Hilary Benn – 2017 Speech on EU Withdrawal Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Labour MP for Leeds Central, in the House of Commons on 13 December 2017.

I rise to speak to amendment 47, which stands in my name. It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who has shown great resolution, fortitude and reason in the face of unreasonable criticism. We admire him for it.

We are debating the single most important question in the Bill: how the House can exercise its view on the withdrawal agreement in a way that gives us control. ​“Control”—there is a word we have heard before. It resonated throughout the referendum campaign, but when Members start to argue that Parliament should have some control over this process, it seems to send shivers down Ministers’ spines.

Amendment 47 arises from an exchange that I had with the Secretary of State on Second Reading. When I asked him to give us a very simple assurance that clause 9 will not be used to implement the withdrawal agreement until Parliament has had the opportunity to vote on it, he replied:

“It seems to me to be logical”.—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 354.]

What has been set out in today’s written ministerial statement appears to give that undertaking, but if that is what Ministers are prepared to do, why not put that into the Bill? I similarly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that there will be separate legislation to implement the withdrawal agreement, but if Ministers are prepared to give that commitment, we want to see that in the Bill, too, which is why I shall vote for amendment 7.

The question has been asked—I want to ask it, too, because it has exercised the Select Committee—“What is clause 9 now for?” It is a very simple question indeed. Timing and the order in which these things are done are absolutely crucial in this debate, and that point was made forensically and forcefully by the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield. May I suggest a new principle? We often heard it said during reports back from the negotiations that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, so I suggest that we agree that nothing should be implemented until everything is agreed.

The written ministerial statement says something interesting, and rather puzzling:

“The Bill will implement the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement in UK law…Similarly, we expect any steps taken through secondary legislation to implement any part of the Withdrawal Agreement will only be operational from the moment of exit, though preparatory provisions may be necessary in certain cases.”

My simple question for Ministers is this: secondary legislation where, and arising from what? Does this refer to clause 9, which a lot of Members think should no longer be in the Bill, or is it advance notification that there will be provision for secondary legislation under the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill that we have been promised? We need some clarification.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who spoke so ably from the Front Bench, drew attention to the statement by the Secretary of State on 13 November in which he said, in announcing that Bill:

“This confirms that the major policies set out in the withdrawal agreement will be directly implemented into UK law by primary legislation”.—[Official Report, 13 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 37.]

That is very interesting. I must confess that I did not understand the full significance at the time, so will Ministers also enlighten us on this? What are the major policies and what are the minor policies, and in which Bill, and by what means, will those minor policies be implemented?

The next issue of timing is the idea that exit day should be set as 11 o’clock in the evening of 29 March 2019. The Government amendment to implement that proposal would cause all sorts of trouble, not least ​because of the way that this Bill was originally drafted, as the Select Committee heard in evidence from Ministers, who confirmed that they would be able to set different exit days for different purposes. The Committee thought that that seemed to provide a great deal of flexibility, but the amendment would bring that possibility to an end, and in the process bind the Government’s hands to an hour of the clock on a day at the very moment when they may well need maximum flexibility so that they can bring the negotiations successfully to an end. The amendment really makes no sense.

As the Committee said in its report, the proposal would cause “significant difficulties” if the negotiations went down to the wire. Of course, we had the famous evidence from the Secretary of State in which he suggested that the negotiations might go to the 59th minute of the 11th hour, although since then there has been a certain amount of rowing back, because that would not be consistent with the pledge that we have been given. That was why the Committee said that it would not be acceptable for Parliament to be asked to vote after we had actually left the European Union. The timing of all this is absolutely fundamental to making the vote meaningful. A vote may be meaningless unless at some point in the procedure the timing ensures that it is meaningful. We have to get the order right.

Michel Barnier said at the start of the process that he wanted to bring the negotiations to an end next October. We have 11 months to go to deal with a very long list of issues that we have not even started to broach. The agreement that was reached last week, which we welcome, is the easy bit of this negotiation—the really difficult bit is about to begin. Those who had thought that leaving the European Union would be about keeping all the things they liked and getting rid of all the things they did not like are now in for a rude awakening as they come to realise that choices have consequences and trade-offs will need to be made.

Hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), have referred to the question of no deal. Without doubt, there is no majority in the House of Commons for no deal. Of course we hope that there will be a deal, because we want the best outcome for our country, but in the event that it all went wrong and Ministers came back to say, “I’m sorry, but no deal is on the horizon,” and all Parliament could do was to say, “We are going to reject this,” and be left with no other recourse, that would not constitute a meaningful vote, would it, not least because the clock would be running down?

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)

The right hon. Gentleman is getting to the nub of the issue. If a meaningful vote, by his definition, means that Parliament should be able to say to the Government, “We don’t like the deal that you have got, and we’re not accepting no deal, so go back to the EU and negotiate another deal,” what chance does he think there is that those who do not want us to leave in the first place will ever offer a deal that this House could buy into?

Hilary Benn

The hon. Gentleman anticipates precisely the point that I was going to make—[Interruption.] I was. As we have already heard, all the Ministers and ​Prime Ministers who negotiate in this process will say at some point, either in the main forum or in other discussions, “I’ll never get this through my Parliament.” That is the accountability we are talking about. It is called democracy, and it is really important that Ministers, Prime Ministers and negotiators have that thought in their minds when they are negotiating on behalf of the country and the House. In such circumstances, I think the House would first want to ask why we were facing no deal, and it might well wish to give the Government fresh negotiating instructions. The House might want to tell the Government to go back in and say, “On reflection, we would like to suggest that we do the following.” There must be sufficient time for that to take place if we are going to get a reasonable deal.

Another point I want to make—I am conscious, Sir David, of what you said about the time—is that Ministers need to understand why they are having such difficulty with this fundamental debate on the Bill. It has to do with the history of the Government’s handling of the whole process. At every single stage, this House has had to demand our role and our voice. I remember the answer when people first asked what the Government’s negotiating objectives were: “Brexit means Brexit.” When a follow-up question was asked, we were told—

Paul Farrelly

A red, white and blue Brexit.

Hilary Benn

I am still wrestling with the concept of a red, white and blue Brexit, and I did not find it very enlightening.

The second answer was, “No running commentary,” but that eventually had to give way to the Lancaster House speech and a White Paper. Then we asked, “Will Parliament get a vote?” Almost exactly a year ago, when the Prime Minister last appeared before the Liaison Committee, I asked her that question. She was unwilling to give me a commitment on that occasion, but we all pressed, and in the end the Government conceded that there would be a vote.

We argued that there would need to be separate primary legislation to implement the withdrawal agreement, but what did the Government do? They produced this Bill, which says, “No, no. We’ll just do it all by statutory instrument.” That was until amendment 7 appeared on the horizon, at which point the Government changed their mind. If the Committee insists, as I hope it will, on amendment 7 later today, that will be because of our experience of the Government’s handling of the Bill so far. They have not acted in the spirit of seeking consensus, even though the Prime Minister said earlier that that was what she wanted to achieve.

The final point I want to make is simply this. Parliament has no intention of being a bystander in this process. We intend to be a participant, as I have said on a number of occasions, because this decision affects every part of the country, every business and every family. Today’s debate and vote are all about control, which must ultimately rest not in Ministers’ hands but in our hands. It is up to us to make sure that that happens.

Hilary Benn – 2017 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Labour MP for Leeds Central, on 26 June 2017.

The Secretary of State was characteristically confident about the Brexit negotiations when he spoke, but even he would recognise that things are rather different now. Following recent events, the Prime Minister is clearly weaker than she expected to be, and the EU is stronger than many thought it would be. The non-appearance of the “row of the summer”, referred to a moment ago, reminded us all about who is actually in control of these negotiations as we listen to the ever-insistent ticking of the article 50 clock.

In her speech on Wednesday, the Prime Minister promised that she would seek to “build a wide consensus” on Brexit. The words sound good, and our divided nation certainly does need to come together on this great matter. But let us be frank—the last 12 months have been spent doing anything but forging a consensus. Quite the contrary: we got no running commentary when people asked about the Government’s negotiating objectives; it took a recommendation of the Brexit Select Committee to get the Government to publish a White Paper; there was resistance to the need for transitional arrangements, although now almost everyone recognises that these will be necessary; and there was an initial reluctance to concede that Parliament will have the final say on any deal. I would like to think that this new commitment has come because Ministers have reflected on their behaviour and listened, but I suspect that it has much more to do with the outcome of the general election and the chaos that has ensued.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State, I cannot understand why we continue to hear the argument that the Government would be prepared to leave the EU with no deal, given that we now know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not agree with that proposition. He made that absolutely clear in his interview a week ago, when he talked about leaving with no deal as

“a very, very bad outcome for Britain”.

He is right. I gently say to Ministers that the chances of this Parliament’s agreeing to leave the European Union with no deal have melted away, along with the Government’s majority. The question is how this consensus can be built. I echo what the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) said a moment ago.

I welcome the greater detail announced today on EU nationals, although the families affected still need answers to questions, including about what the new simplified system will look like, the cut-off date and how family members, including children, could join them. Earlier, the Prime Minister said:

“After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.”

