Thank you for granting this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. First of all, I thank Ann’s family and friends, some of whom have joined us in the Gallery, for their support as we in the Chamber pay tribute to Ann Clwyd. Croeso i chi—welcome to you. I did not know Ann as well as many of those present this evening, having met her on only a handful of occasions. However, since I was elected I have had many positive conversations with local people and activists who knew her. Others will have had much more direct experience of working alongside Ann, and I thank them for coming to pay their tributes.
When I look back at Ann Clwyd’s life and career, I so much respect her work, and I think so much of it resonates with what we face today. Ann was a strong, independently minded woman, an advocate for women’s rights, international human rights, the Welsh language, good-quality public services and so much more. She was the first woman to be elected as an MP for the south Wales valleys, so I take pride in having had the opportunity to follow in her footsteps in Cynon Valley.
Having sat for many years next to Ann on this very spot on the Back Benches, and on the other side of the House as well, I want to echo my hon. Friend’s remarks about Ann’s incredible passion, pride and sense of justice, but I also want to mention her sense of mischief and the twinkle in her eye. She brought both passion and humour to this Chamber. She is sadly missed, and we are all greatly diminished by the lack of her presence in this House. In Cardiff West, where in her latter years she was a very active constituent and correspondent with me as her local MP, I certainly miss her letters, even though they created a great deal of work for me here in this place.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
Ann understood the need to keep jobs in local communities. Tyrone O’Sullivan, leader of the Tower colliery buy-out, who sadly also passed away earlier this year, spoke at an event for Ann that was organised in March last year by our local Labour women’s branch in Cynon Valley. Tyrone acknowledged and celebrated Ann’s contribution to the fight for Tower colliery, and he reminded me, only weeks before his death, of the importance of the working-class struggle for today. They showed the way to build local economies, creating local wealth for local people, not encouraging local people to leave in order to get on in life. I share that vision and I try to carry on in the same vein with my work on the local economy in Cynon Valley.
Ann fought battles on behalf of miners. When she became MP, our constituency was in the throes of fighting to keep the mining industry alive. Next year, we will remember 40 years since the 1984 miners’ strike—the year when Ann became MP for Cynon Valley. I was, as a child, on the demonstration through the town of Aberdare with Ann. In her maiden speech in Parliament, Ann said that the miners’ strike was
“a symbolic fight, a fight against the two Britains—the haves and the have nots. It is a protest on behalf of a lost generation of young men and women who have never been able to find a job in the valleys of South Wales.”
That fight continues. Public service workers, rail workers and health workers today are fighting against two Britains—the haves and the have nots.
Ann also fought tirelessly for compensation for miners suffering health problems as a result of their work. As she said in the same speech:
“It is a heartbreaking experience—I wish that Conservative Members could share it—to see a miner gasping for breath even while using an oxygen mask. Yet, because he has not been diagnosed as suffering from pneumoconiosis, he does not get a penny in compensation. That is more than wrong, it is cruel and unjust.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 61, c. 476-77.]
I, like other Members in the Chamber, am currently involved in the ongoing battle for miners’ pension rights and compensation, so again the fight goes on; the thread of history continues.
I commend the hon. Lady for securing the debate. I know that I have not been in the House as long as other Members who will speak, but I just wanted to add a very quick contribution if she will allow me.
When I came here in 2010, Ann Clwyd would sit just about there, and I sat here. She was always a very strong and determined lady—I found her a lady of strong will. Although she was always charming and had a lovely smile, I always figured that it would not be a good thing to get on the wrong side of her. I have always been surrounded by strong ladies so I know how to adapt to that.
Here is a story. Ann was sitting here one night during an Adjournment debate, with just the Minister, the previous Mr Speaker and—as usual for the Adjournment, as everyone knows—myself in the Chamber. Her phone went off and was ringing quite loudly. I looked up at her and she never flinched. The phone kept ringing. I looked at Mr Speaker, and he mumbled something to me like, “Get the handbag!” So I took the handbag, with the ringing phone, out the back and left it there. I could still hear it ringing away, but I could not get it turned off—that was part of the problem.
