Jeremy Wright – 2019 Speech at Launch of TechNation Report

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Wright, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, on 14 May 2019.

Thank you very much.

It has been a successful and exciting few days for our DCMS sectors.

Last week, four English football teams qualified for European finals, the first time ever that all the finalists have come from the same country.

And this report shows that our digital economy is leading the way in Europe too.

We are fourth in the world for scaleup investment after only the USA, China and India.

Thirty five per cent of Europe and Israel’s tech unicorns have been created in the UK.

And last year, total venture capital investment in UK tech topped six billion pounds, more than any other European country.

This report is a worthwhile reminder of how far we have come. And it makes a number of interesting recommendations which we will study with interest.

There is still work to do if we want to stay on top.

So today I wanted to talk briefly about what change we need to see if we are to keep this momentum going in the years ahead.

Encouraging investment

First, we need to encourage investment.

Today’s report tells a compelling story in this area. Investment for UK high-growth digital tech firms grew 61 per cent between 2017 and 2018 – driven in large part by our ambitious tech scaleups.

And in the growing fintech sector, we were ranked number one in the world for scaleup investment.

Despite this positive outlook, there are some firms that can find it challenging to raise capital, particularly within the tech for good sector.

If we want mission-driven tech businesses to have a positive impact on society, then we need to help them flourish and scale up, through giving them the right support and funding.

So we have announced that we are backing the UK’s leading dedicated supporter of social tech – the Social Tech Trust – to set up a new investment fund.

This fund will provide ventures with the access to capital that they need at the right time, so that we can boost our already thriving tech for good sector, which was valued at 2.3 billion pounds last year.

The aim is to raise up to 30 million pounds for this investment fund, to help ventures focused in three key areas of social transformation: health, wealth, and communities.

This is part of a package of support, including a fund of one million pounds to drive social tech innovation in civil society, to help develop solutions to tackle social isolation and bring communities together.

We also need to encourage innovation friendly regulation, especially for start-ups, which already face so many challenges in their formative years.

Modern businesses require modern regulation – and the UK is leading the way in embracing change.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s Green Tech Fintech Challenge is a good example.

It supports a number of firms, including many of our dynamic start-ups, in developing products and services to help our transition towards a greener economy.

The challenge provides guidance and live market testing, which can be essential in helping a product overcome the hurdles faced by businesses.

I want our regulators to carry out their essential roles – preventing harm, and providing certainty to businesses and trust to citizens – whilst supporting the innovation that has helped us deliver these exceptional results.

Skills and talent

My second point is about having the best possible tech talent here in the UK.

The report shows the UK is the number one destination for tech talent, employing five per cent of all tech scaleup employees globally.

Success requires an immigration system that welcomes the world’s top tech talent.

Like our Tech Nation Visa, which enables the brightest and best to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector.

And our Entrepreneur and Graduate Entrepreneur visas, which have recently been revived in response to feedback from the tech sector.

As we leave the EU, we need a future immigration system based around bringing skilled people to the UK. I know this is a priority for you and I will continue to – reflect your needs at the Cabinet table and beyond.

It is also pleasing to see that cyber, AI, and Cleantech are all featuring in the top ten sectors for employment in high-growth tech firms.

This shows that the newest and most exciting technologies are being developed right here in the UK. But we need to make sure everyone feels the benefits.

Digital technology is continuing to transform the nature of work and the skills that are valued by employers.

And the best way to futureproof our economy in a time of unprecedented change is to promote digital skills. And I know that this is a view shared by employers too.

From making coding in the curriculum compulsory at school age, through to supporting a more flexible labour market and expanding digital training for adults, we have a far-reaching programme to support digital skills.

Our Digital Skills Partnerships have made huge strides to improve digital capability right across the country.

And our AI Sector Deal included a focus on skills and talent, by developing new industry funded AI Masters programmes, cutting-edge PhD places and creating a globally respected fellowship scheme.

This work is so important.

Because we cannot become a truly digital nation until we have a skilled, digital workforce that makes use of all the available talent.

Regional tech economy

Finally, I want to talk about the importance of our regional digital economies.

It is easy as we gather here in the heart of the capital to focus our attention on London.

There is no doubt that London is one of the world’s great hubs for technology and commerce. And we don’t want to change that.

London-based companies receive billions of tech investment every year, almost twice as much as their European counterparts.

But we have a crucial opportunity to use technology to drive regional economies and help deliver prosperity right across the country.

I have been pleased to see that the report illustrates that over the last 12 years, we have seen a much greater distribution of investment all across the UK, rather than just in the capital.

It shows that although 36 per cent of tech investment is now in London, the East of England has seen a massive 206 per cent increase in capital investment over the past twelve years.

This means that many of our towns and cities have thriving tech ecosystems and are creating fast-growing businesses that are competing successfully with European capitals.

Sixty UK unicorns have now been created outside of London.

And in terms of unicorns, Manchester is neck and neck with Amsterdam, while Oxford and Cambridge combined are outperforming Berlin and Paris.

Last year, Tech City UK and Tech North evolved into Tech Nation.

This wasn’t just a rebranding but reflects the Government’s commitment to supporting tech pioneers wherever they are based.

And Tech Nation’s Enterprise Engagement Managers, who work alongside key digital partners in their host region, are a key part of our vision for future success.

This means rolling out the best physical infrastructure all across the UK, for example through unlocking the potential of full fibre and 5G.

And also through making sure we unlock the potential of our rural digital economies, through TechNation and also by using all the other levers that we have as a Government.

Conclusion

After this speech, I am taking the Eurostar to the VivaTech summit in Paris. So I am very grateful to you for hosting this event at Kings’ Cross…

That summit brings together leaders from the tech sector, civil society and Government to discuss how to get the best from new technologies.

And I will be taking this report with me.

What better way to show that we remain an innovative and outward looking nation, open to new ideas, investment and talent from all across the world.

This report tells a story of innovation and ingenuity.

And our challenge now is to write the next chapter.

Thank you very much.

David Gauke – 2019 Statement on the Court and Tribunal Estate Consultation

Below is the text of the statement made by David Gauke, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2019.

On 10 May I published the response to the “Fit for the future: transforming the court and tribunal estate” consultation. It sets out how decisions regarding the future of the estate should be made and makes clear that people will continue to be able to access courts and tribunals while providing value for money for the taxpayer and ensuring long-term efficiency.