In responding, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that in such cases, after March 2019, that will involve meeting an income threshold? That is what British citizens currently face. On the oversight of the arrangements and the rights of UK nationals, which we must of course protect, I personally think that a court made up of UK and European judges would be a very sensible way forward.

But let us be clear—the issue of EU and UK nationals is meant to be the simplest, to be sorted out at the start of the negotiations, compared with all the fundamental questions so important to the future of our economy and our country: our trading relationship with the EU; access to the single market; how we will ensure that we continue to have the skills we need for economic growth; public services and the tax revenue that we need to pay for those services; the future of co-operation on foreign policy, defence, security, the fight against terrorism and science and research. On that latter issue, I do not understand Ministers’ reluctance simply to say that they wish to remain part of the Horizon 2020 programme.

Given that the Government’s central aim—indeed, it is the aim of the Opposition—is to maintain tariff-free and barrier-free trade, I also do not understand why the Government have turned their backs on the simplest means of achieving that, which is to remain within the customs union, especially as that would solve the problem of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Perhaps the Government have chosen this path because in practice they know that Britain will probably remain a member of the customs union for some time to come. The Chancellor’s speech at the Mansion House gave a strong indication of that.

No one I have met, Ministers apart, believes that negotiating a new trade and market access agreement will be completed between now and next October. The best that we can look to is an agreement in principle to negotiate such a deal and then transitional arrangements that will cover the period from the end of March 2019 to the conclusion of these negotiations. In the meantime, as the Secretary of State knows, all this uncertainty is profoundly bad for business confidence, as is talking about leaving with no deal.

On the great repeal Bill, Parliament faces a huge practical task in transposing the regulations and decisions, but Ministers need to understand, in the spirit of the new consensus, that the House will enable that to happen only as long as it is crystal clear that no attempt will be made to remove, erode or undermine any of the workers’ rights, consumer protection or environmental standards that the British people have come to value.

Despite what the Prime Minister said, we have to be honest and recognise that there is not currently a consensus on the type of Brexit that we should seek, so the Prime Minister’s commitment will have to be given form through the Government’s actions. I urge Ministers to start demonstrating this new approach to the House, the British people and British businesses. I urge them to listen to the voices of the many and not just those who shouted loudest for leave during the referendum. I urge them to be flexible in their approach. Since we all want tariff-free and barrier-free trade, why do they not at the very least leave the prospect of remaining in the customs union on table, given that the Secretary of State—with, as he described it, his characteristic honesty—said on Sunday he is pretty sure but not certain that he will get the deal that he wants? I also urge Ministers to understand that, as my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State said so eloquently, if their confidence is misplaced, the unhappiness—indeed, the anger—that gave rise to the referendum result will return as people discover that the things that they were promised fail to materialise.

If Ministers do all the things I have mentioned, we may find a way forward. If they do not, this Parliament, be it long or short, is going to be very hard work for them. That is not where we should want to be, given the scale of the task that we face as a country as we all seek to get the best deal that we can on behalf of all the people who so recently sent us here.

Hilary Benn – 2017 Speech on Withdrawal from the EU

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn in the House of Commons on 31 January 2017.

Our relationship with Europe has run like a contentious thread through our politics for more than 60 years, and the referendum revealed a nation that remains divided. Though it pains me to say it, for the reasons so ably set out by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—the Foreign Secretary, who is no longer in his place, was shaking his head throughout that speech, probably because he did not wish to be reminded of the arguments he had included in that other article, which he chose not to publish back in June—we are leaving the European Union, and our task now is to try to bring people together. This means that, whether we voted leave or remain, we have a responsibility to hold in our minds the views, concerns and hopes of everyone in our country, whether they voted leave or remain.

The Supreme Court decided, rightly in my view, that a decision of this magnitude should be made by Parliament and not by the Executive, but with that power comes a responsibility to respect the outcome of the referendum, however much some of us might disagree with it. This is about democracy. This is about faith in our politics, not just in the United Kingdom but across the western world, where—if we are honest—it is not in very good shape. If this Parliament were to say to the people, “You did not know what you were doing, only 37% voted leave, the referendum was only advisory and there were lots of lies”—whether or not we agree with some of those assertions—we really would have a crisis of confidence in our politics, for the reasons so eloquently set out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). That is why the democratic thing to do is to vote for this Bill, and I shall do so tomorrow.

But the referendum decided only one thing: the fact that we are leaving the institutions of the European Union. It did not determine the terms on which we leave or our new relationship with the other 27 member states. That is why we have, as a nation, to get our objectives and the process right as we start this great negotiation. The Government’s handling of this matter so far has not shown sufficient respect for Parliament—notwithstanding the number of times the Secretary of State has come to the Dispatch Box. For several months, Ministers appeared to believe that saying that there would be “no running commentary” and telling those asking for greater clarity that they were not, in the words of the No. 10 spokesperson, “backing the UK team” was the right approach. It was not. Commitments have eventually been made to set out objectives, to seek transitional arrangements, to publish a White Paper and to confirm that Parliament will have a vote—all things that the Exiting the European Union Committee, which I have the honour to chair, called for—but at every stage, far from being freely made, they were reluctantly conceded, usually a day or two after the Secretary of State had resisted them from the Dispatch Box.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend refers to the fact that the Government now say that there will be a vote on the eventual deal. I presume that what they mean is that, under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, there will be a single vote on an unamendable motion in relation to a treaty. I do not think that that is good enough. If the European Parliament—and, for that matter, the Irish Dáil and the French Assemblée Nationale—will have the right to consider such a treaty line by line, this House should have that right as well.

Hilary Benn

I agree with my hon. Friend, but the House must have a proper plan and, in the words of my Front-Bench colleague, a “meaningful” opportunity to scrutinise the agreement in draft, rather than being presented with a fait accompli at the end of the process. This is one example of how the Government have had to be pushed, cajoled and prodded at every stage into giving Parliament its proper role.

I say to the Secretary of State—this may not be his fault—that it is extraordinary that we meet here today, and are being asked to vote on this Bill tomorrow, when not a single Government document setting out the consequences has been published. Seven months after the British people reached their decision, there has been no economic assessment, no analysis of the options, and no White Paper. That is not the way to do things and that attitude must change. The Government need to recognise that Parliament should be not a bystander but a participant in what is probably the most complex and significant negotiation that this country has ever faced. We have to unwind and recast 43 years of relationships with our neighbours. It affects every area of our national life, every part of the country, every person, community and business, and the jobs and incomes on which they depend. It is therefore essential that we have unity of purpose in trying to get the best deal for Britain, despite the inevitable uncertainty of the outcome.

We will come to the issues of substance in Committee and subsequently. What does special access to the single market mean now that the Prime Minister has decided that we are leaving it? How exactly will seeking to remain and leave the customs union at the same time work? If ensuring a continuation of tariff and barrier-free trade is a priority for Ministers, but Europe comes back and says, “You can’t have your cake and eat it. You have to choose,” I trust that the Government will choose to remain in the customs union. The world is more uncertain now than at any time over the past 60 years, so how will we continue to co-operate with our neighbours on foreign policy, defence, security and the fight against terrorism?

Finally, the referendum result revealed something else: two great political forces in the western world are now reflected in our politics. On the one hand, people desire greater devolution and control in a world in which many believe that we barely have any control at all owing to the pace of change in our lives. On the other hand, every single Member of the House, whether we voted leave or remain, understands that in the modern world we have to co-operate with our neighbours to deal with the great challenges that we will face in the years and centuries ahead. Leaving the European Union may change the balance between the two, but it will not change the necessity to embrace both as we look to the future.

Hilary Benn – 2015 Speech at Coventry Rising 15

hilarybenn

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at Coventry Rising 15 on 11 November 2015.

It is a great honour to have been invited to contribute to Rising 15 and to do so on 11 November here in Coventry.

This cathedral – the old and the new – stands as a reminder both of the consequences of war and of the enduring power of faith to inspire.

Two weeks ago I was in Jordan listening to a mother describe how she fled there from Syria with her children after her husband, a baker, was arrested, tortured and killed by President Assad’s forces.

There is not one of us who does not ask why human beings do this to their brothers and sisters? Maybe we shall never know, but there is another question that we can try and answer. What should we do when these things happen ?

I was brought up on the parables of the New Testament, and the one that left the greatest mark on me was the Good Samaritan.

St Luke’s gospel records that it was the question “And who is my neighbour?” that prompted Jesus to tell the story of the man on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho who was robbed and beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.

While the Priest and the Levite both, separately, chose to pass by on the other side, it was the Samaritan who stopped to help.

And having told the story, Jesus then asked his questioner:

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves ?

And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.

Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

I have chosen this parable as my text for today.

When we see the extreme suffering of others, what is our responsibility to our neighbours?

For some, this is an uncomfortable moral choice and they hope it will pass them by.  Some say it is none of our business. Others respond by renouncing violence – an aspiration we should all share – but until all 7 billion of us do so, we have to face up to the effects of violence on its victims.

War is often the handmaiden of poverty and civil wars on average result in 20 years of lost development.

It is no accident that Afghanistan and Somalia have the highest rates of infant mortality in the world.

Both are poor and both have been wracked by conflict.

