Kenneth Clarke – 2019 Speech on Brexit and Parliament

Below is the text of the speech made by Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, in the House of Commons on 12 June 2019.

Mr Speaker, I am sorry that I surprised you. I am not sure that I wrote in beforehand, but I shall endeavour to be brief. I intend to be brief because there are not many complicated issues here.

The first issue to which I want to respond is the procedural point that the Secretary of State wisely tried to retreat into, citing a few constitutional experts saying how outrageous it is for the House of Commons to try to take control of the Order Paper. Indeed, that very rarely happens but, with great respect to much more distinguished experts than me, such as Vernon Bogdanor, we have already demonstrated once that procedures already exist, which can be used—as they were by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—in very exceptional circumstances, for the House as a whole to take command of a day’s business. Of course, the reason it did not happen for many years is that most Governments have had a comfortable majority on every conceivable subject, so there was not the faintest prospect of their losing control of the Order Paper and nobody challenged them. However, we are in exceptional times and the precedent we have already created is a perfectly valuable one.

Sir William Cash

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?​

Mr Clarke

I will when I have finished my first point.

This cannot bring down the Government. Of course, if the Government are defeated, it will be open to someone to bring a motion of confidence tomorrow. However, at present, the Government would carry a motion of confidence, so all we are doing—the majority of the House, if we do—is insisting that we want to bring some clarity to the present debate, and I would say some sanity. We want to give some reassurance to people in business up and down the country who are very worried, and take the opportunity again to rule out the idea of leaving with no deal. We certainly want to rule out the idea of proroguing Parliament indefinitely, so that the Prime Minister of the day can run a semi-presidential system for a bit and put in place what he or she wants, without any parliamentary majority.

This is not a great threat to the constitutional foundations of the country. This does not actually threaten the future stability of Governments. and I am sure that, if we were in opposition, we would be supporting it without the slightest demur.

Sir William Cash

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke

I will give way, but I am about to finish the procedural point.

In fact, when we were in opposition, David Cameron asked me to chair a committee to advise him on a lot of constitutional issues—with Sir George Young and Andrew Tyrie, who have now moved on to the upper House, and others—and to make recommendations. We actually advocated, and David Cameron in opposition accepted, that we should give the House more control over the business of the House. We started, eventually, this business of the Backbench Business Committee determining the business of the House for a day.

In office, we took a slightly different perspective. I am afraid that was then reduced to the Backbench Business Committee producing harmless motions and the Government never voting on them, with only one-line Whips. In my opinion, one day, there might be a Government and a Parliament so adventurous as to contemplate giving more control to the House as a whole over its own business. However, this Parliament seems to prefer to get steadily weaker, rather than stronger, and I do not think that day has yet dawned. At this stage, as that is all I am going to say on the procedural point, I will give way.

Sir William Cash

On that procedural point, the reality is that Standing Order No. 14 gives precedence to Government business for very good reasons. It is in accordance with our constitutional conventions and the Standing Orders that Government have a majority and that, in those circumstances—[Interruption.] They do. With the confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, we have a Government and that is the point. We have a Prime Minister. This motion does no more than open the door to the possibility that, by some permutation or other, there may be some argument about a prorogation or, indeed, about no deal. But that is not what this motion is about; it is an open-door policy—nothing more or less.​

Mr Clarke

Governments pursue policies for which they have a parliamentary majority. I am going to be brief, so I shall not widen what I think is the very important broader constitutional procedural field.

It is now argued by many people that this Parliament has no powers, really, except when it is passing legislation, and I think that that is what is contemplated here. Unless a statute is passed to change the law, the Government can regard motions in Parliament as a mere expression of opinion. I regard that as nonsense, I regard it as dangerous nonsense, and the sooner it is shot down the better. It has emerged in the last two or three years precisely because Parliament is fragmented: both parties are shattered on several policies, so people are trying again to get round the problems.

Parties form a Government when they can command a majority in a vote of confidence. They can then only pursue policies for which they have a majority in the House of Commons, and continue to have a majority in the House of Commons. It is preposterous to start reinterpreting our unwritten constitution on the basis that no one ever intended that the Government should have to abandon a policy on which it is defeated in the House of Commons. That is complete nonsense. The worst thing to do—because one of the candidates at least fears that she would be defeated if she pursued her policy—is to send Parliament away and have no Parliament at all. I think that I have already made clear, in an intervention, my views on the prorogation point. I think that the sooner the House makes this clear, takes a day to make it clear and to make it illegal to contemplate doing that—and gives Parliament a role to stop it—the better.

Leaving with no deal has, as I recall, been ruled out with increasing majorities on the three occasions on which we have voted on it. With this mad debate going on in the country at the moment, it is obviously high time Parliament reasserted the fundamental basis of what is going on—that there is no majority in the House for no deal. Apart from those who defend the desirability of leaving with no deal, which no one has done in today’s debate so far, I cannot see why people are going to such lengths to resist that.

The Government’s policy, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speaks, is to oppose leaving with no deal. I agree with him that we can say to the Opposition, “Well, we had a deal and you would not let it go through.” I supported the Prime Minister’s latest attempt to surround that deal with suggestions that I think should have been supported by Opposition Members who agree with my hon. Friends and me on a soft Brexit. I have an eccentric view that they would have been supported.

We have all constantly been attending plotting meetings. I have attended meetings at which Labour Members were agreeing to vote for the Second Reading of that Bill. What we were plotting was what amendments we would pass to put in improvements and safeguards. That could have prospered, but I am afraid that the Prime Minister preferred to do all her dealings, all the way through, with the members of the European Research Group. She always made concessions to them and eventually they told her that she had to go, so she said she was resigning. So we are now in this position.

I personally believe—it may be an eccentric belief—that the Prime Minister could have secured a majority for the deal as she had finally modified it, in an attempt to ​get cross-party support. It is obvious that the deal that we all need will only be achieved by any Prime Minister when we face up to the need for cross-party support to get around the party divisions. Both parties must accept that a minority will rebel against any deal that comes forward, but we could probably get a majority of the House to vote down the Labour left and the Tory right and actually pass something that is in the national interest. That, I think, is the main objective that really lies behind today’s debate. To listen to all these arguments about why, for pedantic procedural and textual reasons, we should reject it is, I am afraid, to take—not for the first time—a rather bizarre perspective on the huge and historic events in which we are involved. The House really has to take some control.

My final point is this. It might even improve the quality of the leadership debate that is going on in my party—and it needs to be improved—if we forced some reality into the exchanges between the extremely distinguished candidates who are vying for the privilege of being the next Prime Minister.

Kenneth Clarke – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Ken Clarke, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, in the House of Commons on 27 March 2019.

join those who have congratulated my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on giving us this opportunity. At last we are seeing, as we go along, that the House is moving into a mood where it is going to be possible to end the catastrophic shambles of the last six months. We are beginning to talk about actually being able to take decisions founded on some sort of cross-party consensus and some search for a majority that can be sustained through the difficult and long negotiations that will be required to reach agreement on our final relations with the European Union. It seems to me that it is up to the House to respond to that properly and deal with this procedure, with a willingness to compromise with one another and move towards some eventual binding recommendation to the Government about the way in which things should be conducted in future. I shall certainly approach this in that way.​

My right hon. Friend has also helped the Government, although they are bitterly resistant to what he has done, raising absurd constitutional arguments, which are complete fiction and which they could have remedied easily if they had put down their own proposals for having indicative votes, as they told us that they were going to two days ago. This hair-splitting thing about it being the Government who should table business motions, and not Back Benchers, is a completely piffling irrelevance. He has actually helped them considerably: I have never seen the right-wing members of the European Research Group more apparently panicked by the way the House as a whole is moving. They are demonstrably in a minority, their dreams of a no-deal departure are fading, and despite their frequent meetings with the Prime Minister and their gliding into Chequers at the weekend, they are beginning to peel off one by one, having first rebuffed it.

