Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and International Committee of the Red Cross (Status) Bill (Money)

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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The motion is about sending taxpayers’ money to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which I fully endorse, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. I will spend a minute or two talking about the ICRC, because all British taxpayers are contributing. The ICRC plays a noble and important role in conflicts around the world. That is indisputable. It would, however, be remiss of me not to reflect on the strong criticism that it has faced in recent months for its abject failure to access the hostages—then, more than 200—who have been cruelly held by Hamas in unimaginable conditions. We should not forget that in 1939 the president of the ICRC approached the German Red Cross to arrange for visitation with Jews deported to Poland, and he was met with a refusal by the Nazi German authorities. From then on in world war two, the ICRC opted for a strategy of no longer addressing the question of Jews directly.

We all know the tragic consequences of that decision, for which the ICRC has—or had—retrospectively apologised, and rightly so. Following that apology, His Majesty’s Government, and other Governments around the world, have supported the International Committee of the Red Cross with British taxpayers’ money, and have done so for years, but today families in the United Kingdom—and there are families in the United Kingdom whose relatives are being held hostage—as well as families from Israel and around the world whose loved ones have been missing now for almost five months, understand the history of the Red Cross as it relates to the Nazis in world war two, for obvious reasons, and it is painful. As a consequence, this most recent failure by the ICRC will never be understood and is likely, I am sorry to say, never to be forgiven.

When questioned about that by the Prime Minister of Israel, the ICRC president, Spoljaric Egger, said that applying pressure to Hamas

“is not going to work”.

As can be imagined, that is inconceivably frustrating for Israel’s leadership and for Jewish people around the world, particularly in this country. Israel’s Foreign Minister at the time, Eli Cohen, said that the Red Cross had no right to exist if it could not reach the hostages, determine their condition and provide them with medical treatment and medications. He added:

“Every day that passes is another failure for the Red Cross.”

Even more shocking was a meeting with hostage families. Someone from the ICRC went to meet hostage families, and the Red Cross responded to pleas to deliver medication to the hostages with reprimands of the hostage families, telling them to think about the Palestinians. Imagine saying to a recent rape victim, “Can you think about others?”

In the circumstances, perhaps it is not surprising that a reported mathematical breakdown of the ICRC’s statements on social media showed that 77% of them solely condemn Israel, while only 7% solely condemn Hamas—an 11 times difference, which surely points to a worrying trend towards political bias in the ICRC. Bearing in mind its second world war history, that is deeply shaming. Criticism of the organisation is mounting across the world, as well as in Israel. Near-weekly rallies have taken place outside the ICRC offices in the United States since 7 October to demand that the Red Cross meets individuals in the Gaza strip.

We are asking His Majesty’s Government for taxpayers’ money to go to the ICRC. We should take the demands about the hostages held by Hamas seriously and urgently, because it is the ICRC’s distinguished reputation that I am talking about now. I applaud its good work in so many regions around the world; I just want it to do good work for Jewish people as well as for people around the world. There are too many examples of international organisations and institutions, and national ones, that do excellent work everywhere else except where Jews are concerned. It is for the ICRC’s reputation that I speak now. Where it does such excellent work internationally in other cases, I want it to do excellent work for Jewish people, who are being tortured, with children being kept hostage.

This issue has led to deep-seated feelings of frustration and disappointment. I will conclude by saying that I am sure that His Majesty’s Treasury and His Majesty’s Ministers in the Treasury will think carefully, as they always do—I know that they will—about spending taxpayers’ money.

Non-domicile Tax Status

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Tuesday 31st January 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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I rise to speak about the specific issue of the constitutionality and propriety of Labour’s motion in calling for,

“a copy of the Treasury analysis related to the effect of the abolition of the non-domicile tax status on the public revenue.”

The point I wish to make could equally be made were any other papers of Treasury analysis the subject of a request for disclosure in this way. It is irregular and at the very least injurious to the public interest, and potentially unconstitutional, to open, for what would be the inspection of the financial services sector and others, papers just before a financial statement or a Budget that may very well, at least in theory, give an improper or unfair advantage to some interested parties. That is why the confidentiality of Treasury documents is so incredibly important, a fact to which the Minister alluded. For that reason alone, the motion should not be supported. It is constitutionally irregular, in my respectful submission.

The Labour party’s opposition to non-domicile tax status is another matter. I, Conservative Members and many others all think it would be wrong to remove that status, which has existed for two-and-a-quarter centuries. Further, the ability to know Treasury analysis before a financial statement would give the very people whom Labour presumably wishes to incommode some advantage. With the greatest respect, therefore, I do not think the Labour motion has been clearly thought through; were it to succeed, which is exceedingly unlikely, it would be counterproductive.

It is not just me who thinks it wrong to abolish the current arrangements. There is a very good reason why they have been in place for two-and-a-quarter centuries. I do not expect Labour Members to pay heed to what I say, but they might, I venture to suggest, pay heed to what their own party has said in the past. Labour, after all, abandoned removing this status when last in government. Alistair Darling said he did not want to turn investors away. It has been said that Labour is an anti-business party. Colleagues have referred to it as being anti-aspirational. Labour Members reject that, but I am afraid the motion calls another conclusion.

Something is better than nothing: make business go elsewhere and the whole UK economy will suffer. The Conservative Government have ensured that non-domiciled individuals pay tax on UK income, and gains and income gains that are brought into the UK, putting fairness at the heart of our system. That is what this Government have already done. They have protected almost £8 billion in tax revenue paid by non-domiciled taxpayers and have introduced over 150 measures since 2010 to tackle non-compliance, and rightly so, in our tax system. They have been closing the estimated avoidance tax gap by almost £4 billion. The rhetoric is one thing; the facts are another. There are good reasons why this motion should therefore be roundly rejected.

Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Appointment

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Michael Ellis—you’re welcome.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
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Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Before I begin, I am glad to have this opportunity to offer my congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on reaching the 70th anniversary of her accession. She is a hero to me and millions of others, and I know that the House will join me in wishing her many more years.

In a statement to this House last week, the Prime Minister pledged to make changes in the way Downing Street and the Cabinet Office are managed, so that we can get on with the job that this Government were elected to do, and that is what the Prime Minister is in the course of doing. As the Prime Minister has said, we need to continue our recovery from the pandemic. We need to help hundreds of thousands more people into work. We need to deliver on our ambitious agenda to level up the entire country, improving people’s opportunities regardless of where they are from.