The causes of war are many. The legacy of colonialism. Resources. Ethnic and regional tensions. Politics. Nationalism. Ideology. Religion. Terrorism.

And in the years to come, we may see added to this list people increasingly fighting over energy, land or water.

So when is it right to act to prevent these things?

Looking back on the Second World War which led to the bombing of this cathedral, did more people die than would have lost their lives if Hitler had not been confronted? Maybe. Was the war an expression of failure? Most certainly. And yet, was the second world war justified?  In my view, it was.

And from its ashes came a determination that such a conflict should never happen again.

Its expression was the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and three years later, the UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 3 states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Article 28 says: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.”

And yet, for millions of people these rights – so nobly expressed – have remained just words on paper.  The refugees from Syria I met in Jordan could not have been clearer. They said simply: “The world has forgotten us”.

Why is this so? Because those affected lack the means to do anything about these conflicts themselves and because we, the rest of the world, lack the will or act imperfectly or not at all.

This will not do.

First, and most importantly, because we should uphold the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They mean something as the ultimate expression of our responsibility to one another. And yet without the rule of law and peace in all countries they mean nothing.

Imagine if the world consisted only of the United Kingdom and someone argued that it would be alright to have peace in Coventry, but civil war in Leeds and genocide in Glasgow. What would we think ?

Of course, this doesn’t happen because these rights are enjoyed in all parts of our country. And yet, we are one world and having created the United Nations, we have a duty to ensure these same rights are available to our fellow humans whichever part of the  planet they were born on

The second reason why this matters is because  interdependence defines the condition of humankind today more clearly than at any other time in human history.

The effects of conflict elsewhere are felt here, whether it is watching it on television, seeing the flow of refugees, feeling the repercussions in our politics or experiencing the impact of terrorism on our own lives. And as the world’s economies become more dependent on each other, the consequences for trade and travel are increasingly serious.

The third reason is that no country can progress while it is mired in conflict.

So those who care most passionately about overcoming the scars of poverty, disease and squalor, must be equally passionate about the part that peace and stability play in helping to bring this about.

And the fourth reason is that new threats beckon.  Unchecked, climate change will affect our future security. If people can no longer live where they were born because their homes are under water or it has stopped raining, then they will do what human beings have done throughout history. They will move in search of a better life. They may be coming to live near you or me. And their number will dwarf anything we have seen thus far.

What recent history teaches us is that whether it was Sierra Leone under the RUF and the West Side Boys, the Rwandan genocide, Kosovo when Muslims were being murdered in Europe’s backyard or Syria today, the world needs to find a way of dealing with crimes against humanity.

In some of these cases we did act; in others we failed.

It is not that the international community does not care. But there is not yet a settled and united will to act, and we lack the capacity to do so in an effective way.

So how can we build this capacity?

One of the problems we face is national sovereignty. A country invading another is one thing, but when terrible events happen within a country some still say that this is an internal matter and none of anyone else’s business.

We used to hold the same view of domestic violence here in the UK. Forty or fifty years ago, if the police were called because of reports that a man was beating up someone in the street, he would be swiftly arrested. But if the victim was his wife or his partner behind a closed front door, then the prevailing attitude was ‘it’s a domestic dispute and not for us to get involved.’

That doesn’t happen anymore. A crime is a crime, and the sovereign state of the kitchen or the bedroom no longer provides any protection against enforcement of the law.

I think we are currently witnessing the world going through exactly the same process internationally for exactly the same reason. An increasing number of voices are saying that leaving people by the roadside of conflict to fend for themselves simply cannot be right.

And so was born the concept of Responsibility to Protect – the idea that the international community does have a responsibility to stop people becoming victims of the most terrible crimes.

Developed by the Canadian Government’s International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001, it led – following Ban Ki Moon’s report on implementing the Responsibility to Protect – to the UN General Assembly adopting a resolution in 2009.

Seeing state sovereignty not as a privilege but a responsibility, R2P seeks to prevent and stop genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. And it explicitly accepts that the international community does have a responsibility to act in certain circumstances.

I support R2P very strongly, but it is not without controversy, so I want to try and address directly the reservations and concerns people raise about it.

The first is authority. Who is to decide what should be done?

For me the answer is clear. It should be the Security Council of the United Nations. That is why we created it. The UN has both a unique responsibility because of its authority and a unique legitimacy.

And yet we see from history that the UN has not always been capable of agreeing on what should be done or of acting effectively when it has.

We have to accept that the veto exists to bind the world’s major powers – the five permanent members of the Security Council – into the United Nations, but with it comes a great responsibility. That is why the French Government has proposed that in cases of mass atrocities permanent members of the Security Council would voluntarily agree not to use their veto. I think this is an important proposal and it should be strongly supported by the UK and others.

But what if the UN will not or cannot act – then what?  Is that an argument for standing on one side?  Not in all cases some would argue, including me, as our support for intervention in Sierra Leone and Kosovo demonstrated. Others, however, take the view that in the absence of a UN mandate there can be no legitimacy for any action.

The second issue is that people fear premature military intervention. That’s why diplomatic and public pressure should always be the first resort. It can work.

Western sanctions have played an important part, for example, in persuading Russia to implement the Minsk Agreement in Ukraine.

We have also learned that a single camera or a single reporter bearing witness to an atrocity – and the shame that can be brought upon those responsible – can have a power equal to a thousand resolutions. The reason why the UK Government changed its mind in September about Britain taking more Syrian refugees was that photograph of little Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying on a beach in Turkey.

The third issue is deciding when states should act.

Agreeing a threshold is difficult and highly contentious and achieving consensus about whether or not diplomatic options have been exhausted is fraught with difficulty. And yet, if we wait for evidence of genocide to become conclusive then it may be too late to do anything or to save anybody.

The fourth issue is practicality. If a decision is taken to act, then who is going to undertake the work? If it involves military intervention, then whose troops will be used?  How many?  Under whose command?  With what resources and what mandate? And what is the plan for after military intervention?

One way of answering these questions is to continue to build capacity regionally to be able to handle  peacekeeping. Was it right for the African Union to take the lead in Darfur and Somalia? Absolutely.

Both because western forces in an Islamic country in those circumstances would not have been accepted and because these were conflicts in Africa’s backyard.

On mandate, peacekeepers need the tools to do the job, and that includes the ability to protect and intervene if necessary under Chapter VII.

Where there are people to protect or a peace to keep, we need more peacekeepers. At present there are close to 125,000 military and civilian UN peacekeepers compared with only 11,000 a quarter of a century ago.

Despite this, there still aren’t enough for all the missions the UN would wish to run, and to the high standards we expect of them. For as well as numbers, there is also the question of training, equipment, and capacity, particularly as regional institutions build their own peacekeeping.

This is an area in which Britain could and should play a much bigger part given the skill, experience and expertise of our armed forces. There are currently just under 300 British peacekeepers contributing to UN missions although another 300 are soon to deploy to South Sudan and Somalia. That simply is not good enough and I call on the Government to set out in the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review how the UK can play a much bigger part in UN peacekeeping in the years ahead.

And when action has been taken, it needs to be followed up with stabilisation, a political process and decent governance. There is no substitute for the parties to a conflict finding their own way out of it.

Lastly, what is the consequence? There are two types of consequence; that of acting and that of not acting.

In the case of Sierra Leone, the outcome of British and UN intervention was beneficial. The country remains poor but it is largely free of violence now and has taken the first steps on the road to recovery.

In the case of Afghanistan, where the world responded to 9/11, the removal of the Taliban enabled about three and a half million of the estimated four million refugees who had fled the country to return. The conflict however continues – many lives have been and are being lost – but the aim remains enabling the elected Afghan government to look after its own security as politics brings a peace settlement.

In Somalia, the American troops who went in to help with humanitarian relief ended up in a gun battle. They were replaced in time by African forces, but despite recent progress, parts of the country remain deeply troubled and insecure as the recent attack by al-Shabab in Mogadishu demonstrated. More positive has been the impact that international co-operation has had on piracy off the country’s coast. And, by contrast, Somaliland shows what can be done if politics is made to work.

For the people of Rwanda the consequence of our not acting was devastating. In 100 days just under one million people were killed – the equivalent of 6 million people being murdered here in the United Kingdom on our street corners, and in our schools and on churches – as the world stood by and watched.

Anyone who has read Romeo Dallaire’s book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil: the failure of humanity in Rwanda’ will weep with him in rage at what happened while we failed to help.

And while the Syrian civil war has continued, over 200,000 people have been lost their lives, half the population have had to flee their homes and the barrel bombing by the regime and brutality of ISIL/Daesh continue.

The world has to be much more effective in dealing with conflicts like this before they turn into brutal and bloody civil wars. The responsibility to protect was meant to be about that, but let us be honest: in Syria, no-one has taken responsibility and nobody has been protected.

Now we do also have to deal with charges of selectivity and, at times, hypocrisy; that we have not been consistent in our choice of when to act, or that countries have chosen to act when there is much at stake for them but not when there isn’t.

It is a reasonable criticism, and it has on occasions force.

And yet the argument that just because you have failed to do the right thing everywhere you should not attempt to do the right thing anywhere is one I find profoundly unconvincing.