I congratulate those who put this process together and those Ministers who resigned to get this pressure going and bring us nearer to reality, and I will turn now to the substance of how I am going to vote. As I have said, I will vote not for my first preference—I will when it occurs—but for that which I can live with. Unfortunately, I think we are doomed to leave the European Union within the next two or three years. My duty now is to exercise my own judgment as to what is in the national interest, will minimise the damaging consequences and will perhaps save some of the better features for future generations.

As I have said before, the obvious compromise is, unfortunately, to give up the political European Union and leave the political institution and remain in the common market, as the public still call it—the customs union and the single market—thereby avoiding problems at the borders and for business, ensuring the smooth running of trade, and so on.

Angus Brendan MacNeil rose—

Mr Clarke

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I would like to—I have been collaborating with the hon. Gentleman—but I must take notice of time.

Under such a compromise, we would continue to enjoy the economic advantages of being in the biggest and most prosperous international free trade area in the world and begin to reconcile the 52% with the 48%. Most sensible members of the public, however passionate their views, be they remain or leave, could see the sense in coming together around such a compromise. It was the main Eurosceptic demand 20 years ago: leave the EU but not the common market. If we solved that, we could begin to repair the dreadful political mood in the country.

I will vote for revoke whenever it appears, because that is my personal preference, but that is self-indulgence, and I will support—[Laughter.] If we get a majority, I will be delighted.

Angus Brendan MacNeil rose—

Mr Clarke

I will not give way to my fellow collaborator on revoking.

I will support common market 2.0 and anything that resembles it, though I will not dwell on it further, as I have already dealt with it. I come then to my motion (J). ​As I have already indicated, it is not my first preference—the two I have already named are my preferences—but it is tabled to maximise support in the House so that we can move on Monday towards our really taking control and actually putting the Government, though they do not accept it, in a much stronger position than they are today when it comes to the future negotiations.

Motion (J) advocates a customs union only—a permanent customs union, I point out to the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), who intervened earlier on this point—and would keep the minimum needed for frictionless trade and an open border in Ireland. We would also need some understanding or moves on regulatory convergence, but that does not need to be dealt with at this stage. If we start with the premise that we will be permanently in a customs union, it would bring greater clarity to the next stage—the really important stage—of the negotiations. I think that every other EU member state would be ready to accede to that, and it would improve the climate of the negotiations.

The motion is designed to appeal in particular to Labour Members who are demanding it and to my more cautious right hon. and hon. Friends in the Conservative party. Those who have hang-ups about rule-making and use medieval language about vassal states and all the rest of it are talking about the single market. Motion (J) does not include the single market. The customs union guarantees a reasonably frictionless relationship and the possibility of completely open trade in the future, and leaves all the other things to be decided in the negotiations.

Greg Hands

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke

No, I will not.

That is the basis on which I tabled motion (J), and I commend it to the House. Members may prefer a different motion; I shall vote for several. I think that we should all vote for as many of the motions as we can, and then we will see which is the strongest. We will not be dismissed by the more fervent members of the Government saying that they have all been defeated, and none of them secured an individual majority. On Monday, we could move on to how we sift them out.

Above all, for Labour Members this will, I hope, pave the way for allowing the withdrawal agreement to go through, because their main argument is not about the contents of the withdrawal agreement but about the “blind Brexit” that worries them so much. Even in motion (J)—if we cannot get a stronger one—there is not a blind Brexit any more. Labour Members could at least abstain, so that we could secure the withdrawal agreement and then move on to what really matters—the serious long-term negotiations on the big issues, which we shall have to handle much better than we are doing now.

My last word is this. If we fail, and if we are faced in a fortnight’s time with no deal, I think the feeling in the House is so strongly against that outcome that we must all vote to revoke at that stage. A great many members of the public will probably think that we have got ourselves into such a mess that it might have been sensible to do that anyway. We should stop now, sort out what we are doing, and perhaps start again if the House is still enthusiastic about leaving. However, I ​hope we can avoid that conclusion by demonstrating that Parliament is capable of orderly debate, reasonable conclusions, and contributing to the better governance of this country as part of this process—including, I hope, my motion (J).

Ken Clarke – 2019 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Ken Clarke, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe and the Father of the House of Commons, on 29 January 2019.

None of us taking part in this debate is in any doubt that we are actually discussing an almost unique political crisis—one of a kind that has not happened for very many years. The crisis takes two forms: one is that we are trying to break a political deadlock over exactly what changes we will make to the great bulk of our political, security, intelligence, crime-fighting, trade and investment, and environmental relationships with the rest of the world, having turned away from the ones that we have put together over the past 47 years; the second is that we are also facing a constitutional crisis over the credibility of Government and Parliament in their ability to resolve these matters.

I rather agree with what the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) said. I enjoy as much as any veteran parliamentarian the rowdiness of the House of Commons; it is a way of testing the arguments. However, we should also be aware that, at the moment, the public are looking on our political system with something rather near to contempt, as it seems to them that neither the Government nor the political parties, parliamentarians and politicians in general seem able to resolve a question that was first raised by a referendum. Referendums are designed by those who support them to bypass parliamentary decision making, parliamentary majorities and political parties deciding things. We really do need to settle down, and, perhaps if the Government get their way, we can do that in the next few weeks. We have fewer than 60 days to decide how we will come to conclusions about the way forward.

I want to concentrate on just a few issues. I have put forward most of my views on these amendments in the many debates that we have had already, and many other people want to speak. I suspect that a high proportion of this House can guess which way I will vote on the amendments that Mr Speaker has chosen. Probably far too many of them have had to listen to my arguments. To take some encouragement from this debate—

Frank Field

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Clarke

I will in a second. I wish to take up this question of the relationship between Parliament and Government, because I took some encouragement from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who did seem to accept that the Government should give opportunities to the House to debate things that each Member regards as key matters of policy. Under our constitution, the Government have to pay regard to the views expressed by this House.​

Frank Field

I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He and I tabled an amendment that was not called. It was to give this House the chance to vote on the various options. The Prime Minister, when she was speaking, talked of taking other amendments away and working on them with the hope of bringing them back to act upon. Might I, through this intervention, ask him to push on his own side that she does precisely that with our amendment?

Mr Clarke

Well, unless I take too long, I hope to touch on the arguments behind the right hon. Gentleman’s excellent amendment, because that is one of the things that we should do in one way or another over the next few weeks.

Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) rose—

Mr Clarke

Let me just deal with this question and then I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if his point is relevant.

The question is, what is the role of this House vis-à-vis the Government and what are our procedures? I must admit that, in the past month or two, I have listened to what I, as a fairly experienced Member here now, have regarded as the most extraordinary nonsense about sweeping away centuries of tradition and distorting our procedures because people have objected to the Speaker selecting amendments where they think they might not be on the winning side. There is a rather fundamental, underlying problem here. This Government did not start this, but Brexit brought it to its head. I think that it started with the Blair Government, because Tony Blair, with the greatest respect, never could quite understand why he had to submit to Parliament so often. He started timetabling all our business and so on, but that is now water under the bridge. I say with respect that, mistakenly, this Government began by saying that they were going to invoke the royal prerogative, and, as it was a treaty, they felt that Parliament would not be involved in invoking article 50 or any of the consequences because the monarch would act solely on the advice of her Prime Minister, trying to take us back several hundred years. That was swept away. Then we had to have defeats inflicted on the Government last summer in order to get a meaningful vote on the outcome of any negotiations. This has gone on all the way through the process. Today’s debate and the votes that we are having tonight are only taking place because the Government actually resisted the whole idea of coming back here with any alternative to the deal that they were telling us was done and fixed and the only way of going forward. That has worried me all the way through.

