Downing Street Christmas Parties Investigation Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: HM Treasury

Downing Street Christmas Parties Investigation

Fleur Anderson Excerpts
Thursday 9th December 2021

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson (Putney) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office if he will make a statement on the details of the investigation into Downing Street Christmas parties.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday, he understands and shares the anger up and down the country, as do I, at seeing No. 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures. I join the Prime Minister in apologising unreservedly for the offence that it has caused to people who have been through what everyone in this House knows is immeasurable pain and hardship as a result of this appalling pandemic. The Prime Minister has been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken. However, the Government also recognise the public anxiety about this and the public indignation—and I share that—in the sense of where it appears as though the people who have been setting the rules may not have been following the rules.

As the Prime Minister confirmed to the House yesterday, he has asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the facts, and I would like to update the House now, if I may, on the details of this investigation. The terms of reference for the investigation are being published, and I will lay a copy in the Library of the House later today. I can confirm to the House that the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation will establish the facts surrounding the allegations made of a gathering at No. 10 Downing Street on 27 November 2020, a gathering at the Department for Education on 10 December 2020 and allegations made of a gathering at No. 10 Downing Street on 18 December 2020.

The primary purpose of the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings, including attendance, the setting and the purpose, with reference to adherence to the guidance in place at the time. If required, the investigation will establish whether individual disciplinary action is warranted. The work will be undertaken by officials in the Cabinet Office at the direction of the Cabinet Secretary, with support from the Government Legal Department. Those officials will have access to all relevant records and be able to speak to members of staff.

As with all internal investigations, if during the course of the work any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused. I must emphasise that the matters relating to adherence to the law are properly for the police to investigate, and the Cabinet Office will liaise with the police, as appropriate. All Ministers, special advisers and civil servants will be expected to co-operate with this investigation.

Finally, I can confirm that, as I have said, the findings of the investigation will be provided to the House and made public. Following the long-standing practice of successive Administrations, any specific HR action against individuals will remain confidential.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just say to the Minister that his remarks were meant to take three minutes, not over four minutes. [Interruption.] Just a minute. So I will give some flexibility to the other two Front Benches.

Fleur Anderson Portrait Fleur Anderson
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank you, too, for granting this urgent question today. I also thank the Paymaster General for his statement and for giving more information about this investigation.

Trust is vital during a pandemic—trust in the decisions being made and, most importantly, trust in the people making those decisions and the judgment about them. My constituent Sophie wrote to me yesterday to say:

“My mother died of Covid on Christmas Day last year—she was alone and frightened in an isolation room in hospital on 18 December while the alleged party was happening. She was admitted to hospital for a non-Covid related issue and contracted the disease whilst in there. Both of us had followed the rules and it breaks my heart that I was only able to see her a handful of times last year, and couldn’t be with her in her final moments.”

She is angry; people across the country are angry.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement that he has asked the Cabinet Secretary to conduct an investigation. I have asked for this urgent question as there are further urgent questions to be asked about the investigation into the parties—we do not need to call them alleged parties; they were parties—held in a Government Department or by Government Ministers elsewhere. Are there more parties that we need to hear about? Is this investigation just a way of being able to say, “We’re doing something” while pushing it into the long grass, or is it a serious investigation?

The Prime Minster said yesterday:

“I have been repeatedly assured…that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken…But I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts.”—[Official Report, 8 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 372.]

Who gave these repeated assurances? If there was no party, why did Allegra Stratton feel the need to resign? Is she taking the fall instead of Government Ministers? If this investigation finds that the Prime Minister has misled the House, will he resign?

I look forward to the publication of the terms of reference for the investigation later today. Will it include all the parties—not just the three but any others that were held? Who went to these parties? Can the Minister confirm that the Cabinet Secretary and the remainder of the legal team that has just been referenced did not go to any of the parties and so are able to conduct the investigation without personal interest? If they happened, who colluded for a year in the cover-up of these parties? When is the deadline for the investigation? How will the outcomes be made public? Is there any limit on the sanctions that will be given to people found to have been in the wrong?

I welcome the assurance from the Paymaster General that the matter will be referred to the police if there is a case to answer. We on the Opposition Benches will be following what happens very closely.

Finally, will the Government just be straight with the British people?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I first say that my heart goes out to the hon. Lady’s constituent and the many thousands of other people who have lost loved ones as a result of this pandemic?

As I said in my opening remarks, the investigation will be conducted by the Cabinet Secretary. I know that the hon. Lady and those on the Benches behind her as well as everyone in this House has confidence in the independence and integrity of our civil service; the Cabinet Secretary heads the civil service and he is conducting this investigation. How long it lasts will be a matter for him, and the matter will, if it discloses criminality, be reported to the Metropolitan police for further investigation. In previous ministerial roles as a Law Officer—Solicitor General and Attorney General—I superintended the Government Legal Department, another organisation which of course has integrity and the confidence of all; it will be supporting the investigation. All those who are questioned by the investigation—civil servants, special advisers, Ministers—will be expected to co-operate with it. I hope that answers the hon. Lady’s questions.