Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 3:01 pm ar 6 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Attorney General 3:01, 6 Chwefror 2024

I am proud to say that my party is full of good ideas, but unfortunately we are unable to put them all into one motion. Let us have a little discipline today by concentrating on the motion at hand and the important issue we are raising. We believe that five particular problems were highlighted by the chaos in 2022-23. I will go through each of them, give an example and explain why the changes we want to put forward will solve those problems, and why we would therefore ask the House as a whole to seriously consider our proposal to ensure that we can pass legislation to change the situation, because it does need to be fixed.

First, let us look at what I call the short stayers problem. More than two dozen individuals occupied Front-Bench roles for just nine weeks at the fag end of the Johnson Government, or just seven weeks during the bedlam of the Truss experiment, all of whom walked away with three months of severance pay. Let us look at Jonathan Gullis as an example. Never a shrinking violet when it comes to calling out others, he served just 49 full days as a Minister in the Department for Education, earning less than £3,000 in wages, yet when he returned to the Back Benches he received almost double that in severance—three months’ severance for 49 days’ work. Perhaps the Minister for common sense will tell us whether that makes sense to her.

Secondly, we have the problem of the short-lived promotions: individuals who found themselves elevated from junior ministerial roles to more senior positions, and whose severance was therefore calculated not based on the salary they had earned for most of the year, but based on the much higher salary they had earned for only a few weeks. Let us think of the example of Sir Simon Clarke, who spent a year as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, earning a salary of almost £32,000, but then spent seven weeks as Levelling Up Secretary on a salary of more than double that amount. As a result of those seven weeks alone, the right hon. Gentleman received severance pay of almost £17,000. Again, I look forward to the Minister for common sense explaining where the sense is in that.

Thirdly, we have what I might call the quick returners—more than a dozen Ministers who claimed their three months’ severance pay after quitting the Johnson Government, or being sacked by his successor, but who ended up returning to the Front Bench a matter of weeks later while still enjoying the benefits of their severance payments. Take the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Johnny Mercer, who not only accepted three months in severance after only two months as Veterans Minister, but told Plymouth Live point-blank that he had not accepted a severance payment, and then had the sheer chutzpah to return to exactly the same job seven weeks later without repaying a single penny. Once again, I hope that the expert on these matters will tell us whether that sounds like common sense.

Fourthly, there is a much smaller category—I have decided it is best not to give them a name at all. We also saw severance payments awarded in 2022-23 to two individuals, Peter Bone and Chris Pincher, who left their Front-Bench jobs while under investigation at the time for acts of gross misconduct. The 1991 rules are silent on this issue, and we can only assume that it was thought that any individual forced to quit in those circumstances would have the basic decency not to accept a handout from the taxpayer. However, I am afraid what the Pincher and Bone cases have shown us is that we cannot rely on the decency of individuals like that.

Finally—perhaps most incredibly—five severance payments in the last financial year were made entirely by mistake because the Government forgot to apply the age limit that says no one over the age of 65 can receive one, which is how Peter Bone and Nadine Dorries received their payments. Before the current incumbents of the Cabinet Office tell themselves that they have brought order to all this chaos, it is worth noting that the largest of those mistaken payments, which was made to a Minister in the Lords, was made not during the chaos of the summer and autumn of 2022, but in what one might call the cold light of day in January 2023.

The proposed changes to the severance rules set out in Labour’s motion would address each of the five issues that I have set out.