Miscellaneous

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 5:43 pm ar 6 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith 5:43, 6 Chwefror 2024

I do not know whether I am alone in finding the contributions from those on the Government Benches rather prickly and defensive. I listened to the opening speech of Esther McVey, the Minister for common sense, or rather the Minister for nonsense today, and not only did it not touch on the motion at all—a theme followed by almost every Conservative Member who spoke—but it was simply very poor. Maybe she wanted to show her disdain for the motion by instructing her office to draft something of that quality, but I think that is unfair, because what the shadow Attorney General and others have done in preparing for the debate is actually quite a lot of detailed work about 97 members of the Government over a relatively short period.

The motion does not propose punitive remedies. The motion would simply remove the abuses from the system. It is not against the principle of severance—rather confusingly, the shadow Attorney General has been criticised for that by Conservative Members—and it addresses specific anomalies. It addresses, first of all, a mistake. To be fair to the Government, they accept that, where a mistake has been made, the money paid in error should be refunded. I think that we can all agree on that.

The motion also addresses what has been described as the Bone-Pincher anomaly, which is where there has been clear misconduct. I think it would be quite difficult for Conservative Members to defend that behaviour. The shadow Attorney General has also identified excessive amounts of pay, which is either where the Minister has served for a short period of time, or where their salary has gone up dramatically and their severance pay is based on the end salary, which is substantially higher than what it was.

Finally, the motion addresses where a Minister has been sacked or has resigned and has received their three months’ money and then is reappointed to the same or a very similar job within those three months. In that case they should not get double bubble, as it were. This is perhaps the easiest area to understand and I cannot see any objection to any of that. It is very close to being unjust enrichment in all cases, and the remedy for that is restitution. It is to provide redress in the event that one party has received a benefit from another in circumstances where it would be unjust for the recipient to retain that benefit. The donor here is the taxpayer, and the recipient, with very little excuse, is 97 Ministers.

There have not been, as Sir Michael Ellis said, ad hominem attacks. Yes, of course we have to identify individual Ministers in that way, but it is the collective system that is being criticised. Some may say that 2022-23 was an exceptional year—let us see what happens this year, shall we? We might be in for another exceptional year. But even if that were an exceptional year and the sum of £1 million, which is a very large sum of money, is not repeated, there is a principle at stake here.

I could run through all 97 cases, but I could not be bothered to email all the offices in order to do that. I was already emailing the office of Greg Hands anyway, because he spends most of his time canvassing in my constituency now—at least the parts that I am transferring to him—and I spend a lot of my time canvassing in his. I thought that I would also say that I was going to mention him in this debate. It is nothing personal; it never is between neighbours in that way. None the less, his is a pretty clear case: he backed the wrong horse when the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) was elected Prime Minister, so he lost his job. He got his three months’ severance, which is £7,920. And 33 days later, when the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk was already running out of friends, she reappointed him to her Government.

Under the system that the shadow Attorney General has outlined, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham would have received a severance payment of £2,886—some £5,033 less than he received. Some may say that perhaps he deserved it. I am not so sure, because what that means is that whereas for the first month, when he was out of office, he was being paid through severance, for the next two months he was being paid both his severance and his salary. He was quite literally getting double the money for that period of time. The right hon. Gentleman has not responded to me to say that he has paid that all to the local Labour party or some other deserving charitable body in the interim—[Interruption.] Not a charity in law, but a body with many charitable aspects to its operation. Perhaps he has done that. I hope that all 97 will take that course of action, and I am sure the Attorney General will be writing to them all individually to invite them to make those payments back, because that is no way to deal with public money.

I am not going to go on about the right hon. Gentleman, because I think he will be dealt with by his electorate in due course and in fairly short order, and the excellent Labour candidate for Chelsea and Fulham, Ben Coleman —many of my hon. Friends have been down to support him—will be a refreshing change as the new MP. I see Edward Argar, sitting on the Front Bench; he is a resident of that constituency, and is clearly considering what options he may take when he is called upon to vote.

I will conclude on this point, because it is a serious one. We should not play fast and loose with public money in that way. We should not misuse public resources, and when—even if we could say it is through no fault of our own—we are unjustly enriched in that way, we should make reparation. That is all that our motion is calling for, and I think it is difficult on that basis for Conservative Members to oppose it. We will see, when we vote in a few moments’ time, whether that is the case.

We have heard a lot of red herrings about other payments that may be made to Ministers or MPs. However, as many hon. Members have said, if we think of our own constituents and the hard times they are going through, it does make us look out of touch if we say, “Well, it’s only £5,000”—or only £25,000, in some cases—“and I’ve done a good job and worked hard.” So have my constituents, and they are not rewarded in that way. If hon. Members could focus on that for a few moments when we come to vote on the motion, I do not think they will find it difficult to vote with Labour.