Peter Hain’s Valedictory speech in the Commons

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Peter Hain gave his valedictory speech, his last act as a Member of Parliament.

The veteran politician and campaigner reflected on almost a quarter of a century in Westminster politics, paying tribute to his friends and family for the love and support which sustained him as an MP.

Joining in with other retiring Labour former cabinet members such as Gordon Brown & Jack Straw, the valedictory speeches followed an unusual and emotional day in the Commons.

You can read the full extract of Peter’s speech below:

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Mr Speaker, having served for 24 years, may I commend your role as in my view the greatest reforming Speaker in memory, by making the Commons immensely more user and citizen-friendly, and especially for the way in which you have enhanced Back-Bench influence? I thank all the Commons staff, including our excellent Serjeant at Arms and especially the Doorkeepers, with whom I have had a specially close relationship since I invited them in to share a few bottles of wine—South African wine—in the Leader of the Commons’ office.

I thank my constituents in Neath and Neath constituency Labour party for their tremendous loyalty and support. I was a Pretoria boy, but I am proud to have become a Neath man. When I first arrived I was shown into a local primary school, Godre’r Graig school in the Swansea valley: “This is a very important person to meet you, class.” A little boy in the front row put up his hand and asked, “Do you play rugby for Neath?” Clearly, he had his priorities right.

I have been privileged and fortunate to have the very best friend anybody could have in Howard Davies of Seven Sisters, what he calls God’s own country, in the Dulais valley in Neath. I first met him in February 1990, a former miner who was lodge secretary at Blaenant colliery during the heart-rending year-long strike in 1984-85. My first agent and office manager, Howard has always been completely loyal and supportive, but privately frank and direct—priceless virtues which I commend to anyone in national politics.

Having come from a world of radical protest and activism, I never expected to be a Minister for 12 years. It began when Alastair Campbell unexpectedly called and said, “Tony wants to make an honest man of you.” Some former comrades on the left were disparaging, but my response was, “I’ve never been an all-or-nothing person. I’m an all-or-something person.” I am proud of many of the achievements of our last Labour Government, some of which I helped a little with, including bringing peace to Northern Ireland and devolution to Wales.

However, there was a tabloid columnist who described me as the “second most boring member of the Cabinet”. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor, came top. At least that was more civil than the editor of Sunday Express at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle, when I led campaigns to disrupt whites-only South African rugby and cricket tours. He said: “It would be a mercy for humanity if this unpleasant little creep were to fall into a sewage tank. Up to his ankles. Head first.” That was nothing compared with the letter bomb I received, fortunately with a technical fault in it, or being put on trial for conspiracy at the Old Bailey for disrupting South African sports tours, or being charged with a bank theft that I knew nothing about, which was later discovered to have been set up by South African agents.

Despite serving as an MP and Cabinet Minister, and remaining a Privy Councillor, I have not changed my belief that progressive change comes only through a combination of extra-parliamentary and parliamentary action. We know that from the struggles of the Chartists, the suffragettes, the early trade unionists, anti-apartheid protesters, the Anti-Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism activists confronting groups such as the National Front and the British National party, and Greenpeace activists inspiring fights against climate change.

If I am asked for advice by young people, who often ask me, “Can you tell me how to have a career in politics?” I say, “It’s not about a career; it’s about a mission.” We should never be in it for ourselves, but for our values. For me, these are equality, social justice, equal opportunities, liberty and democracy in a society based on mutual care and mutual support, not the selfishness and greed now so sadly disfiguring Britain. These values underpinned the anti-apartheid struggle and brought me into the Labour party nearly 40 years ago, but nothing I was able to achieve as an MP or a Minister was possible without the support of my family—my wife Elizabeth Haywood, a rock to me, my wonderful sister Sally, her daughter Connie, my sons Sam and Jake, and their mum, my former wife Pat.

Above all, I am grateful to my mother Adelaine and my father Walter, for their values, courage, integrity, morality and principle. My mum when in jail on her own listened to black prisoners screaming in pain. My dad was banned and then deprived of his job. They did extraordinary things, but as Nelson Mandela said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.”

After 50 years in politics some might say it is time to put my feet up, but I have been lucky to have the best father in the world, and he told me in the mid-1960s when I was a teenager living in apartheid South Africa, “If political change was easy, it would have happened a long time ago. Stick there for the long haul.” That is exactly what I will continue to do after leaving this House.

