Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 4:13 pm ar 6 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:13, 6 Chwefror 2024

I thank the Labour party for tabling this motion, which highlights the difference between this place and reality. Nearly £1 million in severance pay was handed out during last year’s political chaos. Some Ministers received severance pay despite being in office for only 38 days. In a 38-day period, an asylum seeker would receive £47.96 if they are being housed in a hotel. That is enough to pay for First Bus day tickets for nine days, provided that they buy nothing else. In contrast, the former Chancellor would be able to pay for 3,309 First Bus day tickets, which is a full bus of day tickets for every one of those 38 days. And that is just from his severance pay.

In clear and stark contrast, Scottish Government Ministers have had a pay freeze for the 16th consecutive year. A Scottish Government Minister is currently entitled to £99,516—that includes their MSP salary, by the way—but, under the voluntary pay freeze, they receive the 2008-09 level of £81,449. A Cabinet Secretary in Scotland has an entitlement of £118,511, but receives £96,999. The voluntary reduction is taken from net pay and is returned to the Scottish Government, to be made available for public spending. A number of Conservative Members mentioned the freezes in ministerial pay here. According to the Library briefing, ministerial pay in the House of Commons has been frozen at 2014 levels, but ministerial pay in the House of Lords has been frozen only at 2019 levels. If the Government are going to appoint Secretaries of State in the House of Lords, they will cost us more than they do in the House of Commons.

Cabinet Secretaries in Scotland and Scottish Government Ministers are each handing back more money to public funds annually than the former Chancellor received in his severance pay. The Tories are absolutely clear that people can live on universal credit, despite all evidence to the contrary, yet the 38-day Chancellor accepted a severance payment worth nearly four years of UC for a single person over-25. The UK Government seem absolutely determined to highlight, at every opportunity, how out of touch they are. They have refused to zero rate VAT on mortgages, yet for 38 days’ work, Kwasi Kwarteng accepted a payment that could cover 70 months, or five and a half years, of the typical owner-occupier mortgage increase, according to the Bank of England. It is deeply ironic that all homeowners are having to pay for his mistakes while he is being rewarded for them.

As people are pushed into ever-increasing poverty, having to make devastating choices between heating and eating, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne could fund 280 food parcels from his severance pay alone, and he is far from the only one. Tory and Brexit chaos has not just caused rampant inflation and increased the cost of mortgages, meaning that people are having to choose between heating and eating; it has meant Government reshuffles every five minutes, with an Institute for Government worker commenting:

“I’m not saying there's been a lot of ministerial turnover since 2010, but you could now play an 11-a-side football match between Ministers for the Cabinet Office and Secretaries of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in that time”.

The ministerial trough is institutional, and it is indicative of the rot ingrained in Westminster. The public rightfully deserve and expect value for money, yet with record levels of turnover on the Government Benches, resulting in so many people eligible for severance payments, this is a ludicrous waste of public money during this cost of living crisis. In the eight years since the Brexit vote, there have been 13 Housing Ministers, nine Education Secretaries, eight Home Secretaries, seven Foreign Secretaries, seven Chancellors, seven Health Secretaries, seven Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretaries and five Prime Ministers. How is it possible that former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was accidentally paid £17,000 in a severance payment? Elizabeth Truss served a pitiful 45 days as Prime Minister, crashed the UK economy with her fantasy think-tank economics and made the electorate, who did not vote for her, pay for her mistakes.

Better Together said in 2014 that a no vote would bring better, safer, faster change for Scotland, yet all we have seen in Westminster is constant chaos, with it mired in the ceaseless rot of corruption and cronyism. I defy anyone to tell folk out there that their lives are better now than they were before the independence referendum in 2014. Westminster is institutionally designed to promote the entrenchment and passing of power between a select few hands while enriching the participants. Ministers are granted extremely broad powers, with a lack of oversight by Parliament. We saw that once again yesterday during the Finance Bill, where they unilaterally changed the Ways and Means resolutions after the line-by-line scrutiny debates. We see these things on a regular basis. The call from the Brexiteers was, “Taking back power.” They have taken back power, but to the Executive, not to Parliament. Parliament is being stymied at every opportunity by this UK Government.

When Ministers inevitably fail or are pushed out due to Westminster’s political power games, they take a ministerial severance payment. After they are finally evicted from their seats by constituents, they can receive cushy money-for-nothing jobs and rewards for the rest of their lives. While Ministers in Westminster abuse their positions to give contracts and public money to their friends and financial backers, these are not failings unique to the Tory party but rather institutional design features of the Westminster system, which has inherited hundreds of years of aristocratic baggage and is entirely unfit as a system for governing a modern country.

Labour has promised to reform Westminster from within for over 100 years, promising to abolish the House of Lords, reduce prerogative ministerial powers, and now lower ministerial severance pay. That promise is not worth the Hansard it is written in. Every time the Labour party is elected on a promise to reform Westminster, it instead integrates into the system and digs in to use it for its own ends, stacking the Lords rather than abolishing it or making extensive use of the prerogative powers rather than minimising them. When Labour takes power again, I have no doubt it will that long tradition of entrenchment.

The Leader of the Opposition continues his flip-flopping, and if he becomes Prime Minister, he will doubtless lose or sack Ministers. When that happens, they will make just as much use of the ministerial severance pay as their Tory cousins. The only solution is a radical overhaul of Westminster and of the entrenchment and the current positions. Only a vote for the SNP and independence will finally lead to the reforms necessary for Scotland and the rest of the UK to move forward and become modern 21st century democracies that work for all the people, not just overpaid politicians.