Now, I did take the Prime Minister today to be taking a totally different approach, and I hope that she will confirm that. It does now seem that, whatever course we decide on today, things are going to come back to this House. No deal of any kind is going to be ratified until we have had a vote in this House, approving whatever we are presented with. One problem is that we have not yet produced a consensus or a majority for any option, but if this House expresses a clear wish about the nature of the deal that it wants to see negotiated, the Government will consider—indeed, I believe that under our constitution, they are bound to follow—the wishes of the House of ​Commons, because British Governments have never been able to pursue these matters without the consent and support of a majority of the House of Commons.

Angus Brendan MacNeil

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the House must test the various options. Will he “join the (q)”, as it were? Amendment (q) aims to revoke article 50. Is that one of the ideas that he thinks should be tested in this House—even for nothing other than that the people of Scotland would at least know the folly of sticking with Westminster, which is taking them out of Europe against their will?

Mr Clarke

I do not wish to revoke article 50 for the same reasons as the hon. Gentleman, although I do share some of his views. If I was trying to exercise unfettered autocratic power in the government of the country, I would of course still believe that the best interests of the United Kingdom lie in remaining a member of the European Union. I do not share enthusiasm, however, for what the hon. Gentleman wants. After the pleasure of the first referendum and all that it has caused, he now thinks that we will automatically resolve things by having a second referendum, which could be even more chaotic in its effects than that the one we have had.

As I have said, the Government of the day have got to give this House a far bigger role, which therefore means a much bigger responsibility on this House to create the intraparty, cross-party majority that is the only majority of any kind that might be available here for any sensible way forward.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Clarke

Let me just finish my point. I will give way in a minute.

I heard all the stuff when the Clerks were invoked—the advice of the Clerks to the Government to resist this approach. Of course it is true that the law can only be changed by legislation. That is a perfectly straightforward legal point. But in our constitution, in my opinion, the Government are accountable politically to the non-legislative votes of Parliament. It is utterly absurd to say that Opposition Supply days and amendments to motions of the kind we are addressing today are just the resolutions of a debating society that have no effect upon the conduct of daily government. If we concede that point in the middle of this shambles of Brexit, with all the other things we have to resolve, we will have done great harm to future generations because it is difficult to see how the concept of parliamentary sovereignty will survive such an extraordinary definition.

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)

May I humbly suggest that the Prime Minister is actually following the will of Parliament, because she is remembering that, two years ago, two thirds of MPs in this Parliament voted to trigger article 50, which leads to the unconditional leaving of the European Union on 29 March? That was the instruction that she was given by Parliament that she is trying to deliver, and our duty is to assist her.​

Mr Clarke

With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, I think that my approach throughout the last two years has demonstrated that I am prepared to be pragmatic in response to these things. I did not regard myself as bound by a referendum. In the British constitution, referendums are advisory—they are described as such in official pronunciations—but politically most Members of this House bound themselves to obeying the result. That was brought home to me in a parliamentary way, consistent with what I have just been saying, by the massive majority of votes cast for invoking article 50. I opposed the invocation of article 50, but since that time I accept—I have to accept—that this House has willed that we are leaving the European Union.

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I do not concur that we agreed to leave unconditionally, whatever the circumstances, at a then arbitrary date two years ahead. We then wasted at least the first 18 months of the time, because nobody here had really thought through in any detailed way exactly what we were now going to seek as an alternative to our membership of the European Union, to safeguard our political and economic relationships with the world in the future. And we still have not decided that. It looks as though I am going to be remarkably brief by my own standards, but that is probably only in contrast with the frequently interrupted Front-Bench speeches, to which I have mercifully been only mildly, and perfectly pleasantly, exposed.

Where does this leave me, given that I believe I have a duty to make my mind up on the votes that we are going to have today? I am one of those who voted for withdrawal on the withdrawal agreement. That was the first time in my life that I have ever cast any kind of vote contemplating Britain leaving the European project and the European Union. I thought that the agreement was perfectly harmless and perfectly obvious, and could have been negotiated years before, with citizenship rights, legally owed debts that we are obviously going to honour and an arrangement that protected the Irish border—the treaty commitment to a permanently open border.

The independent hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) is the only Irish Member we have who agrees with the majority of the Irish population, who would prefer to remain. Like me, I think that she accepts the reality, but I know that she thinks the backstop is an important defence of the interests of Ireland with an open border. It is quite absurd to reopen that question. I am glad to say that the Prime Minister is still very firmly committed to a permanent open border, and I congratulate her on that. She is not going to break our solemn treaty commitments and set back our relationship with the Republic of Ireland for another generation. I realise that the Prime Minister has been driven to this by the attitudes of quite a number of Government Members, but I personally cannot see what the vague alternative to a perfectly harmless backstop that we are now going to explore is; nor do I see what the outcome is going to be. Our partners—or previous partners—in the European Union cannot understand quite what we are arguing for either, so we move from having a deal to not having a deal.

Let me just say what I will vote for. I am not going to go through it amendment by amendment, because Members are waiting to move those amendments. I shall vote for anything that avoids leaving with no deal on 29 March. It is perfectly obvious that we are in a state of such ​chaos that we are not remotely going to answer these questions in the 60-odd—fewer than 60—days before then. We need more time. The Prime Minister says that there are only two alternatives: the deal we have got, which she is now wanting to alter and go back and reopen; or no deal on 29 March. That is not true. A further option—and my guess is that the other members of the European Union would be only too ready to hear it opened up as a possibility—is that we extend article 50 to give us time to actually reach some consensus. I think that it would create quite some time, and there are problems over the European Parliament and so on. I have always said that we can revoke it, while making it clear to the angry majority in the House of Commons that they can invoke it again, with their majorities, once we are in a position to settle these outstanding issues, which, as we sit here at the moment, we are nowhere near to resolving, and we are right at the end of the timetable. The alternative to no deal is to stay in the Union for as long as it takes to get near to a deal that we are likely all to be able to agree on and that the majority of us think is in the national interest.

Sir Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con)

I think that my right hon. and learned Friend will therefore be joining me in the Lobby in support of what is known as the Cooper amendment. Does he agree that in changing Standing Orders, the House of Commons, if it has a majority to do so, is doing something that the House of Commons has done since Standing Orders were created, and did before the Government took control of the Order Paper in 1906?

Mr Clarke

Absolutely. We will not debate the constitutional history, but people are trying to invoke the strictest interpretation of Standing Orders going back to attempts in the late 19th century to stop the Irish nationalists filibustering, which brought the whole thing grinding to a halt. Now we are saying that as this Parliament has the temerity to have a range of views, some of which are not acceptable to the Government, Standing Orders should be invoked against us to discipline us. Anyway, I will not go back to that, but I agree with my right hon. Friend.

The other thing that I shall vote for is another thing that supports the Prime Minister’s stated ambition for the long-term future of the country: open borders and free trade between ourselves and our markets in the EU, as demanded by our business leaders, our trade union leaders, and, I think, most people who have the economic wellbeing of future generations at heart. I think the only known way in the world in which we can do that is to stay in a customs union, and also to have sufficient regulatory alignment to eliminate the need for border barriers. I do not mind if some of my right hon. and hon. Friends prefer to call the customs union a “customs arrangement” or if they care to call the single market “regulatory alignment”. I do not feel any great distress at their use of gentler language to describe these things. Nevertheless, something very near to that is required to deliver our economic and political ambitions.

It is also the obvious and only way to protect the permanent open border in Ireland. We do not need to invent this ridiculous Irish backstop if the whole United Kingdom is going into a situation where it has an open border with the whole of the European Union in any event. The Irish backstop was only invented to appease ​those people who envisaged the rest of the British Isles suddenly deciding to leave with no deal before we had finished the negotiations in Europe. Well, let us forget that. Let us make it our aim—it will not be easy but it is perfectly possible—to negotiate, probably successfully, with the other 27 an open trading economic and investment relationship through the single market and the customs union.

