Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 26th March 2015.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 1:59 pm, 26th March 2015

This place has shaped my life for the past 28 years, but before that I remember my late father Ken and my mother Eileen, who instilled in me my values, and my late husband Keith, who introduced me to socialism and was a great support for 30 years.

I hope that I have remained true to those values. First and foremost, I have been a woman Member of Parliament who did not want to play the boys’ games—probably to my detriment at times. I am proud to have been the first full-time Minister for Women, even though my efforts got me sacked a year later.

I have had many opportunities as a Back Bencher, particularly in private Members’ Bills. My first was a Bill to tackle fly-tipping. My second was to place a duty on local authorities to introduce doorstep recycling. Both passed. I always hoped to win a third place in the ballot so that I could introduce a Bill to permit assisted dying, in which I believe passionately.

Another privilege has been membership of Select Committees, beginning with the Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House, in which I had the distinction of proposing the hanging lights we now have today, as there were none there before. From the moment I arrived I wanted change. I got my first opportunity on Robin Cook’s Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, which brought in many of our changes in procedure. It led to my hon. Friend Ann Coffey and me organising the first successful campaign to change the House’s sitting hours. When those changes were partially reversed, we organised again in 2010. With much help we achieved the more sensible timetable we have today. I also greatly enjoyed my time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and later the International Development Committee, when you, Mr Speaker, were also a member.

Inevitably, there were bad times. Rejection from government was one of them, but by far the worst was the Iraq war. Despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime, I did not believe that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, and I could not support an illegal war that I knew would have repercussions for a generation.

As I leave, I reflect on some of the great issues that remain unresolved, most notably the outdated notion of nuclear deterrence, when the real threats to our security are cyber-warfare, terrorism and climate change. Nuclear weapons have no utility; they cannot be used to defend or gain territory, and their financial cost is an obscenity. I only hope that the new initiative for a global ban on nuclear weapons, spearheaded by Austria and now signed by over 50 states, will succeed.

Another great regret is to see the plight of yet another generation of Palestinians. I cannot believe that the international community has tolerated such oppression for so long.

By contrast, my greatest joy came late in my career when my right hon. Friend Mr Brown gave me the job of Climate Change Minister under the inspired leadership of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband. I am proud of the many achievements of our Labour Governments—our equalities legislation, the minimum wage and our investment in public services—but so much has been undermined by coalition policies.

Let me end with friendship, which makes life tolerable in this place. My first new friend, my hon. Friend Joan Walley, has become the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, and my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge is the most notable Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. In 1986, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman wrote me a note saying, “Joan. Deptford is wide open—go for it.” She has done more for women’s equality than anyone else, and I am proud to have managed her successful campaign to become deputy leader of my party.

I also value the friendship of my hon. Friend the irrepressible Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) and my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander, who has already made her mark in this her first Parliament. I am also grateful for all the hard work and loyalty of my constituency party, my constituents and the many staff who have worked for me over the years. Last, but not least, there is my dearest parliamentary friend and now husband, Frank Doran, with whom I have shared the rollercoaster life of two MPs with constituencies 500 miles apart.

Mr Speaker, it has been a privilege to serve in a House over which you preside as a truly modernising Speaker. I wish you, all the Officers and staff of the House and all those who continue to serve a fond farewell.