BACKBENCH DEBATE – MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS – 5 December 2011
Dr Julian Lewis: Does my hon. Friend [Philip Hollobone] agree that it is particularly important for this Government to abide by the conventions that he has described, given that both he and I, having served in previous Parliaments, can remember countless occasions when we and our fellow Members of the parliamentary Conservative party stood to make points of order to remonstrate about the fact that Labour Ministers had continually broken these conventions?
[Mr Hollobone: I do agree, although I am desperately trying to make my speech as non-partisan as possible because I believe that both major parties are to blame: when they have been in government, they have not behaved as they should.]
* * *
[Chris Bryant: That is true, and the Europe directorate of the Foreign Office is punctilious in ensuring that announcements are made to the European Scrutiny Committee first. Indeed, many matters go to the Committee with several months of warning before they become public anywhere else in Europe, and I think that is right. However, when I was Deputy Leader of the House I tried my level best, as did many others in Government, to make sure that we adopted such a process.]
Dr Lewis rose—
[Mr Bryant: I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) agrees with that.]
Dr Lewis: I certainly do. I should have thought that most people would feel that the later any news about Europe was released, the better. However, what I want to ask the hon. Gentleman is this: what does he think that the newspapers offer Ministers as a reward for letting them have the news early?
* * *
[Mr Robert Syms: My view is perfectly clear. It is not always possible for Ministers to get here. If something happened today in the markets, I would expect Treasury Ministers to make their best efforts to come here, as we are sitting, and talk to us, but that is not always possible.]
Dr Lewis: I am an exact contemporary of my hon. Friend and it seems to me that, comparing what happened under the previous Government and what happens under this Government, he is absolutely right about the quantity of leaking, which was enormous under the previous Government. The trouble is that the leaking under the present Government is getting more and more specific. I remember, when I complained about leaks by the previous Government, one of the Deputy Speakers saying to me, “Well, it could have been a case of intelligent anticipation by the media of what the Government and the Minister were going to say.” With the sort of leaking that is going on now, there is no question of that. It is straightforward, direct and specific.
The logical conclusion of what my hon. Friend is saying is that we should tear up the ministerial code. If he thinks that is the case, he ought to advocate that.
* * *
[Nick Boles: ... To be fair, we must also acknowledge that Mr Speaker has done more than any recent Speaker to ensure that Parliament can fulfil its function of holding the Executive to account. No Speaker has used urgent questions more regularly to force Ministers to come and account for their decisions and to answer questions from hon. Members.]
Dr Lewis: I am sure that Mr Speaker will be gratified by that vote of confidence – I say this without irony – from my hon. Friend, but does he not agree that it was at least unfortunate that, as Mr Speaker made explicit in response recently to a point of order from me, he felt it necessary to keep the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Dispatch Box as long as he did during the autumn statement precisely because he considered that the Chancellor had been saying far too much, in far too much detail, about that statement in advance to the media?