The changes that the Prime Minister made to his senior team over the weekend will bring renewed discipline and focus to his programme of priorities and deliver them faster for the people of the United Kingdom. In his statement to the House last week, the Prime Minister accepted in full the general findings of the Cabinet Office’s second permanent secretary, Sue Gray, in her investigation into alleged gatherings on Government premises during covid restrictions. The Prime Minister offered a sincere apology and also accepted Sue Gray’s recommendation that

“we must learn from these events and act now.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2022; Vol. 708, c. 23.]

In response, as the House will be aware, the Prime Minister has asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to provide political leadership within No. 10 as his chief of staff. As the Government have set out, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be in charge of further integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office to make operations at the heart of Government more efficient and effective, and ensuring that the Government agenda is better aligned with the Cabinet and Back Benchers. He will be working very closely with the Cabinet Secretary on the new structure. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will also work directly with his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that levelling up is a priority for all Departments and is delivered at a rapid pace that brings about tangible improvements in the day-to-day lives of the people of this country.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I would like to make it clear to the House that, in undertaking this role, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been given additional responsibilities. He remains a member of the Cabinet and is not a special adviser. The Prime Minister is expanding on the already cross-cutting role of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and giving the chief of staff enhanced, ministerial authority to promote levelling up while also playing a senior co-ordinating role in No. 10 under the direction of the Prime Minister.

There are wider benefits to this new approach. It will significantly strengthen Cabinet Government, meaning an enhanced role for both Ministers and Parliament itself. This is a chief of staff who will himself answer to the electorate and who therefore has the democratic authority to direct civil servants and special advisers as a Minister of the Crown, something an unelected adviser cannot do.

Finally, the Government set out that there would continue to be further appointments over the coming days, with a particular focus—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware that this is a UQ not a statement. Only three minutes is allowed for the Minister; you are now on four, so I am sure that you are coming to the end.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Thank you, Mr Speaker—I was just on my last sentence. I was saying that the Government set out that there would continue to be further appointments over the coming days, with a particular focus on improving engagement and liaison with Parliament. Full ministerial responsibilities will be announced in due course.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
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I echo the Minister’s comments regarding the Queen.

It is always nice to be at the Dispatch Box against the Minister but, quite honestly, where is the chief of staff? The Minister mentions what the Prime Minister said. He also said that this change gives “an enhanced role” for Parliament, yet the chief of staff’s very first act is to refuse to even turn up here to explain his own job. But maybe the Paymaster General can tell us: is it a ministerial job, a public appointment, a party role—it is not a special adviser—or is it something that does not even exist yet? Apparently, the chief of staff will not get a salary; perhaps he should join a trade union. Will he appoint or manage advisers or officials? How will he relate to the permanent secretary? Who will appoint staff, as the Minister mentioned, to the new office of the Prime Minister? When will the office be set up, and on what budget, or has the Chancellor given him a blank cheque? Is the post to have a separate Department from the Cabinet Office or are they to merge? How will he answer to us: will he face me here as the chief of staff or as the Minister for No. 10? Is he still in charge of dealing with the channel crossings, tackling the pandemic, protecting the Union, veterans policy and every other priority of the Cabinet Office? This Government are in chaos and the country is paying the price.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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It is always a pleasure to appear shadowing, if I may put it that way, the right hon. Lady, but she will know that the chief of staff role was created by Tony Blair in response to Labour figures such as Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell, who had, of course, huge powers in the Blair years to direct civil servants and who were unelected. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is answerable to this House and will present a full range of responsibilities to this House in due course.

William Cash Portrait Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con)
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Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that nobody is better qualified to be both chief of staff and Chancellor of the Duchy and Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office than my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), given that he already has the widest possible experience of interdepartmental responsibility, for the Treasury, for health, for financial services and for Brexit, and has the comprehensive knowledge and capacity both to understand and to have the necessary authority and stature to carry out the new functions allocated to him?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as usual. One could hardly have a more qualified person to be chief of staff than my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), a former Secretary of State answerable to this House, and now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, an elected person answerable to this House as well as the electorate.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
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I am sorry that the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) is not in his place because I wanted to congratulate and welcome the country’s new senior civil servant to his post. I do not quite know how someone who already has two full-time jobs is going to salvage Downing Street’s reputation when the Prime Minister has often claimed that they all broke lockdown rules and regularly get tanked up in Downing Street because of the immense workload and the pressure of the job. However, there is something far more serious here: paragraph 3.12 of the Erskine May “Public service disqualification” section says:

“All persons employed either whole- or part-time in the Civil Service are disqualified; and it is immaterial whether they are serving in an established capacity”.

It is clear as day that the right hon. Gentleman is the new chief of staff at Downing Street and he is also a serving Member of this House; he cannot be both, and according to Erskine May he has disqualified himself from that role. So, when will the Government be moving the writ for the by-election?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I had no idea that the hon. Gentleman presented himself as an expert in Erskine May, but I have to say, with respect, that I do not think many others would. The reality is that my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) is not a civil servant; he remains a servant of this House—a servant of the people of this country—democratically elected and highly accountable.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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On the whole, Governments do not do things well, so will my right hon. and learned Friend persuade the new chief of staff to concentrate the Government’s efforts on doing fewer things a bit better?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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As the House will recognise, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has a long history of ministerial service in this House, which he has performed par excellence. I have no doubt, and nor do my colleagues, that he will continue to perform his functions with excellence, whether they be in 10 Downing Street or elsewhere.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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But being chief of staff to any Prime Minister is more than a full-time job—and to this Prime Minister, with everything we know about him, it is an impossible one. Just look at the collateral damage of those who have fallen by the wayside having come within close proximity of him. How will the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire do all those jobs and serve his constituents?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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In the same way, if I may suggest, that the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster can also be the shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, shadow Secretary of State for the future of work, shadow First Secretary of State, deputy Leader of the Opposition, deputy leader of the Labour party and Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne—highly accomplished appointments.