Lady Hermon

I am very grateful to the Father of the House for allowing me to intervene. I just want to say ever so gently that in his very nice tribute to the hon. Member for North Down, I think he might have accidentally referred to the lady as an Irish Member of this House. No, I am very much a British Member of this House. However, he is absolutely right that I feel passionate about protecting the Belfast agreement—the Good Friday agreement—and the peace that it has delivered in the past 20 years across Northern Ireland and across the whole of the United Kingdom. The backstop was there to protect that peace, and I am very sorry that the Prime Minister has moved away from that today.

Mr Clarke

I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I must explain to her that I refer to her and her colleagues as Irish Members of Parliament in the same way that I would refer to myself as an English Member of Parliament, or perhaps to a colleague as a Welsh or Scottish Member of Parliament. [Hon. Members: “Northern Irish.”] She is Northern Irish. I can assure her that not only do I agree entirely with the views she just expressed about what we are seeking here, but I am as keen a Unionist as she is, and I do not wish to see the break-up of the present United Kingdom. I think that she and I are in total agreement.

The other thing I would support, which arises in the context of one of the amendments we are talking about, is that the Government obviously should no longer resist this House having indicative votes. It is absurd that we have been trying to get a debate and a vote on some of the more obvious things for months now, and as time goes on, the Government are still trying to make it difficult to have a vote on them. When we have the votes, no doubt the Government and the Opposition will start imposing three-line Whips on everybody to take a narrow focus, trying to take us all back towards the failed withdrawal agreement or the rather confused Labour party policy and ensuring that we shoot down every other sensible proposition. There are quite a lot of sensible propositions flying around the House that are superior to the policy of the Government so far and certainly superior to the policy of the Leader of the Opposition. Indicative votes enable us in the time available—to shorten delay further—to give an expression of will and an instruction to the Government about the nature of the long-term arrangements that we want.

To go back to where I started, the circumstances at the moment mean that we have to strive to restore confidence in our political system, our political institutions and, above all, this House of Commons and ensure that an outcome of that kind emerges, because if this shambles goes on much longer, I hate to think where populism and extremism will take us next in British democracy.

Kenneth Clarke – 2019 Comments on Brexit

Below are the comments made by Kenneth Clarke, the Father of the House and the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, in the House of Commons on 21 January 2019.

As a supporter of the withdrawal agreement last week, I welcome the Prime Minister’s acceptance of the need for change in the light of the result and her reassurance that she will not compromise on a permanently open border in Northern Ireland, and that therefore any discussions that she has with the hard right wing on the Irish backstop will not compromise the commitment to a permanently open border.

Will the Prime Minister also consider reaching out to those remainers who are not yet convinced of her agreement by at least relaxing—if she cannot do a U-turn—her normal rejection of a customs union? I do not see outside powers lining up to do trade agreements to compensate us for leaving Europe. Will she also consider relaxing her resistance to regulatory alignment with Europe? Regulatory alignment is not inconsistent with some tightening up, at least, of free movement of labour. I urge her to be flexible on every front, because there was a large majority against the proposal last week. There are probably more remainers who voted against her than there are Brexiteers, and she needs to reach out to those remainers.

Ken Clarke – 2019 Comments on Withdrawal Agreement

Below are the text of the comments made by Ken Clarke on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons on 7 January 2019.

We have only about 80 days left. The Government face a deadline upon which depend crucial decisions that will affect future generations and the whole basis of our political and economic relationships with the rest of the world. We are nowhere near consensus, either in this House or in the country, on what new arrangements with the European Union we are actually asking for, let alone on the arrangements that we are likely to achieve. Now we have a completely ridiculous urgent question from the Leader of the Opposition, who has no idea what he wants but who just feels that he has to say something about the crisis we are in.

As we are in this position and as 29 March is an entirely arbitrary date—it was accidentally set when the Prime Minister, for no particular reason, decided to invoke article 50 before she knew what she was going to ask for—may I ask my right hon. Friend: is not it obvious that the national interest requires that we now delay matters by putting off the implementation of article 50 in order to put ourselves in the position where we can negotiate with 27 serious Governments by showing that we know what we are asking for and can deliver from our side, and to protect the national interest and future generations?

Ken Clarke – 2018 Response to the Salisbury Attack Statement

Below is the text of the speech made by Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, in the House of Commons on 14 March 2018.

It seems to me, without any access to closed information, that the use of this particularly bizarre and dreadful way of killing an individual is a deliberate choice by the Russian Government to put their signature on a particular killing so that other defectors are left in no doubt that it is the Russian Government who will act if they are disappointed in any way by those people’s actions. In the light of that, the only sensible question the Leader of the Opposition asked was what consultation we propose to have with NATO, other European countries and the American Government about positive action that could be taken to prevent this continuing defiance of international law, and the defiance of all rules on the testing and possession of chemical weapons. This is not just a question of expressing our anger about Salisbury. This is actually a serious threat to the safety of the western world unless and until we all do something together to get the Russians to do something, as opposed to simply ignoring us.

Ken Clarke – 2017 Speech on Withdrawal from the EU

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

Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised to hear that it is my intention to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, if a vote is called, and to support the reasoned amendment, which I think will be moved very shortly by the Scottish nationalists.

Because of the rather measured position that the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) had to present on behalf of the official Labour party, it falls to me to be the first Member of this House to set out the case for why I believe—I hope that I will not be the last such speaker—that it is in the national interest for the United Kingdom to be a member of the European Union, why I believe that we have benefited from that position for the past 45 years and, most importantly, why I believe that future generations will benefit if we succeed in remaining a member of the European Union. It is a case that hardly received any national publicity during the extraordinary referendum campaign, but it goes to the heart of the historic decision that the House is being asked to make now.

It so happens that my political career entirely coincides with British involvement with the European Union. I started over 50 years ago, supporting Harold Macmillan’s application to join. I helped to get the majority cross-party vote for the European Communities Act 1972, before we joined in 1973, and it looks like my last Parliament is going to be the Parliament in which we leave, but I do not look back with any regret. We made very wise decisions. I believe that membership of the European Union was the way in which we got out of the appalling state we were in when we discovered after Suez that we had no role in the world that we were clear about once we had lost our empire, and that our economy was becoming a laughing stock because we were falling behind the countries on the continent that had been devastated in the war but appeared to have a better way of proceeding than we did.

I believe that our membership of the European Union restored to us our national self-confidence and gave us a political role in the world, as a leading member of the Union, which made us more valuable to our allies such as the United States, and made our rivals, such as the Russians, take us more seriously because of our leadership role in the European Union. It helped to reinforce our own values as well. Our economy benefited enormously and continued to benefit even more, as the market developed, from our close and successful involvement in developing trading relationships with the inhabitants of the continent.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke

I am very fortunate to be called this early. I apologise to my right hon. Friend—my old friend—but 93 other Members are still waiting to be called, so if he will forgive me, I will not give way.

The Conservative Governments in which I served made very positive contributions to the development of the European Union. There were two areas in which we were the leading contender and made a big difference. The first was when the Thatcher Government led the way in the creation of the single market. The customs union—the so-called common market—had served its purpose, but regulatory barriers matter more than tariffs in the modern world. But for the Thatcher Government, the others would not have been induced to remove those barriers, and I think that the British benefited more from the single market than any other member state. It has contributed to our comparative economic success today.

We were always the leading Government after the fall of the Soviet Union in the process of enlargement to eastern Europe, taking in the former Soviet states. That was an extremely important political contribution. After the surprising collapse of the Soviet Union, eastern and central Europe could have collapsed into its traditional anarchy, nationalist rivalry and military regimes that preceded the second world war. We pressed the urgency of bringing in these new independent nations, giving them the goal of the European Union, which meant liberal democracy, free market trade and so forth. We made Europe a much more stable place.

That has been our role in the European Union, and I believe that it is a very bad move, particularly for our children and grandchildren, that we are all sitting here now saying that we are embarking on a new unknown future. I shall touch on that in a moment, because I think the position is simply baffling to every friend of the British and of the United Kingdom throughout the world. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.