Of course, in the case of all conflict, prevention is better than cure. There is nothing more important than putting time, effort and energy in trying to prevent violent conflict in the first place.

Particularly important is the UN’s capacity to mediate and so help the parties to resolve their differences without turning to violence. So we need skilled, readily deployable teams able to go and support peace talks around the world, as Staffan de Mistura and Bernardino Leon are currently trying to do in Syria and Libya.

Few civil wars arise from nowhere. So we need to be better at monitoring and understanding the causes of tension; the exclusion and injustice that makes people angry.

The establishment of the Atrocity Prevention Board by the US Government is a particularly good example of what can be done.

If all this sounds depressing, two decades ago things were much worse. Half of the countries in Africa were then affected by violence – many in regional conflicts across West and Central Africa.

Now, we can look back and say that sub-Saharan Africa was the only region in the world to see a decline in violent conflict at the start of the 21st century.

Much of that is down to the pioneering work of the African Union and its Peace and Security Council. It can deploy military forces in situations which include genocide and crimes against humanity and can also authorise peacekeeping missions. The AU has put troops on the ground in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Darfur, and most recently in Somalia in the form of AMISON – a regional mission operating under a UN mandate

We are getting better at negotiating peace. According to the Human Security Report, the international community has negotiated more settlements to conflict in the last 15 years than in the 185 years previously.

Finally, when all of this is done, we need to end up where we started – with the rule of law so we can call those responsible to account.

That is why the UK has been such a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court. The message it sends is clear and simple. Anyone who is planning crimes against humanity will think twice because they will know that the international community will in the end catch up with them, as Slobodan Milosevic and Radko Mladic both discovered.

The reason why we should want international action at the UN to succeed is that this is all about demonstrating that multilateralism – countries working together – can provide the answer to that uncomfortable question – what is to be done?

And the more it does succeed, the stronger is the argument we can make with those who would act unilaterally that there is another way.

I would like to end on a note of optimism. 100 years ago this year my grandfather William fought in Gallipoli in the First World War. He lost his younger brother in that campaign and his eldest son in World War Two. This is what he wrote about war:

“Is there anyone, now, who will deny that, step by step, warfare degrades a nation? …[Soldiers] know from bitter experiences what militarism really means; its stupidity, its brutality, its waste. They are chivalrous because they have learned the one good thing that war can teach, namely that peril shared knits hearts together – yes, even between enemies. They have mingled with strangers. They know that common folk the world over love peace and in the main desire good will.”

Nearly a hundred years after he wrote those words, they remain true.

Human beings everywhere yearn for peace and if together we can make our politics work in the service of humankind then we will bring nearer the day on which that hope is realised.

Thank you.

Hilary Benn – 2014 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to the 2014 Labour Party conference in Manchester.

Conference, I want to begin by saying thank you.

To all our great Labour councillors and leaders for the work they do to stand up for Labour values in difficult times, to all the members of our team in the Commons and the Lords, and to everyone on the Policy Commission.

Last Thursday the people of Scotland made their decision. They voted against separation, but they also voted for change.

In years to come, this will be seen as a moment in our history when the ground shifted beneath our feet.

A moment – uncertain and exhilarating in equal measure – but also full of opportunity. A moment to lift up our eyes.

We get the message about the distance and, at times, the alienation that too many people feel from politics, and we have a plan to radically transform our political system so that people can see that change is coming.

It is no wonder there is discontent. We see Tory Ministers on the television telling us that the economy is doing fine. There’s nothing to see here. Everything is OK. Move along.

It just shows how out of touch they are.

People working hard day after day, putting in the hours, doing their best for their family, but finding it tough. Pay not rising enough to meet gas and electricity bills.

Nearly one and half million people on zero hours contracts, not knowing from one week to the next how much they will earn and for those on the very lowest incomes, David Cameron’s bedroom tax. Pushing families into a spiral of debt.

It’s a rotten policy that comes from rotten values with no regard for decency and security.

Well, Conference, we have different values. We reject the bedroom tax and we will scrap it.

And what about our broken housing market? Housebuilding at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

Young people doing all they can to save, but knowing that their dream of owning a home is moving further and further out of reach. So they end up renting, and often find themselves paying off someone else’s mortgage, rather than one on a home of their own.

They probably have a short term tenancy and worry that the rent may jump up, even if they get a new contract.

And if their children are about to start primary school, what kind of security and stability is there if they may be forced to move away from friends and neighbours next year?

We all hear these stories, but this government doesn’t get it.

Well we do – and that’s why we are determined to introduce three year tenancies; to put a ceiling on rent increases; to scrap lettings agent fees for tenants; and to build at least 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament.

Because we know that our home is where we feel most secure.

And how will we do this? By being bold and by offering a different kind of politics. By giving people the responsibility to make it happen and the means to do so.

So instead of communities feeling that they can’t influence where new homes go because developers ignore the sites the council has identified, and instead try to build somewhere else.

Instead of communities saying that the design is poor, the rooms are too small, and the GP surgeries, roads and schools won’t be there.

And instead of them thinking that even if the homes are built, that their children or friends or neighbours will never get one of them.

Instead of all of this, we will give communities, as Sir Michael Lyons’ report will recommend, the powers they need to tackle land banking; put together the sites; get the design right; put in the infrastructure; and work with small and medium-size and large builders to build the homes that local people need where local people want.

And Conference, we’ll work with councils so that they can build more council houses.

Let’s be proud of the Labour councils already leading the way and outbuilding Tory councils.

The building of social homes by Labour councils on a scale not witnessed for a generation.

Conference, the problem with housing is a symptom of the problem with our politics. People feel distant from decisions that affect their daily lives. They don’t feel in control and they want a bigger say.

That’s why the ground is shifting. So we will build a new politics that works for people rather than just telling them that’s how things must be.

After all it’s where we started as a movement and how we first won the people’s trust.

Our fellow citizens who went to the polling stations four days ago spoke not only for themselves but for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Labour will honour the promise we made to Scotland and we will offer a new deal to England too.

The people of England have been very patient and in that very English way, they are now saying “Excuse me, but what about us?”

Well, we are listening and that’s why Labour will offer England a new deal that will pass power down, money down, responsibility down.

I want cities and counties, towns and districts, parishes and neighbourhoods to make more decisions for themselves and to have more control over the money they raise and contribute.

But I want that to be fair, because what we have now certainly isn’t.

Look at the shameful and deliberate way the Tories have taken most money away from the most deprived communities.

They’re cutting spending power for every household in the ten most deprived areas in England by sixteen times as much as the ten least deprived. Sixteen times.

They’ve targeted Labour Liverpool and Hackney and Knowsley and Birmingham while at the very same time they’ve actually given increases to Tory Elmbridge, Surrey Heath and Wokingham.

Rotten values once again. It’s not fair and we will change it. We will make sure that the money we have is fairly shared. We will make sure devolution goes hand in hand with redistribution from each according to their ability to contribute, to each according to their need.

That’s why we plan to take £30 billion from Whitehall over five years and pass it to local communities – to city and county regions across the length and breadth of the land to: give them the means to create jobs; help people into those jobs; train them in the skills they need for those jobs, invest in the trams, the buses, the railways and the roads to help them get to work and businesses to thrive, and build the homes for those workers and their children.

That’s why we’ll say to local authorities: “Help us to commission our new Work Programme.”

That’s why we will give local areas control of the funding for further education for 19 to 24 year-olds.

That’s why we will put together the money for health and social care so that local communities can provide better integrated care for the old, and for those with long-term conditions and disabilities.

Why should our mums and our dads be sent to hospital or kept there for want of a grab rail or someone to help them get dressed in the morning?

After all, isn’t that what we want for them, and for us, when our time comes?

And by doing this we will help communities to build a stronger economy, a stronger society and a more equal one too, so that not only does London get investment and flourish, but Leeds and Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle, Sheffield and Bristol, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, Cornwall and Essex.

Our new deal is for all parts of England. Conference, this will be the biggest economic decentralisation in a century. But it won’t be enough.

We will go further in changing the way decisions are made so that we can free local communities, the people of England, to shape their own destiny.

Not something cooked up in corridors of Whitehall, but a deeper, more profound change involving people from every part of the country.

A national debate – leading up to a Constitutional Convention – as fervent and as involved as the one that paved the way for devolution in Scotland.

This isn’t about the long grass; it’s about the grass roots telling us what they want in the long term. A Convention with a purpose.

Change that is a means to an end. No longer “what will you do for me?” but “what shall we do for ourselves?”

The change we need to build the homes, generate renewable energy, create jobs, give our young hope, overcome poverty, care for our community and one another.

So, Conference, change is coming. Change that devolves power but which also binds our country together.

Every part of our United Kingdom – side by side, shoulder to shoulder. England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And despite the cynics and the critics, it’s everyone’s responsibility to stand up for our democracy. To cherish our democracy. To have faith in our democracy because we know it’s how we built the better society we became, and how we will build the better society of tomorrow.

Yes, there is so much more to do, but the next time someone tells you that getting involved, doing your bit, standing up, getting organised, voting doesn’t make any difference, look them in the eye and say “It isn’t true.”

And tell them this. 70 years ago Europe lay in ruins. We had huge debts and money was short, but faced with this, the British people chose to put their trust in us because they wanted to change the country.

