absolutely exemplary Member of Parliament, and her life story has shown why she will be missed; her strength and her story are absolutely fantastic. Andrew, who works for me, is a constituent of hers, and he says that she is a fantastic MP. Sadly, she has chosen to be an MP no longer; she wants to be with her family.
The right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs made a speech that was something of an emergency intervention. We are sorry to see him go, as he has been absolutely fantastic and a really assiduous Minister. I asked a colleague why the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber for this debate, and now we know. He had seven minutes to set out his case, which might be slightly more than he had for his maiden speech. It is true that he does have a very nice constituency.
It is good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) back here. He has been through some really difficult times, but he has always worked with, for and on behalf of his constituents, wherever he has been. I wish him well with his new family and his new post.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) has done some sterling work on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Finally, I just want to say to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), because this is a pre-recess Adjournment debate, that I must make a bid for Southend to get city status.
As this is the final day, I want to thank everyone. I want the Clerk of the House to pass down to everyone in his directorate our thanks for all the work they have done. I thank all the Clerks who, during difficult times, have given us excellent advice. I also want to thank all those in the Official Report, the Library and the Tea Room, the cleaning and catering staff, the Speaker’s Office and the post room. I post something here at seven o’clock and it arrives in Walsall the next day. I thank all our staff, including my Chief Whip, the Whips and Luke and Simon. We have the most amazing, talented people in this House who will no longer be here, and I hope that they will think about serving their country. I want to thank them for all the work they have done, and I want to wish every hon. Member all the best for their campaigns.
It is very humbling to close this debate. I have worked out that there is over 540 years of experience in the Members who are standing down and if you place that end to end, I think that gets us back to the middle of the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. It is an extraordinary degree of experience and political contribution. Mr Speaker, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you as you take the Chair. I think of all the work, and all the restoration and renewal, that you are going to do, both to the buildings and to our culture, which I think we are all looking forward to.
Like the right hon. Lady, at the end of a Session I thank, on behalf of all Members, the staff of the House, the members’ staff, security staff, the Doorkeepers, the civil servants and all those who keep the show on the road and are always here when we need them. Gratitude to the staff came through in all the speeches that were made, including that of my right hon Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has hereditary staff taken on from his father. I think that that is unusual, but it nonetheless shows the commitment of staff to this House, and I pay compliment to him while I am mentioning his staff.
Now it is my privilege to go through the Members who have spoken. I have nine minutes to do it, so forgive me for being brief. I am saving up one or two for the end. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) has been such a fantastic servant of this House. Running the Standards and Privileges Committee was a very hard job to do and his non-Oscar speech was better than most Oscar speeches.
I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) is retiring––maybe, maybe not––but his protection of the arts and his service are noble. His point about technology and the economy is fundamental.
Dare I say that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is every Tory’s favourite socialist, though I think the word “socialist” may be unfair in her case? I find that I agree with her on almost everything, so either I have moved to the left at some point mysteriously or she has moved some way to the right. She will be enormously missed. I loved her comment that there is always tradition for a reason, which is practically my motto, so I very much agreed with that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) served four Prime Ministers and very kindly invited me to speak at Chartwell. One of the greatest honours that I have ever had was to speak in the home of perhaps our greatest ever Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend shows great kindness to new Members, which is perhaps little known, but it also makes one think about fate. I supported him to be Chairman of the Treasury Committee, which, by great good fortune, he did not get but went on to a glittering Cabinet career instead, which was probably better all round. My noble Friend Lord Tyrie got the Treasury Committee, which he served with great distinction.
We heard the tributes to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd)––I probably massacred my pronunciation––with the tributes to our previous Speaker. I do not know the right hon. Lady enormously well, but it became so clear during those tributes that she is loved across the House and must be one of the most popular Members for her work in favour of peace and human rights and to stop child abuse. I salute her on behalf of the whole House for what she has done.
I have a compliment for my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) from one of my civil servants which, if I may, I will read out:
“She has always taken the House very seriously and as a Minister, she impressed upon her Department the need to think constantly about Parliament, to make a case to Parliament and to convince Members across the House that the Department was doing the right thing.”
I think that that is a noble tribute and it has not come from me; it is not a political tribute but is from the civil servants with whom she worked. I so agree with her in her efforts to make social mobility a reality. That is something we should all want to do, and I am glad she is going to continue to work on that.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) first contested a seat at the age of 24, which is a very young age at which to contest a seat. He has been a distinguished Member of this House and is still very passionate about what he believes in, about what he wants to do and about his commitment to Select Committees, which is of importance to the whole House.