The consultation published in January 2018, has been developed to complement HMCTS’ £1 billon reform programme, which is bringing new technology and modern ways of working to the justice system, making it more accessible for everyone. It received 249 responses and as a result, the response published today, strengthens and updates the principles underpinning future decisions relating to changes to our estate. It ensures that:

When visits to courts are necessary, travel times and ease of transport will continue to be prioritised—with added support for vulnerable users

Court and tribunal buildings will be fit for purpose and can be maintained at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer

Specialist front-of-house staff will be at courts to support the public and legal professionals, and will be trained in new technologies

The estate is aligned with the reform programme

The provision for hearings in physical court rooms will remain essential for the fair, just and proportionate delivery of justice. Yet we anticipate that fewer interactions with the court and tribunals system will happen in this way. Any future changes to the court estate which result in the relocation of a service from a local area will be consulted on publicly before a decision is made, using the criteria set out in the Fit for the Future principles.

We expect the modernisation being delivered by the reform programme to provide additional routes to justice and as a result lead to a reduction in the use of our court and tribunal buildings. These modem channels will be additional to, rather than substitutions for, existing routes. We make a commitment that we will not act on assumptions by proposing to close courts unless we have sound evidence that the reforms are actually reducing the use of those buildings.

Naturally, with an estate of this size there may be changes in demand for reasons other than uptake of digital services, and in those circumstances, it may be ​sensible to close or merge courts. Furthermore, this consultation has no effect on previously announced closures which will go ahead as planned.

Our response to the consultation addresses several concerns which we have committed to improving. One is that journeys to and from court should be reasonable and, for the overwhelming majority of users, this would be one that allowed them to leave home no earlier than 7.30am, attend their hearing and return home by 7.30pm the same day by public transport. We also set out how we will measure this commitment and what other factors we will consider, for example, the circumstances of users including those that are vulnerable.

The consultation was broadly positive about proposals regarding the design of our court and tribunal buildings and reinforced the need for the security of those who use and work in our courts and tribunals to be paramount and for ensuring suitable facilities for vulnerable users. This is reflected in the new “Court and tribunal design guide” published today.

Our revised principles will strengthen and guide our analysis and assessment when we consider future changes. It will better align the management of our estate to the wider modernisation of our services and will make sure the court and tribunal estate remains fit for the 21st century.

Court and tribunal design guide

Alongside fit for the future, HMCTS has also published a new Court and tribunal design guide. This has been developed after engaging with user groups, to make sure the guide improves the experience for court and tribunal users, while providing value for the taxpayer.

It provides the standards for refurbishment and redevelopment of existing and future court and tribunal buildings. It aims to enable optimum use of facilities and improve user experience and, along with the key elements of safety and security, sets out five principles that must be incorporated into any building design. These principles define that court and tribunal buildings must be appropriate, effective, accessible, flexible and sustainable.

The guide was developed through extensive engagement with court and tribunal users to ensure standards and designs meet their needs. The “fit for the future” consultation sought views on the proposed principles and approach to improving the design of court and tribunal buildings and a total of 181 responses were received.

The guide will be used by HMCTS to help inform current and future building and refurbishment work undertaken across the court and tribunal estate. As lessons are learned and HMCTS reform initiatives develop, the design guide will be updated.

A copy of the consultation response has been placed in the libraries of both Houses.

Victoria Prentis – 2019 Speech on Self-Build Housing

Below is the text of the speech made by Victoria Prentis, the Conservative MP for Banbury, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2019.

I wanted to call this debate “Kevin McCloud changed my life and I want him to change yours, too”, but I was told that was not entirely orderly.

What I do want to impress upon the House is that self-building produces houses that are better quality, cheaper and greener. My husband and I were gripped by “Grand Designs” when it was first shown about 20 years ago. I was aware that our French and German contemporaries had been brought up in houses that their parents had built, and they were starting to build their own at our sort of stage. We were thrilled when a run-down house on a large plot became available in our village. We definitely fall into the “creative” type, rather than the “engineering” one, so we got a local architect and a building firm in the village to do the work for us. But coping with the legal side of planning, as well as the design and organisation, was in itself a huge time commitment.

There were definitely television-worthy moments, and I am so glad we were not filmed: the day the glass wall broke into tiny shards as it was being installed; and when we moved in with two small children with only an outside loo and no floors. Thirteen years on, we still love our house. It was built for our needs: snooker, books and vinyl; and a large cooker. Where others have an eating area, we have a hose-down function room for community events. Most important to us are the incredible views of the Cherwell valley from every room.

Did the planners encourage us? No, they were horrified by discussions about reed beds and solar panels, and we had to appeal and argue. They did, however, eventually have the grace to commend the final result. But Cherwell District Council has come on leaps and bounds since, and it is as passionate about building as I am.

We are building at an enormous rate locally, with three new homes finished every day in our area; we regularly top the leaderboard. But much of my casework is about problems with the quality of build of large developers. We have a wall of shame in my office where we rank how many complaints we get for each major builder. Occasionally, I get their representatives in, in small groups, to show them who is at the top of that wall of shame. I find that that is quite effective, with householders suddenly finding that defects are rectified—safety in numbers not working is effective in those meetings. The lack of quality, as well as the uniformity of type, of so much mass development is a real concern to me, as it should be to Members across this House.

In 2012, Cherwell District Council created Build! to look at alternative ways to deliver affordable houses for local people who buy a share in the property, which they self-finish to their own specification.

Robert Courts (Witney) (Con)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her characteristically entertaining and thought-provoking speech. I only wish there was time for me to make a speech. [Interruption.] Oh, of course, given the time, there probably is.​
When I was a district counsellor, one of my most memorable visits was to my hon. Friend’s constituency to see that Build! project. Does she agree that there are two wonderful things about self-build that she has not yet had time to mention, although I am sure she will: first, it strips out the profit element and therefore means it is much cheaper; and, secondly, there is individuality in each build—the place-making and the village aspect that is so important to our constituents?

Victoria Prentis

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Build! scheme is a good example of a halfway house before a full self-build, which we all know is quite a commitment to take on. The scheme enables people to self-finish, and brings many of the benefits that my hon. Friend just outlined, possibly without all the pain of a full self-build process.

We have quite a few examples of the Build! project throughout the constituency, but grouping is important, as I will come on to explain, and one great example is in Warwick road in Banbury, where there is a 16-house development on the site of a former care home. In creating the project, we learned that instant community cohesion is a major bonus to grouping self-builds: by the time people move in, they know not just their neighbours but the location and type of their soil pipes. That makes for a diverse but energetic community who look out for each other right from the beginning. It is quite extraordinary, and it is one of the very real benefits of grouping self-builds, even in quite small developments, such as blocks of flats.

Another example is in a large building in a car park in Banbury town centre. People in flats next-door to each other look out for each other. They carry each other’s heavy pipes in for installation and help each other with other elements of building. It really makes a difference to how they go forward together as a community.

