Harriet Harman – 2021 Speech on the Personal Conduct of Owen Paterson

The speech made by Harriet Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, in the House of Commons on 3 November 2021.

I am regretful at rising to speak in this debate. Although we have political adversaries in the House, we are also all colleagues who work together in the same place. I have the utmost sympathy for the family tragedy that hit the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) and the greatest admiration for how he then took up the campaign for the prevention of suicide to help others. In the more than 20 years that we have been in the House together, he has shown me nothing but kindness and courtesy.

It is very much because we as MPs know and understand each other that the House recognised that we needed a complaints system that involved a strong measure of independence. We all recognise that the public want, and are entitled to, the highest standards from their elected representatives, and we are proud to claim that that is the case. We all recognise that the people who elect us want us to act in their interest and in the public interest, and that they want no conflict of interest to blur the issue of our private financial interest with our role as MPs.

Trust in our democracy is all important, but it is fragile. The reputation of the House is easily damaged and, when damaged, hard to restore, as we discovered not only in the lobbying scandal, but in the expenses scandal. How we deal with this issue will reflect on the House as a whole and on each of us individually. I hope that Members on both sides are clear that this is House business, not Government business, and therefore the vote should not be whipped, much though the Whips will try.

We made these rules on lobbying; we need to enforce them. No one foisted the process on us; we initiated it and decided it. Where there are criticisms about the rules that we decided on, changes can be proposed, but as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, they must have an all-party basis to go forward with integrity. That is the way we should do things.

What we must not do is make the rules and then decide to set them aside when we have misgivings about the outcome. I will oppose the amendment and support the motion, and I urge right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to do the same.