The right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) showed in his final few words his amazing campaigning zeal. Though we all tease the Liberal Democrats, what we love about the true Liberals is that they believe in campaigning and they have strong principles for which they campaign. He has been such a champion for his constituency; he has been a champion for what it believes in and what it voted for.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) is, I think, just one of the most gentlemanly, gentle and kindly Members of this House. He was enormously helpful to new MPs, and he probably has the best manners of anybody in this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) has been such a campaigner for what he chooses to believe in, and the advice he gave us at the end was brilliant. Seneca is normally only quoted by my right hon Friend the Prime Minister, so it was an ambitious quotation. “Choose enemies carefully,” has a touch of steel about it, “Stay out of the bars,” has a touch of realism about it and we know, “Never forget your constituency base,” only too well, particularly as the election looms. We hope that we have not forgotten that in recent years.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) made a brief point of order. It was her first point of order and, like all points of order, it was a bogus point of order, but it was charmingly bogus. We are very sorry to be losing her, but her three splendid sons are the beneficiaries.
The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) made the most charming speech and reminded us about the Tea Room staff, who look after us so extraordinarily well at all hours. She has the one job in this place that I once wanted, which is Chair of the Petitions Committee. I was on the Procedure Committee to set it up, and I am afraid that I had my eyes on the post and then it became an Opposition post. When I mentioned to the Whips that I was keen on it, I think they thought that it had better be an Opposition post, and the hon. Lady has run that brilliant and important Committee with great panache.
The right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) lamented the decline of old Etonians as Members of the House of Commons. I do sympathise with that position, and I am glad he made the point. I thought it might have been a little bit too much coming from me, but coming from him I am allowed, I think, to reinforce it. He is a great Tory Member, a great supporter of Tory Members, and a teacher of Tory Members with his fabulous book list, which he regularly sends round. I hope that he will continue to do so, because his reading list is always interesting. I would also highlight his work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is valued by everybody.
I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) is retiring. He made a political commentary of importance, and I think he should stand at the next election and bring those points back to the House. I urge him to change his mind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) is the kindest lady in the House of Commons. She has been a friend towards me since we were elected at the same time, even when we have disagreed, and I love her confidence in Hansard. Hansard is so brilliant. Not only does it make a verbatim report, but it improves one’s English. It takes out all the split infinitives. I have only one disagreement with it, and that is that it thinks that “Government” is a plural, and I think it is a singular. My hon. Friend’s suggestion that Hansard should do even more work got nods and smiles from the Hansard representatives, so that will happen.
With all its heritage, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) has a wonderful city to represent. She called the Library staff the unsung heroes, and we must sing more to the Library staff. There must be a tune for the parliamentary choir.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Peter Heaton-Jones) is a wonderful champion of local service. He will be missed, and his views on the BBC are noted.
Turning to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), we all remember the Portillo moment. I had not realised that it was up there with the moon landings and the release of Nelson Mandela, but it was very humble of him—there has been humility in so many contributions—to say that that was based on a poll of readers of The Observer and Channel 4 viewers.
The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015 that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) presented is of great importance, and I so support his campaign for religious freedom and freedom of speech. I hope that his work will be continued when he is no longer in the House.
The most touching and moving speech of the day was from the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce). I have hardly been more moved by a speech in this House. On that basis, I know that she will be missed. What she said about historical institutional abuse was really very shocking—what an extraordinary thing for her family to have coped with.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) is supporting the PM. I am sorry that he has decided to leave at short notice.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) on the new baby, and I say to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) that 31 votes is enough.
I briefly want to mention my right hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) and for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington) and, the comedian of the House, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound). What brilliant people we are losing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales put me through to the candidates list. I would not be here without him, so he has that resting upon his conscience, but what a fine and distinguished career he has had. He is one of the true fantastic figures of the House. I clashed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury over Europe, but he is so courteous and so well informed and his arms never stop moving, which is fantastic. I will finish with our comedian: what will we do without him?
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered matters to be raised before the forthcoming Dissolution.
Before we come to the petitions, I would just like to say that I am losing many friends in this House who are stepping down. I say to Members on all sides that you have been great parliamentarians. I will not name you all—that is for others to do—but I thank you for the privilege of working with you. I wish you well for the future. My door is open if you ever need to come back. Please keep in touch.