One of my newest town councillors has just bought a one-bedroom Build! flat near Bicester Village station. She told me:

“Without Build! and the support of CDC”—

Cherwell District Council—

“I would have really struggled to get on the property ladder. At 24, with a single income, I’m not very attractive to mortgage lenders. I bought a share in a self-finish flat. I pay a mortgage and a minimal amount of rent, and hope to work up to 100% ownership in a few years.”

She continued:

“This scheme has allowed me to finish my first property to my own specification. It was a bit of a shock to learn my doors wouldn’t fit over the new carpets and needed to be cut down. I’m in the process of tiling my bathroom, which has been a learning experience. It hasn’t been plain sailing but it will be an experience I’ll treasure.”

That is somebody with, to put it politely, no self-build skills. She is a young woman doing it on her own aged 24. That is really commendable. It has enabled her to have a cheaper property finished to her own spec, and it has given her the confidence to get on to the property ladder. It is exactly the sort of scheme that we should roll out nationally.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this idea to the House for consideration. The Minister and I were just at a meeting of the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings. Some ​of the ideas that the hon. Lady refers to are coming through in the White Paper that the all-party group published.

Many years ago, before I got married, we did a project for my house back home. We referred to it as grip work—we employed a builder, a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber and so on to come in to do the work at each stage, thereby diminishing the cost factor at a time when, because we were younger, we were pushed for money and did not have very much. What does the hon. Lady feel that the House, and perhaps the Minister in particular—he is a good Minister—could do to help these projects and schemes for first-time new build owners?

Victoria Prentis

The hon. Gentleman has just helped—by telling us about his own experiences back home. What we can do is promote schemes such as Build! and the slightly more ambitious one that I am about to discuss, which are very easily rolled out across the country and which really can help new, young first-time buyers to realise their dream of property ownership.

Bambos Charalambous (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

I have a constituent who is interested in home building, but they had difficulty accessing the register of available land, which local authorities are required to keep. Can the hon. Lady advise me on how that was done in her local authority?

Victoria Prentis

Yes, I will come on to that. My local authority actually has provided enough houses—as indeed all local authorities are obliged to do—for people who want to build their own home. People wishing to build their own house must register with their local authority and a plot is supposed to become available in time. That is not always the case, and it is one of my real worries about people achieving their goals of self-build. I will cover that, and I am sure that the Minister will, too. That is one of the reasons for holding this debate: it is really important that we continue to press for plots to be made available so that people can begin to realise their dreams.

Jim Shannon

I am listening very intently to the hon. Lady. We also have a co-ownership scheme in Northern Ireland, which enables people who are financially restricted in getting a mortgage to buy half a house, and the co-ownership scheme gets the other half. It is also another way of enabling people to get on the first rung of the ladder and to move forward to get their own place, which is probably similar to the self-build project that the hon. Lady refers to.

Victoria Prentis

That is really important. Often, those help-to-buy schemes, or similar schemes, are not available to self-builders. They are in my constituency, because of a forward-thinking local authority, but they are not available across the country, and that is of real concern to me. The way mortgage lenders lend money is often not very helpful to self-builders, either.

I come on to Cherwell District Council’s most ambitious project and the one about which we really do want to sing from the rooftops. Graven Hill, which is former Ministry of Defence land, is a 188-hectare site south of Bicester. It is the UK’s, and possibly the world’s, largest custom build site. Plots with services already installed are easy to buy, and planning regulations—I cannot believe that I am saying this sentence—are relaxed and ​user-friendly. Two thousand custom build homes are being created, and those with a local connection have the chance to buy first.

I encourage everyone, particularly those involved in planning, to watch the fabulous programme, “The Street”, on Channel 4, the final episode of which aired last week during Self-Build Week. It is available to watch on catch-up for the next 30 days. There is a shortened taster programme, but you would miss the full experience, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you did not watch the whole thing. Watching the programme is six hours of your life very well spent.

In the programme, Kevin McCloud—need I say more?—provides gentle commentary on the construction process of the first 10 builds on Graven Hill, demonstrating the positives and the stresses and how these houses meet the specific needs of the young, the old, the disabled and the unwell. These homes are definitely cheaper—around 20% cheaper—than other new builds. They are definitely ecologically sound. Just as the build quality is much better when a person does it themselves, individuals are consistently keener to take risks and try new ecologically interesting ideas in a way that big developers simply will not. So far the site as a whole has saved a significant quantity of carbon by sourcing tarmac from a local plant and by recycling aggregate on site. Some 90% of the waste generated at Graven Hill has been recycled, which is extraordinary on a big building site. McCloud does not shy away from the problems—this is very good telly—causing the reviewer of the series in The Daily Telegraph to call for a solid Victorian terrace to live in. However, what is clear is that what has been created is much greater than the sum of its parts. These are not just houses, but Graven Hill custom build houses. Their builders feel a pride in what they have achieved and that really shines through. They will definitely help to build a fantastic community.

There are three major barriers to intrepid self-builders, the first of which is access to land, mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous). All planning authorities are required to maintain a register of those seeking to self-build, and to ensure that sufficient permissions are granted. Some 18,000 plots have been promised by Right to Build Day on 30 October. Will the Minister assure me that this is on track and will happen?

The second barrier is mortgage and financing issues. When we inevitably went over budget in our own build, I remember that our mortgage company was distinctly unimpressed by our application for further funding and told us that our plot was worth less with our half-built house on it than it had been at the beginning. That was a low moment. My husband was self-employed, which also caused problems for the mortgage company. Low-deposit mortgages are not usually available to self-builders, and neither is Help to Buy because it relies on the purchase of a completed property by a single payment at legal completion. It is, however, available at Graven Hill for custom built homes. Central Government really could work more creatively with lenders to address those issues, and I would be grateful if the Minister thought further about that.

The third major barrier is undoubtedly planning. At Graven Hill, the council has adopted contemporary planning regulations to ensure a fast approval process ​of a self-build plot in 28 days. This is revolutionary, and I do not see why every local authority in the country cannot follow suit. I remember the thousands of pounds in rent that we wasted while waiting for planners. I do not really know what they were doing, but whatever it was they did it very slowly. Addressing this issue is critical to the future promotion of self-building.

The Government and the Minister are making all the right noises in policy terms, but real change has to come from creative thinking by local authorities and mortgage lenders. Without it, we will not see the revolution in self-building that I seek. The UK has one of the lowest self and custom build sectors in the developed world, running at about 8% of the market. This is a real way to solve our housing problems, build communities, and ensure good quality and ecologically sound architecture. To Cherwell District Council led by the quietly inspirational Barry Wood, the Graven Hill pioneers and Kevin McCloud —I salute you.