Let me deal with the arguments that I should not vote in that way, that I am being undemocratic, that I am quite wrong, and that, as an elected Member of Parliament, I am under a duty to vote contrary to the views I have just given. I am told that this is because we held a referendum. First, I am in the happy situation that my opposition to referendums as an instrument of government is quite well known and has been frequently repeated throughout my political career. I have made no commitment to accept a referendum, and particularly this referendum, when such an enormous question, with hundreds of complex issues wrapped up within it, was to be decided by a simple yes/no answer on one day. That was particularly unsuitable for a plebiscite of that kind, and that point was reinforced by the nature of the debate.

Constitutionally, when the Government tried to stop the House from having a vote, they did not go to the Supreme Court arguing that a referendum bound the House and that that was why we should not have a vote. The referendum had always been described as advisory in everything that the Government put out. There is no constitutional standing for referendums in this country. No sensible country has referendums—the United States and Germany do not have them in their political systems. The Government went to the Supreme Court arguing for the archaic constitutional principle of the royal prerogative—that the Executive somehow had absolute power when it came to dealing with treaties. Not surprisingly, they lost.

What about the position of Members of Parliament? There is no doubt that by an adequate but narrow majority, leave won the referendum campaign. I will not comment on the nature of the campaign. Those arguments that got publicity in the national media on both sides were, on the whole, fairly pathetic. I have agreed in conversation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union that he and I can both tell ourselves that neither of us used the dafter arguments that were put forward by the people we were allied with. It was not a very serious debate on the subject. I do not recall the view that £350 million a week would be available for the health service coming from the Brexit Secretary, and I did not say that we going to have a Budget to put up income tax and all that kind of thing. It was all quite pathetic.

Let me provide an analogy—a loose one but, I think, not totally loose—explaining the position of Members of Parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years, and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public, in their wisdom, have occasionally failed to take my advice and have by a majority voted Labour. I have thus found myself here facing a Labour Government, but I do not recall an occasion when I was told that it was my democratic duty to support Labour policies and the Labour Government on the other side of the House. That proposition, if put to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) in opposition or myself, would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. Apparently, I am now being told that despite voting as I did in the referendum, I am somehow an enemy of the people for ignoring my instructions and for sticking to the opinions that I expressed rather strongly, at least in my meetings, when I urged people to vote the other way.

I have no intention of changing my opinion on the ground. Indeed, I am personally convinced that the hard-core Eurosceptics in my party, with whom I have enjoyed debating this issue for decades, would not have felt bound in the slightest by the outcome of the referendum to abandon their arguments—[Interruption.] I do not say that as criticism; I am actually on good terms with the hard-line Eurosceptics because I respect their sincerity and the passionate nature of their beliefs. If I ever live to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) turn up here and vote in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union, I will retract what I say, but hot tongs would not make him vote for membership of the EU.

I must move on, but I am told that I should vote for my party as we are on a three-line Whip. I am a Conservative; I have been a decently loyal Conservative over the years. The last time I kicked over the traces was on the Lisbon treaty, when for some peculiar reason my party got itself on the wrong side of the argument, but we will pass over that. I would point out to those who say that I am somehow being disloyal to my party by not voting in favour of this Bill that I am merely propounding the official policy of the Conservative party for 50 years until 23 June 2016. I admire my colleagues who can suddenly become enthusiastic Brexiteers, having seen a light on the road to Damascus on the day that the vote was cast, but I am afraid that that light has been denied me.

I feel the spirit of my former colleague, Enoch Powell—I rather respected him, aside from one or two of his extreme views—who was probably the best speaker for the Eurosceptic cause I ever heard in this House of Commons. If he were here, he would probably find it amazing that his party had become Eurosceptic and rather mildly anti-immigrant, in a very strange way, in 2016. Well, I am afraid that, on that issue, I have not followed it, and I do not intend to do so.

There are very serious issues that were not addressed in the referendum: the single market and the customs union. They must be properly debated. It is absurd to say that every elector knew the difference between the customs union and the single market, and that they took a careful and studied view of the basis for our future trading relations with Europe.

The fact is that I admire the Prime Minister and her colleagues for their constant propounding of the principles of free trade. My party has not changed on that. We are believers in free trade and see it as a win-win situation. We were the leading advocate of liberal economic policies among the European powers for many years, so we are free traders. It seems to me unarguable that if we put between us and the biggest free market in the world new tariffs, new regulatory barriers, new customs procedures, certificates of origin and so on, we are bound to be weakening the economic position from what it would otherwise have been, other things being equal, in future. That is why it is important that this issue is addressed in particular.

I am told that that view is pessimistic, and that we are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with a great new globalised future that offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently, when we follow the rabbit down the hole, we will emerge in a wonderland where, suddenly, countries throughout the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that we were never able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdoğan are impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access. Let me not be too cynical; I hope that that is right. I do want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt somewhere a hatter is holding a tea party with a dormouse in the teapot.

We need success in these trade negotiations to recoup at least some of the losses that we will incur as a result of leaving the single market. If all is lost on the main principle, that is the big principle that the House must get control of and address seriously, in proper debates and votes, from now on.

I hope that I have adequately explained that my views on this issue have not been shaken very much over the decades—they have actually strengthened somewhat. Most Members, I trust, are familiar with Burke’s address to the electors of Bristol. I have always firmly believed that every MP should vote on an issue of this importance according to their view of the best national interest. I never quote Burke, but I shall paraphrase him. He said to his constituents, “If I no longer give you the benefit of my judgment and simply follow your orders, I am not serving you; I am betraying you.” I personally shall be voting with my conscience content, and when we see what unfolds hereafter as we leave the European Union, I hope that the consciences of other Members of Parliament will remain equally content.

Ken Clarke – 2011 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Justice Minister, Ken Clarke, at the 2011 Conservative Party Conference on 4th October 2011.

I don’t know whether you remember, but at last year’s party conference, I called for regime change – regime change in our prisons.

To turn them from places of idleness, Into places of hard work and reform. Prisons with a purpose – straight from the manifesto.

The idea is to provide hard work in prison so that prisoners would be…

Doing something productive,

Instead of doing nothing.

Plotting a more honest future,

Instead of plotting their next crime.

Earning money to pay back to victims,

Instead of creating new victims.

It’s not rocket science and it can be done.

At Altcourse Prison near Liverpool, prisoners do forty hours of hard work every week in a metal workshop.

Part of their earnings goes to fund services for victims of crime.

And because these prisoners have got some skills, they are less likely – a lot less likely – to return to prison.

So the burden on the taxpayer, on you and me, is less.

I intend to expand this Working Prisons programme quite dramatically.

But this is not something Government can do alone.

No: We need the private sector on board.

And they are coming on board.

This morning, eight companies – including Virgin, National Grid, Marks and Spencer give the idea their support, in the FT.

They – along with the CBI – are helping us to ensure that companies can make the most of this..

..Are not disadvantaged or undercut.

I want to see hard work flourishing in every single jail in the UK.

More criminals doing an honest day’s work, instead of sitting idle in their cells.

That will make us safer.

Provide more money for victims.

Help us break the cycle of crime.


I believe if we want prison to work,

Then our prisoners have got to be working.


A brief note to my Labour opponent, Sadiq Khan:

That’s what you call a policy.

You probably won’t be able to remember any policy proposals he has put forward.

Because Labour hasn’t got any significant ones.

His proudest boast last week, was that he does not fall asleep during his Party Leader’s speeches –

That is an achievement, Sadiq.

Many people do go to sleep during Ed Miliband’s speeches.

But just remember this – he, like the rest of them, was a loyal supporter of Gordon Brown’s Government – the most disastrous Government, that left the most disastrous legacy since Labour in 1931.

They bequeathed us not just a broken economy, but a broken society and an unreformed Justice system that failed to break the cycle of crime.

They wasted billions of pounds on justice and prisons.