Mr Speaker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

Motability & Personal Independence Payments

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): The Motability car that my severely disabled constituent, Mark Francis, has had for 11 years is being taken from him in two weeks. Born with hereditary spastic paraplegia and unable to walk without crutches or sticks, he is sadly deteriorating by the week. I have been told that his case will be reconsidered, yet the Department for Work and Pensions is punitively and callously snatching his car from him on 25 February. Will the Prime Minister immediately rectify that heartless and disgraceful injustice?

The Prime Minister: As ever, I am very happy to look at the individual case raised by the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, with the replacement of disability living allowance with the personal independence payment, the most disabled people will be getting more money and more assistance, rather than less, but as I say, I will happily look at the case.

Hain blasts slowest economic recovery since records began

Anti-austerity champion Peter Hain has launched a stinging attack on Chancellor George Osborne as figures reveal Britain is struggling through the slowest economic recovery on record.

Data compiled by the Trade Union Congress shows that the British economy has typically grown in size by 16.1% in the first five years after recession – however under George Osborne that number has struggled to reach 8.8%.

This news compounds the Tories economic woes as in January it was revealed that over one quarter of Wales’ working age population is economically inactive.

The Neath MP said, “We have to recognise the utter folly promoted by George Osborne and his Tory austerity addicts. Britain desperately needs growth and their cuts jeopardise the country’s economic security.”

Mr Hain continued: “Between 2010 & 2012 the government made a number of disastrous decisions which seriously harmed the public investment led recovery the last Labour government had started.”

“As the TUC’s research shows, the strongest recovery on record occurred after the Great Depression, when massive public investment helped create jobs, tax receipts and growth.”

In the last quarter of 2014 Britain’s economy grew by just half of a percentage point, much lower than estimates from the Office of Budget Responsibility and City of London had expected, while Britain’s growth prospects for 2015 have also been revised down to just 2.4% in total, after the OBR had initially confidently predicted growth of 3%.

Fears are growing of another recession in Britain as economic indicators are suggesting a general slowdown. Employment in Wales fell by 40,000 over the year from January 2014.

“A vote for a Tory is a vote for economic lunacy in the upcoming election”, said Mr Hain, as he urged Welsh voters to defy the neo-liberal orthodoxy that drastic cuts would balance the British economy.

A graph by the TUC details the average growth of the British economy in the five years after a recession.

Wales needs to find its place in a federal Britain in the wake of the Scottish Independence Referendum

Western Mail

Former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain – one of Labour’s most senior figures – has urged his party to abandon its commitment to more cuts if it returns to government after May’s General Election.

Here, in the last of a series of extracts from his new book – Back to the Future of Socialism – Mr Hain turns his attention to the aftermath of the Scottish Independence Referendum, and how Wales must find its feet in a federal UK:

‘The aftermath of September’s fraught referendum and the new devolved powers promised for Scotland and Wales have left us facing an unanswered question: If Britain is to stay united, what should be its foundation, its purpose?

As the former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued in his compelling book, My Scotland, Our Britain, the division between separatists and unionists is not about patriotism: both pro- and anti- independence advocates rightly claim to be equally patriotic.

But the incontrovertible advantage of modern Britain is its 20th-century innovation: the pooling and sharing of risks and resources across the whole country to ensure common welfare and decent standards of life for all citizens, regardless of nationality or where you live.

At the heart of this have been ground-breaking decisions made at different crucial points of the 20th century – first introduced by Liberal governments and subsequently consolidated by Labour governments up until 2010 – ensuring common economic, welfare and social standards: common Britain-wide old age pensions; common British social insurance (sick pay, health insurance, unemployment insurance and labour exchanges); common British child and family benefits; a common British minimum wage; and a British system of equalising resources, so that everyone has the same political, social and economic rights, and not simply equal civil and political rights.

Pooling and sharing Britain’s resources also enables redistribution from richer to poorer parts – whether constituent parts of a nation like the coalfield communities of the South Wales Valleys or regions of England such as the North East.

