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.

Why where Special Branch watching me even when I was an MP?

Printed in the Guardian

Following media revelations about old MI5 files held on Labour government ministers, the head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, came to see me at the Foreign Office in 2001 when I was Europe minister. Low key and courteous, he confirmed there had indeed been such an MI5 file on me and that I had been under regular surveillance. However, he was at pains to say, I had nothing to worry about because the file had long been “destroyed” when I had ceased “to be of interest”. Furthermore, he was anxious to impress, I had “never been regarded by the service as a communist agent”. He made no mention of what appears to have been an entirely separate tranche of files compiled by special branch on me and a group of similarly democratically elected, serving MPs.

That special branch had a file on me dating back 40 years ago to Anti-Apartheid Movement and Anti-Nazi League activist days is hardly revelatory. That these files were still active for at least 10 years while I was an MP certainly is and raises fundamental questions about parliamentary sovereignty. The same is true of my Labour MP colleagues Jack Straw, Harriet Harman, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone, Dennis Skinner and Joan Ruddock, as well as former colleagues Tony Benn and Bernie Grant – all of us named by Peter Francis, a former Special Demonstration Squad undercover police spy turned whistleblower.

Formed in 1968, the SDS, an undercover unit within special branch, infiltrated “radical” political movements which it deemed a threat to the UK state. It is documented that Britain’s security services penetrated progressive campaigns, leftwing groups and trade unions during the 1960s-1980s when even noble fights against the evil of apartheid, protests against the Vietnam war, or strikes against worker exploitation, were seen through a cold war prism as “subversive”. Although activists like me vigorously opposed Stalinism, that didn’t stop us being lumped together with Moscow sympathisers, providing a spurious pretext to be targeted.

But Peter Francis states that he inspected our files during the period from 1990 when he joined Special Branch to when he left the police in 2001 – exactly when we were all MPs. Jack Straw was a serving home secretary from 1997, and I was a foreign office minister from 1999, both of us ironically seeing MI5 or MI6 and GCHQ intelligence almost daily to carry out our duties.

Because the principle of parliament’s sovereignty and independence from the state is vital to our democracy, having an active file on sitting MPs deriving from their radical activism decades before is a fundamental threat to our democracy – even more so if special branch considered our contemporary political views or activities as MPs merited such a file.

Though on 6 March 2014, the home secretary, Theresa May, announced a public inquiry into the SDS’s operations, she has so far refused a request from me to include within its remit surveillance of the MPs identified by Peter Francis.

This is intolerable. The inquiry is now being established and should investigate on what basis, and for what purported reasons, MPs were targeted by the SDS, who specifically was monitored, how that took place, what information was collected about them, with whom was this information shared and on what basis.

The House of Commons also needs to know whether this monitoring affected our ability as MPs to speak confidentially with constituents, and what, if any, impact that had on our ability to represent them properly. Did this surveillance by the SDS cause any miscarriages of justice, for example, if a constituent confided in an MP regarding a complaint or claim they intended to pursue against the police or any other state body with which the SDS shared information.

We know, for example, that the campaign to get justice for Stephen Lawrence, the black teenager murdered by racists, was infiltrated by the SDS and that the police blocked a proper prosecution. Did police infiltrators in the Lawrence campaign exploit private information shared by constituents or lawyers with any of us as MPs? Parliament should be told.

At the very least, the home secretary should order the police to disclose all relevant information and, to each of the MPs affected, our complete individual Personal Registry Files. In September 2001 MI5 was forced to open many of its secret files for the first time after an independent tribunal accepted that a blanket ban on releasing information was unlawful under the Data Protection Act.

It is one thing to have a file on an MP suspected of crime, child abuse or even cooperating with terrorism; quite another to maintain one deriving from radical political activism promoting values of social justice, human rights and equal opportunities shared by many British people from bishops to businessmen.

This whole affair also raises a question as to whether the 1966 “Wilson doctrine” now needs expanding to cover surveillance as well as telephone tapping of MPs. That year, after a series of scandals over tapping MPs’ phones, prime minister Harold Wilson told parliament that MPs’ phones should not be tapped and that any change to that position would be a matter for the Commons. The Wilson doctrine has never been contradicted by any of his successors. Indeed, when I was a cabinet minister, Tony Blair reaffirmed it.

The question raised by this evidence from Peter Francis is whether the police and the security services really have their eye on the ball. Their absolute priority should be to defeat serious crime and terrorist threats – and that may obviously involve going undercover in a manner that can be completely justified. When I was secretary of state for Northern Ireland, from 2005 to 2007, I was aware of such undercover operations and of the vital role they often played. But conflating serious crime with political dissent unpopular with the state at the time is different. It means travelling down a road that endangers the liberty of us all.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/special-branch-watching-me-mp-democracy

 

Statement by Peter Hain MP on the Northern Ireland Select Committee Report into the On the Runs Letters

Statement by Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State May 2005-June 2007

 ‘Successive Attorney Generals, Labour and Conservative, have confirmed that the Scheme was lawful so contradicting the Committee’s different suggestion.  Although I flatly disagree with some of the Committee’s conclusions, it is welcome that they did not question either my integrity or that of other Labour Ministers or our civil servants intimately involved in successfully delivering peace and stablity to Northern Ireland.  We behaved throughout with one purpose in mind: to end the terror and horror and bring bitter old enemies to govern together, and in that we succeeded.  The truth is we would not have delivered this without implementing the Administrative Scheme to issue official letters to those Sinn Fein Members on whom the police believed at the time there was no basis to bring a prosecution.’