They were hyperactive:

21 Criminal Justice Acts in 13 years.


Headline chasing.

And you know what?

It was all a con.

They made prison sentences appear longer and longer,

Whilst devising all sorts of ways to let people out earlier and earlier.

…80,000 let out on early release…

I have legislation before Parliament

– being carried through by Crispin Blunt and Jonathan Djanogly – which aims to reform, simplify, scrap failed gimmicks and give us a system which works better to contribute to a safer, sounder and more honest society.


That’s how we are facing up to – and delivering – the great challenge we have as a Government…

…how to save taxpayers’ money whilst striving to repair our broken society.

Because Labour left us failed policies, a broken society..

And no money.

When it comes to public spending,

We’ve got to show leadership.

We’ve got to show purpose.

We’ve got to stick to our guns.

Frankly, if you look across the western world, most democratic politicians are out of their depth.

They cannot cope with the consequences of this dreadful crisis.

We are just about the only government in the Western world where people really think we are going to tackle the deficit.

People look at this coalition, they look at the spending plans and say – they’re going to deliver.

George and David are going to ensure that we do not waver in our commitment to reduce public spending and debt and they have my total support.

When you look at the scale of the economic crisis, I don’t believe we can possibly say…

… we’re not going to save money on criminals…

… but we are going to have reductions in spending on Police and Defence, on Transport and Local Government.

You can’t say that like the health sector, criminals are exempt from the cuts.

Every criminal we have in jail costs you and me about

£40,000 a year…

…and there are more than 80,000 of them in prison right now.

And I just do not believe that we can follow the old brain-free policy of throwing money at the problem.

That’s what Labour did.

And look where it got them. And all of us.


The most shocking reminder of how broken a society ours is.

In this summer’s riots, more than 75 per cent of the adults charged were repeat offenders.

1 in 4 of them had been convicted of ten crimes or more.

Re-offenders.  Career criminals.

…I had a few other choice words for them at the time…

Our feral underclass is too big, has been growing, and needs to be diminished.

Less crime, fewer criminals

The question for me and my ministry now, is how do we reform the Criminal Justice System so that these unreformed, recidivist criminals, are dealt with more effectively and at  less cost to the taxpayer.

That’s why we need prisons that work.

And prisons that are drug free.

Where problems like addiction and mental health are tackled properly.

Where the treatment doesn’t suddenly stop when prisoners leave jail, which usually happens with those on short sentences.

But continues in the outside world.

So that we are better protected.

If we want less crime, we need fewer criminals.

Policy & Ideas

This year, we have been carefully but quite rapidly developing the concept of Payment by Results –

A system which concentrates on only paying for what works.

And the first group of pilots is now underway.

One of them is at Doncaster Prison, a new contract run by Serco and a charity called Catch 22, which started on Saturday.

If they deliver law-abiding people back onto the streets, we will pay them. If they fail, and the ex-prisoners they take on reoffend, we will not pay.

There are twelve of these projects around the country.

Private or public, businesses and charities, paid for resolving the drugs, the lack of skills, the rootlessness which lies behind much of the reoffending.

Saving money and protecting the public;

Paying for what works.

British Justice

I believe that at its heart our British justice system is still one of the best in the world despite all Labour’s efforts.

…when people think of Britain, they think of British justice.

That is why so much of my last year has been spent returning common sense and proportion to a system which was badly let down by Labour…

We have policies under way to

– Resolve public doubts on the law of self defence by victims of crime

– Criminalise squatting

– Make community sentences more punitive and more effective

– Bring competition into the management of prisons

– Speed up the process of the courts and make them more witness, litigant and victim friendly

– Curtail the compensation culture and cut excessive spending on Legal Aid

– Scrap referral fees to end the culture of those ambulance-chasing claims advisors.


I have spent my entire political life being a vigorous, controversial reformer of public services – but this time it is different.

Now, I am in a coalition Government which is dealing with the worst economic crisis since the war.

People are insecure and sometimes a bit frightened.

We must give strong, confident and principled government.

How do you set about public reform in a difficult area like mine?

I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly and carry a big stick.

New Labour did the opposite.

They spoke toughly and carried a pea-shooter.

I never have mastered the speak softly bit, but the big stick has always appealed.

It’s no good politicians just sounding off and making tough gestures.

In office you’ve actually got to make a worthwhile difference.

That’s what you’re in office for.

Justice needs to be swift, firm and fair.

Prisons need to be places of retribution and places of reform.

Sounds obvious when you think about it.

Delivering the obvious is what the public want.

And most Governments do not deliver.

I remember Iain MacLeod thrilling me when I was a delegate here many years ago.

Others may dream their dreams, others may scheme their schemes but we have work to do.

Those appalling riots brought home to me again that in our broken society, we certainly have work to do at the Ministry of Justice.

And my team and I are proud to be getting on and doing it.

Give us your support.

Ken Clarke – 2010 Speech to Conservative Party Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Ken Clarke to the Conservative Party conference speech on 5th October 2010.

As you know, I have been in a few Ministerial posts before and served in two or three previous Governments. I have never seen political and economic events of the kind we have now.

We have the worst economic crisis in my lifetime. We have a political system which has lost the confidence of the public after years of spin, sleaze and lightweight Government.

And we have a social crisis. All the problems we are so familiar with – drugs and debt and family breakdown – and worst of all, the subject Theresa and I are responsible for in this Government: crime.

These crises have at least one common cause. New Labour.

New Labour was all spin and no substance – campaigning and no principle.  We now have to sort out the disgraceful waste that is their legacy. Our first duty is to reduce public spending, cut the deficit and get the economy on its feet again. I am, and I remain, an advocate and whole-hearted supporter of the strategy that George Osborne set out yesterday. But we are not mere cutters. We cut because New Labour left us no choice. But we will define our Government not by our competence as financial managers, but by our political beliefs.

Any fool can just lop percentages off every item of his budget. I do not want to carry on doing what Labour was doing and just spend less money on it. We have to do this better. We have got to be the radical, reforming, improving government this country needs so badly. For me it’s personal. I am a deficit hawk.

When I was Chancellor of the Exchequer I cut spending and I cut the budget deficit to promote economic growth, and it worked. But I am also proud to call myself a reformer. I passionately want to see reforms that will improve our public services, in health, education, welfare and justice – alongside the necessary action to cut the deficit.

Let me start with the reductions in spending. The first thing I did when I walked into the Ministry of Justice in May was order a review of the department’s own administration. You’ll see the results of that in a few weeks’ time. My intention is that the biggest single reduction in spending at the Ministry of Justice will be in the running costs of the Department – from the headquarters to the edges.

And when you sort out the spending you can start to sort out the service itself. From long, painful experience, I can tell you: to throw money without reform at any public service is useless.

The only money my Department will spend is money combined with well-judged change to improve the protection against crime we must give – to society, and to the victims of crime.

We will go back to first principles. Ask what it is that the taxpayer should be paying for.

Let me be clear about what I have always said and always believed about crime and punishment.

For serious criminals, prison is the best and only sentence. It is the punishment for serious crime that society expects and accepts. Career criminals and violent, dangerous criminals should be in prison – not roaming our streets.


But prison needs to do more than keep criminals off the streets. It must try to prevent them from committing more crime against more victims when they come out. The biggest failure of the present system is reoffending. Nearly half the people in prison come straight back out and commit another crime in less than twelve months. Absurd.

Under New Labour, we had an underclass of people in our broken society who walked out of jail and straight back into crime, again and again. Fifty three thousand criminals were jailed for six months or less in 2008. Nearly two thirds of them committed another crime within the next year and were sent straight back to prison again. And that was only the ones who were caught and convicted again.  Thousands of further crimes against new victims. Quite absurd.

We said we were going to tackle that when we were in Opposition. We called it a Rehabilitation Revolution – Prisons with a Purpose. It was a Conservative election policy, not a Liberal Democrat one.