With around 40 per cent of the country’s national wealth concentrated in London and the South East of England, separatists have no answer to what is essentially the democratic socialist case for maintaining the integrity of Britain: redistributing resources from its better to its less well-off parts, and guaranteeing equal opportunity and security for all British citizens regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or faith.

That has meant that while inside the European Union the average income of the typical citizen of the poorest country is just 20 per cent of that of the richest country, and in the US the income of the poorest state is 55 per cent of that of the richest, the average income of the typical Scot is 96 per cent the average income of an English citizen; for Wales the figure is 87 per cent.

A universal right to free health care across Britain in the 1940s and, in the 1990s, a British-wide minimum wage and tax credits that guaranteed a minimum family income stopped regions and nations undercutting each other by offering incoming businesses a lower-paid workforce, thus preventing a race to the bottom between the nations and regions within Britain.

This sharing and redistribution of both resources and risks has therefore come to define the purpose of Britain, to secure cross-country, cross-region fairness and justice.

But, in turn, it means recognising the reality of a more “federal” Britain which I have long advocated and is supported by Labour, Liberal and Green politicians as well as a few thoughtful Conservatives, notably Welsh AM David Melding.

But this federalism should not be based upon an English Parliament to parallel Welsh, Scottish and (subject to the 1998 “Good Friday” settlement which permits unity with the Irish Republic should a referendum endorse that) Northern Ireland Parliaments.

For the 1973 Kilbrandon Royal Commission made a convincing case against a separate English Parliament which has never been rebutted.

Such a federation of four units would be “so unbalanced as to be unworkable. It would be dominated by the overwhelming political importance and wealth of England … [with] Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together representing less than one fifth of the population.”

Instead, in a modern federal Britain, English interests could be protected through devolution beyond London to English regions or city-regions, and by reforms within the existing British Westminster Parliament.

These reforms would be designed to both preserve the equality of all MPs and to introduce special procedures ensuring the voices of English MPs could have weight over English-specific legislation.

The Westminster Parliament would have continuing responsibility for overall economic policy, taxation and spending totals, foreign and defence policy, security (including energy security) and social security.

The devolved legislatures could then take responsibility for most other policy areas, by mutual agreement.

But on taxation there is an important distinction between the Conservative endorsement of income tax devolution and a socialist perspective.

For the right it is an ideological objective to shrink the Whitehall state, offloading as much responsibility as possible onto individual citizens to fend for themselves, outsourcing to private providers and “subcontracting” tax and spending to devolved legislatures.

Having strenuously opposed political devolution in the past, the Tories now see the virtues of economic devolution in right wing terms.

And in that respect, at least, the outcomes if not the ideologies of nationalism and Conservatism converge, because it is the redistributive power of the British state that ensures that the former is extinguished and the latter stunted.

In Wales’ case, independence would leave us much the poorer, just like the North East of England or Cornwall would be if separatism or Tory tax devolution were to affect them.

All British taxpayers – English, Welsh, Scottish – contribute their taxes at a British level to guarantee free health care, pensions, a decent family income and universal education, as well as defence and security – and to guarantee that where relevant the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English regional or city-region governments have the capacity to deliver them.

Today, as policies diverge under devolution that may mean different things in different nations.

For example, there is free care for the elderly in Scotland but not in England.

In Wales student tuition fees are a third of those in England.

In Scotland and Wales collectivism is culturally more deeply rooted than in England, where Tory support is proportionately much greater.

Although socialists and Labour Party members right across Britain share common values of equality, social justice, democracy and liberty, these are increasingly expressed through different priorities and policies.

There is – at least as yet – no recognisably Welsh or Scottish socialism that might differ from an imagined English socialism.

But there is a direction of travel which will only be accommodated under a British socialism that is much more participatory, pluralist and devolutionary.

A Labour government, for example, should not be afraid to promote countervailing sources of power – for example, through an elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords and through devolution in England.

Some Labour traditionalists of both left and right have balked at such democratic pluralism because, as has been the case in Scotland and London, these bodies are not necessarily Labour controlled.

But that contradicts what ought to be a fundamental and defining characteristic of socialism, namely its essentially empowering ethos.

A truly democratic socialist state is an enabling one, though of course it needs to retain an enforcing role through upholding individual rights, asserting the common good on behalf of the community, and curbing excessive influence by the rich and powerful.’