My Lords, if we are not able to rely on Ministers and other parliamentarians to tell the truth, then reliable and acceptable government is impossible. The recent police notices to those who had previously denied breaking the pandemic control laws lead millions of people to question the truth on matters of greater importance like, perhaps, the crises in Ukraine or Afghanistan—those that are matters of life and death.
We all know of broken promises. Putin was adamant: “We are not going to invade Ukraine”—we remember that—in spite of a procession of tanks stretching 40 miles, the distance from Chester to Colwyn Bay. Ukraine is in the midst of being invaded in spite of Putin’s denial, creating a hell for millions of children, men, and women. Putin’s assurances are as meaningless as denying being at gatherings that broke Covid laws. Government and the safeguarding of democracy cannot continue if those who lead cannot be trusted or believed. Mr Rees-Mogg tweeted over the Easter weekend, “Christ is risen, Alleluia”, a greeting of hope, while at the same time supporting deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda—a destruction of hope.
The consequences of these lies are the distancing of millions of ordinary people from government. If you cannot believe a word they say, there is no use voting for any of them. Turnout at general elections has fallen from 83% in the 1950s to less than 67% in 2019. We have grown increasingly apathetic about the democratic process, and nature abhors a vacuum.
The Government must change in order to show the British people that the Government can be believed and are engaged in the democratic process. Failing to do so will only increase apathy and sow distrust—something which, because of the unbelievability of the present time, continues to do immense harm. The United Kingdom can serve as an example to others, but not by refusing parliamentary scrutiny—for example, of the deal with Rwanda regarding asylum seekers or the continued lying about parties in gardens during the pandemic. We undermine democracy itself.
At the Liberal Party conference I used to sing the “Land Song”, which goes:
“Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?” and
“God gave the land to the people!”
Now we have to restore this trust. We must restore the value of ordinary people and their worth and influence in what is a democratic society.
Finally, Paddy Ashdown said:
“The one thing that unfailingly gives me satisfaction in politics is to watch those who have been taught they are the subject of others’ power, rise to meet the challenge of power in their own hands—and then be unbelieving at what they are able to do. To believe in this and make it happen is, for me, the great passion of politics.”