I have one other quick wee story. Ann loved cats with a passion, as does my wife, so when Ann brought in her bags with cats on them, I said, “You and my wife would get on because she loves cats as well.” Ann left an impression on me, an MP since 2010, and I think it only right that Beth Winter has secured this debate. It is lovely to see Ann’s family—I had never met any of you before tonight. I say well done to the hon. Lady. We have fond, fond memories of a special lady.
I thank my hon. Friend.
Ann also advocated strongly against cuts to benefits, recognising the need to fight against poverty and any policies that would further impoverish people. Her stand on any attempts to cut benefits is an ongoing battle that many of us continue to fight as the cost of living crisis hits the poorest the hardest.
Is my hon. Friend aware of Ann’s important work in standing up for victims of abuse? Ann was a constant voice for the survivors of the north-west Wales care home abuse scandal, some of whom were her constituents. When others ignored those voices, Ann spoke out, not just once but many times, at a time when victims were often disbelieved, sometimes with tragic consequences. Does my hon. Friend agree that that speaks to Ann’s courage, fearlessness and commitment to human rights?
I thank my hon. Friend. Ann was indeed fearless. This afternoon, we had the privilege of spending some time with her family, and we talked about her involvement with and advocacy on behalf of those suffering abuse, for whom she fought tirelessly.
Ann’s opposition back in 1997 to the abolition of lone-parent benefits was something she spoke passionately about. She said at the time:
“There is great concern in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Even people who voted with the government went into the lobbies feeling very distressed. They don’t want to see it happen again.”
Again, Ann’s opposition to cuts to benefits and her advocacy on behalf of the disadvantaged resonates strongly with us today, in particular the stand that many of us are taking in the parliamentary Labour party against the two-child benefit cap. I believe that Ann, too, would have supported this week’s Right to Food campaign, which is being led by my hon. Friend Ian Byrne, and the fightback against the cost of living crisis.
It would be remiss of me not to say that Ann and I would not have agreed on everything. I believe she was wrong about the Iraq war. I will always also respect her stand in support of the rights of oppressed people throughout the world.
I knew Ann for 40 years, and above all else, she was an internationalist; she cared about people and human rights. I remember that on one occasion she was dismissed from the Front Bench because she went to Kurdistan to show solidarity with the people there, without permission from the Whips. She was a passionate believer in the rights of people throughout the world. She should be remembered also for her commitment to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which she chaired the British group. Her support for human rights throughout the world, whether in Iraq, Kurdistan or anywhere else, was wonderful.
My hon. Friend’s intervention is very timely, because I was just coming on to the point that Ann was renowned for her internationalism, from Cambodia to South Africa, to East Timor and Turkey, and of course, her commitment to supporting the Kurdish people. She was for over 20 years chair of the all-party parliamentary human rights group which continues to raise awareness of serious human rights violations throughout the world. She was also a member of numerous parliamentary Committees, including those on International Development and Foreign Affairs, and she headed the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians throughout the world. As my hon. Friend said, Ann was sacked not once but twice from the shadow Cabinet.
May I thank my hon. Friend for securing this Adjournment debate and express my condolences to Ann’s family and her many friends? I thought that, with that reference to the shadow Cabinet, I should come in. I know that Ann was very keen to say that she was not sacked for incompetence.
I could always rely on Ann for support and wisdom. I even tried to repay it—I played an important role in Ann’s successful campaign for Westminster Cat of the Year, as her campaign manager for the ginger tomcat Alfie. Does my hon. Friend agree that, with her commitment to social justice and to the most vulnerable both at home and abroad, there will not be another MP like Ann again, but that does not mean we should not all try to be like her?
I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend’s sentiments.
Ann was opposed to the sale of arms to oppressive regimes. These fights, again, sadly continue, and we continue to live in a dangerous world.
