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

If our motion does not go far enough for the hon. Gentleman, let me propose that he votes with us tonight anyway, because at least we are heading in the right direction. If his colleagues vote simply to keep the status quo, he will have a great deal of difficulty explaining to his constituents how, given his views, he has allowed it to continue.

Let me move on. We want to make changes to deal with the five issues. To deal with short stayers and short-term promotions, Ministers would be paid a quarter of their actual earnings over the previous 12 months, not a quarter of their final salary. To deal with the quick returners, our reforms would require individuals who return to the Front Bench while still enjoying the benefits of their severance payments to repay the corresponding amount. To deal with those who do not deserve any payment, we demand that Ministers who quit while under investigation for gross misconduct or breaching the ministerial code have their severance payment withheld unless or until their name is cleared.

If all those rules had been in place in 2022-23, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North would have received £748 in severance, not almost £6,000. The short-lived Levelling Up Secretary, the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, would have received just over £9,000, not almost £17,000. The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View would have received £1,300, not almost £8,000, and the former Members for Tamworth and for Wellingborough would have received exactly what they deserved—nothing at all. In total, if the proposals in our motion had been in place in 2022-23 and the age limit rules had been properly enforced, the total severance bill that year would have been cut by more than 40%—a saving for the taxpayer of almost £380,000. If our rules had been in place, 75 of the 97 Ministers who claimed severance pay in that year would have seen their payments reduced by an average of just over £5,000.

That is why our motion is so important, but Government Members may reasonably ask why it is so urgent. Why is it necessary to reform the rules in this way? Why does Labour need to take control of the Order Paper? Very simply, if they think what happened in the last financial year was a one-off aberration that could not happen again, they have not been paying attention. Do they not know about the plotting of their own colleagues and the plans for yet another palace coup against the current incumbent of Downing Street? Yet again in the coming months we could see mass resignations from the Front Bench, to put pressure on a weak and failed Prime Minister. Yet again we could see a Reform-adjacent radical put in his place, eager to engage in experiments with the British economy. Yet again, we could see it all go horribly wrong, leading to heaven knows what in the aftermath.

Frankly, if that is how the Conservatives want to spend their time between now and the general election, part of me just wants to say, “Well, get on with it then.” But a bigger part of me says that they should not be allowed to gamble again with the future of the British people, and they should certainly not be allowed to profit again from the results of their own failures. Indeed, it would be a shameful indictment of our political system if we were to allow yet another round of excessive and undeserved ministerial severance payments to be made between now and the next election when we have the opportunity today to stop that happening.

I appeal to the Conservative Members I mentioned at the outset of my speech, and the handful of others like them who decided to send back their severance payments in 2002-23, who chose to accept smaller amounts, or who decided to repay part of what they had received. In the circumstances in which they found themselves, and, I hope, in the circumstances they saw their constituents facing, they made a personal choice to do the right thing. I hope that at the end of this debate they will make another personal choice and again decide to do the right thing. They have the opportunity today to restore the rules on severance payments to the purpose for which they were originally intended, and to fix the system that, sadly, their colleagues have broken. If they do not take this opportunity, the conclusion we will have to draw—perhaps the right conclusion after all—is that the only way to get the change we need in this country will be to elect a Labour Government and put on the Benches opposite MPs and Ministers who believe in serving their communities, not just in helping themselves.