Peter on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme

Interviewed by Justin Webb, 

LK:                  Well here is the question I suppose, do you think anything needs to change, you claim you don’t think he should be deposed but do you think he, his team need to do things differently, is that at least true?

 

PH:                 You and I Justin, you in the media and I as a politicians occupy the Westminster bubble, it is a world completely remote from what is happening out there in places like Neath where I’m speaking to you from, we just heard a tragic, terrible story on your programme we have got a world in which zero hour contracts, a rough world of work, people getting mortgages to pay off their kid’s student debts, London flats being bought up by the block and kept empty by oligarchs, that is the world out there, stuttering growth, austerity, a hard time in which the British economy is sinking and is failing to compete abroad and then there is this Westminster bubble nonsense about plots from unnamed people and those that are named flatly deny it. The media led by the Daily Mail, what a surprise ‘A bonfire plot against Ed’ screaming on the headlines of the Daily Mail, the Daily Mail has always been virulently anti-Labour

 

JW:                 DO you think it is made up?

 

PH:                 I don’t know whether it is made up or not all I know is reputable journalists including on the BBC don’t mention names because there are no names and if there are people feeding this stuff they should stop because what the country is desperate for is change. They want to get rid of this incompetent government that may not even be able to keep the lights on over Christmas, they know that Ed Miliband, despite all the attacks on him in the media has a plan for the country. He was the one who showed the courage to take on Rupert Murdoch, who identified the way the electricity industry was ripping consumers off and remember when he called for an electricity price freeze the industry screamed, the Tories said it was a Marxist plot and then one after the other the industries said they would start to do it. He has been consistently leading this country in pointing out that we need to change the direction of the country, bringing out policies for new housing, for tackling the problem of zero hour contracts and so on

 

JW:                 Isn’t that the point though, you make the case there that the country is in trouble, the individuals are in trouble, that there is anger, that there is disillusion, isn’t the point that those inside the party who might be muttering about him, isn’t the point that they would make, that he should be in a position where he captures that disillusion and uses it politically, offers solutions that people genuinely think might work for them and that doesn’t seem to be happening?

 

PH:                 I think that is happening but we are living in a very different political climate. I’m just looking at the facts in the latest opinion poll which show the Conservatives on 27%, just 3 points ahead of Ukip on 24% and Labour with a clear-ish lead, now we need to do better in the polls, of course,  but we are in a new political climate in which there is no trust at all in the political class of which I’m a member and all the party leaders inhabit, no party leader has got good ratings at present time and what we need to do as a Labour Party is unite and pull ourselves together and get behind Ed as I believe the party in the country is and campaign and I think he will be the Prime Minister next year and I’m not saying this out of bravado, or tribal loyalty I think we will be the biggest party and I think Ed Miliband is on course to win but he needs the support of every Labour MP and I don’t think the mutterers if they exist and no doubt journalists are not inventing this though they can’t name the people, I find that very significant. If the mutterers continue to mutter then all they will do is stop places like Neath from being liberated from this destructive, uncaring, unfair government that is destroying people’s lives.

 

JW:                 You sound pretty angry this morning?

 

PH:                 I am angry because in the real world out here it is a world in which – I had last week an individual come to me, a constituent come to me with liver cancer, he is going to die unless he gets a liver transplant, he has been stripped of all his benefits he told me, he has not got any support from the welfare net that is supposed to support people in his dire situation. I can repeat other examples of what is actually happening on the ground and I don’t think those people or Labour Party members will forgive some self-indulgent Member of Parliament muttering to a journalist and producing a headline in the Daily Mail when actually those newspapers have always been Labour’s enemies and we have a plan, Ed Miliband actually has been the first to identify that this country needs to be changed and changed radically if it is to serve the interests of everyone and not just the tiny elite at the top which is what Cameron and his old Etonian cronies are doing.

 

 

-ends-

The time has come to transform British Government

Peter Hain MP has joined Ed Miliband’s calls for scrapping the House of Lords in favour of a democratically elected Senate.

Speaking from his Neath constituency, the former Secretary of State for Wales said: “the Lords are an archaic anomaly which fuels disillusionment with British politics. It exists purely on a democratic deficit which has been allowed to evolve unchecked for centuries.”

“Wales has just 24 peers in the Lords, compared to 266 from London and the South East of England. London alone has more peers than East Midlands, West Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland, the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber added together. We cannot allow this to continue.”

Since the Scottish Referendum on the 18th of September, Labour has been the only party to call for a full-scale constitutional convention in the United Kingdom to redress the imbalances of its historical system of government.

“I believe this is a once in a century opportunity to make our system of government fit for everyone, the fact is that people are fed up with an out-of-touch political class and the growing sense that Westminster is failing us all.”

-ENDS –