And what about my tough talking New Labour predecessors.  Were they on top of the problem?

They certainly tried to sound like they were.

They tried to sound tougher and tougher – outflanking the noisiest man at the bar of the Dog and Duck. But it didn’t seem to bother them that for all the cash they threw at the problem of crime and punishment they did nothing to reduce reoffending.

What happened instead?  This is a Department of Government that really exploded. The number of prisoners grew by more than a third under Labour. Spending on prisons went up by the same amount – a third in real terms. Probation costs shot up sixty per cent. And the rate of reoffending – the new crimes committed against new victims by prisoners recently released – well of course that went up too.

And they were reduced to the absurdity of releasing thousands of prisoners early before they had finished their sentence. What a waste. What a failure.


We can’t go on like this. We need reform that is radical and realistic. Reform focused on results, not processes, not spin doctor headlines.

My aim is to make prisons tougher places of hard work and reform for the criminals who should be locked up;

Make community sentences that really are tougher and more effective for those who don’t need to be locked up;

And cut crime creation out of the criminal justice system by paying by results organisations and investors who actually succeed in reducing reoffending.


Let’s start with prisons.  We need, in my opinion, to instill in our jails, a regime of hard work. Most prisoners lead a life of enforced, bored idleness, where even getting out of bed is optional.

If we want to reduce the crimes these people will commit when they get out, we need as many as possible to get used to working hard for regular working hours. The ones prepared to make an effort need new opportunities to learn a trade. We have to try to get those with the backbone to go straight, to handle a life without crime when they have finished their punishment.

So we will make it easier for Prison Governors to bring more private companies into jails to create well-run businesses employing prisoners in 9 to 5 jobs.  There are already some excellent examples to build on. Timpsons, who train up prisoners to work in their national network of shops.

The National Grid and Cisco Systems also go into prisons to offer training and the prospect of a job and a life away from crime at the end of the sentence. I hope to see many, many more companies like these stepping in and offering their expertise to organise productive industries in many of our prisons.

And I want to revive a policy that I was always keen on in John Major’s last Conservative government. Making deductions from the earnings of working prisoners to provide restitution for the victims of crime.

Do not worry.  I have not become some woolly-minded idealist since I was last a reforming Minister.

I am under no illusions about the British criminal class – I met plenty of them during my time at the Criminal Bar. As well as a few since.

I’ve never been in favour of mollycoddling criminals. Dangerous offenders must always, and will always be punished with prison. But let us not deceive ourselves that the previous Government left 85,000 serious gangsters in prison, that our prisons are only populated by muggers, burglars and violent and dangerous individuals. We have 11,000 foreign prisoners in our jails. Our prisons contain thousands of anti-social petty criminals who fail to behave themselves in everyday life.  Almost half are illiterate or innumerate. Almost half are mentally ill. The majority have a history of drug abuse.  Sadly, far too many are former members of our armed services.  Drifting along in lives of crime which their victims pay for over and over again. Too many go into prison without a serious drug problem and come out addicts. Ready, desperate, to commit more crimes to feed their habit. We have to do better than this.

We are working on plans to produce drug free wings in prisons to start to stamp out this drugs menace.

We need radical, realistic reform.  If we want to be safer in our homes, knowing we’re less likely to be burgled… If we want our children to be able to walk home safely from school… Then we have to get sentencing policy right. That is why, as part of the sentencing review which will be published as a Green Paper later in the Autumn, we will look again at how we treat offenders who might be prevented from committing more crimes as soon as they are released.

Under New Labour, there weren’t enough tough, demanding punishment options for judges.

We have a real job on our hands to give judges those options. To improve punitive alternatives to prison. I do understand what the problem is with so-called Community Sentences.  The public don’t think   they’re tough enough.  Judges and Magistrates aren’t confident that they’re tough enough.  Well let me tell you that I have never thought that they were tough enough.  The answer to that cannot be to give up.  It must be to make community sentences as tough, respected and effective as they are in countries like France and Germany.

When we consider how to reduce re-offending by rehabilitating released prisoners or providing tougher community sentences, I am interested in one thing – what works.  Value for taxpayers money is best achieved by paying – not for good intentions – but for results.


We will pay for fewer crimes. Fewer victims.

We can challenge the independent sector, charities, voluntary bodies, the private sector and the public services. You develop schemes that do cut reoffending, in prison or in the community, and we’ll pay you to do it – if, and when it works.

And the more new schemes that produce results, the more we can be sure that taxpayers’ cash is being spent on things that actually work.

The well-intentioned, interesting, theoretical idea with no outcome will simply melt away.

Last month we launched the first of our projects of this kind – in Peterborough. Run by a company called Social Finance, it will be paid for to the extent that it succeeds in preventing offenders from committing more crimes against yet more victims when they are let out of Peterborough prison.

I visited the Peterborough project and I’ve seen how it can work. I’m an enthusiast. So I can tell you today that we will be starting up a range of similar schemes in England and Wales in the New Year. We will look at bids from serious groups who want to take whatever approach they believe in – from boot camps to more therapeutic options. And the taxpayer will pay for – what works and what cuts crime.

Radical, realistic reform that will cut crime and do it in a way that shows real value for money for the taxpayer.


I believe history will remember the Cameron coalition Government as radical and reforming.

We have inherited a disgraceful crisis, bequeathed to us by a discredited party that with any justice will need years to change itself before it will be considered fit for office again.

I remember the 1979 leadership campaign…I’ve served in Governments before.  I’ve never served in one facing a crisis on this scale. I’ve served in Governments that started well. But I’ve never served in one that’s started better than this.

I am quite delighted to be in this coalition government which is remarkable in its unity, determination and purpose.

After the election David Cameron and Nick Clegg responded to events with vision and speed.  This Government is delivering the strong and stable government the national interest demands.

Had we failed to form a Coalition it would have been a disgraceful dereliction of duty. We are proving that politicians can set aside party political battles when the national interest demands it.

Once more it is a Conservative Prime Minister, with the political will to put the national interest first, whose fate it is to inherit a poisoned Labour legacy.

And if we continue as we have started, we are up to the challenge. David Cameron will provide the leadership this country needs.

We will provide the support he needs.

Together we will return this country to economic stability and growth. To 21st century quality public services we can afford.

And to a global reputation for the civilised and responsible Government that our Conservative Party has always stood for.

Ken Clarke – 2009 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech made by Ken Clarke on 6th October 2009 at the 2009 Conservative Party Conference.

I have done this a few times before – and I still enjoy it. Those who have followed my political career from afar and those who know me well will probably agree that I am not one of nature’s pessimists. I am trying to delay becoming a grumpy old man. I am also a realist.

And it is the realist in me that says we are set to take over the biggest mess that a Conservative Party has ever inherited from a Labour government.

It is amazingly true that Labour always winds up leaving behind an economic disaster. It has happened every time since the war. But this is far, far worse. It’s worse even than Margaret was confronted with in 1979.

So yet again it is our duty to repair the damage after those years of recklessness, and prepare the UK for a better future.

A lot of that work is economic. Above all the sound management of the public finances, which George and Philip spoke about this morning.

No-one believes Alistair Darling when he talks of halving the public debt in four years.

Gordon Brown wants to introduce a new law to make it illegal for Alistair to be as irresponsible as he, Gordon Brown was when he was Chancellor. What useless gesture politics.

Past sinners promise that they will be prosecuted in future if they sin again. George Osborne’s strong sensible policies on tax and spending and debt will be necessary – but will not be enough on their own.

Our debt crisis is not only the result of reckless spending. It is also the fall of tax income. A crazy financial bubble brought big fluffy tax takes into the Treasury. Gordon Brown spent it all in full – then borrowed more on top.

Now tax revenues from corporation tax to fat cat income tax have fallen off a cliff because the City, banks and business all crashed into recession.

Spending has gone up. Tax revenue has gone down. Result – colossal and mounting debt.