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con)
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The appointees announced over the weekend are significant figures, but in any office restructuring, and particularly one such as 10 Downing Street, disruption is inevitable. What reassurance can my right hon. and learned Friend provide that that is taken into account and that the sole focus will be on delivering for the Government?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My right hon. Friend is quite right to raise that point. I assure him that the Prime Minister and Government’s entire focus is on delivering on the manifesto promises that resulted in the biggest Conservative election victory that we have seen since the 1980s. We are, have been and will continue delivering on them.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
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As perhaps one of the Members of the House most prolific in asking questions of the Cabinet Office, I note that the Department is incredibly slow in replying to written questions and letters. Does the Paymaster General think that this change will make Cabinet Office responses faster or slower given that the Minister responsible now has even more responsibilities? Was being Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster just not enough?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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To be fair, I think that I am responsible for answering parliamentary questions, and I think I am right in saying that the statistics have dramatically improved in the last four and a half months.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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I certainly welcome the fact that unelected officials are being replaced by Members of Parliament in the Government, because one problem in recent years has been the drift, with Government and Parliament going in opposite directions, so having Members of Parliament in these positions will improve things. Does the Minister agree that, had this change been imposed a while ago, it would have been great fun to have had Dominic Cummings at the Dispatch Box to answer questions?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am not going to agree with my hon. Friend on that point, if he will forgive me. However, I do agree with the substance of his point—he has hit the nail on the head—that accountability, transparency and the link with Back Benchers of this House will be delivered thanks to this appointment.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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It is a bit difficult, is it not, to argue that there will be greater accountability when at the first hurdle the man is not even here to be accountable? It is a preposterous appointment—a sow’s ear of an appointment—which confuses the various different aspects of Government and makes it far more difficult for us to hold the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay) to account. Does anyone in Downing Street yet realise that the problem is the lack of control; it is the lack of accountability; and it’s the fibs, isn’t it?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not know what the hon. Member means. What I do know is that the Government are delivering on our manifesto promises, as I said. He must recognise that there will be increased transparency and accountability because an elected Member of Parliament answerable to this House will be chief of staff at No. 10.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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We are making changes at No. 10, and still that lot over there on the Opposition Benches keep moaning and whining. Does the Minister agree that if they want to have a say in who works at No. 10, they should do something they have not done in 20 years—win a general election?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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My constituents are rightly concerned to see the Prime Minister pursue a departmental merger, the cost of which is likely to surpass £10 million in taxpayers’ money, at a time when we are facing a cost of living crisis. It is well documented that No. 10 is used for living and working, with porous boundaries, and we are all well aware of the Prime Minister’s well documented frustrations with his flat. Will the Minister rule out any public money being spent on any additional refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, in the context of this merger?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not think the Downing Street flat has the smallest thing to do with this matter. It is and has always been the case that the 10 Downing Street operation is an integral part of the Cabinet Office. They are already interconnected physically, metaphorically, literally and in every other way. This change recognises that and creates a new avenue of increased democratic accountability by having a chief of staff at No. 10 who, for the first time, can come to this House and speak from this Dispatch Box.

Richard Drax Portrait Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con)
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I am sure that moving bums on seats works, and I am confident that it will in this case. I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend will agree with me that a stream of blue narrative Conservative policies will now burst out of No. 10.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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We have had those, and we will continue to have more.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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We should remind ourselves why we are in this predicament, or why the Government are in it: the Prime Minister made a slur against the Leader of the Opposition during the statement last Monday, accusing him of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile—something that the victims of Jimmy Savile say has no basis in truth and should be withdrawn. What is it about the Government that makes them think they know better than the victims of Jimmy Savile? Is not that the reason why they cannot find anyone decent to fill these roles?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The two things are completely unconnected. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to characterise the appointment in that way. It must be recognised by all and sundry that this appointment is of someone who has served this House and the Government in a ministerial capacity for many years; he could hardly be more experienced. He will present the House with the accountability, transparency and quality of administration that it would expect.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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Last week the Prime Minister promised change at the top, and we are seeing it swiftly delivered. I welcome this appointment and the creation of the Office of the Prime Minister, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, as Conservatives, our longer-term ambition should be to reduce the cost of the civil service to the taxpayer?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Yes, and the fact that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will accept no extra salary will, of course, reduce costs accordingly. My hon. Friend is quite right.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
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It is a real shame that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster could not make it to the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Will the Paymaster General tell us whether the new chief of staff will manage the new communications director, and just what the job status of the communications director is? Government sources have denied this morning that he could return to his lobbying firm, Hawthorn Advisors, if his No. 10 role for some reason—who knows—does not last long. Will the Paymaster General state categorically that that will not happen in any circumstances?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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It is very peculiar to ask me, from the Dispatch Box, to predict the future, but if I were to predict the future, it certainly would not have Labour in it.

James Duddridge Portrait James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con)
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Having worked with the new chief of staff when he was a Secretary of State and having seen his work when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I urge the Minister to ask him to use this as an opportunity. Sometimes, fewer people in No. 10 can operate better than a large number. This is an opportunity to drive efficiencies across those two areas.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He knows that quality is often better than quantity. That is what we have with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the role that he will perform.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)
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Can the Minister give us an example of a decision that the chief of staff will take in that new capacity, different from a decision he might have taken as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, for which he will be accountable and answerable to this House?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will make myriad decisions on a daily basis. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see what they are, but they will be decisions that deliver for the people of this country, unlike his party.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
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I have been listening intently to the urgent question, but I am still confused about what the Opposition are asking. As far as I am aware, this new appointment is what the Gray report wanted and it is the Prime Minister carrying out the Gray report. Are the Opposition saying we should not listen to the Gray report?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend is right to refer to the Gray report. One of the points raised was about the fragmentary nature of arrangements. This is addressing that problem directly. I am very surprised the Labour party is not welcoming it with open arms.

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab)
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This is absolutely the end of days! My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) asked very specific questions to the Paymaster General, which he has been unable to answer. The reality is that someone has been appointed to a job when it has not yet been decided what the responsibilities are. Will he ensure that, once the Government understand what the right hon. Member for North East Cambridgeshire will actually be doing, he will come to this place and answer the questions my right hon. Friend reasonably asked, so we can actually hold him to account, because this Government are an absolute shambles?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I will resist the temptation to say that that is rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. He would know precisely, and his party would precisely know, what a shambles is, and they prove that every day of the week. To answer his question, yes, he will hear from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in due course. He will be presentable and answerable to this House, unlike chiefs of staff who have gone heretofore. That is the fact of this appointment, and it is one the hon. Gentleman cannot answer.

