Government and the Legislature
Harriet Harman (Lord Privy Seal, House of Commons, Minister of State, Government Equalities Office; Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)
It is, indeed, a privilege for me to reply to this valedictory speech and to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin. He made wide-ranging and, as ever, interesting comments on the future of this place, noting the good that the Government have achieved and reminding us of some of our shortcomings.
My hon. Friend is noted for his independent mind and passionate commitment to the cause of justice. He will most definitely leave a footprint, not least in the minds of the families of the Birmingham Six, those who campaigned to free the Guildford Four and the men wrongly convicted of killing Carl Bridgewater. But tonight I would like to take this opportunity to honour my hon. Friend's work, both as a Minister in a Labour Government, no matter how reluctant at times he appeared to be, judging by his diaries, and as a parliamentarian. As an assiduous Back Bencher, he was chair of the parliamentary Labour party's civil liberties group in opposition and a member of the Home Affairs Committee, serving in a very distinguished way as its Chair from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2001 to 2003.
On leaving the Government at his own request, my hon. Friend became a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and last year he served with great energy and determination on the Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons. On the day that I have tabled motions to give effect to the decisions of the House to establish a Back-Bench business committee, I hope he feels that his work has resulted in a profound reform of this House and a strengthening of Parliament's ability to hold the Executive to account-surely another of his footprints in the sand which will stand the test of time.
Parliament has now agreed to a comprehensive range of proposals, including measures to strengthen the Select Committee system, which is so dear to my hon. Friend's heart; to introduce private Members' motions; and to improve public engagement with the House and, in particular, the legislative process. I intend that the Standing Orders be brought before the House for formal approval as soon as possible, and I want to clarify my comments during business questions: the House will not be asked to approve the Standing Orders on Monday, but it will be asked to do so very shortly.
I pay tribute also to the work of hon. Members from all parts of the House who will not be standing for re-election at the next general election. All have made contributions to the work of Parliament, as well as representing their constituents. Despite the difficulties that Parliament and parliamentarians have gone through in the past year, some of which we brought upon ourselves, many will never happen again because we have brought forward reforms. As my hon. Friend wrote this year in his advice to new candidates, which I recommend to everyone:
"also with any luck you will not suffer the perennial embarrassment of having to vote on your own remuneration and allowances. All that has been taken away from MPs. Not before time."
I am sure that the whole House will agree with that and look forward to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority taking that on in its new role.
To return to my hon. Friend's work as a Minister in the Labour Government, he will be remembered, too, for his work on Africa in the newly formed Department for International Development in 2001, and later in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2003 and 2005. His interest in international affairs, as well in as the affairs of his constituents and in the importance of this House, has been wide-ranging, encompassing not only his ministerial portfolios but his serving as chair of the organisation Medical Aid for Vietnam, which he took on in 2006.
My hon. Friend will be much missed in this place, as the attendance in the Chamber tonight attests-I do not think I have ever seen a debate on the Adjournment so well attended-but we know that his hinterland is assured. He is a published author of some repute. Labour Members still recall with fondness "Harry Perkins for Prime Minister" badges following the success of his book, "A Very British Coup", in 1982. And of course there is his latest work, "A View from the Foothills", which I also have no hesitation in recommending for all aspiring Ministers and all aspiring parliamentary candidates.