Jonathan Ashworth – 2019 Speech on Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission

Below is the text of the speech made by Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2019.

I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. We warmly welcome today’s announcement. His tribute to our much-missed friend and colleague was moving and powerful. It is an extraordinary testament to Tessa’s bravery that in the final harrowing months of her life, faced with a highly aggressive and very-difficult-to-treat cancer, and in full knowledge of the life expectancy associated with such a devastating cancer, Tessa led from the front to campaign for better brain cancer treatment for others. She spoke with extraordinary courage in the Lords, she brought the then Secretary of State and me together, and she convinced Ministers to shift policy, not by garnering sympathy, understandable though that approach would have been, but by persuasion based on facts and policy argument. It was typical Tessa.

Tessa would have been delighted by the Government’s announcement—some 2,000 brain cancer patients a year will now benefit from the “pink drink” solution—but she would be keen to go further still. Almost 11,000 people ​are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumour, including 500 children and young people, which is 30 people every day, and more than 5,000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour each year. Brain tumours reduce life expectancy by around 20 years, which is the highest of any cancer, and are the largest cause of preventable blindness in children.

We live in hope of dramatic improvements, but further research is needed, given that less than 2% of the £500 million spent on cancer research is dedicated to brain tumours. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitments on research, but does he agree that we also desperately need more involvement in clinical trials? The number of brain cancer patients taking part in clinical trials is less than half the average across all cancers. How will the Government encourage more trials and data sharing?

Finally, we know that the NHS remains under considerable strain generally. The 93% target for a two-week wait from GP urgent referral to first consultant appointment was not met once last year. Neurosurgery is no exception. In March 2019, the 18-week completion target for referral to treatment pathways stood at 81.3% for neurosurgery— 5% lower than the average for all specialties—which made neurosurgery the worst performing specialty. This is a question of both resourcing and staffing. I know the Secretary of State has his answer on revenue resourcing—we disagree, but we will leave our political arguments for another day—but on workforce there are vacancies for more than 400 specialist cancer nurses, chemotherapy nurses and palliative care nurses, and there are diagnostic workforce vacancies too.

Meanwhile, the staff who are there are reliant on outdated equipment, and we have among the lowest numbers of MRI and CT scanners in the world. Failing to diagnose early is worse for the patient and more costly for the NHS, so will the Secretary of State update us on when we can expect Dido Harding’s workforce plan? Can he reassure us that the cancer workforce will be a key part of that plan? On equipment and MRI scanners, can he guarantee that the NHS will see increased capital investment budgets in the spending review so that it can upgrade existing equipment and increase the number of MRI and CT scanners?

Overall, however, we welcome today’s announcement. It is a fitting tribute to our friend Tessa Jowell, and like Tessa herself will touch the lives of so many.

Matt Hancock – 2019 Statement on Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission

Below is the text of the statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, in the House of Commons on 13 May 2019.

I would like to update the House on the progress we have made in tackling brain cancer, including on a new innovation that is now available across England.

For far too long, tackling brain cancer has been put in the “too difficult” box, and we are determined to change that. I want to pay tribute to the Petitions Committee, which did so much work on this; my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who picked up the subject in Government as Life Sciences Minister; my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours, which brought parliamentarians together; my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), the current chair of the APPG; and, of course, Baroness Tessa Jowell, who campaigned passionately and tirelessly while battling the illness herself, and who, sadly, passed away a year ago.

Brain cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in children and young people under 19. Baroness Jowell called for all patients to benefit from 5-aminolevulinic acid, or “pink drink” as it is otherwise known: a dye that makes cancerous cells glow under ultraviolet light, thereby making it easier for surgeons to target the right areas. Trials have shown that, when the dye is used, surgeons can successfully remove a whole tumour in 70% of cases, compared to 30% of those without.

I am pleased to inform the House that we have now rolled out this ground-breaking treatment aid across England, with the potential to save the lives of 2,000 patients every year. That is part of the £33.9 billion extra that we are putting into the NHS and the NHS long-term plan. This procedure will now be expanded to every neurological centre in England. That is a fitting testament to Tessa Jowell’s memory.

It is worth pausing for a moment to remember the courageous words that Tessa Jowell used to urge us to rise above our differences. She said that this

“is not about politics but about patients and the community of carers who love and support them. It is…about the NHS but it is not just about money. It is about the power of kindness”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1169.]

That represents the very best of our democracy and of our Parliament. On behalf of all those who have died of brain cancer, all those—children and adults alike—who have campaigned, and all those seeking to do research, of which there is more to come in future, we are acting.

I want to mention three further areas in detail. The first is research. In the past, not enough research was done into the causes of and treatments for brain cancer. In the last year, the Government have made an unprecedented £40 million available to fund cutting-edge research of new treatments and drugs through the National Institute for Health Research. That will build on our outstanding reputation for neuroscience and oncology research, and increase the quality, quantity and diversity of brain cancer research. That funding was further enhanced by Cancer Research UK committing an ​additional £25 million to support brain tumour research. The size of those pledges will cement the UK’s position as a leading global centre.

Secondly, on our NHS cancer workforce, the number of specialist cancer staff in the NHS is set to grow as we put the £33.9 billion into the NHS over the next five years. Health Education England’s cancer workforce plan, and our upcoming NHS people plan, will set out in detail the steps we are taking to recruit a world-class cancer workforce. We made available an additional £8.6 million in the cancer workforce last year, and we aim to have 300 more radiographers start training by 2021.

Finally, on empowering patients, we have worked closely with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, Jess Mills and others to ensure patients are at the heart of all these efforts. The mission brings together Government, the NHS, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and patients to ensure that data is shared and disseminated properly so that more patients in the UK and around the world can benefit from what is learnt. Due to the complexity of brain cancer, we must provide joined-up care that meets each patient’s unique needs. The NHS is focused on improving care for brain cancer patients to ensure they have access to dedicated out-patient clinics and consultations, wherever they live.

I hope the whole House will recognise the important progress made over the past year in rising to the challenge set by Baroness Jowell and the families of those who have lost loved ones to brain cancer. That progress has been possible only through the collective effort of patients, the NHS, charities and industry. That work is and will continue to be collaborative.

In her final speech in the other place last January, Tessa Jowell said:

“I am not afraid. I am fearful that this new and important approach may be put into the ‘too difficult’ box, but I also have such great hope.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1170.]

That hope was an inspiration to us all. We will rise to the challenge that she left us. We must not waiver in that task. I commend this statement to the House.