My hon. Friend is giving a fantastic tribute to Ann, who so many Members on both sides of the House, as well as her constituents, loved so much. Ann was Labour through and through, very principled and a lovely person. Does my hon. Friend agree that she also represented the best in our party’s tradition, this Parliament’s tradition and our democracy’s tradition of independent-minded public service and being a true conviction politician? As my hon. Friend said, not everyone would have agreed with everything that Ann said, but that is fine—that is what our democracy is all about. We can all learn from Ann when we think about how we go about our politics, and I thank my hon. Friend for paying such a well-deserved tribute to somebody we loved so much.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Again, I could not agree more.
Ann was 100% right in the stand that she made on those humanitarian issues and so many others, such as ending female genital mutilation, and she was not afraid to take unpopular positions on issues she felt very strongly about. Nicole Piche, who was co-ordinator and legal adviser to the all-party parliamentary human rights group when Ann chaired it, said:
“Although she was firmly rooted in and a staunch advocate for the Labour Party, having held a number of Shadow portfolios when Labour was in opposition, she did not hold back when she disagreed with its policies, and was happy to work cross-party to advance the many causes she espoused.”
As we all know, Ann was not afraid to speak her mind without fear or favour. Agree with her or not, whether on the Iraq war or her stance on Brexit, we all have to admire her forthrightness and her ability to keep to her beliefs.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise: I am speaking at a rally in a few minutes’ time, which Ann would have agreed with, so I will have to leave.
The one thing about Ann was that she never gave up, and if you ever crossed her, she never gave up either. I was on a Select Committee last year that was interviewing someone—I will not go into the detail of it, but it was someone she had come across in the 1980s with regard to Vietnam and Laos. She noticed that we were interviewing this individual, so she sent me a 20-page briefing on them and all the subsequent offences, crimes and so on that they had perpetrated. She was not doing it out of spite or anything like that; she was doing it as part of her campaign to expose the injustices that went on at that time and all those who were implicated in them. In some instances that annoyed people, and sometimes her persistence rubbed people up the wrong way, but for me, it made me love her even more.
I thank my right hon. Friend—“persistence” describes Ann in many respects. I have also had the honour of speaking to her longest-standing colleague in Parliament, Lord Campbell-Savours, who referred to Ann as “Clwyd”. He said that “Clwyd was the most courageous woman I have ever met in my life. She was fiercely independent, knew her own mind and refused to be labelled. Clwyd was what I call a real radical.” He repeated the term “radical”—to him, she was the most radical person he had ever met. They were long-standing friends.
I have also spoken to lots of constituents. A local story about Ann’s forthright approach relates to her canvassing in an election. She was using a loudspeaker, which she did very often throughout the Cynon Valley. A local resident came out and started to harangue her, so in very colourful language—not unlike that used recently by the Secretary of State for Education, which I am unable to use here—Ann told him to go away. Unfortunately, she forgot that the loudspeaker was still on, so everybody got to hear Ann’s colourful language. Her language could be colourful at times, as I am sure her family would agree. Another story that I was told was of Ann comparing a Tory MP’s fur collar to a dead cat around her neck when she criticised Ann for her position on late abortions. Ann did a lot of work on abortion rights, which again is an issue that is still in the political melting pot, as women are still having to fight to decriminalise abortion.
Ann had a very deep and personal interest and involvement in health matters over many years, particularly in a personal capacity in her latter years. At one time, she sat as a member of the South Glamorgan health board alongside a Cynon Valley GP, the late Dr Alistair Wilson, who always felt that Ann wanted services to be the best possible for people. She fully supported the national health service, but with a critical eye—and, oh, did she have a critical eye.
Ann did move on the international stage, but that did not prevent her from paying attention to local issues. Like many other people, one young local person—Richard Jones, who is now a disability rights local champion—asked for help. He recalls that when he asked her for help with a school project as a schoolboy, she sent him so much information that he got top marks for it. Later, he was the constituency Labour party chair when she made her retirement speech at the constituency party, so he had known her throughout his life.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on her excellent speech. Does she agree that, in addition to her many political achievements, Ann was a true friend to us all? As my hon. Friend has described, Ann took a genuine interest in all our concerns. She commanded our trust and she did that challenging task of showing real leadership as chair of the parliamentary Labour party—quite a task to fulfil. It was that genuine interest in people and the trust that we were able to put in her that enabled her to do that. I do agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope she agrees with me.
