Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 5:33 pm ar 6 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Fleur Anderson Fleur Anderson Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 5:33, 6 Chwefror 2024

It is my birthday today, and I can think of no higher honour on this day than being called to speak in the House of Commons. I consider it an enormous honour to serve as the Member of Parliament for the good and amazing people of Putney, Southfields, Roehampton and Wandsworth town.

I am speaking about 97 Ministers who must have thought all their birthdays had come at once in the summer of chaos, when they were handed additional sums that were excessive and undeserved. We are throwing a light on the ministerial severance pay scandal today.

This debate’s importance has been questioned by Conservative Members, but I say it absolutely is important. Indeed, it goes to the heart of our democracy. When we stand here in the House of Commons—even on our birthday—and when we go out into our constituency to ask what issues we should take back to vote on in this House, it is all based on the trust and confidence of our constituents. Issues such as the additional, excessive and undeserved ministerial severance pay bring this House into disrepute and question the confidence that our constituents have. The latest poll of trust by Ipsos showed that only 9% of voters trust politicians to tell the truth. That is the lowest level since Ipsos started asking that question in 1983, and it is down from a pretty low bar of 12% in 2022. In June last year, research by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that just 6% of the public have full trust in the current political system. Those are sobering statistics, and it does not have to be this way.

The longer this Government cling on to office, the more out of touch they are and the more people feel that it is one rule for them and another for the rest of us. The complete Tory chaos of the summer of 2022 has had a long-term effect on our economy, with crippling mortgage bills for my constituents. It also resulted in a summer of huge payoffs for Ministers who waltzed in and out of office, having done very little, because they did not have the time and ability to do much. They picked up not only extra pay for that time in office, but then the severance pay.

Let me give a real-world example now. I have been campaigning for a long time for my constituents on the cladding crisis. All through that summer, that issue was, in effect, put on hold because there were only temporary Ministers in place; they knew they would not be in power for very long, so they could not make any decisions. A whole summer was lost on an issue of huge importance to my constituents. So we are not just dealing with an abstract issue about pay and conditions, because that summer of chaos has had real-world consequences.

I thank my right hon. Friend the shadow Attorney General for uncovering the extent of this and the fact that in 2022-23 alone, the total bill for Ministers’ severance pay was an unacceptable £933,000. Many had their jobs for just a few weeks in the dying days of Boris Johnson’s time or during the doomed 45-day premiership of Elizabeth Truss—I informed her I would be mentioning her. They received three months’ severance pay, but one returned to the Cabinet after six weeks, another after two months, another after three and a half months and another after four months. One returned to exactly the same job nine weeks after leaving, but they still received the full 12 weeks’ severance pay.

This Labour motion would stop that and reduce the amount of severance pay for serial Cabinet returnees. The amount should not be three months’ pay regardless of time served. Some Ministers served for just seven weeks and received the full three months’ pay. Fifty-seven Ministers served for less than the three months. Some have returned the money and, as other Members have said, that is to be commended. However, many have not done so, and we do not know the extent of how many have returned it, because, as has been pointed out, we will not receive the departmental accounts for a long time. Five Ministers also received a total of almost £50,000 despite being ineligible because they were over 65. Whether or not being 65 should have any bearing on someone receiving severance pay is an issue for another day, but the fact that this was delivered incompetently, as well as wrongly, is an issue.

I would like to make the comparison with Lord Rooker, who served for 26 years in this House as the Member for Perry Barr and has served with equal distinction in the other place for more than 20 years since. He is a hugely dedicated parliamentarian and public servant. He gave 11 and a half years’ continuous service as a Minister, from May 1997 to October 2008, before he finally stepped down, at the age of 67. Despite that length of service, he received no severance payment, because those were the rules. Yet under the current rules someone can be a Minister for two days and still receive three months’ severance pay. The rules were not intended to apply to the circumstances we saw in the last two years, and they need to be reformed, as the Minister said in her opening remarks. While we would welcome such reforms, we do not believe the Government are willing to undertake them, which is why we have brought forward the motion.

For far too long, Conversative Ministers have been paid off for jumping aboard a sinking ship. That is nothing short of a complete waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, and they have brought a system put in place in 1991 into disrepute. Labour is calling for urgent action, because we cannot afford another million-pound bill if the latest Conversative Prime Minister cannot keep his party together.

All this comes at a time when the country has been going through the worst cost of living crisis in generations. The draining of resources is simply disgraceful. I ran a community centre before I became an MP, so I think about the amount we spent on different projects and the good those projects brought to our community, compared to the money that has been wasted. There is a feeling on the doorstep that we are all on the take. The policy on ministerial severance pay adds to that feeling.