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Harlow MP Robert Halfon makes emotional final speech in the House of Commons

General Election 2024 / Sat 25th May 2024 at 04:38am

HARLOW MP Robert Halfon made an emotional farewell speech in the House of Commons on Friday afternoon.

With his wife and staff in the gallery, Mr Halfon looked back on his political journey, from the small boy seeking treatment at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), to the day he was elected as MP in 2010.

He detailed the campaigns he had led and modestly made reference to his achievements.

However, time and time again, Mr Halfon made reference to the people of Harlow.

Finally, after twenty minutes, he paid tribute to his staff and named each person who had worked for him over the last fourteen years.

He also paid tribute to his wife Vanda.

But finally, he returned to his favourite book, The Lord of the Rings and typically signed off with the a message of hope and positivity.

Whoever replaces him as MP will find Robert Halfon a hard act to follow.

Robert Halfon’s speech in full

As I was watching this debate, sitting in this beautiful Chamber, I was thinking of my constituency of Harlow. Not so long ago, I was campaigning outside a Lidl supermarket, which I did regularly, handing out leaflets. One time—this is genuinely a true story—a lady came up to me and said that my leaflet had come through her letterbox that very morning. She said how handsome I looked, but followed that up by saying, “You look bloody awful in real life.” I tell that story not just because it is true, but because, however wonderful this place is and however incredible it is to be an MP, our constituents, especially in a place like Harlow, bring us back down to Earth with a bump.

That is very good for us, because we go back to our constituencies and do our community days every Friday and Saturday, and often on Sundays, and our constituents tell us what is going on. Almost every Saturday, I go to a wonderful sandwich café serving incredible coffee in the centre of the town, and my goodness, the constituents in that café tell me what is what. They tell me what is really going on, whether it is someone whose child cannot get special educational needs support or somebody who cannot get a house, or whatever it may be.

Intervention

Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham
I was driving through Harlow one day, and to my shock, I suddenly saw my right hon. Friend sitting by the dual carriageway under a bloody great big sign reading “Vote Halfon”. You could not miss him, and I thought, “My God, there’s someone who knows how to campaign.”

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I thank my right hon. Friend—my truly honourable Friend—for his intervention. It is true; it is going to be a strange election. I have done six from 2001 onwards, including in 2005 when I lost by 97 votes, and at every single election I have stood by the roadside with a massive sign, usually “Please cut fuel duty”, from 6.30 am to 9 am or from 4 pm to 7 pm, waving at all the cars. One time, there was a van that used to pass every day, and they used to scream obscenities at me. They even brought an inflatable “up yours” sign to wave at me, and a few days before polling day, they threw a mild water bomb at me—just a balloon; it was fine. On the last day, on polling day, with this having gone on for almost six weeks, they got out of the van. I was thinking, “Oh my goodness, what are they going to do to me?” They slapped me on the back and said, “Good on you, mate. We’re voting Conservative.”

As I have said, Parliament is an incredible place. An Essex MP came to my school, although I was brought up in north London, and said that the Houses of Parliament had over 1,000 rooms. I demanded to go and see those 1,000 rooms—I had to see every single one of them—and I came here on a tour, but sadly I did not see all 1,000 rooms. To this very day, I still have not seen all 1,000 rooms, but I decided on that day, at 10 years old, that I would be a Member of Parliament, because I thought this Parliament was so beautiful. I thought Central Lobby was so incredible. I loved history, and every single one of us in Parliament is part of living history.

I wanted to be in Parliament for another reason. Although I very rarely talked about it, because I did not want to be known as a disabled MP, when I was a child I could not walk. I used to walk on tiptoe—perhaps I should have gone into ballet at Covent Garden—and I was told that I would never be able to walk. I was told that I should go to a special school; the doctors wrote to my father saying so, and I remember seeing the letters, even at a young age. Then my father found this incredible professor at Great Ormond Street Hospital who understood what was going on, and I had operations throughout my childhood, right through to adult life.

What is being an MP about? It is about giving public service, looking after your constituents and serving the public. Professor Lloyd-Roberts at Great Ormond Street Hospital, the person who started it off, was the man who changed my life, and I felt that being an MP was my chance to help change other people’s lives for the better. I should say that I was in another hospital and then moved to a nursing home, and none other than Nadine Dorries, the former MP for Mid Bedfordshire, was a nurse while I was in that hospital—so she tells me, and I think I sort of remember it. She is perhaps the only MP who has seen me in my birthday suit—less “The Plot”, more the pot, as it might be.