Karl McCartney Portrait Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)
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My right hon. and learned Friend and I are both very pleased with the new chief of staff appointment. I wonder if he might watch “The West Wing” with me to pick out the best traits of either Leo McGarry or Josh Lyman that our colleague in his new position has.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I would like to know what part I could play in such a role. We do have, and we will have, in our chief of staff—[Interruption.] I did not hear that, Madam Deputy Speaker. What I will say is that we will have, in the chief of staff who has just been appointed, someone who will be accountable and responsible to the British people.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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It seems the Welsh Government were not forewarned of the Chancellor’s intention to introduce a council tax rebate during his statement last Thursday on energy prices, despite that being a clearly devolved policy area. That means no policy has been announced in Wales, leaving many of my constituents, who are already concerned, in a state of confusion. Will the new Office of the Prime Minister prioritise better intergovernmental relations, so that Wales and Scotland are not blindsided by the British Government’s policy announcements?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Every Department of Government, without exception, does everything it can do to support the Union of this country.

Tom Hunt Portrait Tom Hunt (Ipswich) (Con)
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I must confirm that I am more interested in having a debate about delivery and the role of the chief of staff in delivering the priorities of my constituents, and less in process. I would also say that a criticism of No. 10 is that it can be overly metropolitan in its focus and Westminster bubble-orientated. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think it is actually an advantage to have a Member of Parliament, especially an engaged one, from the Fens, no less? As a Fen boy, I can confirm there is no less metropolitan place than the Fens, and there could be an advantage in that.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Kim Johnson Portrait Kim Johnson (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab)
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I asked a question of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in this Chamber recently about the failure of the civil service fast track system to recruit black members of staff. Will the Paymaster General give assurances that his right hon. Friend will be able to continue to progress that most serious issue in his new role?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The hon. Lady is quite right to ask that question. That is a very important matter and it continues to be. I can give her that assurance.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
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In November, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was drafted in to help solve the illegal crossings crisis in the channel. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that solving this issue remains front and centre of this Government’s mission?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I can indeed, and I know my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary continues to work on it, too.

Owen Thompson Portrait Owen Thompson (Midlothian) (SNP)
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We now have a Spad who is not a Spad, so a special status is being created. Will this be the only appointment with such special status?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not see this as a special status. This is a Minister of the Crown who remains Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and now has the role of chief of staff at No. 10. It is a highly democratic, highly accountable position. In fact, more so than any of those who went before. The hon. Gentleman should welcome it if he is interested in democracy.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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How many of these Downing Street staff departures in the past few days are a direct result of Sue Gray’s report? Have there been any associated findings of culpability against individuals for the failings set out in that report?

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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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It is not good practice to discuss staffing and human resources matters on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are doing what they need to do in response to the challenges with which they find themselves faced.

Tackling Fraud and Preventing Government Waste

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Ellis Portrait The Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
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This is a Government who have been relentless in their efforts to protect lives and livelihoods throughout the pandemic, taking unprecedented steps to see the country through what have been difficult times for us all. It goes without saying that we took and continue to take our responsibilities to taxpayers extremely seriously. They rely on us to make decisions on their behalf in their best interests, and that is exactly what we do. As a Government, we have been consistent in doing exactly that, acting, in the words of the Chief Secretary, “quickly, effectively and responsibly”.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I will just make some progress.

I am sorry that Lord Agnew chose to resign from his position as a Minister in the Treasury and in the Cabinet Office, and I want to take this opportunity to thank him very much for the important work he did while he was in government. The Government have been working to achieve better quality government for citizens, with relentless focus on outcomes, ensuring every £1 of taxpayers’ money is spent well; ensuring policy making reflects the communities we serve through, for example, the movement of civil service jobs away from London to Darlington, Stoke, Preston and elsewhere; driving the post-Brexit procurement rules reform to make procurement more transparent, provide better services to citizens and deliver social value; and procuring ventilators at the beginning of the pandemic. We have focused on value for money and supporting the taxpayer.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is talking about good stewardship of public money, but was he as concerned as I was to read in the press that, under the Tory Tees Valley Mayor, the public share of the joint venture to develop and secure major industrial opportunities, which has had tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money invested in it, has been transferred to JC Musgrave Capital and Northern Land Management? Does that not raise major questions about how public moneys have been spent? Does he agree that, given wider concerns about governance and the vested interests of political donors, what is needed is an independent inquiry into the governance of the Tees Valley Combined Authority and the South Tees Development Corporation?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

What I do know is that Ben Houchen is an excellent Mayor and Labour wishes that it had mayors like him.

Fraud is unacceptable wherever and however it is perpetrated. The Government remain determined to stamp it out. I can say that as a Minister and a former Attorney General, and as someone who prosecuted such cases in an earlier life—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
- Hansard -

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I will make a little progress, if I may.

As the House will be aware, since March 2020, the Government have delivered a comprehensive multi-billion pound package to support households and businesses. Before I turn to specific measures that we are taking and have taken to combat fraud, it is worth reminding ourselves of three key facts. First, with regard to the covid schemes that we introduced, the vast majority of people did the right thing. They understood what the schemes were for and accessed them in a way that was wholly appropriate. Secondly, this was a once-in-a-generation event and I ask the House to accept that. Businesses were on the brink of collapse. They needed support really quickly—something that the Labour party understood and Labour Members were screaming about at the time. We were able to deliver that support, and to do so properly, in record time and in a way that the world was envious of.

Thirdly, the support worked. Many thousands of jobs were saved, and today we have a thriving labour market, with record low unemployment, the economy returning to its pre-pandemic size faster than expected, and you know what, Mr Speaker—the fastest-growing economy in the G7.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Clearly, the Government have given unprecedented levels of support to people, especially those in Rother Valley. So would the Minister condemn, as I condemn, Labour-run Rotherham Council, which handed back millions of pounds of discretionary funding to the Government because it could not get the money distributed fast enough? That is a waste of taxpayers’ money and giving the money back to the Government was a scandal.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

That is a very peculiar happenstance that my hon. Friend rightly mentions. Other local authorities around the country made good use of that generous provision, and I think Rotherham have questions to answer.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On Lord Agnew of Oulton, who resigned over the fraudulent covid business loans, the good, decent Lord said that there was “zippo of detail” on how the Government plan to deal with the issue of business loans. Can the Minister say how the Government will claw back the £77 million loss on the eat out to help out scheme from the missing Chancellor?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make some progress, he may hear about what the Government have been doing, and will continue to do.