Mike Gapes – 2019 Speech on 25th Anniversary of John Smith’s Death

Below is the text of the speech made by Mike Gapes, the Change UK MP for Ilford South, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2019.

I vividly recall the morning the BBC announced that John Smith had been taken ill. I had a meeting with Liz Pearce, who had been my general election agent and who was a councillor. She had just won us our first position in Redbridge, where we were going to form a Labour administration. Liz worked for me, and we had to have a discussion about the implications of that win for our relationship and whether or not she could continue to ​work for me. I was expecting it to be a difficult discussion. Then the message came through that John Smith had died. We cancelled our discussion immediately. We could not talk; we could not think. I remember coming here later. We always remember occasions which have such a huge, traumatic impact.

I knew John Smith reasonably well. I knew him when I worked at the Labour party headquarters, in the policy directorate and then in the international section. At the time of the 1992 election, I was the head of that section. From time to time, I would arrange for him to meet incoming delegations. There were good discussions with the Social Democratic Party of Germany about how to modernise the policy of the Labour party.

John Smith, although he was the shadow Chancellor, was much more than that. Neil Kinnock was trying to save the Labour party and bring us back from the abyss of the terrible period that we had suffered, to expel the Trotskyites and modernise the Labour party to make it electable. Although Roy Hattersley, now Lord Hattersley, was the deputy leader, many Members of Parliament said to me that the real deputy leader was John Smith. It was crucial that both wings of the party, the centre left and the centre right, worked together in that modernisation project.

Other Members have already said how important John Smith was in relation to many of the policy reforms of that period. He was also clearly politically principled and brave. The shadow Budget that he published just before the 1992 election, which has not been mentioned yet, was controversial. Some people said—wrongly, in my view—that that was the reason why we did not win the 1992 election, but I remember a conversation with a woman in a queue at a bus stop when I was campaigning for election in ’92. I was fighting a very marginal constituency—we were number 61 on the list and Labour had to win 62 seats to be the biggest party. To cut a long story short, I got here and many others did not. This woman had a pram and young children, and I said, “So are you going to be supporting Labour? You’ll get £6 more; we are very concerned to help people like you.” She said, “No, you’ll just take it away from me in tax.” I asked, “Do you pay income tax? Are you working?” “No,” she said; nevertheless she was convinced she was going to lose it. That is the problem we had sometimes in politics—how to cut through the misunderstanding.

I remember the debates around Maastricht when I came into Parliament in ’92. I remember the discussions we had after Neil Kinnock stood down and John Smith had been elected at a special conference by 90% of the vote for leader against Bryan Gould. Bryan Gould was my constituency neighbour in Dagenham, and I was under some encouragement and pressure from some people locally to support my constituency neighbour, and I did, for deputy leader, but I had no doubt who was going to be the best leader.

John Smith played a brilliant tactical game in those Maastricht debates. He was able to embarrass and undermine the John Major Government on so many occasions. We had one occasion when there was a tied vote and the then Speaker gave the casting vote in favour of the Government, but the next day it was realised that there had been a miscount and the Government had won by one. We have had similar scenarios recently, but fortunately, so far as I am aware, the vote was accurately counted on that occasion.​

We had a genius and a real intelligence in our leader at that time and we were surging ahead. Labour in opposition in 1994 was 20 points or more ahead in the opinion polls. going into European Parliament elections in 1994, Labour was going to do incredibly well. This was in the pre-proportional days, and we won all 10 seats in London. The campaign and platform was established under John Smith, but it was Margaret Beckett who took us into those elections because tragically we no longer had John.

The party then moved to a younger generation, and the modernisation project, started by Neil Kinnock and continued by John Smith, was then continued under Tony Blair. That led to not one, not two, but three general election victories, and all the great achievements of that Labour Government, which, sadly, are not recognised enough by some in the Labour party today. I am not going to make a speech attacking the current leadership of the Labour party; I have done that before and will not do so today. I will simply say that John Smith, on this Europe day, would have read the election manifestos for the European elections with some degree of concern. He would have wanted a passionate case to be made for remaining in the European Union and for reforming it, as he argued, in speeches that have been quoted today, when he broke the Whip all those years ago, and as the Labour party argued, under his leadership, in the 1994 European election campaign. A moderate, mainstream and—in Labour terms—centre-right political leader, he was passionately pro-European, and in those days, that led to a significant electoral victory in those European elections. Let us look back 25 years to what could have been, and then look at where we are today.

John Smith had some very nice human qualities. I remember sitting in the House of Commons Library late one night in 1993; there was almost no one else there, but suddenly I saw the Leader of the Opposition walking around looking for a book. We have not often seen Leaders of the Opposition of any party doing that in recent years—[Interruption.] I do not mean reading books; I mean walking round the Library in a normal kind of way. Also in 1993, John organised a reception in his room for all of us who had been elected a year earlier, on 9 April 1992. I was not there at the start of the reception because I had to rush from hospital, where my wife had given birth to our daughter. I remember this vividly, because when I arrived, everyone applauded me when it was announced that I had become a father that day. That is a strong personal memory for me.

I also recall John saying, in that discussion with all of us who had entered Parliament the year before, “You have all got to learn how this place works. Spend your time understanding parliamentary procedure. Understand how Committees, questions and early-day motions work. Get to know what you will be doing here. I am not going to make any of you members of my shadow team. I want you to get an understanding of this place over the next few years. Some of you will be Ministers when we have a Labour Government, but I will want people who really understand how this place works.” What a contrast that is to the things that have happened since then.​

John Smith was a great parliamentarian. He loved Parliament and he loved the debates. He is, and will be, sorely missed.

Hugh Gaffney – 2019 Speech on 25th Anniversary of John Smith’s Death

Below is the text of the speech made by Hugh Gaffney, the Labour MP for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2019.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) for securing this debate. We are here to pay tribute to one of my predecessors, John Smith, on the 25th anniversary of his death. As a Member of Parliament, first for North Lanarkshire and then for Monklands East, John represented communities that are now in my constituency, including Carnbroe, Shawhead and Whifflet. He served North Lanarkshire and its communities with distinction in this House and I know that he is held in high regard locally.

When I learned that this debate was to take place, I spoke to another great parliamentary champion of North Lanarkshire, Tom Clarke, who I know is watching today and who was a good friend of John Smith’s. These are his reflections on John as a politician and as a friend:

“John Smith and I first met when he was an outstanding debater at Glasgow University and I was a Young Socialist. We were friends for a very long time. John could have a short fuse at times, but I had never known him to hold grudges. His great gift was his ability to relate warmly with people, whatever their background. He was as at home with miners and steelworkers when they were fighting to save their industries as he was when he met with international leaders.