I completely agree. Ann did take an interest in people and was very patient when listening to their concerns.
Ann had first-class support from staff in her constituency and in Parliament, and I recognise the importance of that as a Member of Parliament. I have had a conversation with the family today, and I am sure nobody will mind if I make specific reference to one person in particular: her friend, confidant and mainstay in Cynon Valley, Jean Fitzgerald, who was also a great support to myself. Sadly, Jean died shortly after Ann retired, but the closeness between them was so evident, particularly when Ann paid tribute to Jean at her funeral.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. I did not know Ann at all, but my parliamentary assistant worked for her and has relayed very fond memories of her. One in particular was about Ann’s kindness to her late friend and colleague, John Stevenson. Members will know that John was a political correspondent for BBC Wales, but for several years before that he had been homeless and had struggled with alcohol addiction. Ann had known John when they were young journalists in Wales, and she sought him out when she became an MP. She knew he had fallen on hard times, so she gave him a job working for her. It was his second chance and a chance to rebuild his life, and it was something he never forgot. I am sure the whole House will agree when I say that that just shows the depth of Ann’s compassion towards people, the breadth of her humanity and kindness, and the essence of her remarkable character.
I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I think that kindness, compassion and humanity are words that really do sum up Ann in so many ways.
I am almost at my conclusion, but I need to say that the fight does continue. Just as Ann fought so fearlessly for what she believed in, we in this place must continue those fights. I know that she would want us to do that so that the people we represent can benefit from a just and more equal society with international peace and justice.
Before I conclude, I want to say that many other Members wished to contribute today, including my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi, my hon. Friend Cat Smith, who worked with Ann on social work to a large extent, my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck and my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, who unfortunately cannot be here this evening, and also Mr Jones, from the Government Benches. Many, many more MPs have paid tribute to Ann and would have been here if they could.
Felly, Ann, diolch i chi am helpu i gadw ein hiaith yn fyw, a diolch am frwydro dros hawliau dynol, yn erbyn anghyfiawnder, dros y tlawd, i gael gwasanaethau da i bobl, a dros hawliau menywod. A diolch am fod yn fenyw oedd yn barod i sefyll i fyny a siarad ei meddwl—heb os nac oni bai, menyw gadarn gydag egwyddorion cryf. I orffen, gair i’r teulu a ffrindiau agos: mae mor bwysig ein bod ni’n cofio Ann, yn siarad amdani ac yn dathlu ei bywyd fel hyn. Diolch i chi am gytuno i ni, fel Aelodau Seneddol, i gael y cyfle yma heddiw. Pob cydymdeimlad gyda chi, ac atgofion da.
I have been told that I have to repeat that in English, but then I am finished. Ann, thank you for helping to keep our language alive. Thank you for fighting for human rights and the poor, fighting against injustice, fighting to get good services for people and fighting for women’s rights. Thank you for being a woman who was ready to stand up and speak her mind. Without a doubt, you were a strong woman with strong principles. To finish, a word to Ann’s family and close friends: it is so important that we remember Ann, talk about her and celebrate her life in this way. We all wish to offer thanks for us as Members of Parliament having been allowed this opportunity today. My condolences, and our condolences, to you, and fond memories.
It is a great pleasure to be able to speak about my friend Ann Clwyd, whom I knew extremely well. I thank my hon. Friend Beth Winter for the wonderful way she has put her memories on the record today.
I first knew Ann when she was elected to Parliament along with me in the early ’80s. We shared an office in the Cloisters downstairs, along with about 25 other MPs. It was an extremely noisy place, because Ann had a great deal to say. Lord Campbell-Savours often came along to have an argument with Ann about something, or to tell her what to do, and she told him what to do and so it went on. Tony Benn was next door, and there were a number of others there, so it was not a quiet place.