As an MP, you do things for your constituency and you also champion causes, and as my right hon. Friend Mr Wallace said, you sometimes have a chance to govern. When I came in, I wanted to do three things: the first was to build an even better Harlow, and the second was to champion the cost of living. We think a lot about the cost of living now, but the cost of living in constituencies such as mine has always been tough. I have constituents where often, one partner works in the day and the other works in the evening, and people say to me, “We work for 48 hours and still find it hard to keep our heads above water.”

I started the fuel duty campaign because my local McDonald’s had started charging for parking if people stayed beyond a certain time. I asked the franchise owner why he was doing this, and he said, “People are parking overnight because they can’t afford to drive back home.” People were parking overnight and sleeping in their car because they could not afford the cost of fuel, which I realised was the central issue. It was also why, as a Conservative, I campaigned for the living wage. I was proud to attend Cabinet when George Osborne, the then Chancellor, announced it.

I was also proud to be George Osborne’s Parliamentary Private Secretary. PPSs are usually known as “bag carriers” but, because of my legs, the Chancellor sometimes helped me to carry my briefcase, so I think I was the first PPS in history whose bag was carried by the Secretary of State, rather than the other way around.

The other most important issue to me has been championing apprenticeships and skills. Way back in 2008, when I was a parliamentary candidate, I went into a building in my constituency and met some young kids who were being looked after by the Prince’s Trust, which is an amazing organisation that I love with every fibre of my body, and Catch22. They talked about apprenticeships, and about wanting to do skills, but there were no offerings for them. These kids were from very disadvantaged backgrounds, and I said to myself on that day that, if I were elected to Parliament, I would champion apprenticeships and skills. My first speech in the House of Commons was about trying to get more schools to encourage their children, pupils and students to do apprenticeships, as well as go to university, by transforming careers advice in our schools so that people understand the apprenticeship offering.

I am very proud of what this Government have done. We often talk about successes in education and reading, but I am very proud of what this Government have done on skills. I believe that history will show huge apprenticeship reforms. People can now do an apprenticeship in everything from aeronautics to zoology.

Degree apprenticeships were introduced by my right hon. Friend Matt Hancock, and there have now been more than 200,000 degree apprentices. People can take one in every subject, and they are now regarded with prestige. Our T-levels are prestigious vocational qualifications. We have more than 20 institutes of technology teaching prestigious tertiary education. I love Harlow College, which I have visited more than 110 times since becoming a Member of Parliament, because the college, the staff and students have taught me everything I know. They helped me along the way when I was championing apprentices.

I was twice the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and, latterly, Higher Education, for which I am hugely grateful to the Prime Minister. It was a huge moment for me, because Select Committee Chairs and Back Benchers can campaign, and I got apprenticeships for prisoners and more careers advice for students in schools through, but Ministers can make policy. It is an incredible honour to be able to do that, and some of our reforms over the past couple of years, such as the lifelong learning entitlement, which will revolutionise adult learning, the improved apprenticeship levy and the £2.7 billion being spent on apprenticeships by 2025 will make a huge difference.

We stand up and get the credit for all these things, but I could not have done one thing without—without

I could not have done one thing without the incredible staff here. They are the people who work for long hours. They look after us, they are loyal, they do the hard work, they do the research, and they help to prepare the speeches. I want to name a few who have been with me over the years. Some have gone, but I hope the House will forgive me if I name them all, because these people really have been incredible. They are Ann Russell-Day, Paul Abbott, Victoria Thornton, Janet Ballard and Melanie Torino—watching from above in the Gallery today—Maria Bellissimo, Hannah Ellis, Holly Papworth, Ethan Harries—watching from above—Natalie Dilworth, Anna Taylor—watching from above—Alex Griffiths, Simon Carter—who started me off, as my agent—Dan Swords, leader of Harlow Council, the youngest ever leader of any council in political history, and a former apprentice in my office—Emily Burditt, Clive Russell-Day, Aaron Farrell, and Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. There is also, of course, my wife Vanda, who is watching, and who has stood with me through thick and thin.


I must also thank the wonderful residents of Harlow. They are tough. They want their Member of Parliament to work hard to champion and fight for Harlow, and they expect the best from their MP. I have worked hard to help regenerate our town, and some wonderful things have been happening.

