Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:13 pm on 18th November 2020.

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Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 6:13 pm, 18th November 2020

This is a crisis of a proportion that we could never have imagined, but it seems that cronyism has proliferated in a number of recent appointments by this Government. Of course, Dido Harding’s appointment is an example of that. She is someone who continues to sit on the Benches in the House of Lords as a Conservative peer. She asks and answers questions as a Conservative peer. She has been appointed to run part of a Government Department, not as a Minister and not via the standards in public appointments process—in fact, that was totally disregarded in her appointment under the guise of this crisis—but because she has some contacts and was in the telephone industry, which she apparently was not very good at anyway. She has been appointed, and of course her husband is the tsar in charge of anti-corruption and all that kind of stuff.

Of course, it might well be that the very best people are appointed in a pandemic. It might well be that honest, good decisions have been made, but one of the central points of anti-corruption is the idea of transparency and the idea that public appointments and public contracts are given through due process, even if that due process is extended or expedited, and even if, in the end, the appointments go to the same people. That is not what we have seen and we need urgent action on building trust back into some of those appointments.

We also need to build trust back into many sectors. Teachers need trust put back into many of the decisions around exams, for example. I have just come off a call with the general secretary of the National Education Union and his feeling is that teachers are totally confused about what is actually going to happen. Will there be exams or will there not? Will there not be exams in Wales and Scotland? None of this would have been a problem if we had not had the scrapping of coursework.

The problem would also not be exacerbated if we were able to properly scrutinise Ministers, not just in this place, but in correspondence and parliamentary questions. The reality is that the response time to parliamentary questions is woeful. My caseworkers pull their hair out every single day, and it is not fair. In good times, Government get it wrong and maltreat our constituents. They do it all the time, whatever the Government guise—under whatever party is in government —and one of our roles is to correct those wrongs when they are done. Correction is not always done through the courts. It is very often done by the MP.

If my caseworker has to wait a whole day on the phone for the advice line for immigration, only to be told, “I am terribly sorry; we haven’t followed that case up in three months, even though we promised you three months ago that we would follow it up”—that is routine, Minister—there is a real problem with the system. I have a single mum, for example, who claimed benefits. Someone else fraudulently claimed in her name. She has been chased down by debt collectors about universal credit. She has been treated appallingly. The Department for Work and Pensions agreed with me in the end that it was a fraudulent claim from someone else and that there should be no debt collectors, but it has not informed the debt collectors properly. Normally, we would phone the right people up and get through to the Minister, but that is not possible in this period. That needs to change.