The office was also home to my dog called Mango, who came in as well. Ann was deeply concerned about Mango’s health and often looked after Mango for me. One day there was a leak in the roof. It was literally a leak—there was a lot of talk about Government leaks, but this was a real leak with water coming in from the roof. The rest of us just moaned and groaned and phoned up services and said, “Please fix this leak,” but Ann? No, no, no. I opened the Evening Standard at lunchtime that day. There was a picture of Ann Clwyd with an umbrella over her head, raincoat, wellington boots—the whole bit—explaining how Parliament had so deteriorated that she was forced to come in with protective gear to get through the day. She had this wonderful panache for publicising events and issues, but that hid a deep steel in what she did.
She represented Cynon Valley, where Tower colliery was. I was at the next desk to her. The miners’ strike came, and they wanted support, so she asked me to get a load of people from my constituency to go to Cynon Valley. We hired a coach and a van, we took food and we went in large numbers. Ann met us there. We built up a great relationship with Tyrone O’Sullivan, and it was an honour to be invited to speak at his funeral recently with my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley.
Ann was somebody who stood up for what she believed in. She and I were two of a very small group of MPs who opposed arms sales to Iraq and spoke up for the Kurdish people during the chemical attack on Halabja. We did a lot of activities around the place and worked closely together with all the Kurdish groups. Ann was rightly seen as a great friend of the Kurdish community. While she and I did not agree on the Iraq war, we were both on the record as opposing arms sales to Iraq. There were not many of us who were opposed to arms sales to Iraq before the war began. I saw Ann as a friend and colleague, and I worked closely with her as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary human rights group.
During the Yeltsin period, we went on a delegation to Russia to try to defend the Chechen people, with the horrors they were going through. Ann was extremely assertive on behalf of the human rights group on that. I distinctly remember sitting in front of somebody who was presumably very senior in something because he had an unbelievable number of phones set out all round his desk, and Ann and I were speculating about which phone led to which person. It was her wit and humour that helped to get things through. I want to put on the record my thanks to her for so much of what she did.
As chair of the human rights group, Ann also led us in a delegation to East Timor in 2000 to witness its referendum. It was difficult, because the Indonesian army was supposedly protecting the integrity of the referendum, which was a strange thing to do. Ann, I and the late Alice Mahon were on a delegation, and we visited all the polling stations on behalf of the UN and met many people there. For some reason that I never really understood, Ann brought an amazing amount of luggage, which filled up the very small plane we went in to get there. The rest of us all became porters for Ann Clwyd’s luggage—there was a lot of it, and it was very heavy. When we asked her to explain this, she said, “I don’t think it’s any of your business how many cases I choose to bring, but it’s very much your business that you’ve got to carry them.” So I said, “Thanks, Ann—that’s great.” But we played our part in ensuring that the people of East Timor, who had been through hell for decades, actually saw their independence and some hope for the future.
I want to say a huge thank you to Ann for the friendship, for the humour, and for the steel and determination on the human rights cause and all the other causes that colleagues have mentioned. She was always a good friend to me. We often did not totally agree on everything, but we totally agreed to respect each other in our disagreement, so we always got along very well indeed. That is a good example of how politics can work. I say to all her family: my condolences, and thank you for the life of Ann.
It is a real pleasure to follow the many tributes to Ann, and particularly those from my hon. Friend Beth Winter, who succeeded her in her seat. It is also a real pleasure to have Ann’s family with us in the Gallery.
I want to give a few personal thoughts about Ann. I was lucky enough to know her for decades. I first met her when I was 15 years old as an intern in the Welsh Labour party headquarters, and I remember being bowled over by her speaking at an event with great power, great passion and that strong sense of radicalism exemplified in so many of the comments we have heard. As often happens in politics, we can meet people when we are younger and think, “Wow—what an incredible figure,” but do they turn out to be that way when years later we meet them in Parliament or have the privilege of working alongside them in Parliament, as I did with Ann? When I was able to join Ann in this place, she lived up to every aspect of what I had seen in her when I was a young teenager.
I was Ann’s Whip for a while. She had obviously had a tumultuous relationship with Whips, and indeed with party leadership over many years, but all I can say is that she was always utterly courteous and pleasant, even when there were difficult issues to be discussed. It was a real pleasure to work with her.