The Government’s priority at the time was to get financial support to businesses. That was the alpha and omega of everything—it was to get that financial support to businesses, and their employees by extension, and as quickly as possible, to protect jobs and livelihoods. In total, we made available over £100 billion of loans and grants to over 1 million businesses, through bounce back loans, the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the coronavirus large business interruption loan scheme, and business grants. There were myriad schemes that we were using.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s defence—that this was a pandemic and the Government had to act quickly—does not seem to hold any water when we know that back in 2014 there were problems with Companies House. There were problems with international fraud and money laundering, and problems with how easily businesses could be set up through Companies House, yet the Government have dragged their feet; they have not taken action. That was years before the pandemic hit the United Kingdom. Had the Government taken action when they knew about the problems with Companies House, we probably would not be dealing with the amount of fraud that we are right now.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

As it happens, we have given, as a Government, over £60 million to Companies House to continue its necessary reforms and we have undertaken myriad measures to prevent the problems that the hon. Lady refers to.

The first lockdown came into force on 23 March 2020. By 24 May, just a couple of months later, we had already paid out almost £28 billion in loans, rising to £80 billion by the time that the schemes closed on 31 March 2021—astronomical support.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Much has been made of Lord Agnew’s resignation and we should take his resignation points very seriously. We should also acknowledge that he described the bounce back loan scheme, in his resignation piece to the Financial Times, as an “important and successful intervention”. Is not his real point that we need to make sure that checks and balances have been followed by all banks who were given the responsibility of distributing these loans?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I agree with my hon. Friend on that, and also on Lord Agnew, who is a noble man and was an excellent Minister. The sheer volume of schemes introduced and the speed with which they were designed and implemented meant it simply was not possible at the time to prevent every instance of fraud and error, and I accept that. However—

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I must make some progress. The measures that we implemented to minimise fraud and error were robust and comprehensive. Some £2.2 billion of what were deemed potentially fraudulent bounce back loan applications were blocked through up-front checks—£2.2 billion that the Labour party has not said anything about. Lenders were required to make and maintain appropriate anti-fraud, anti-money laundering and “know your customer” checks. Specifically, they were required to use a reputable fraud bureau to screen against potential and known fraudsters and, if an application failed the lender’s fraud checks, the lender was unable to offer a loan.

There were measures in place: those lender checks, with the duplicate loan check, incorporation date check and change in director check that were put in place in the following months, were the most impactful of all the checks implemented. The minimum standards were agreed following consultation with PwC and lenders on what would have the biggest impact on preventing fraud while still meeting the policy objective of delivering finance quickly.

It is true that PwC originally estimated the extent of fraud relating to bounce back loans at £4.9 billion, but last December it revised that figure down to £3.3 billion—so, as usual, the Labour party has its figures wrong. We will not be taking lectures from a party that, I seem to recall, left a multi-billion-pound black hole in the Defence budget the last time it was in government.

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I should just pick up on that point. As the Paymaster General knows, those figures are all still highly uncertain. Around £17 billion—another highly uncertain figure—of the £47 billion of loans may never be paid back. Some of that will be fraud and some because businesses have gone under. However, the key point is that he says checks and balances were put in place. He knows that was not the case: they were dropped for speed. We all lobbied for speed but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) said, it was the Treasury’s responsibility to ensure that the checks were in place. Why were 61% of loans by value out of the door before checks were introduced in June so that people could not apply twice? That is a simple thing, and the door was shut after the horse had bolted.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady has fairly said that she and others on the Opposition side did push for the Government to take action. They are right to accept that—and they were right to do so. This Government did take the precautions and, if we had waited any longer, businesses would have gone under. They would have gone down.

I suggest to the House that the news has been good in other ways too. In 2020, a National Audit Office report contained an estimate that as much as 60% of the sums lent might never be recovered. In fact, nearly 80% of the loans are being repaid or have already been repaid, and we are keeping up the pressure. For instance, we have given the Insolvency Service and Companies House new powers to prevent rogue company directors from escaping liability for their bounce back loans. So far, that has been used in respect of—

Meg Hillier Portrait Dame Meg Hillier
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I am reluctant to make a point of order in a debate, but it is important to reflect on what the Paymaster General has just said and he may wish to correct the impression that he gave. Those loans are 10-year loans, so it cannot be the case that 80% of them have been repaid at this point. He may want to look again at his notes and perhaps correct the impression he gave.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that is more a point of clarification than a point of order, but it is now on the record.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

It is not worth answering that point, Mr Speaker.

As I said, we have given the Insolvency Service and Companies House new powers to prevent rogue company directors from escaping liability for their bounce back loans. So far, that has been used in respect of almost 62,000 companies holding loans worth £2.1 billion. We are giving the Insolvency Service new powers to disqualify rogue company directors and we have already introduced regulations that allow for greater scrutiny of pre-pack administrations.

Crucially, newspaper reports that the Treasury has written off £4.3 billion in fraudulent covid support payments are simply not true. The £4.3 billion is not a figure produced or recognised by HMRC. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, we are not—I repeat, not—ignoring money relating to fraud in our covid support measures and we are definitely not writing it off. We were and remain determined to crack down on fraud wherever it arises. That is why, for instance, we invested more than £100 million in a taxpayer protection taskforce. At the March Budget last year, we created a taskforce of more than 1,200 HMRC staff to combat fraud in our coronavirus loan schemes. To hear the Opposition, they would deny the existence of those 1,200 staff, who are busy working away to combat fraud. The taskforce is expected to recover up to £1 billion from fraudulent or incorrect payments.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can my hon. Friend take us back to the points that Lord Agnew made and clarify whether I have it correct? In putting out much-needed money, the Government relied on intermediaries, and therefore much of it went through the banking system. I think I heard Lord Agnew say in the other place that many of the issues related to two banks out of the seven. It looks to me that a lot of the concerns raised by Opposition Members—validly—relate to processes within some of the banks. Can my hon. Friend clarify whether I am right on that, and the Government’s intentions regarding that?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I suggest that there is plenty of space if the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak? These are becoming speeches, rather than questions. I am more than happy to put him on the list if he wishes. We have plenty of room.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

As Mr Speaker says, a more detailed response can be given to my hon. Friend’s question in due course, but he is quite right to focus on the point about banks. More than 75,000 people have been contacted and could face criminal prosecutions and financial penalties. HMRC has already recovered more than £500 billion through other robust measures, including: building automated controls into the digital claims process, to prevent more than 100,000 mistaken claims; blocking more than 29,000 claims through pre-payment checks based on risk and intelligence; using cut-off dates around scheme eligibility; and requiring customers to be registered for pay-as-you-earn online and self-assessment. Nor is HMRC’s work done; work to recoup fraudulently obtained funds continues. Those identified face repaying up to double the amount they actually received, plus interest; in more serious cases, they risk criminal prosecution.

