Ministerial Code

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:57 pm on 15th November 2005.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 7:57 pm, 15th November 2005

I know that you will not allow me to stray too far from the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I look forward to having the chance as a Minister after the next general election to conform closely to the terms of the ministerial code.

It is not often that Opposition Members quote from the diary of Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror, but let me tell the House about the entry for Thursday 27 March 1997, a month before the general election that brought the Government to power. It mentions an interview with Tony Blair.

"'I won't be weak on sleaze like the Tories," he said. "We have got to be whiter than white if we are to rebuild trust in government.'"

What was Morgan's prediction?

"I reckon that might just come back to haunt him."

I think that it has.

The Prime Minister told us:

"I'm a regular kind of guy"— after accepting a multimillion pound donation and then changing his policy to help the donor. He defended the former Minister for Europe before he resigned, saying he thought he had done nothing wrong. He defended Peter Mandelson before he resigned, and resigned again, saying he did not think he had done anything wrong. Two weeks ago he defended the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside before he resigned, and then said that he left office without a stain on his character.

Surely the Government must realise that it is not tenable for the Prime Minister to be the ultimate arbiter of ministerial standards, and that the time has come to bring an independent element into the process of monitoring and advising on the way in which Ministers treat the code. There is no point in having an independent committee to advise on standards in public life if we do not listen to what it says. The Prime Minister and his colleagues argued for it when they were in opposition, when they were challenging the Conservative party over issues of standards. Now that they are in government, they find it much less convenient to pay attention, and much less convenient to do what is right. In my book, that is not upholding standards—it is nothing less than double standards, and it is not good enough.

Let me conclude by taking Labour Members back to the days when their party was in opposition, and in particular to the words of the Prime Minister on the night that the Commons debated the first report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. That night the then Government did not agree with everything Lord Nolan wanted and they faced an onslaught from an outraged Opposition, led by the current Prime Minister, who demanded of the then Prime Minister:

"Just what do he and his party have to hide?"

He went on:

"If now, in weakness, the Prime Minister goes back on his word to implement the report that he commissioned, it will leave a stain on his prime ministership and on his Government that will not be removed until this rotten Administration is swept from office."—[Hansard, 2 November 1995;Vol. 265, c. 387]

A decade on from that night, that same Leader of the Opposition is now the Prime Minister and he has performed a complete about-turn. Now he does not want to implement a report on standards that he commissioned. Tonight, my question to him and to the Minister is the same question as he once asked: just what do he and his party have to hide?