It was a Labour government which started building homes for the returning troops and for those whose homes had been bombed, which strengthened the welfare state, and which gave life to our precious National Health Service.

It’s why we will fight to the death to save it.

People came together to change their own lives and the lives of their neighbours. And how did they do it?

By drawing on compassion for each other and a burning desire to make things better, using the most powerful weapon of all in a democracy: ideas; a piece of paper and a pencil. Cross after cross after cross.

That was how the Scottish people made their decision last Thursday and that is how the British people will make theirs next May.

We know how much this matters. We know how hard the fight will be, but conference, we also know that the greatest victories are won in the toughest circumstances.

So let’s give people hope and let’s go out there and win.

Thank you.

Hilary Benn – 2015 Speech to Labour Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to the 2015 Labour Party conference.

Good morning Conference.

I would like to begin by thanking our friend and my predecessor, Douglas Alexander. Douglas gave outstanding service to his constituents and to our Party over many years. We wish him well.

Conference. At the start of this new century, what do we see as we look around our world?

Fewer conflicts. Technology transforming and enriching our lives at a blistering pace. The rise of new global powers. Economic and social advance as trade opens minds. But we still face old problems like poverty and new challenges like climate change.

And one constant remains. The innate human desire to decide for ourselves and our families how we live our lives. The argument for democracy.

This changing world is at times uncertain but it is also full of possibility, and it calls on us to look outwards.

And that’s why the choice the British people will make when they vote in the European referendum will be the most important decision for 40 years about our place in the world.

Thank you Alan for leading Labour’s campaign to stay in and thank you Glenis and our MEPs for the important work you do.

Together we believe that Britain’s future lies in Europe because whatever the disagreements of today or the changes we want to see tomorrow, it has given us jobs, investment, growth, security, influence in the world and workers’ rights.

Don’t mess with them, Prime Minister, but be assured that if you do, a future Labour Government in Europe will restore them. We will not be part of a race to the bottom.

Above all Europe has brought peace to our continent; a continent that has seen enough graveyards filled with the flower of generations who gave their lives in war.

In our party, in our movement, we understand that our responsibilities extend beyond Britain’s shores. From the struggle against Franco’s fascism in the 1930s to the defeat of Nazi Germany; from the fight against apartheid in South Africa to the protection of the people of Kosovo and Sierra Leone, we have always been proud internationalists.

Proud to stand in solidarity with those in trouble.

And determined not to walk by on the other side of the road.

And so, despite all the progress that humankind has made, when we see the five remaining giant evils of our time – disease, inequality, oppression, war and environmental damage – we have a moral duty to act.

Earlier this summer we looked in horror at that photograph of Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach, and our eyes filled with tears.

I think we all felt ashamed. This small and precious child had his whole life before him when his desperate family – victims of a civil war that is raging through Syria – stepped into that boat in search of a better life. They had fled from Kobane – a city in which the BBC reports “every building, home, shop and street is ruined.”

Each death in this conflict is a rebuke to the world for its failure. We believe in the responsibility to protect, but in Syria no-one has taken responsibility and no-one has been protected.

Nearly half the population are today no longer living where they were when the civil war broke out.

Seven and a half million people are internally displaced.

Four million have fled the country.

That’s why this is the great humanitarian crisis of our age.

Britain is second only to the United States in the generosity of its humanitarian aid.

But that makes it all the more shocking that David Cameron thought that our nation had already done enough when he turned away and said we would not take in any more refugees.

It was the British people who changed his mind, and now we must change his mind again to offer shelter, not just to families still in the region, but also to the most vulnerable already here in Europe.

After all, why is a child now in Greece who has safely made the same perilous journey that claimed little Aylan Kurdi’s life any less deserving of our help than a child still in a Syrian refugee camp?

It is a false choice for the Prime Minister to say we shouldn’t. He’s wrong. We should help both.

And it is not just the bloody terror of President Assad they are fleeing. It is also ISIL/Daesh whose brutality is as indiscriminate as it is mind-numbing.

In Syria and Iraq, they have killed Muslims and Christians alike.

Stoned people to death.

Thrown gay men off buildings.

Raped girls and women and sold them in markets.

Cut the heads off brave humanitarians who only came to help.

If doing something about this crisis is not one of the great tests of our age, then what is?

And just as the first responsibility of any government is to ensure the security of its people and to be prepared to defend our nation from those who would do us harm, so we are right to be offering air support to the Government of Iraq in trying to defeat ISIL/Daesh, but let me be clear we do not want British boots on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about airstrikes in Syria, but to bring peace, stability and security there we need a much broader, more comprehensive plan than just trying to deal with ISIL/Daesh.

This will require political, diplomatic and humanitarian will too.

This week the United Nations General Assembly is meeting in New York for the world leaders’ debate.

Presidents Obama, Putin, Xi Jinping and Rouhani will be among those speaking, but it seems that the UK’s contribution will be made by the Foreign Secretary and not by David Cameron.

I say to the Prime Minister today that that’s just not good enough. Given the scale of the crisis in Syria he should be staying on in New York and straining every sinew to secure a comprehensive United Nations Security Council Resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter calling for:

Effective action to end the threat from ISIL/Daesh;

The creation of Safe Zones in Syria to shelter those who have had to flee their homes;

The referral of suspected war crimes to the International Criminal Court;

Increased humanitarian aid to those who have fled to neighbouring states;

An international agreement for countries to welcome their share of Syrian refugees; and
A major international effort bringing together Russia, Iran, the neighbouring countries, the Gulf states, the United States of America and Europe to agree a post-civil war plan for Syria.

It is no longer good enough for the world to say “this is too difficult.”

Instead we must say “this has got to stop” so that the people of Syria can go home, rebuild their country and give hope to their children for a better future.

Conference, we live in an increasingly interdependent world in which what happens in one country – as we have seen this summer – will increasingly affect those of us who live in another.

We are 7.2 billion people today. By the end of this century we will be 11 billion.

And so, whether it is how we are going to overcome conflict, or poverty or climate change there is a truth we must face.

If people can no longer live where they were born and brought up because their homes are under water or their crops have failed because it has stopped raining.

If young people having had the chance to go to school, discover that there is no job for them afterwards.

If disease means that a mother thinks ‘if only I could get to a country with good health care than I could save my child’s life.’

If people experience these things and think these things, then they will try to move to find a better life.

It is after all what human beings have done since the dawn of time.

The reason why we stand against this inequality in life chances is not only because it is morally right, but also because continuing inequality in our world in this century is unsustainable.

And so, the fight for freedom from disease, inequality, oppression, war and environmental damage is our fight.  It is the challenge of our age.

We can end conflict. Look at Angola, look at Northern Ireland, look at what is happening in Colombia today.

And we must end the conflict in the Middle East, where it is now time for the Palestinian people to have their own state so that they and the people of Israel can live in peace.

Britain’s voice, Britain’s influence, can and should help make these things happen.

Because those of us who have enjoyed the benefits of progress have a particular responsibility to use that voice and that influence to help others – our friends and neighbours – with whom we share this small and fragile planet.

At this Conference nearly 70 years ago, our Prime Minister Clem Attlee said this:

“We ask for others the freedom that we claim for ourselves. We proclaim this freedom, but we do more. We seek to put it into effect.”

And that is why Conference, as a country we should reject the siren calls of those who would have us turn our backs on the rest of the world.

Instead let us proclaim.

That Britain always has been, is now and always will be an outward facing country.

That Labour always has been, is now and always will be an internationalist movement.

And let us stand together – a Party united – ready to play our part in building a better world.

Hilary Benn – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

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Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

Before I respond to the debate, I would like to say this directly to the Prime Minister: although my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I will walk into different Division Lobbies tonight, I am proud to speak from the same Dispatch Box as him. He is not a terrorist sympathiser. He is an honest, principled, decent and good man, and I think the Prime Minister must now regret what he said yesterday and his failure to do what he should have done today, which is simply to say, “I am sorry.”

We have had an intense and impassioned debate, and rightly so given the clear and present threat from Daesh, the gravity of the decision that rests on the shoulders and the conscience of every single one of us, and the lives that we hold in our hands tonight. Whatever decision we reach, I hope that we will treat one another with respect.

We have heard a number of outstanding speeches. Sadly, time will prevent me from acknowledging them all. I would just like to single out the contributions, both for and against the motion, from my right hon. Friends the Members for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and for Wakefield (Mary Creagh); my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden); my hon. Friends the Members for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood); the hon. Members for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), and for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat); the right hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie); and the hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey).

The question that confronts us in a very complex conflict is, at its heart, very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the cruel yoke of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger that we face from Daesh. It could just as easily have been London, Glasgow, Leeds, or Birmingham and it could still be. I believe that we have a moral and practical duty to extend the action that we are already taking in Iraq to Syria. I am also clear—and I say this to my colleagues—that the conditions set out in the emergency resolution passed at the Labour party conference in September have been met. We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states

“to take all necessary measures…to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL… and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.

The United Nations is asking us to do something; it is asking us to do something now; it is asking us to act in Syria as well as in Iraq.