We have heard about so many different campaigns that Ann was involved in, including Tower, the NHS, Iraq and miners’ compensation, and she really did apply that campaigning zeal, expertise, tenacity, complete dedication and commitment to everything she turned her hand to. I had the particular pleasure of working with her on the Committees on Arms Export Controls. Arms exports were obviously a significant issue that she reflected on in many different capacities in her career. I remember working with her on the Committees—I will not go into too many details, because we are not supposed to reveal certain proceedings— and dealing with a lot of shenanigans, with things making it out into the media and so on. Ann’s expertise and length of time in this place, having seen so much of it in the past, was a great instructor to me on how to handle such situations.
Even amid all that, she never lost track of her clear purpose, which was to stand up for civilians affected by conflict, for children, for human rights, and for basic standards and decency, even in war and conflict. Ann spoke passionately about that issue on the very last day that she spoke in this place in the valedictory debate, which I will quote in a moment. She taught me an incredible amount about sticking to principles, driving forward and fighting through difficult political situations. Ann served as an MEP before coming into this place. I spent a lot of time with her here during the Brexit debates, which as we all know were tumultuous, tiring and trying at times.
Ann never lost sense of her principles and what she stood for. My hon. Friend Wayne David talked about how Ann stuck to her principles and was very tough, but she was truly an internationalist. She was never afraid to tell it as it was in this place when she thought others were getting it right rather than us. In that valedictory debate, she said:
“There are other reasons why I was pleased that I went there first”— referring to the European Parliament.
“I have to say that it was a cultural shock for me to come here, because I had not realised how delusional people here were. I will tell you why. It was because we gave the impression that we did everything better than everybody else, when in fact there were many examples of other countries doing things better than we did, and I was pleased to have had the opportunity of experiencing that.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 667, c. 699.]
Ann was deeply and passionately Welsh and British. She was proud of our country and what we did in the world when we were at our best, but she was also not afraid to tell it as it was and to question and criticise, whether on domestic or international issues or on so many of the other causes that she went for. How she spoke in that last debate really sums her up.
Ann was a tireless advocate for, and regularly spoke to me about, human rights in a whole series of countries, from Türkiye to East Timor, as Jeremy Corbyn mentioned. She fought for children in the terrible conflict in Syria in recent decades. She proudly spoke up alongside other dear departed colleagues such as Jo Cox and others in those crucial debates about the situation for children in Syria.
Despite all that international work, she never lost sight at all of the centrality of her constituency. I sat down with her a couple of years ago after she had retired, and she talked with encyclopaedic knowledge about the Phurnacite plant and everything that went on with her campaign on that in the constituency. She told me that at one point it was the most polluting plant in western Europe. She was resolute in her desire to fight for better air quality and standards for her constituents. She was not satisfied when the plant had closed, but fought for the clean-up and the return of greenery and wildlife to that site. That sums her up.
Ann helped, stood up for and advocated for so many people, particularly individuals detained abroad or who had their human rights violated. That may have been speaking up for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe or others detained in a whole series of situations, though I would not want to breach any confidence. Ann was always on the phone to me about my own constituents who she worked bravely and tenaciously to support. I am sure that Ann’s advocacy and campaigning touched hundreds and possibly thousands of people, and possibly changed their lives. They may not ever know that, but she did.
I want to reflect on what a wonderful woman Ann was to spend time with privately. After she retired from this place I had the pleasure of spending a number of evenings, lunches and chats with Ann at her home. She would invite me over, and we would talk and gossip about politics and what was going on in here. We would get into some serious conversations about different issues and campaigns. She talked from her vast experience, but we also talked about her cats—she had stories about every one of them. I am a big cat lover and, as Jim Shannon pointed out, Ann had a deep love of animals and had serious compassion for them. She told stories about their personalities and how they acted. She was incredibly proud of them. That showed that human and compassionate side of her character.
I remember stumbling into Ann’s house one evening. I do not know what had been going on but I had been running from one event to another. I had not eaten and I was looking a bit pasty. I walked in and Ann, who was not in the best of health at that stage, got up and said, “Stephen, I’ll make you a chop, I’ll put some vegetables on and make you dinner.” She cooked dinner for me and made sure I was fed and watered. That is a testament to the kind of woman she was.
