Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 10th February 2022.
At the beginning of a new year, do you agree with me that we should be looking to all those that have a position in public life to be meeting a standard of propriety?
It is of the utmost importance that everyone in public life meets the highest standards of propriety now, and every day of the year. Rules and laws must be followed by everyone, but people who are elected to public office have an additional responsibility to set the best example. Representing your community is a huge privilege. When Londoners see their elected representatives flouting the rules, it undermines public confidence in the democratic process.
The COVID regulations imposed significant restrictions on our most fundamental liberties to control the spread of the virus. This changed everyone’s lives overnight. We did not see our families for months. Some people were not able to leave their homes. Young people had their educations disrupted. Many people lost their incomes. For some people, the regulations had consequences most of us can never imagine. They were not able to attend their loved ones’ funerals. People died alone. However, we stuck to the rules because we knew it was the right thing to do.
Now we know that all the while, members of the party of the Government were flouting the laws they themselves established. They were attending drinks parties and celebrations whilst Londoners did the right thing and stuck to the rules. They were laughing about it, and it feels like they were laughing at us. We have heard mealy-mouthed apologies from those who have been caught out.
We might ask why these are forthcoming only when the photos or emails appear in the papers. The Assembly Member pictured at a party on 14 December 2020 stood down as Chair of the Police and Crime Committee on 14 December 2021, exactly a year later, and only when his picture appeared in a national newspaper.
It is worth reflecting on this. He continued to chair the committee responsible for scrutinising the work of the MPS for a full year after he broke a law established to protect us against a deadly pandemic. We have now seen him step down as Chair of the Economy Committee and, up until today, vanish from this Chamber.
His resignation as an Assembly Member must surely now be an inevitability. Londoners deserve much better representatives than that.
Of course, there was and there are comments about what has gone on in the national Government and then there are issues relating to the conduct of Members of this Assembly.
Let us be honest. The Monitoring Officer has come to a view in response to an all-party response about those issues, and that needs to be followed up. She decided that the Member is not going to be called to account because the activities occurred outside GLA activities. That is questionable and that needs to be reflected on and answered. For today, let us be very clear. The conduct of the Member was not just ‑‑
Assembly Member Duvall, you are very well aware that the job of this Chamber is to question the Mayor about his responsibilities and so I would just ask you to continue on that basis.
Chair, I am about to get to a question. I will try to get to it, and I will get to it as quickly as I can.
The conduct of us all as Assembly Members is not just a party-political issue for one particular Group. It reflects on us all. In terms of following the rules and the guidance during a national emergency when there was loss of life, people were asked to restrict their activities to protect others.
It is a matter for the Conservative Group to carry out discipline for their own members and no doubt they will tell us what they have done or not done in that case. I understand Conservative colleagues in the Conservative office were disciplined by the Party for the flagrant breach that took place. The individual could resign. That is a matter for him. We cannot make that individual resign.
Mr Mayor, do you agree that he seems to have apologised to [the Rt Hon] Boris Johnson [MP, Prime Minister] - I am not sure what for; being caught - and he even apologised to his mum on national television, but he needs to apologise to Londoners, he needs to apologise to his colleagues in this Assembly and he needs to apologise to his colleagues in the Conservative Group who have tried to uphold the rules and the laws and every one of us? What his actions have done, in misleading the media over whether he was at the party or not, is to bring us all into disrepute.
Therefore, an apology is owed to us. An apology is owed to Londoners. Mr Mayor, would you not agree that he should do the right thing and apologise to us in the first instance?
We have heard a carefully scripted apology from the Prime Minister, which I suspect was written by a member of the profession that the Prime Minister regularly criticises and chastises. I have no doubt that very shortly we will be hearing a very similarly scripted apology or non-apology from the said Member. Let us wait and see, Chair.
I just thought there might be an answer or an apology or someone getting up and apologising. I just had a pause.
In that sense, Mr Mayor, in terms of our conduct, just going back to what we said earlier on, is it incumbent on us, whether are doing GLA activities or not, to uphold the rules and the laws of this country at all times and not to mislead people about situations for over a year, and mislead colleagues about what took place without some calling to account? We have heard what the Monitoring Officer has said. Do you think that the minimum that could be said is that a public apology is required to Londoners and that it is best it takes place in this Chamber whilst the opportunity is here?
You and I have knocked on enough doors and spoken to enough Londoners to understand that Londoners are not stupid. The problem Londoners have is they are seeing people in positions of power and influence blatantly breaking the rules and laughing about it, at the same time as they are lecturing us to follow the rules. It is not just the law-breaking. It is not just the lies. It is the hypocrisy. It is very difficult for you and me to go out tomorrow and ask Londoners to follow new rules, and to follow the regulations when there has been no comeuppance for those who have flagrantly broken the rules. That is why it is so important in relation to the Prime Minister’s conduct and somebody who, had circumstances been different, could have been sitting in this chair as the Mayor of this great city. It is flabbergasting.
Do you think that silence, then, Mr Mayor, just shows the contempt that people hold for the public and for those Londoners who make those sacrifices and those who have lost loved ones as well? Do you think the silence is coming from the right people across the table?
This Assembly has a specific function of holding the Mayor to account. There are other ways of holding Assembly Members to account and it is not the function of this body. Assembly Member Duvall, you know more than any of us that that is what this body is for. I would ask you to phrase your questions ‑‑
Chair, in my defence, I am asking about the conduct of Assembly Members in carrying out their business and the Mayor’s view of that. I am entitled to that in holding him to account and in what we would expect. At the same time, there are opportunities when Members in this Chamber should do the right thing before even being called to do it.