Mr Baron

rose—

Hilary Benn:

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, it was a Labour Government who helped to found the United Nations at the end of the second world war. Why did we do so? It was because we wanted the nations of the world working together to deal with threats to international peace and security, and Daesh is unquestionably that. Given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, and that such action would be lawful under article 51 of the UN charter—because every state has the right to defend itself—why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations, particularly when there is such support from within the region, including from Iraq? We are part of a coalition of more than 60 countries, standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose the ideology and brutality of Daesh.

We all understand the importance of bringing an end to the Syrian civil war, and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. Those are our best hope of achieving a ceasefire—now that would bring an end to Assad’s bombing— leading to a transitional Government and elections. That is vital, both because it would help in the defeat of Daesh and because it would enable millions of Syrians who have been forced to flee to do what every refugee dreams of—they just want to be able to go home.

No one in the debate doubts the deadly serious threat that we face from Daesh and what it does, although we sometimes find it hard to live with the reality. In June, four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. In August, the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Asaad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. In recent weeks, mass graves in Sinjar have been discovered, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex. Daesh has killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia; 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane; 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruç; 130 people in Paris, including those young people in the Bataclan, whom Daesh, in trying to justify its bloody slaughter, called apostates engaged in prostitution and vice. If it had happened here they could have been our children.

Daesh is plotting more attacks, so the question for each of us and for our national security is this: given that we know what it is doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security? If we do not act, what message will that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much, including Iraq and our ally, France? France wants us to stand with it, and President Hollande, the leader of our sister Socialist party, has asked for our assistance and help. As we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq, where Daesh’s hold has been reduced, and as we are doing everything but engaging in airstrikes in Syria, should we not play our full part?

It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so: the House should look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq. It will remember that 14 months ago, people were saying that it was almost at the gates of Baghdad, which is why we voted to respond to the Iraqi Government’s request for help to defeat it. Its military capacity and freedom of movement have been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Of course, airstrikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference, because they give it a hard time, making it more difficult for it to expand its territory. I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today acts with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh, which targets innocent people.

On the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there has been much debate about the figure of 70,000, and the Government must explain that better. But we know that most of those troops are engaged in fighting President Assad. I will tell Members what else we know: whatever the number—70,000, 40,000, 80,000—the current size of the opposition forces means that the longer we leave it to take action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number. So to suggest that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war has come to an end is to miss the urgency of the terrorist threat that Daesh poses to us and others, and to misunderstand the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes that is proposed.

Of course we should take action—there is no contradiction between the two—to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money, fighters and weapons, of course we should give humanitarian aid, of course we should offer shelter to more refugees, including in this country, and yes, we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.

I accept that there are legitimate arguments, and we have heard them in the debate, for not taking this form of action now. It is also clear that many Members have wrestled and, who knows, in the time that is left may still be wrestling with their conscience about what is the right thing to do. But I say the threat is now and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces.

We heard powerful testimony earlier from the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) when she quoted that passage. Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative in London, said last week:

“Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq overnight and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan Region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France and the actions of our own Peshmerga saved us… We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We have pushed them back and recently captured Sinjar …Again Western airstrikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.”

That is the argument for treating the two countries as one if we are serious about defeating Daesh.

I hope the House will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road. We are faced by fascists—not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this Chamber tonight and all the people we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy—the means by which we will make our decision tonight—in contempt.

What we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. It is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists, trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It is why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. My view is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. That is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight. [Applause.]

Hilary Benn – 2010 Speech to Labour Party Conference

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Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn to the 2010 Labour Party conference.

Conference,

I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to you Michael, the members of the Policy Commission, and to the ministerial team who served in Defra – Jim, Huw, Dan, and Bryan – and Joyce, John and Emma who have joined us since May for everything you’ve done.

As Ed said on Tuesday politics is about our values. It’s about wanting to change things for the better. About what we do when we have the chance.

The financial crisis taught us a painful lesson. Take things for granted. Get things out of balance, and they become unsustainable.

Conference, we cannot – we must not – le t the same thing happen to our planet.

We have to leave behind the view that we must choose between the economy and the environment.

That it’s a case of head against heart.

It is not a choice; in the times ahead a strong economy will be built on a strong environment.

And that is why our task is to look to the future.

Now some will say ‘it’s too difficult’. Others will say ‘now is not the time’.

We must reply with confidence that we’ve faced big challenges before.

Our party was founded by the trade unions because the biggest challenge of that age was for us to make the economy – to make life – fair for working people.

From that single powerful idea was born a movement – a movement to protect workers in the mills and factories, to give every child the chance to go to school, to win the right to free medical care when we are ill, and to end the scandal of £1.50 an hour jobs by bringing in a minimum wage.

Yes there’s more to do, but let’s celebrate how our politics changed people’s lives for the better.

This century’s challenge – however – is a different one. How do we sustain a strong and successful and fair economy on our small and fragile planet when the world’s climate is changing?

Where resources – oil and water – are becoming scarce.

Where the population is growing and there will be more mouths to feed.

Where poverty and inequality and disease still scar the lives of many.

The big question of our age is how do we make our planet fair.

Now, we did a lot in government when we had the chance.

The world’s first climate change legislation.

Two new national parks.

A huge increase in recycling.

Putting food production at the heart of our future security.

Producing more electricity from offshore wind than any other country in the world and feed-in tariffs so that peo ple can generate renewable energy at home.

Winning the fight to stop the products of illegal logging from coming into Europe.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act which will protect the wonders that lie beneath our seas around Britain and create a coastal path for everyone to walk and to enjoy.

Every one of these was once just a dream, but it was our values and our politics that made them happen.

It was a Labour Government that made them happen.

What a contrast with the Coalition Government.

David Cameron tells us we are all in this together. Really? If that’s so, then why are you determined to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. For 70 years it has ensured a fair deal and fair pay for farm workers, overtime rates, standby allowances, bereavement leave.

Even Mrs Thatcher did not dare do this.

All in this together, Mr Cameron ? No. This is a shabby little plan and we will oppose it every step of the way.

A government that says it is compassionate. Really? It wants to bring back the barbarous spectacle of fox and stag hunting, and hare coursing to our countryside. Mr Cameron, this isn’t compassion. It’s animal cruelty and we will oppose it every step of the way.

A government that claims to be the greenest ever but is undermining confidence in feed-in tariffs, dithering on the renewable heat incentive, says it’s alright to go on throwing waste into landfill when it could be recycled, reducing funding for our national parks, abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission, and is about to unveil cuts that will surely affect farming and the natural world.

Cuts that will affect the lives of our children and our grandchildren.

For what does the natural environment give us?

Clean water. Clean air. Food. Fuel. Plants for medicines. But once we start to lose plants or species, they can disappear for ever and no amount of money can bring them back.

That’s why we must protect them every step of the way.

Greenest Government ever, Mr Cameron? No. That’s just empty words from a government devoid of optimism.

And why do we need optimism?

Because what we do about climate chang e and about the loss of forests and habitats is not only about protecting nature’s capacity to inspire and to lift our spirits.

It is also about the biggest – and oldest – cause of all.

Conference. We must build a world that is just.

We must build a world that is fair.

Because those who have least are already feeling the costs and the consequences of our changing climate.

From the floods in Pakistan to the drought in Kenya.

From the melting of the ice sheets to crops ravaged by disease.

From the erosion of soil to the felling of forests that takes from people their food, their fire wood and the chance to shelter from the heat of the mid-day sun.

It’s why we need a climate deal in Cancun.

It’s why we need to invest in renewables.

It’s why we need to put down our axes and pick up our shovels to plants saplings and grow trees.

And we will not be immune either.

Remember the heatwave in Europe seven years ago. It killed thousands.

Remember the flooding in Hull, Sheffield, Tewksbury and Cockermouth.

Imagine what rising sea levels would do to our coastal towns and communities.

Conference – the earth is trying to tell us something and our future existence depends on us using its gifts in a way that can be sustained in the years and centuries ahead.

In a way that will create new jobs.

In a way that will give life to new industries that can both lead the world and lead the change we must make.

And this change will require purpose, determination and, yes, optimism.

That’s how we secured our greatest achievements as a Party and that’s how we will do so again.

And that’s exactly what Sadiq and I saw last week at the Olympic Park in East London.

Environmental sustainability at the centre of every decision and every building.

New homes.

New jobs.

Renewable energy.

Green spaces for all to enjoy.

A community transformed, and an infectious sense of enthusiasm.

And if we can do all of these things there, then we can do them everywhere.

A future not of hairshirts and backward glances.

But a future of possibilities, where by using technology, design, imagination, passion, commitment – and all the skills of all the people – we can build a new Jerusalem of green and pleasant lands.

It’s what Labour has done before.

It’s what Labour does best.

And it’s what – now – together we must do.

Hilary Benn – 2012 Speech to Labour Party Conference

tonybenn

Below is the text of a speech made by Hilary Benn to the 2012 Labour Party Conference on 4th October 2012.

Good morning Conference.

I want to begin by thanking Dave Sparks for his leadership of our LGA Group.

Our great CLG team in Parliament – Jack Dromey, Helen Jones, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Chris Williamson, Paul Blomfield, Nic Dakin, Bill McKenzie and Jeremy Beecham for everything that they do.