I want to give particular thanks to the editor of our local newspaper, Michael Casey, who is a very special individual. We used to have three newspapers in our town, which were free and went to every home. This man set up an internet newspaper that now receives literally millions of hits. He gives me a hard time, which is his right, but if it were not for him we would have no news in Harlow.

I do not need to suck up to you any more, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am not standing again, but you have been a wonderful person to me, as have all the other Deputy Speakers. I am a huge fan of Mr Speaker as well, and I hope he remains in place for many years to come. He has shown me nothing but kindness.

I especially want to thank the Doorkeepers, one of whom is sitting in the Chamber. I hope he will not mind my mentioning him, but he knew me when I was a researcher. Every single one of the Doorkeepers is extraordinary and decent, and I am enormously grateful to them all. I should also mention the staff of the Tea Room. I love the Tea Room: I call it the lorry drivers’ caff for MPs. Its staff have helped me every single day, and I love every one of them.

Let me end with just three asks. First, as I will not be here any more to make a nuisance of myself on fuel duty, I ask now that, whichever party is in government in the future, we continue freeze fuel duty and to cut it. Let us remember that the Prime Minister cut it by 5p when he was Chancellor. Secondly, I ask that we continue, as a House, to champion apprenticeships and skills. I was the first MP to employ full-time parliamentary apprentices in my office, and I hope that one day the Speaker will set up a scheme, additional to the intern scheme, to put more apprentices in MPs’ offices and not just in the civil service of the House, however brilliant that is.

As I have said, I never talk much about my legs, but I am going now, and I am very lucky to have benefited from, for instance, the kindest officers and Doorkeepers in the world—as well as the Segway. I have run over a few Members’ toes with it, from those of my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant to those of a former MP for Milton Keynes and a few others in between. Everyone has been very kind. It will not be the same not to be scooting through here and asking everyone to put their legs up, especially the ladies.

However, this is a terrible place for people who have difficulties. The lavatories are never working, the lifts are never working, and the doors are always shut. There is just not enough understanding. It is not about producing a press release saying, “We’re an inclusive and diverse employer.” That means nothing. I have had great chats in the last few days with brilliant House of Commons staff—as I have said, every single member of staff is brilliant—but there has to be change. Everybody should be able to access this place easily and comfortably, whatever their background, so I urge the new Parliament, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker and the other Deputy Speakers to make that happen once and for all.

Finally, I pay tribute to the wonderful party that I joined at 15 years old. It is a family—a dysfunctional family, but a family nevertheless. I feel as though I am leaving home. It is a wonderful honour to have been a member of the Conservative party; I will still be a member and will help as much as I can. Let us go out there and be a compassionate Conservative party that puts social justice and helping the disadvantaged at its heart. Let us not sound too angry, which we can do from time to time. Let us go out and support the Prime Minister, and let us try to win this general election.

I have come to my last words. When I resigned, I quoted J. R. R. Tolkien, whom I love. I am looking forward to the Tolkien Society’s annual Oxonmoot later this year. Those who know “Lord of the Rings” will know that when Gandalf takes the hobbits back to the Shire after they have all conquered the ring, he says that he is not going with them:

“I am with you at present…but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire…My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help…among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.”

I am more Bilbo than Gandalf, because I am small, I have fat feet, I do like a smoke and I love the countryside. For me, although I will not be in Parliament, as Bilbo said:

“The Road goes ever on”.

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5 Comments for Harlow MP Robert Halfon makes emotional final speech in the House of Commons:

DS
2024-05-25 09:46:08

Will YourHarlow write as favourably about our next MP if they aren't paying the site for ad space?

Eddie
2024-05-25 15:24:58

Surely that wasn't DanSwords on that previous post 🤔

Norm
2024-05-25 17:15:26

Did the speech explain where the new hospital is? Five years ago we were promised a new hospital by 2024. Now they say going to take 8 years. How can five years of work make the deadline longer? Who is getting rich off this project?

RayMo
2024-05-26 08:01:17

Normally when I read a comment that I agree with, I go back to it to add my two penneth and it's gone.

David
2024-05-26 09:09:05

Last week many important bills were dropped because there wasn’t Parliamentary Time. Martyn's Law, a commitment for the last Parliament was National Security Law which would have required venues and local authorities to have preventative plans in place against terror attacks will now not go ahead before the election. For outgoing MPs to waste Parliamentary Time on these valedictories not only demonstrates how self-indulgent many are, but it is also more than a little obscene.

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