George has boldly and correctly declared the need for spending cuts. He also needs revenue. We need successful business to create wealth, jobs and economic growth – and profits from which to pay taxes.

I have been through more public spending rounds than most people have had hot dinners. I admire George Osborne and Philip Hammond and I completely trust them to succeed at that task. They have the hard bit of the problem. I and my team have the fun bit – getting the climate right for the best of British business to succeed again and to create the wealth and security for future generations.


New Labour has been a burden and a handicap on business that we can no longer afford. The world of New Labour is more bureaucratic than anything we have ever known. An over-powerful executive, bigger government, an ungovernable bureaucracy. We all feel it in our daily lives. Businesses, in particular small businesses, face far more than their fair share of it.

How much does it cost? Estimates vary. Everyone agrees it is a great and still growing burden. For our entrepreneurs it is not just money, it is wasted time.

The Federation of Small Businesses says its members now spend on average seven hours a week on official form-filling and red tape of one kind or another. The people who run the health service, education and the police would tell you the same.

To get Britain back in business, the excessive regulation that businesses – and the great public services – face has to be swept away. Managers should not have to deal with excessive regulations, countless government quangos and too many inspectors of one kind or another, when they ought to be getting on with making their businesses survive and grow, their public services improve and creating new secure jobs .


The instinctive dislike that we Conservatives feel for excessive bureaucracy is anathema to Labour. One thing New Labour never lost was the idea that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best. Socialists thought, and New Labour still thinks, that politics and government have the answer to everything. They can’t hold themselves back from wishing to have a policy on this, an initiative on that, a public protection intervention of one sort or another. Whenever we have a Labour government, government just gets bigger.

I don’t think any of this regulation, bureaucracy or legalism was ever introduced for malicious motives. The well-meaning nanny state is at the very heart of this system. A sort of puritan belief that everything can be so perfected that no risk of any kind is ever going to be taken. Parliament churns out legislation like a sausage machine. The tax code is twice as long and complicated as it was in my day. And British life and British business suffer.


We are publishing today a paper which was outlined earlier by John Penrose, which sets out our plans to win the battle against red tape. We need to protect the highest standards of health, safety, fair trading and honesty in business life. We are not going to lower standards. We do not need mountains of forms, thousands of non-jobs, hundreds of quangos in gleaming office blocks to achieve that. Regulations based on achieving outcomes rather than just blindly following box-ticking procedure, will actually work better.

John Penrose’s paper sets it all out. It is solid policy. It is a worthwhile read. We will introduce a system of regulatory budgets across government, that means that no new red tape will be introduced without a compensating cut in the costs and burden somewhere else. We will give each regulator and quango a ‘sunset clause’. That means they will automatically cease to exist after a set period unless they can prove their continuing usefulness. Finally, we will create a stronger and more assertive Parliament which can scrutinise new laws more effectively. We need better laws not just more laws.


This part of our policy passes my favourite test for economic policy making.

I’ve always thought that the most important job of the Business Ministry – and the Treasury come to that – is to make it easier for the small businessman in the Midlands to make his living, to produce a bit of prosperity and create some jobs. That was a guiding principle I often stated when I was Chancellor. It should be our guiding light now.

The question ministers must ask themselves is – are we making it easier for that businessman or businesswoman to thrive or not? And half the time, as they will tell you, this government’s getting in the way.

We are in the final stages of developing policies in many other areas. To plug the gaps in the venture capital market. To provide more apprenticeships and training opportunities. To develop our science and engineering. With James Dyson’s help, to ensure that our innovations in science and engineering are translated into businesses, services and employment in this country and not lured away by better business conditions for enterprise abroad.

Today – Deregulation. We will have to strive to provide the right environment for businesses, large and small, to grow. For if you succeed on that score, you provide the growth, the tax revenues, the jobs and prosperity which come with it. That is how to get out of trouble. Britain must be open for business again.


We need big British business as well. Big business needs to work with government in different ways. It needs government alongside it in markets across the world, where there is a political content in marketing. There are plenty of countries in the world where the government has got to be supportive to enable its own businesses to be in with a shout.

We don’t believe that Government can create national champions but those that emerge become our national champions, and we take pride in them. Some modern businesses require multinational scale, to be a success and take their fair share of the jobs and the prosperity that come from great new industries.

The UK’s future depends on these great industries – increasingly in new areas like high technology manufacturing and the creative industries. That means rebalancing our economy away from dangerous over-dependence on areas like financial services.

Try telling business people or politicians from the States, Germany or Japan, that you can have a successful wealthy economy without having any manufacturing. Only the British came to believe that. In 12 years of Labour Government, the number of manufacturing jobs in Britain has dropped by more than a third. We have paid for the error. Britain has to make things again.


The future lies in nurturing high-added value, technologically advanced, scientifically innovative, well-managed, aggressively marketed companies. Providing our young people with all the skills and the ability to contribute to those fields.

That is the mission on which all our team was focused when we presented Get Britain Working yesterday.


If an individual who wants to develop his own business can’t feel the Conservative Party is a friend, what exactly are we about as a centre right party?

If we say we all believe in free market economics then aren’t small businesses the best manifestation of the best qualities of free market economics?

If we want to have social mobility – and we do – have more small business.

If we want to have a less bureaucratic society, have more small business.

If we want to create jobs, have more small business.

Can we leave it to Brown and Mandelson? Led by David Cameron and George Osborne we need to do it ourselves.

Peter Mandelson displayed theatrical talents which we never suspected last week. From next May onwards he could have a future on the stage – and not just as a pantomime villain. He said I sometimes agree with him.

Yes I did – responsibly and in the national interest – agree with him on the future of Royal Mail. We agreed with him when he took his Bill through the House of Lords. And what happened? That weak and dithering Prime Minister – Gordon Brown – has stopped him bringing his Bill into the House of Commons.

Peter Mandelson’s boldest policy is now a symbol of paralysed indecision while the Royal Mail slips into insolvency and strikes.

So where has Peter Mandelson made his biggest mark on British politics so far? Ironically he is the man who saved Gordon Brown from the incompetent plotters in the Labour Party who were trying to overthrow him twelve months ago. That was the whole point of the Mandelson come-back. But for Peter Mandelson, Britain would have thrown off the burden of Brown as Prime Minister. Why, oh why did you do that Peter?

Gordon Brown contributed to the global crash by his failed reforms of bank regulation and his reckless Government borrowing.

Brown denied the crisis was here when it first hit us.

Brown denied that debt was a problem or that any of his spending and borrowing was unaffordable.

Brown was denying the need for any cuts at all in public spending or borrowing until only a few weeks ago.

For Britain, Gordon Brown is and was a large part of the problem – he can play no part in the answer.

So, as one comeback kid to another, Peter, why did you save Gordon Brown for the nation? The nation is not grateful.

And what is Gordon Brown’s main legacy going to be to the people of Britain? A terrible surge in unemployment.

Who would have thought it – that a Labour Government – a Labour Government – would ever preside over the biggest rise in unemployment in a single quarter since records began. Would Nye Bevan ever have imagined that twelve years of Labour Government would end with one in five young people under the age of 24 unemployed? That is the legacy for real people of Gordon Brown.

When I first started coming to this Conference – a long time ago – my great hero was a man called Iain Macleod.

Iain is, alas, little remembered now – he died in 11 Downing Street after a few weeks only as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I can remember him charging the Party Conference with a striking phrase.

Labour was about to leave an economic mess behind to a Conservative Government. A mess it was but Iain could never have imagined an economic catastrophe as bad as the legacy that New Labour will leave to us.

Macleod said “Labour may scheme their schemes, Liberals may dream their dreams, but we have work to do”.

Mandelson is a schemer. Clegg is a dreamer, Cameron and Osborne are highly intelligent decent young politicians who have what it takes to do the work. And you and I still have the work to do to put them into Downing Street to lead our country to future economic security and success – to make Britain a decent place to trade and do business again.