Sue Gray Report - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:12 pm on 25th May 2022.

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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 9:12 pm, 25th May 2022

I thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. I am rather disappointed that we are taking it so late in the day with so few Members present.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—a former head of the Civil Service—wrote in the Guardian this afternoon:

“Sue Gray’s report is written in the measured and balanced way that you would expect from a longstanding civil servant … Event after event is juxtaposed against the prevailing rules at the time to devastating effect.”

What also jumps out from this report is: why did it take Boris Johnson six months to acknowledge what was going on? Instead of owning up and taking responsibility, we had to see a costly police investigation, which concluded that he was the first Prime Minister in our country’s history to have broken the law in office. Then we had to wait for the Sue Gray report.

During this time, we have seen Civil Service morale severely damaged and reputations trashed, including outrageous attacks on Sue Gray herself. I cannot improve on the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire’s description of the report in brief:

“Vomiting. Excessive boozing. Fisticuffs. Partying until 4.35 am (before Prince Philip’s funeral). Broken swing. Secret Santa. Cleaners & security staff bullied. Red wine on walls. Karaoke. Sitting on laps.”

There is also, of course:

“‘We seem to have got away with it’—Martin Reynolds”.

Lots of questions remain about the Prime Minister and others who believed that lockdown rules did not apply to them. That was driven in part by the idea that those working long hours, dealing with Covid-related issues had a pass-out to behave as they did and, in essence, to carry on regardless. That they would have condemned and clamped down on such behaviour if it had happened in the NHS, schools, local authorities and other public-serving workplaces is not in doubt.

When the dust settles and the anger—strongly felt by many of our communities—subsides, this report will stand as a monument to the arrogance of a Government who believed it was one rule for them and another for everyone else. It is pretty clear that the Prime Minister knew exactly what was happening in No. 10 throughout the lockdown period and that it was wrong, both legally and morally. Five months ago, he told the House of Commons that all guidance was followed completely in No. 10. I am sure many noble Lords opposite, if they were here, feel uncomfortable. I know that many of those who are not here feel uncomfortable, at the very least. I know that many feel far worse, especially those who served under previous, more honourable Prime Ministers.

In her response, I hope the Minister will comment further on how cleaners and security guards at No. 10 were able quickly to ascertain that those events were clear breaches of the lockdown rules and call them out. They were faced with what can be described only as entitled abuse, while the Prime Minister told Parliament that he was unsure what the rules were. In the light of Sue Gray’s conclusion, does the Minister agree that the promised apology to those hard-working custodians and cleaners in Downing Street should be formal and in writing? They have been subject to rudeness and disrespect from officials and advisers while they were simply trying to do their job.

Sue Gray’s report shows systematic law-breaking, with photographic evidence that the Prime Minister himself broke the rules on multiple occasions. Allegra Stratton is the only one to have resigned, despite this industrial-scale breaking of the rules. Does the Minister think this is right? When the Prime Minister said that he was taking personal responsibility, what did that mean, beyond those words? What action will he take? Allegra Stratton did take personal responsibility. As Keir Starmer said:

“No. 10 symbolises the principles of public life in this country—selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.”

Nobody, but nobody, reading this report can honestly believe that the Prime Minister has upheld them.

Our constitution relies on Members of Parliament and the custodians of No. 10 behaving responsibly, honestly and in the interests of the British people. When our leaders fall short of these standards, Parliament has a duty to act. Without these standards, not only is our democracy weakened but our global reputation is impacted. The trust and confidence that this nation has built is severely weakened if the man who represents us is not believed by other global leaders.

I address these remarks to the noble Lords opposite. They must now use their influence on colleagues in the other place to stop this out-of-touch, out-of-control Prime Minister from driving Britain towards disaster. The values symbolised by the door of No. 10 must be restored. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy it represents.