Ministerial Code - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:47 am on 27th January 2022.

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Lord Collins of Highbury:

Asked by Lord Collins of Highbury

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their Ministers are expected to abide by the standards of conduct as set out in paragraph 1.3(c) of the Ministerial Code, as reflected in the resolution of the House of 20 March 1997 and paragraph 4.67 of the Companion to Standing Orders.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

Yes, my Lords. Like all Ministers, I assented to the Ministerial Code on entering office, as I am sure all those in this House in all parties who have had the honour of serving as one of Her Majesty’s Ministers will have done. The code sets out the standards expected of all those who serve in government. Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in light of the code, and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend Lord Foulkes on Tuesday 7 December, the Minister of State—the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith —denied reports that the Prime Minister intervened to evacuate an animal charity from Kabul at the height of the crisis. Yesterday, however, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published an email from the Minister’s private office in August, which stated, contrary to this, that

“the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

Only one of these two statements can be true—which is it? Given that paragraph 4.67 of the Companion clearly states that Ministers must correct any inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity, or offer their resignation if they have knowingly misled, surely the noble Lord, Lord True, agrees that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, should, as a matter of urgency, return to make a Statement to the House. It is what all noble Lords would expect.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the code, and for justifying their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public. I refer the noble Lord opposite to the statement that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith put out yesterday, in which he said:

“I did not authorise & do not support anything that would have put animals’ lives ahead of people’s … I never discussed the … charity or their efforts to evacuate animals with the”

Prime Minister.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, did the Minister by any chance see the strapline comment by Guido Fawkes over the video of the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, leaving the Chamber, which read, “We have now reached the point where Ministers have to explain which scandal of the Government’s they are resigning over”? We have another scandal here—an apparent contradiction between what one Minister has said and what it appears from the official record—which needs to be cleared up. We have a Ministerial Code which is effectively policed by a Prime Minister who has now lost public trust. Could not the Government begin to regain public trust by accepting recommendations from the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the Ministerial Code should be placed on a firmer statutory basis?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

The noble Lord started off with “scandal” and retreated to “apparent contradiction”. I would advise him and others to refer both to the statement put out by my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and the official statements put out by No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee yesterday.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, once again we are being treated to Ministers in studios and in the House not facing up to the fact that the evidence is out there. These emails are there for people to see. I have not heard one Minister deny that the Nowzad animals were helped out of Afghanistan by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the Prime Minister—and possibly also by the intervention of his wife—or say that these emails are not correct. So the evidence is there. Over and above that, my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who cannot be with us today, was on LBC last night with Dominic Dyer, who explained at length how it happened, because he was involved in identifying the Prime Minister, his wife and the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, as helping them to get the animals out of Afghanistan. He is upset because they will not take credit for it; that is what is upsetting him. So when will we get to the point where Ministers here or in television studios will live in the same world as the rest of us, when all the evidence proves the contrary of what they are saying?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I fear I say too often in this House that allegations do not constitute proof. I remind noble Lords that whatever the context of this particular circumstance, a truly outstanding operation was conducted to remove people from Afghanistan safely. I repeat that statements have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary which repudiate the allegations being made.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, does the noble Lord not accept that it is the duty of the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to come to this House and correct or explain the statement, or misstatement, that he made—not to make statements generally? He owes a duty to this House.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will read and hear what the noble Baroness has said. I said in my original Answer that Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to justify their actions and conduct to Parliament and the public.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration), Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, I entirely agree with the Minister that allegations do not constitute evidence, but is he suggesting that this is an allegation of a forgery?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

No, my Lords—I am saying that there is a set of allegations which have been made in many respects and in many circumstances over the last few weeks, in relation not only to this alleged incident but to others, which are allegations and not proof. We well know the impatience that your Lordships have for the conclusion of the Sue Gray inquiry and the Metropolitan Police investigations, but these matters need to be investigated, the facts established and the truth revealed.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office, Constitutional and Devolved issues)

My Lords, I do not want to prolong this unnecessarily, but I think the noble Lord may have missed the point. The only point my noble friends Lord Collins and Lord Browne were raising was that if the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, made a statement to this House that appears on the face of it to be at odds with a statement in an email from his private office that is now public, can he not come to your Lordships’ House to explain? I think that is a very straightforward request, and I hope that the noble Lord, given the comments he has made about Ministers acting on their personal honour, would want to convey that to the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, at the very least. No one is making any allegations, but the House would like, and deserves, an explanation.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, again, I listen respectfully to the noble Baroness and to all in the House. I stand on the answer I gave that it is for Ministers to decide how to justify their actions and conduct, but I repeat that the assertions that have been made have been repudiated by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, No. 10 Downing Street and the Defence Secretary.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, in the interests of transparency and good government, will the Minister go back to his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and ask him to come to this House immediately and explain the accurate situation of what really happened, because we now have this email?

Photo of Lord True Lord True Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Chair, Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee

My Lords, again, I repeat that everything your Lordships say will of course be referred to those with whom your Lordships are concerned. But I must underline the fact that in the current state of affairs in our country, there are a great deal of allegations that are being taken as fact, and I stand by that comment also. People are innocent until proved guilty.