Standards in Public Life - Commons Urgent Question

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:22 pm on 5th July 2022.

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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, Constitutional and Devolved issues) 3:22 pm, 5th July 2022

I am grateful to the Minister. His heart was not in it, was it?

I think we have one point of agreement: that it is essential that we have integrity in the process for complaints being investigated and that those who come forward have the support they need. As to the rest of the Minister’s words, it is probably an appropriate response during Wimbledon to recall John McEnroe: “You cannot be serious”. It is extraordinary that Minister after Minister is wheeled out to defend the Prime Minister about what he knew, or now appears to have forgotten he knew, about his Deputy Chief Whip when he appointed him. That story changes each time. How humiliating it is for Ministers to have received Downing Street assurances only for it to keep changing as new information comes to light, including the letter from the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, as former Permanent Secretary at the FCO.

I have two questions for the Minister. On 21 June, the Paymaster-General promised that the Government

“will act swiftly to undertake a review of the arrangements in place to support the ministerial code and ensure high ministerial standards.”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/6/22; col. 781.]

Can the Minister update the House on that swift action? Secondly, given this Prime Minister’s rather idiosyncratic, shall we say, approach to standards, can it possibly be right that not only does he have a veto over what the commissioner can investigate—that is, when we finally get another new commissioner—but is also the final arbiter and has the final say over the outcome? The Minister knows that he has a good reputation in this House. How much longer is he prepared to defend this Prime Minister?