And I want especially to thank – as I am sure you will too – our 6,000 Labour councillors, including the 824 elected in our great victories this year, who do such an outstanding job in cities, towns and villages up and down the country flying the Labour flag.

As we come to the end of our Conference, the message we take home with us has to be one of hope.

Why? Because at a time when people are really worried about what all this economic uncertainty means for them and their family’s future, the biggest threat we face is not the scale of the challenge.

No. It is that too many people feel that too many decisions are being taken too far away from them.

It is that people may lose faith in the capacity of politics to do something. To change things. To transform lives.

Now we know that it does. And we know that when you transform one life, you start to transform a community.

And why do we know it. Because our history teaches us so.

Just think what we have achieved as a country, as one nation. Look back 200 years to when poverty, disease and slums scarred our land. What changed that here in Manchester? Social conscience, civic pride, collective endeavour – people who did something extraordinary.

They brought gas and electricity, and schools and hospitals.

They opened the first public parks.

They built homes.

They provided the clean water and the sewers that did more than anything else to defeat disease and increase life expectancy.

And a century ago in David Cameron’s constituency – and I bet he wouldn’t know the answer to this question about British history – the Workers’ Union set up a new branch in Witney, not to campaign for a cut tax for millionaires, but for a fair deal, a living wage: the Just Reward of Our Labour.

And none of these peoples waited to be told what to do by Whitehall. They looked around them, saw the problems, decided what needed doing and they got on with it.

And that’s exactly the spirit of Labour in local government today – a spirit we should celebrate.

Now let’s face it, these could not be tougher times for councils.

They have been singled out for cuts in funding that are unjust and unfair, and in true Tory style the poorer the area, the bigger the cuts.

All in this together, Mr Cameron? You’ve no idea what that means, do you?

Now while Labour councils are fighting for a fair deal for their communities, they are also facing impossible, agonising choices.

But with a quiet and steely determination, they are making those choices not because they don’t care, but because they do.

To choose is to express our Labour values and to show that we can make a difference to people’s lives.

And so, while Labour may not be in government nationally, we are in government locally and we’re gaining more councils.

By winning the public’s trust.

By showing the Labour difference.

By proving, however tough it gets, that we don’t write people off. We stretch out a hand and pull each other up.

One thing we did in Government to pull young people up was our Educational Maintenance Allowance . The Tories and the Lib Dems scrapped it.

I’d like to welcome Cllr Nick Forbes, Labour Leader of Newcastle, to tell us what they are doing to help the young people affected in their city.

Nick.

[Cllr Nick Forbes, Labour Leader of Newcastle City Council:

Educational Maintenance Allowance was just one of the many socially progressive measures introduced by Labour. It helped thousands of young people to stay longer in education, meaning they could improve their skills and increase their job prospects. And, because it was targeted to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it helped with social mobility.

I know how important it was to young people in Newcastle, because they marched through our city centre in their thousands when it was scrapped.

We were determined to do something to help. So we worked with our local schools – this one, Benfield, is just one of the many schools rebuilt by the last Labour Government – and introduced our own version of EMA, which we called the Newcastle Bursary. Let me tell you about some of the people it has helped.

Lucy was knocked down in Year 9 and has suffered extensive and on-going surgery ever since. She did quite well at GCSE and is determined to go to university, and would be the first to do so in her family. She is progressing well academically with good AS grades and the bursary has helped her with travel and study costs.

Jamie lives with his granddad in Byker. They really struggle financially. He did not do well at GCSE with a few E and F grades but in Sixth form he has not missed a single lesson! The bursary has allowed him to carry on with his education; without it he would not have been able to stay on. He passed his BTEC last year and is now studying ICT at A level, as well as progressing with English and Maths qualifications.

Our bursary has meant that these young people, and hundreds like them, can afford to stay in education. I am proud to say that this is a real difference that we have been able to make.

Because we believe no one should be overlooked, no one should be left behind. And no one should be denied opportunities simply through the circumstances of their birth and upbringing. That’s the difference a Labour council makes, and how we are doing our part in rebuilding Britain.]

Thanks Nick.

There you are.

Practical help to bring out the future talent of our country – the next generation. That’s the Labour difference.

Now once those young people have completed their studies, what awaits them? Youth unemployment over a million. No experience, no job. No job, no experience.

So in my city Leeds, council leader Keith Wakefield has brought together the City College, Jobcentre Plus and local employers to help 600 young people get their careers started. By offering them what they really want – advice, training and, most of all, work experience.

And in November they’ll be launching the Leeds Apprenticeship Agency. Why? Because the council listened to small businesses who said: we want to take on apprentices, but we’re worried about employment liabilities and all the administration.

So the council said, ok, we’ll create a company to take on those responsibilities, so your company can take on those apprentices. A Labour council working with small businesses to make a big difference.

Now, one area where jobs have been badly hit is construction.

House building is falling. Because of the Government’s failed economic policy, people can’t get mortgages. They can’t raise deposits. And so developers aren’t building.

And it’s all very well Nick Clegg talking last week about wanting to build lots of new homes but where was he when his Government slashed the affordable housing budget by 60% and the number of affordable housing starts collapsed by more than two-thirds.

Now you’ve started saying sorry – how about apologising for that Nick ?

But while the Government is cutting, Labour is building. Let’s hear now what Labour Islington is doing about it from Cllr James Murray, Executive Member for Housing and Development.

[Cllr James Murray, Islington Council:

Conference, if you’ve been to any fringe meetings about housing this week you will have heard lots of speakers saying our country needs more homes.

That is certainly true in Islington. But, for us, it is vital that if we’re building more homes, they need to be the right kind of homes. They need to be decent, secure, and affordable homes.

And in Islington, a desperate need we have is for more social housing.

We have 3,000 families living in overcrowded council housing.

Take the example of Leslie Hynes, who lives and works near the Arsenal tube. He was living with his wife and four-year-old daughter in a one-bed council flat above some disused garages that were just a brick wall onto the street.

But after Labour won control of Islington Council in 2010, we got on with converting the ground floor garages under his flat, and the space at the ends of his block, into 23 new council homes.

And so this summer, through our local lettings policy for new council homes, Leslie and his family moved the short distance from their overcrowded flat upstairs, to a new 2-bed flat downstairs with a garden.

Their daughter now has her own room, and the family is now living in a new high-quality home with a secure tenancy at a social rent.

This is just one of the projects we’ve been working on. We are building new council housing now, and have plans for hundreds more homes over the coming years.

And we are working with housing associations to bring the number of new affordable homes well into the thousands. We have a plan where we give them land and then they build homes for social rent.

The Tories and Liberals in government want to raise social rents to near-market levels – that would triple the cost of the average council 2-bed in my borough. We’ve said no to this. That would be no use to Leslie and his family. That would destroy the mix of housing that Islington needs to work socially and economically, and that makes the borough fairer.

So, we are stepping in where we can: we know what Islington needs, we are confident how we’re going to get there, and we know we are making a difference.]

Thanks James for helping the Hynes family. They now have a place they can really call home this Christmas.

That’s one Labour difference in housing. Here’s another. Many older people wouldn’t mind moving into a smaller home, but they don’t want a one bedroom flat. Why? Because they might need a carer to come and stay with them or they want their son or daughter to come and visit.

So Labour Sandwell listened. ‘Fair point’ they said, and so now they are building 2 bedroom bungalows on the same estates – this one is in West Willows, Great Barr – so that residents can move there and still have someone to come to stay over. And because of that they are releasing 2, 3 and 4 bedroom properties to let to families on the waiting list. Good idea eh?

And what are the Tories doing? Taking away people’s housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom. A shameful attack on families, carers and people with disabilities, whose homes have been adapted.

Now Conference you’ve been telling us “Build more homes”. We hear you.

When you’re in recession the best way is to build yourself out of it.

And that’s why this week we’ve said: use the money from the 4G auction to build 100,000 new affordable homes to take people off the waiting lists and thousands of unemployed building workers off the dole queue.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

But we also need an economy that is fair.

When households are feeling the squeeze, it’s hardest for those on low pay.

I’d now like to invite a guest to speak to us Conference.

Not a Labour councillor, but someone who is benefiting because of a choice made by Labour councillors.

Will you please give Elaine Hook a warm welcome.

[Elaine Hook:

My name is Elaine Hook. I am a cleaner employed by Birmingham City Council. I take pride in my work. And I work hard. I love my job.

Labour took control of Birmingham City Council in May. The very first thing they did was to introduce the living wage. No council worker now earns less than £7.20 per hour. That’s a big difference from the minimum wage of £6.08 per hour.

It’s made a real difference to me. It’s made it easier to pay the bills. It’s really helped improve my quality of life. And there are over two thousand five hundred lower paid workers like me. My colleagues who benefited are dinner ladies, catering staff and street cleaners.

So, I’d like to thank the council and the Labour Party for helping me and other workers like me – who now get a decent wage, a living wage. Thank you.]

Thank you very much Elaine and thanks to Albert Bore and his team in Birmingham for making that difference.

And you know what Conference?

People like Elaine are benefiting up and down the country because it’s not just Labour Birmingham that’s paying the Living Wage; it’s also Labour Preston, Oxford, Lewisham, Islington, Camden, Lambeth, Hackney and Glasgow.