The motion also refers to public procurement, another area in which the Government take our responsibility to the taxpayer extremely seriously. In the case of personal protective equipment, our focus was on saving lives and protecting our healthcare workers. That was the top priority, and I make no apologies for that. But again, that did not mean, either then or now, that we were lax in our approach to procurement. We acted swiftly to secure and deliver more than 17.5 billion pieces of PPE to the frontline. The vast majority of the PPE we ordered—in the region of 97%—was suitable for use, either in the NHS or other non-medical settings.

My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary explained in a written statement to the House that the need to procure PPE at incredible speed necessarily involved a change in risk appetite. However, I am also clear that, at all times, the principles set out in “Managing Public Money” continued to apply, even under the pressures at the time. The Health Department took decisions on the basis of sound commercial advice. All transactions were approved by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care clearance board. Treasury Ministers and officials made a calculated judgement that the costs of expediting normal processes were outweighed by the benefits to the health of the country. The health of our healthcare workers came first.

Importantly, as with alleged fraud relating to the covid support schemes, this is not over: the Government will pursue any contracts where there has been a technical failure or breach. I said that approximately 97% were okay, but we are pursuing those that were not, in line with the resolution process referred to in each contract.

Emma Hardy Portrait Emma Hardy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On the issue of PPE procurement, which I have raised several times, it is frankly astonishing that the Government could not google “leading PPE equipment suppliers” and come up with the name Arco, which is a world leader in safety and PPE equipment. When it offered its services to the Government, it says that it was cold-shouldered and ignored, and that the Government went straight to those with connections to the Conservative party. It is disgraceful that the Government ignored a high-quality, world-leading company such as Arco.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Hansard - -

I think the hon. Lady forgets that, at the time, the whole world was googling for PPE. There was a desperation for PPE. I do not know anything about the company that she mentions, but the reality is that there was a massive desperation to secure PPE for our healthcare workers.

The Government absolutely reserve the right to take legal action against suppliers where that is required, and the Treasury will continue to support the Department of Health and Social Care in doing whatever it needs to protect taxpayer money where there was a breach of contract. The House may also be interested to know that in cases where there is a significant surplus of PPE, we are passing that equipment to schools and public transport workers in this country, or we are donating it to other countries in need, alongside other efforts to sell or repurpose it.

The motion also refers specifically to defence projects. The Ministry of Defence is delivering some of the most complex and technically challenging programmes across Government. There is no doubt that defence acquisition has faced and continues to face some challenges, but we are working hard to address them. The National Audit Office has recognised that we are making progress. For example, in its March 2020 report, it noted that the MOD has reduced delays to delivering programmes over the last 10 years. We are determined to continue to build on that.

The financial settlement awarded to defence at SR20 has been a crucial opportunity for the MOD to move to a sound financial footing, and we are working hard with it to strengthen mechanisms to drive value for money, implement improvements in programme delivery and ensure that it can manage complexity, risk and the pace of technological change in a way that is rigorous and affordable.

This is not just about what we have already done; it is about constantly refining and improving the tools we have at our disposal. That is why we are committed to delivering reforms in the economic crime plan as well as those set out in the upcoming fraud action plan. The combination of last year’s spending review settlement and private sector contributions through the economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy will provide economic crime funding totalling nearly £400 million over the spending review period.

Importantly, the Government counter-fraud function is leading a review into counter-fraud workforce and performance, delivered jointly with the Treasury. The aim of the review is to map the counter-fraud workforce and capability across central Government and selected agencies to identify current resources and how that links to each Department’s ability to prevent, detect and recover fraud and error losses.

To conclude, the purpose of the debate seems to be to try to talk down all that the Government have done on behalf of the taxpayer in the last two years, but I am afraid that the facts paint a different picture. We understand our responsibilities as a Government and will never take them lightly. We will act at all times quickly, effectively and responsibly.

Downing Street Parties: Police Investigation

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement on the status of the investigation into Downing Street parties following the statement from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

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

As the House will be aware, earlier today the Metropolitan Police Commissioner confirmed that the Metropolitan Police Service will be investigating alleged breaches of covid-19 regulations within Government. This is a matter for the police, and the House will understand that I am not in a position to comment on the nature or content of the police investigation. I have previously made it clear from the Dispatch Box that the Government recognise, and I recognise, the public anxiety and indignation that it appears as though the people who have been setting the rules may not have been following the rules. I would like to repeat that sentiment today.

That is why the Prime Minister asked for a Cabinet Office investigation to take place. The terms of reference for that investigation, led by the second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Sue Gray, have been published and laid in the Library of this House. Those terms made it clear that, 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.

As the House would expect, there is ongoing contact between the Cabinet Office investigation and the Metropolitan Police Service. However, the Cabinet Office investigation will continue its work. I would urge the House to wait for the findings of that investigation and for the police to conclude their work. That is important to allow the work to take place unimpeded and to protect the rights of all involved. I must emphasise that matters relating to adherence to the law are properly a matter for the police to investigate, and the Cabinet Office will liaise with them as appropriate.

Finally, I can confirm that the findings of the investigation will be provided to this honourable House and made public. The House will understand that there is a limit to what I can say, given that this is an ongoing investigation. I also cannot comment on what is now an ongoing police investigation, and therefore I ask that Members of the House let the investigation run its course and do not pre-empt its conclusions.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you for granting the urgent question, Mr Speaker.

Well, well, well: all too soon, the Paymaster General and I find ourselves here once again—and once again, rather than dealing with the cost of living crisis and its impact on families, we are talking about scandals in Downing Street. [Interruption.] Conservative Members can chunter from their positions, but they are allowing this to happen.

For two months, Cabinet Ministers have been working hard to make Sue Gray the most famous woman in Britain. In response to every question asked about the poor conduct, bad behaviour and rule-breaking culture that this Government have overseen, the Ministers have repeatedly told us that Sue Gray is the answer. Now there is a police investigation, and the terms of reference for Sue Gray, set by the Prime Minister himself, are clear:

“if…any evidence emerges of behaviour that is potentially a criminal offence, the matter will be referred to the police”.—[Official Report, 9 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 561.]

So it seems, Mr Speaker, that potential criminality has been found in Downing Street. What a truly damning reflection on our nation’s very highest office.