I was fortunate in being able to be with John for two days before he died when we attended and gave evidence to the Boundary Commission which was considering proposals for our neighbouring constituencies. There was very little that we did not discuss.​

I retain the view that while he took his role seriously, the post he held rested lightly on his shoulders and he was looking forward to the challenges of serving as Prime Minister. It remains one of my greatest regrets that history denied him that opportunity.”

I thank both John and Tom for their tireless service in this House on behalf of the people of North Lanarkshire.

John had a distinguished political career and was regarded as a fine parliamentarian. As a Minister in the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, he was responsible for the initial Scottish and Welsh devolution proposals, as we have heard. He continued to champion the cause of devolution throughout his career; I think he would be proud that this week we are marking 20 years of devolution in Scotland and Wales.

Many commentators have speculated on what a John Smith-led Labour Government would have achieved in the UK. We know that John championed a national minimum wage at a time when it was not popular with some sections of the trade union movement. We know that his Government would have ensured that the richest in our society paid their fair share to support our public services. Indeed, it was John who advocated a 50p tax rate for the highest earners when he served as shadow Chancellor during the 1992 general election. He once said, referring to high tax payers,

“One should shoulder that obligation as part of one’s citizenship and be proud of it.”

We also know that his Government would probably not have led the UK into the disastrous Iraq war.

John Smith’s legacy lives on to this day. It is a fine tribute to him to be here today and to mark those 25 years. The John Smith Trust, formed in 1996, continues his work in promoting good governance, social justice and the rule of law by helping to develop the next generation of leaders committed to making a difference in their countries and societies. I reflect on the fact that many people across the United Kingdom still regret that John Smith was never able to serve as Prime Minister. As I said in my maiden speech—I have heard it said again today—he was one of the best Prime Ministers that this country never had.

I remember the day of John Smith’s death. I was working as a postman at the time and I remember his death because we had suffered for so many years under the Thatcher Government. I was a young man, working, and I was devastated that day, just like everyone else. I had just become a trade union representative. I stood in silence when I heard the news. I think that the whole country did, such was the mark of the man who was John Smith.

I am committed to following in the footsteps of both John and Tom Clarke, representing the people whom they once represented here in the mother of Parliaments. It is an honour and a privilege to do so.

Christine Jardine – 2019 Speech on 25th Anniversary of John Smith’s Death

Below is the text of the speech made by Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2019.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney). I add my thanks and congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on having the foresight to recognise that this was an occasion that many of us in the House would want to mark.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young TV reporter standing in a car park in Aberdeen with a camera crew waiting to interview Tony Blair. We knew that John Smith had had a heart attack that morning and we hoped that Tony Blair’s delayed arrival would bring a statement that all was fine and that John Smith would recuperate and be back soon. Sadly, by the time Tony Blair did arrive, we knew he had a very different outcome to relay to us. My thoughts that day, as on this day, were not merely about politics. I come from a family of three girls who lost their dad to a sudden heart attack at 44, and my thoughts were, and still are, with his girls. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edinburgh South would agree that, wherever Scottish politicians gather, at some point we get to talking about John Smith and what might have been—the country that might have been, the Labour party that might have been, how devolution might have developed differently, how the Labour Government might have acted differently—but we must always remember those lives most closely affected by losing him.

I do not claim to have known John Smith well, but when I was a young reporter he always gave me time and treated my often naive questions with respect, and he never ever patronised me—something we should all think about as Members. I particularly remember one evening when I was a reporter at Radio Clyde and had to phone him about the latest speculation about whether Neil, now Lord, Kinnock, was about to step down as Labour party leader. Once he had dismissed it as nonsense and said there was no way he would comment on such a ludicrous suggestion, he spent about 20 minutes, maybe half an hour, just chatting with me, putting me right about the situation and telling me what was actually going on in British politics and what I should be aware of. I came away from that conversation, which he did not have to have with me, better informed, and from then on in my career, I had much greater insight into and respect for British politics. I was not the only one, and I do not think it was just because I was a graduate of Glasgow University. I was not the only journalist in Scotland who had for John Smith the sort of respect and admiration the rest of us can often only aspire to. Other Members have spoken about the grief felt across Scotland among politicians. I cannot speak for the politicians of that time—I was not one of them, I was a journalist—but every single one of us felt that day that we had lost something that we perhaps had not valued enough. We saw him as a politician committed to an ideal but with a tolerance, understanding and commitment to people and communities that we would do well to emulate here.​

I remember another occasion when I was sent to a pub in Airdrie—if memory serves—on the occasion of John Smith’s first response as shadow Chancellor. I was sent out to get public reaction to what the local MP was going to say, and I came away with a picture of a man regarded in his constituency as “one of us”, as somebody who understood his constituency and spoke for his constituency. He knew exactly what they wanted to hear and what they needed. I contrast that with the detached, two-dimensional picture that politicians often can project today. Maybe we need a little more of whatever it was that John Smith had, because he had something special that gave him a place in the hearts of journalists, politicians, the community and everybody in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North East spoke about his parents. I remember my mother, a Tory, being distraught on the day John Smith died, because she respected him as a man who lived his politics. A politician to respect is one who enacts their politics in everything—no matter how small—that they do every day. That is what matters.

Looking back over the years, I remember a fantastic evening at the docklands in 1997: Labour’s daybreak party to celebrate what many of us, Labour or not, regarded as a turning point for the country. I remember how much John Smith’s presence was missed that night, as I suspect it has been missed in some way by Members in this place every day for the past 25 years.

I end by thanking the hon. Member for Edinburgh South again. As I got more involved in politics and decided to stand for this place, I kept in mind—even though I am not a member of the Labour party—that phrase of John Smith’s from the evening before he died. All of us who are in this place or who aspire to this place would do well to take it as our guiding principle: what we have here, and what we aspire to, is simply the opportunity to serve.

Paul Sweeney – 2019 Speech on 25th Anniversary of John Smith’s Death

Below is the text of the speech made by Paul Sweeney, the Labour MP for Glasgow North East, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2019.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I follow some very moving and thoughtful contributions from Members who were obviously touched greatly by John’s influence in their lives. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) for bringing forward this debate at such a pivotal moment in our political history. We can learn a lot from our political traditions, particularly those that John Smith epitomised, as we think about how to address the great challenges that face us today.

Although John Smith was born in 1938, some 51 years before I was born, his influence still affected me in some small ways. Reflecting on his death in May 1994, when I was just five years old and at primary school—primary 1—one of my earliest political memories was the grief that swept through my house. My parents were crying, and I remember that very vividly. I have only some faint memories of politics in the 1990s, and one of the earliest ones was John Smith’s death. Another one was Labour coming into government, and perhaps Princess Diana’s death. These were the things I remember from my childhood as the pivotal episodes of the 1990s in politics that influenced me as a small child.

