Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 2:54 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Llafur, Greenwich and Woolwich 2:54, 26 Mawrth 2015

I am pleased to follow Sir John Stanley, not least because, although we come from different political persuasions, he is the Member of the House I have known the longest, in that we both attended the same school more than 55 years ago. I recall inviting him to see examples of bad housing in the area of west London, where I worked in the late 1970s, when he was appointed as the housing Minister.

I thank Sir George Young for initiating this debate. I suspect the inspiration behind it was the speech delivered by Chris Mullin, my former friend from Sunderland, exactly five years ago when he initiated the concept of a valedictory speech under slightly different circumstances. One thing he said was that the “disillusionment and corrosive cynicism” affecting our politics was a deep threat to democratic politics in this country, and I entirely concur with that and with views expressed by other Members who have spoken on that theme this afternoon. In my view that is the biggest challenge of our time.

This is not the occasion to spell out all that is necessary to deal with that challenge, but I will highlight four themes that seem to me important. First is that Parliament must be more vigorous in asserting its power in scrutinising and holding the Government to account. We had a good example of that today, and for me there has been a wonderful symmetry about it. This is my last day in the House, and on my first day in 1986 I had the unusual experience of participating as a newly elected Back-Bench Member in a vote that defeated the then Government—who had a majority of 170—in the Second Reading debate on one of its flagship policies. Today has also been unusual, and I hope that the experience of the House standing up to Government is followed more vigorously and effectively in future as that would be good for our democracy.

Secondly, we must be more effective in devolving power. I am proud to have been part of a Government who did a lot in the way of devolution, and I played a small role in devolution in London to the Greater London authority. We failed, however, to address effective devolution in England, and that hugely important issue must be addressed in the next Parliament if we are to safeguard the future of the United Kingdom and have a Parliament that represents the whole country but does not try to micro-manage it. One lesson for the Government is that we need to do less and do it better. If we devolve more powers that are currently discharged here to sub-regional, regional and local authorities, we can ensure that those authorities have more say over matters that should be determined locally, and we will also work better here because we will be less fixated on the minutiae of government.

Thirdly, the Government must be more serious about governing well. That means being rigorous about policy development on evidence base rather than political prejudice, and more open to scrutiny in the way legislation passes through Parliament. In my view, much of that is currently not as effective as it should be. We should also end the annual reshuffle of Ministers. The ministerial merry-go-round is a serious challenge to good government because it simply denies people with expertise and experience built up over some years the opportunity to influence and shape the future of policy making.

Finally, we must better engage the public here and locally with our work and procedures. Too often, our procedures are arcane and difficult to understand, or they invite contempt. I wholly concur with my right hon. Friend Mr Straw about the urgent need to reform Prime Minister’s questions, which I am afraid does the House no credit at all. We must also think about how we engage people more effectively at local level and help to break down some of their sense that politics is done by people who are apart from them, rather than part of a process in which they are engaged.

In conclusion, I express my heartfelt thanks to the many people, not least the electorate of Greenwich and Woolwich, who have given me the opportunity to represent them over the past 23 years. I also thank the many colleagues, officers and staff of the House whose friendship, support and advice has made possible the contribution that I have been able to make over these years. I am deeply grateful to have had the privilege.