So I ask the Paymaster General these questions. Given this morning’s announcement, when will the Sue Gray report finally be published? Can the Paymaster General assure the House that the Sue Gray report will be published in full, not just as a summary, and will the accompanying evidence be provided? Can he clarify for the House what Sue Gray and her team will be doing while the police conduct their investigation? Can he tell the House whether the decision to delay the publication of the Sue Gray report was made by the Metropolitan police or the Government? Given this Government’s record on lost phones and missing messages and minutes, can he assure the House that all evidence from the Gray inquiry will be properly held by the Cabinet Office? Can he clarify whether the Chancellor, as a resident of Downing Street, is co-operating fully with the Gray inquiry and the police investigation, and whether he has been interviewed?

Just weeks ago, the Prime Minister told this House, “there was no party”. How does the Paymaster General explain that? I know that across the country, people know enough. They have made up their minds about the Prime Minister. When will his party catch up?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will agree with the right hon. Lady’s first point. Her first point was “Why are we not talking about the cost of living?” Well, the Prime Minister is working on the cost of living right now, and he is working on Russia-Ukraine. The Prime is doing those jobs, and he is focused on those areas.

As for the right hon. Lady’s second point, I think she forgets that the word “potentially” was used. The reality is that no conclusions can be drawn from the fact that the police are investigating the matter. If the right hon. Lady looks at the statement issued by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, she will see that the commissioner stressed that the fact the Met is investigating does not mean that the result will necessarily be the issuing of fixed penalty notices in every instance and to every person involved; so “potentially” is a key and operative word.

The right hon. Lady wants to jump to conclusions, but she has asked about the details of the investigation, and those are of course matters for the Cabinet Office and for the police. They are not details of which I would be informed. I would not expect to be informed, because the police have independent operational assessment of matters that are before them, and they will conduct the matter as they see fit.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

When Europe stands on the brink of war and there is a cost of living crisis, can we please have a sense of proportion over the Prime Minister’s being given a piece of cake in his own office by his own staff?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I completely agree.

Brendan O'Hara Portrait Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On Burns Day, it is probably appropriate to start with the line:

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Gang aft agley”.

Or perhaps it should be a line from that other great Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott:

“O what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!”

Now that the police are finally involved, I do wonder how much more personal humiliation and indignity the Prime Minister will be prepared to endure. Perhaps more importantly, how much more of this embarrassing circus are his colleagues prepared to tolerate before they act to remove this man from office? This is not going to go away; the wound is not going to heal miraculously by itself. I am sure we all know that there is an awful lot more still to come out.

I ask the Minister: at any time has anyone from the Sue Gray inquiry contacted the Metropolitan police? When did the Cabinet Office first learn about the police investigation? When does he now expect the Sue Gray report to be delivered? Finally, can he assure this House that when it is, it will be delivered in full, will be open and will be completely transparent for every Member of this House to access?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman asks me questions about the police investigation. I have no knowledge about that—nor would I expect to, nor should I have knowledge about it. He asks about the publication. I have already indicated that the findings of the investigation will be published.

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept that the Paymaster General may not be able to answer this question now, but will he assure the House that either he or other Ministers will keep the House posted about whether the Prime Minister will be interviewed by the Metropolitan police—either as a witness or as a potential suspect in this criminal investigation?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question but of course the police will conduct the investigation, as they do in any case, entirely at their own discretion. I would not expect to be informed about that, nor would the House expect me to be.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

There have been newspaper reports of Downing Street staff being told to delete evidence of parties from their phones and staff fearing to give evidence to the Sue Gray inquiry for fear that the PM will see it and that there will later be recriminations. Now that there is a police investigation, will the Paymaster General make it clear throughout Whitehall that all evidence must be given to the police? Will he undertake to publish a report and evidence so that we can all see at the end of this affair that that has been done?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If I may say so, I think one can draw a conclusion from the fact that in their liaison with the Metropolitan police, the Cabinet Office has, according to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, satisfied her that an investigation should take place. That should give comfort, to those who might otherwise doubt the investigation, that it is a proper and due-process investigation.

As in all cases where due process should be followed in the interests of fairness, it would not be appropriate to presuppose any result of a police investigation—or, for that matter, of an independent Cabinet Office investigation. As I have already said, I would expect the findings to be published in due course.

Shailesh Vara Portrait Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that it is a long-standing convention in this House that when there are independent inquiries and investigations, they are allowed to run their course and that prejudgments are not made in this House? Given that that is the case and that it would be advisable for that convention to be carried on, does he also agree that we really need to concentrate on matters that really affect our constituents on a day-to-day basis—cost of living, energy prices and so on—as well as on the fact that 100,000 Russian troops are on the Ukrainian border, which threatens global instability?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the pressing international situation, particularly as regards Ukraine and Russia. I know that the Prime Minister is focused on that matter.

I also understand the anxiety and indignation of many who are frustrated by the reports that have been emanating over the course of many weeks about alleged gatherings in the Downing Street area. The reality of the matter is that the Prime Minister is focused, as he has been focused, on delivering for this country as he has succeeded in delivering vaccines and on the manifesto commitments. He will continue that laser focus.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is clear that the Government are now in total meltdown. We have story after story about covid laws being broken in No. 10, revelations about hon. Members having constituency funding threatened by Government Whips, and now a Prime Minister and his staff under police investigation. In the midst of a pandemic and a cost of living crisis and with Europe on the brink of war in Ukraine, we cannot go on with this chaotic Government. Does the Minister accept that the Prime Minister’s authority is in tatters? Will he advise his boss to do the right thing in the national interest and resign?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his advice on propriety, but he will forgive me if I decline to follow it.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister agree that anyone taking a view on the Prime Minister must take into account the fact that he has presided over the most successful vaccination programme in the world, which is taking us out of the pandemic ahead of most other countries in the world?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is right, and we would be in lockdown now were it not for this Prime Minister.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Prime Minister not simply compounding his previous terrible mistakes by continuing to deny culpability, leading to an unnecessary and expensive police inquiry, when he could do the decent thing and resign?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would expect fairness to apply to all in this country, whether that is to one of his constituents or to one of mine, and I would hope and expect that he would not wish to see unfairness for anyone. What we are doing at the Cabinet Office is co-operating with a police investigation. That will carry on and take its natural course, as police investigations invariably do, in an orderly way, unencumbered by interference from the Executive.