John Smith’s death definitely struck a chord from a very early age because, after so much despair at the loss of the 1992 election, my parents had invested in the hope that Labour might finally come to power and achieve the changes, as it was seen at the time, to liberate our communities, which had been ravaged so terribly by Conservative party politics. There was a great deal of hope, and of lost hope in that moment, and that was definitely impressed on me from a young age. Tam Dalyell wrote about how he remembered it as similar to the death of Gaitskell in 1963 aged just 56. That was a similar episode of great potential and a great future Prime Minister lost to this country, and the potential of what that history could have entailed and what it could have meant had it not been altered in such a terrible way.​
The key lessons from John Smith’s political tradition and his political behaviour are that he was suspicious of factional demagoguery and of opportunist political spivs who crafted their values in managerialist speak. However, he was also very intolerant of his party being in impotent opposition. He yearned for Labour to return to government, and that was evident in his speeches and the way he addressed this House. In truth, he was a complex mixture of different things that influenced him as a person. There was the ruthless Glasgow University debater, which is a great tradition; the Edinburgh lawyer, which is another great tradition; and the emotional west highlander. He came from a very beautiful part of the world.

In Tam Dalyell’s obituary, there is a reference to Calum MacDonald who was Member of Parliament for the Western Isles at the time of John Smith’s death. He observed:

“That John Smith was a West Coast Highlander by birth and background came across strongly in three ways. First, that socialism for John was not about dry theories on narrow sectional interests, but about values, principles, and moral beliefs. Second was his great democratic and egalitarian quality—that he could relax with absolute ease in any circle of people. And third, the sense he gave of being a man with a healthy ‘hinterland’—a man with a passion for politics but also with strong roots in his family, in Scottish society, and the land that he came from.”

John Smith’s presence was often felt. I went to Glasgow University, and one of the first things I did was joint its union. Anyone who joins Glasgow University union cannot miss John Smith, because he is there facing every student who walks into that building as a wonderful bronze bust that stares from the top of the stairs of the debating chamber, and simply says on it “Friend of the Union”. That is what encapsulated the spirit of John Smith.

Working-class people often go to Glasgow University, which is quite unusual in Britain because most of its students are home students and tend to come from the city. It has a fine working-class tradition, and because of that debating chamber where—like so many politicians from across Scotland—John Smith cut his teeth, he came to this House without fearing it and with a healthy understanding of how it works. Working-class people who went into politics cut their teeth at the Glasgow University union, which to this day is still the greatest debating union in the world. John Smith did a great deal to achieve that. He won the Observer mace for the union in 1962 and was convener of debates. He formed that great tradition along with Donald Dewar.

My maths teacher at school, Mrs McKee, used to tell me about going to see John and Donald who were a great double act in the chamber of Glasgow University. She recounted a particularly memorable occasion in November 1963, when the debate had to be suspended because someone burst in and said that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. It is interesting how those great swathes of history can touch each other in such ways, and perhaps the great figures of that period influenced John’s politics, just as he in turn influenced us. That is the great thing about institutions such as university unions. They build a great community, and even though I never knew John and he died when I was a small child, I still sensed the golden thread that runs through those institutions and inspires those who come after. That is a real sense of immortality. A person dies once when they physically die, but they would die a second time if their memory was lost, and keeping that memory and understanding alive is critical.​

Until recent years, the university union held a biannual dinner and debate in honour of John Smith, and I remember that Tom Clarke, the predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), came to speak to us. He spoke movingly about John being such a lovely man and someone who did not suffer fools gladly. He was also a great friend to people across political traditions and divides. He was not sectarian or petty. He was certainly tribal and firm in his beliefs, but he maintained friendships despite that. We should remember that important point in our current politics.

After his election in 1970, John did not necessarily pursue those things that would lead to progression in the political hierarchy, and in 1971, he voted, along with 68 Labour colleagues, against the Whip on joining the common market. He told the Commons that day that

“economic forces must somehow be brought under popular control and be fashioned towards social and political ends that the people determine”—[Official Report, 26 July 1971; Vol. 822, c. 131.]

We should remember that fine sentiment today as we consider our future relationship with the rest of the world.

In 1974, when Labour was on the cusp of coming into government and defeating the Heath Government, John made another watershed decision that might come across as counterintuitive. He said that he did not want to take up the post of Solicitor General for Scotland, because he did not want to be typecast in Scottish affairs and as a lawyer-politician. Perhaps I made a fateful decision when I decided to become a junior shadow Minister in the Scotland Office, but I am proud to have done so in the tradition of John Smith, who was a predecessor of mine and a shadow Scotland Office apparatchik.

John was quickly forgiven and joined the Department of Energy. Cutting across political traditions, he served under Tony Benn who was then Secretary of State for Energy. Benn tasked him with setting up the British National Oil Corporation in Glasgow. Today, it is an office building used by Santander, which encapsulates what Labour was trying to achieve in the 1970s and how it was turned over by Thatcherism. He set up a great institution, which was a vision for mobilising the great resources of North sea oil for the common good and the greater betterment of the nation. Sadly, his vision and the BNOC-Britoil building were dismantled and that tradition and opportunity was lost, but that was another example of John’s vision.

John was promoted to Minister of State under Michael Foot to pilot the Scotland devolution Bill through the Commons. Like Benn, Foot was full of praise for Smith’s loyalty and expertise. His excellent personal relations with Benn and Foot made it much more acceptable that a tough right-winger should be become a Cabinet Minister from 1978. From 1979, until his appointment as the leader of the Labour Party in 1992, he won every shadow Cabinet election.

On his advocacy of devolution, despite much criticism and opposition within the Labour party, John said:

“It is the Labour Party which has campaigned to get a Scottish Assembly established. No other political party has pioneered the way in which this Labour Party has.”

Indeed, he had disdain for the intransigence on the constitution of both the Conservative party and the nationalist traditions on this question. He recognised ​that the United Kingdom has great benefit to Scotland, but that it is over-centralised. He sought to create a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh that would give better government to Scotland, while strengthening the United Kingdom. Then, as now, that is the preferred view of most of the people of Scotland, as regularly tested in opinion polls both before and since the 1997 and 2014 referendums. However, he also recognised that not responding imaginatively and vigorously to the need to reform the constitutional structure of Britain would create such tensions from a notion of a democratic deficit and regional imbalance that would only serve to render the fracturing of the United Kingdom altogether as the more likely outcome.