And more Labour councils are on the way. So let’s applaud all of them for making that Labour difference too.

So that is the difference.

The Tories got rid of EMAs. Labour Newcastle steps in to help.

The Tories put youth unemployment up. Labour Leeds provides apprenticeships.

The Tories slashed the affordable housing budget. Labour Councils are building new homes.

The Tories punish people for having a spare bedroom. Labour Sandwell provides one for its pensioners.

Rail fares and heating bills are up while the Tories want to drive wages down by paying council cleaners in one part of the country less than someone doing the same job elsewhere.

Shameful. What are Labour Councils doing ? They’re trying hard to pay a living wage.

Who said politics doesn’t make a difference. Who said we are all the same. Not true.

And when people ask us ‘what would you do?’, look them in the eye, and reply ‘Look at what we are doing’.

So let’s be proud, let’s celebrate the difference that Labour is making in local government.

That’s the message we’ve got to take into next May’s County Council elections.

Now one of the places we are fighting hard to win is here in Lancashire.

Please welcome our last contributor Jenny Mein, the Leader of the Labour Group, who is going to tell us about the difference she wants to make.

[Cllr Jenny Mein, Lancashire County Council:

It is a privilege to speak to Conference about our campaign in Lancashire to regain control of the County Council.

I want to talk about the difference that a Labour Lancashire will make and just how important our County Council campaign is.

The Tories in Lancashire are letting people down.

Our young people have seen cuts to the youth service, our disabled have seen the cost of their day care services increase by 700 per cent and our older people are being priced out of community centres.

Lancashire is being let down by a Tory government in Westminster and the Tory county council is hurting our residents.

Lancashire was once a place where everybody mattered and Lancashire Labour want to make it that way again.

A Labour controlled Lancashire will work with local businesses, the third sector, trade unions, schools and colleges to stop a generation of our young people from being thrown on the scrap heap.

A Labour Lancashire will give every young person a chance in our County and our priority will be to tackle youth unemployment.

As one of the largest employers in the County, Lancashire Labour needs to take the lead in ensuring a living wage economy, and a Labour controlled Lancashire will deliver a living wage for its employees.

We believe in the power of the living wage and will use our influence across the County to improve the living standards of thousands of Lancashire residents. We congratulate colleagues in Birmingham and as Elaine shows, we can make a real difference.

To achieve this, we know that we must work hard and campaign harder than ever before.

We have made over 100,000 contacts already this year and have delivered over 1/2 million pieces of literature for our Operation Red Rose campaign.

But we still need to do more.

So, if you’ve got any spare time over the coming months we would love to extend a warm Lancashire welcome to you all!]

Thanks Jenny. I’ll come. Conference will you?

So, as we leave here today we’ve got counties to win next year and a mayoral election in Bristol this November so that Marvin Rees can introduce a living wage there too.

But Conference, while we do so, remember this.

Everything we’ve just heard about is a testament to local ideas. Local commitment. Local action.

We need more of it, and yet too much power in England is still wielded in Westminster, and if we are honest we have been too wedded to that way of doing things in the past. That needs to change. We really need to change.

And do you know what? There’s nothing to fear and there’s everything to gain.

Because our job is to give people locally the tools they need to do their job.

Decisions taken closer to the people, by the people.

And there’s so much that needs doing. Just look around us.

Improving people’s health so that life expectancy doesn’t fall with income.

Making sure that broadband – the artery of economic development in our century – is available everywhere.

Generating renewable energy on our roofs to help reduce people’s bills and look after the planet.

Caring for a growing elderly population, so that we can remain independent and be looked after in our own homes, as Sandwell is doing.

Building decent affordable homes for families like Leslie Hynes’, as Islington is doing.

Helping more people like Elaine by paying a Living Wage, as Birmingham is doing.

And as we do all these things, as we give people hope, so confidence will build in us and in Labour politics.

200 years ago the circumstances may have been different, but our mission – what we are about – has not changed.

And we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you as – together – we get to work.

Hilary Benn – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference

tonybenn

Below is the text of the speech made by Hilary Benn to the 2011 Labour Party conference on 29th September 2011.

Good morning Conference. Can I begin by thanking my team Helen Jones and Paul Blomfield – Paul it’s great to see you back fit and well – and all our MPs for the work they do taking the fight to the Government in the House of Commons.

Ed’s great speech on Tuesday reminded us that politics – like life – is about the choices we make. It’s about the values we uphold. And nothing matters more right now than the economy.

Where we got it wrong – like on bank regulation – we’ve held our hands up. But everyone else got it wrong too. George Osborne used to complain not that we weren’t doing enough on the banks but that we were being too tough on them. He was wrong then and we’ll take no lectures from him.

And he was wrong again when those frightened people were queuing up outside the branches of Northern Rock to ask for all their money back. Now when that happens – your banking system is on the point of collapse.

And the real test of politics is not what you do when times are easy but the choices you make when times are tough. And we made the right choice. I rang my father up that day and said “Dad, you know you always told me that we should nationalise the banks. Well I’ve got some news for you”

And why did we do it ? Because we made a choice to protect people’s savings, to protect people’s jobs and to protect people’s homes, and for that we should never apologise.

And it’s exactly the same choice we face today when a new crisis threatens. Do you act or do you stand on one side. And whose side on you on?

Every day in the House of Commons we face a Tory Government kept in office by the votes of the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg.

They’re not a happy bunch.

Tim Farron wants out, and Chris Huhne is after his boss’s job. He thinks Nick Clegg should go off to be an EU Commissioner – indeed he’s so keen on the idea that he’s offered to drive him to Brussels himself.

And why are they unhappy? Well we know why.

Cancelling the loan to Forgemasters, not backing Bombardier in Derby where British skill and British engineering has been building trains for 170 years, and tuition fees. Nick Clegg made a promise. He broke it. And that’s why people will never trust the Lib Dems again.

Now, beating the Lib Dems is pleasure – and we should thank them for the help they’re giving us – but Conference beating the Tories is business.

Look at what they’re doing to the economy. Growth is flatlining. Unemployment is rising. And that’s going to make it harder to pay off the deficit.

Look at their broken promises.

David Cameron promised to protect Sure Start. But Sure Start centres are closing.

He promised that ministers who came up with cuts to the front line would be sent packing, but instead it’s 16,000 police officers who are going.

He promised no top down reorganisation of the NHS, but now he’s wasting billions on doing just that.

And he actually wants to be able to fine your local NHS hospital up to 10% of its turnover for something called anti-competitive behaviour even though he can’t explain what that means.

That’s the Tories for you. They actually do think that our hospitals are no different from banks or phone companies. Well we know they are different and that’s why the British people will never trust the Tories on the NHS again.

This is a government that’s got rid of EMAs and the Future Jobs Fund at a time when one in five young people can’t find a job.

We have a No 10 adviser who wants to get rid of maternity leave.

A schools Secretary who seems only to be interested in the education of some of our children, when he should be interested in the education of all of our children.

A government department that’s sending out letters to people who are terminally ill warning them that their benefits could be cut in April even though Parliament hasn’t yet approved these changes.

And a Prime Minister who at the same time as taking away childcare tax credits from working mums, wants to abolish the 50p tax rate.

All in in together? No, they’re just interested in a few.

And that’s why people will be looking to us to help them. And so as we head back home let’s be proud of who we are and of how our politics can change things. Just look around this great city of Liverpool to see what we can do.

It’s quite easy to have a go at politicians – and sometimes we deserve it. And yet being an MP or a councillor is an honourable job. It is a privilege to serve the public.

And that’s why all these boundary changes are so wrong and so damaging. For the Tories it’s all about trying to gain party advantage, but for the rest of us they will destroy the relationship between places and communities and their MPs, and we will fight them as hard as we can.

And we won’t allow millions of people to be thrown off the electoral register because of individual registration. Aung San Suu Kyi reminded us this week just how precious the right to vote is. And that right must be protected for all our citizens.

And if anyone says to you – ah, you’re all the same, what’s the point, nothing ever changes – remind them of Labour’s NHS, forged in the aftermath of a world war. Remind them of Labour’s minimum wage and the winter fuel payment. Remind them of the schools and hospitals we built. Remind them of Tom Watson and Chris Bryant’s courage in standing up against Murdoch. Remind them of Ed Miliband’s belief in a something for something society.

And then ask yourself: what would things be like without them ? Do we make a difference? Of course, we do.

And then go out there – ignore the cynics – and look people firmly in the eye and say: we are here to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your community, and in your workplace, and in our Parliament as together we face the future.

And do you know what matters more than anything else? Confidence. Having confidence in ourselves as a nation. Yes, the challenges are great, but if you look around you can see that we have all the skill, passion, innovation, inventiveness, creativity and determination we need.

And when we put the power of our politics at the service of the people, then together we can transform lives and build something better.

Conference, we are now going to hear from someone for whom what we did in Government to support families really made a difference, but also about how her life and her family have been affected by this Government’s dismantling of the help we put in place.

It is a moving story about why politics matters.

She comes from Stone in Staffordshire. It is her first time at Conference.

Will you please welcome Catherine Gregory.