Ann was a remarkable woman. She will be missed by many, not just for her incredible campaigning internationally, nationally and for her constituents, but for her friendship, companionship, mentorship and inspiration to many of us in this place from different decades, different political persuasions and different parts of our own Labour movement. We have heard today some of the stories that show why she meant so much to so many of us.
I congratulate Beth Winter on securing the debate. It is a privilege to celebrate the contributions of her predecessor, the right hon. Ann Clwyd, the former Member of Parliament for Cynon Valley, who sadly passed away in July, aged 86.
Ann was not just a public servant; she was a great ambassador, whose dedication to her constituents and commitment to the values of justice and compassion have left a significant positive impact on many people’s lives. She was born in Flintshire on
Ann’s journey in politics spans several decades, during which she consistently demonstrated her resilience, integrity and genuine concern for the wellbeing of her constituents. Having joined the Labour party in 1968, she first stood for Parliament in 1970 in my part of the world, the old constituency of Denbigh. She then contested Gloucester in 1974 before being elected as a Member of the European Parliament for Mid and West Wales from 1979 to 1984. While putting together these words, I realised that she would have served alongside my relative Beata Brookes, the former MEP for North Wales. Then, in a by-election in May 1984, she became the Member of Parliament for the Cynon Valley, becoming, as we have heard, the first female MP to a hold a seat in the south Wales valleys. That was a seat she held until she stood down in 2019. In total, she served 35 years in this place and is therefore Wales’s longest-serving female MP to date. She was also, I believe, the oldest woman to have sat in the House of Commons.
Between 1987 and 1995, Ann was Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson for women, education, overseas development and co-operation, Wales, national heritage, employment and foreign affairs. During that period, she was, as we have heard, sacked on two occasions for choosing not to toe the party line, an indication that she was independently minded and not afraid to put her principles above all else. Indeed, her autobiography was entitled “Rebel With a Cause”.
One of the most commendable aspects of Ann Clwyd’s political career was her relentless pursuit of social justice. She championed human rights, advocating for those who often have no voice. Her work as the shadow Secretary of State for International Development and her role as the chair of the all-party parliamentary human rights group demonstrate her dedication to improving the lives of people in both her constituency and around the world.
In 1994, she staged a 27-day sit-in at Tower colliery, near Hirwaun, in protest at British Coal’s decision to close the last deep pit in Wales. The miners, of course, pooled their redundancy money to take it over and it went on to produce coal until 2008.
In 2003, the then Government moved to amend the existing law on female circumcision—the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985—after a private Member’s Bill was introduced by Ann. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 increased the maximum penalty from five to 14 years in jail.
Ann consistently campaigned for healthcare reform, and for better resourcing of the NHS. She worked to improve patient care, fighting for better working conditions for NHS professionals and increased transparency in the healthcare system. She was appointed by the then Prime Minister David Cameron to lead a review on complaint procedures in the NHS following the death of her own husband, Owen Roberts. While leading that review, she raised some difficult but honest concerns about healthcare in Wales. Her role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia helped to ensure that those affected by that devastating condition receive the support and care that they deserve.
Ann Clwyd was not just a leader in her own right; she was also a strong supporter of women’s rights and gender equality. Her work in that area paved the way for greater gender representation in politics, and has inspired many young women to pursue careers in public service. Her legacy in this regard is a testament to her desire for creating a more inclusive and equitable society. She was made a Privy Counsellor in 2004.
Throughout her career, Ann Clwyd’s ability to connect with people from all walks of life, listen to their concerns and take action on their behalf earned her the respect and admiration of her constituents and colleagues alike —and we have certainly heard plenty of examples of that this evening. I served in the House alongside Ann between 2015 and 2017, and enjoyed my occasional conversations with her about the NHS and our shared connections in north Wales. She was personable, passionate and forthright.
I understand that a public service to remember Ann’s life and work will be held at 2 pm on
Ann Clwyd had many friends across the House, and I am proud to have been allowed to call myself one of them.
Question put and agreed to.