John Smith said in 1992 that there were two forces sawing away at the legs that support the Union: one was the nationalists, who wished to destroy the United Kingdom; and the other was the stupid Conservative party, whose members blundered on oblivious to the consequences that their arrogant actions were having for the future integrity of the United Kingdom. That was borne out in the Conservative party’s opposition to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. And of course the SNP boycotted the Scottish constitutional convention and opposed devolution at the 1997 general election. It is nice to see that John’s understanding of the problem and its solution was proven right by history. There is now much consensus on how he saw the future develop.

John was very proud of the Labour party: proud of its name and proud of its history. He was confident of the contribution it could make to the future progress of our country. He was also proud of Scotland, saying:

“as a Scot myself, representing a Scottish constituency, born and brought up in Scotland, living and wishing to continue living in Scotland, a member of a Scots profession, with children at Scottish schools, and having roots too deep in Scotland to wish to ever sever them, I think I am as entitled as any separatist to speak for my fellow countrymen.”

In the particularly vicious discourse that prevails in Scotland in the wake of the 2014 referendum, those sentiments ought to be heard far and wide across Scotland.

On the Labour party, John said it was:

“a united and a determined party, impatient for the responsibility of power. Let us communicate our resolve, our ambitions, our values, to the people. For they are ready, they are so ready to listen to the message of hope and of confidence which Labour proudly proclaims.”

Sadly, death robbed him of the opportunity to serve, but the Labour Government of 1997 delivered his unfinished business of home rule. His friend from his days on the floor of the university union to the Floor of this House, Donald Dewar, said at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, almost 20 years ago to the day:

“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends.”

As John Smith said,

“What’s the point of being in politics, if you can’t speak up for the people who can’t speak up for themselves?”

That was the greater end to which John Smith sought to achieve a Scottish Parliament. In his maiden speech, he spoke up for his constituents from mining communities about how poverty was affecting them. That must be our task today: to demonstrate the same courage in speaking for the interests of people who cannot speak up for themselves across our constituencies and countries and to share John Smith’s optimism for what public service can achieve so that we can realise our capacity as ​a nation and a society to set our own objectives and to set about achieving them in a spirit or resolute determination. May he rest in peace.

Jim Fitzpatrick – 2019 Speech on 25th Anniversary of John Smith’s Death

Below is the text of the speech made by Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, in the House of Commons on 9 May 2019.

I am grateful and honoured to be called to speak briefly in this debate to pay tribute to John Smith. I am pleased to follow the very personal testimonial of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).

We have heard some moving speeches, but we have also heard about John’s humour. In case colleagues have not seen it, there is a great compilation of clips on Twitter of John Smith at the Dispatch Box tearing the Tory Front Bench apart. I mean no disrespect to the present Tory Front Bench, but it is so funny that even Lord Heseltine is laughing, and he is the butt of most of the jokes, which shows that it is really worth watching. It was posted by David Ward, and I have retweeted it, so colleagues can find it easily.

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for affording this time, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech. I did not know John very well. I was chair of the London Labour party for nearly 10 years, from 1988 until 1997, and I only met him on a few occasions. Neil—now Lord—Kinnock saved the Labour party from the hard left and turned around our fortunes, making us a serious party again. John Smith, as leader after Neil, consolidated that process and set us on course to win the 1997 general election.​

In the 1980s, the capital was not a happy place for our party. The Sun branded us the “Labour loony left” or, more precisely, the “London Labour loony left”. But through the support of the national leadership and the great efforts of professional staff like Terry Ashton, Margaret—now Baroness—McDonagh, David Evans and David Wilkinson, and hundreds and thousands of councillors, activists and volunteers, London became Labour heartland again. John Smith drove that progress, and one of his first regional visits on becoming leader was to London, which was not always a popular place for Labour leaders to visit in those days.

John’s belief in Europe is chronicled in today’s New European by his former head of policy from 1988 to 1994, David Ward, who is here listening to the debate. David has supplied me with a reminder of John’s legacy, some of which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South and others. The John Smith Trust runs the fellowship programme, which promotes good governance. It is very positive to see that the Foreign Office is funding the trust, which I hope will continue.

One spin-off from the trust is EASST—the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport—which was founded by Emma MacLennan and other trust alumni. Emma, who is married to David Ward, was Labour’s social security and taxation policy officer during John Smith’s time as shadow Chancellor and leader. EASST promotes road safety in former Soviet countries and saves lives there. More recently, John’s legacy includes the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University, promoting leadership in public service. Kezia Dugdale has just been appointed its first director, and I wish her well. Both those important programmes keep alive John’s strong commitment to democracy and public service.

As we have heard, some of John’s policy legacies were the national minimum wage, which he strongly supported as both shadow Chancellor and leader; constitutional reform and devolution, including on freedom of information, the Ministry of Justice and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and internal party reforms, including one member, one vote and electoral college revisions, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), a fellow Holyrood boy from Glasgow.

John was known for his commitment to social justice, and his strongest belief was that social justice and economic efficiency went hand in hand, hence the Commission on Social Justice. I am told he believed that party politics was like an aeroplane—you need a wing on the left and a wing on the right, and if you don’t have two wings, the beast won’t fly. Sometimes we forget that in modern party politics, in both the main parties.

John Smith’s incredible wit and debating skills in the Chamber led him to being credited, as we have heard, with provoking the resignations of Leon Brittan over Westland and of Nigel Lawson over Sir Alan Walters, Mrs Thatcher’s economic adviser.

On “Desert Island Discs”, John’s luxury item was a case of champagne. He told Sue Lawley that when he had drunk it, he would send a message in a bottle asking for more champagne. He was tickled to receive correspondence from a member of the public rebuking him for being so stupid for not knowing that you cannot put corks back into champagne bottles. Apparently, he loved that letter.​

I would like to conclude, like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South, by quoting from John Smith’s last leader’s speech to the Brighton Labour conference of 1993. This passage is perhaps a little more tribal than my hon. Friend’s, but this is a measure of the time and of his incisiveness. John said:

“Today I offer the British people a better way and a clear choice: a choice between Labour’s high skill, high tech, high wage economy, and John Major’s dead-beat, sweatshop, bargain basement Britain; a choice between Labour’s opportunity society which invests, which educates and which cares, and the sad reality of neglect, division, and rising crime that is Tory Britain today; a choice between Labour’s commitment to democratic renewal, rights, and citizenship, and John Major’s centralised, secretive and shabby Government.”

In conclusion, we were robbed of a great Prime Minister. Britain would be a different place today if John Smith had been given the opportunity to serve and to lead our country. It is 25 years on, and I sincerely thank my hon. Friend and his supporters for giving the House the opportunity today to remember John and to pay a fitting tribute.