David Morris Portrait David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Would the Paymaster General consider the Metropolitan police, or any other police force, looking into the activities of the Leader of the Opposition with his beer party? As far as I can see there is no difference. What does he say to that?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but, of course, police investigations and how they are conducted are operationally independent. I am sure that they will have heard what he said.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Paymaster General not think that it would be a good idea to set up a police special operations unit room in No. 10 Downing Street, because, while the police are looking at this case, they could perhaps look at cash for honours, cash for access, personal protective equipment for pals, paid advocacy, breaking the ministerial code, and all the other general Tory badness?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I have to say that a quick Google analysis of the SNP would not be particularly edifying. Despite noises off, this Prime Minister is focused on what matters to the British people and it is right that those matters conclude in an orderly way.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the investigation. We can see the absolute terror on the faces of the Opposition. For them, this is partygate, but they know that they are up against a Prime Minister and a Government who have brought youth unemployment to its lowest ever level. This Government, led by the Prime Minister, brought us the AstraZeneca vaccine and ensured that we had the most successful booster programme in the world. That is why there is absolute terror on the Opposition Benches that we should focus on policy in this place and on the priorities of the British people. That is why the Opposition are so desperate to land this even as the inquiry is going on.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I agree completely. The Prime Minister also welcomes the announcement by the Met police today, because alongside the Sue Gray inquiry, which he set up, we will offer the public the clarity that they need to help draw a line under these events.

Andy McDonald Portrait Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Middlesbrough constituents have obeyed the rules, done exactly what the Prime Minister demanded of them and abided by the laws that he initiated. Does the Paymaster General not understand that the continued refusal to do the right and decent thing only serves to damage our democracy and tarnish our reputation across the world? That will not be turned around until such time as the Prime Minister goes and brings this shameful business to an end.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Paymaster General agree that compared with being interviewed under caution for flogging peerages, as Tony Blair was, trying to prosecute a former First Minister of Scotland despite being told that there was no evidence or taking money from Chinese spies, eating a piece of birthday cake is a relatively minor offence?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes his point powerfully and eloquently.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that the police investigated and intervened on several parties across London on 20 May, can the Paymaster General explain why they did not intervene when enormous amounts of booze were being trundled into No. 10 with enormous amounts of noise? Does that make him fear some sort of fudging of the investigation? Perhaps another police force should intervene.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chooses to criticise the Metropolitan police; I do not think that has the support of the House. I ask him to accept that the position is that the Metropolitan police and the public servants who work in Government work hard, including during a period of major crisis for the country, in the public service. They are devoted to their work and they seek to serve the public in the best way they can. Assumptions ought not to be made of police or civil service impropriety. The matter is subject to investigation and I ask him to accept the default position that persons are innocent unless otherwise proved—that is how it works.

Jacob Young Portrait Jacob Young (Redcar) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last night, NATO announced that it was putting troops on standby in response to the situation in Ukraine. In April, gas prices are forecast to rise by more than 50% when the energy price cap lifts. People in Redcar and Cleveland want to move on from the debacle on parties and focus on the real issues. Will the Paymaster General assure me that the Cabinet Office will publish Sue Gray’s report as soon as it can?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s position. I would say that the report of Sue Gray—the findings of that report—will be published as soon as they are available.

Joanna Cherry Portrait Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) invited us to have a sense of proportion in relation to the matter. I refer him to one of the many emails that I have had from constituents and I ask the Paymaster General what he thinks about it. My constituent said that if he had not followed the covid restrictions, like the Prime Minister:

“I would have driven…to Norfolk to see my mum after she broke her leg and had to stay in a nursing home. I would have taken a trip south to prepare her house…I could have helped cook and clean for her while we found suitable local carers. I would have sung happy birthday to her from the hospital grounds while she recovered from covid she caught from a carer. I could have been closer when she died a few days later, 82 and alone in a ward of strangers.”

What should I say to my constituent? Should I tell him to have a sense of proportion or will the Paymaster General apologise to him and all the other people across the United Kingdom who kept the rules when the Prime Minister and his mates did not?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I would invite the hon. and learned Lady to offer her constituent my abject sorrow and condolences for his loss. There is nothing that I can say to bring back that which is lost, but what I can say is that the Prime Minister, in the exercise of his functions over the course of the pandemic, has brought the country out of a dire situation into a situation where we are now leading the world in our arrangements around the pandemic. He will continue to focus on those priorities.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Metropolitan police inquiry and express surprise that it was not announced earlier. In the Paymaster General’s previous role as Attorney General, he will have been more familiar than most with the covid-19 regulations and the fixed penalty notices that have been issued. Can he confirm that they are summary offences normally investigated within six months and that the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. As he can imagine, I would prefer not to get into the legal position. What I would say is that I expect, as everyone would, the police to conduct their investigation expeditiously and at a time that is, no doubt, in accordance with their own procedures and protocols. He is right to raise the fact that there will be tests—evidence and the burden of proof—and it is always right that a person in this country is innocent unless or until they be proven guilty.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am expecting this to run to about 1.15 pm. We can help each other by speeding through.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment has been undertaken of the damage that partygate has on our economy and inward investment, and on the trust of the British people in this Government?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Member asks what assessment has been made. I invite the House to note that this Prime Minister held a Cabinet meeting the day after his own mother died, was working just weeks after he was released from intensive care in hospital and has led the world on AstraZeneca and vaccine availability. We would still be in a lockdown situation if it were not for him. I invite her to accept those points as those that really focus the mind.

--- Later in debate ---
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of my constituents, Billie-Jean, got in touch. Billie-Jean was in university accommodation during the pandemic and was fined £100 for having a gathering of 11 people during that time. Billie-Jean says that, while they were being fined and disciplined by the university, the Prime Minister

“was living a lush life of champagne and party nibbles”.

Would the Minister like to apologise to my constituents and everybody else for having done one thing in Downing Street while people in the world outside did quite another?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Her constituent, in order to have been fined, would either have had to admit wrongdoing or have been found guilty in a court of law on the evidence before that court. The situation is completely different. No such state of affairs exists as far as No. 10 or the Prime Minister is concerned.

Stuart Anderson Portrait Stuart Anderson (Wolverhampton South West) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I fought in bloody conflicts in Europe. At the moment, we are seeing hundreds of thousands of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, and could see the bloodiest conflict for generations. We are wasting time here. [Interruption.] Sorry, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that every time the Opposition call for our Prime Minister to resign, it only strengthens Putin’s hand and destabilises negotiations?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

My hon. Friend is quite right to focus on what matters around the world and to the Prime Minister of this country.

Mick Whitley Portrait Mick Whitley (Birkenhead) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Every day, in my constituency of Birkenhead, parents are going hungry so that their children can eat, while elderly people are living in freezing homes because they simply cannot afford to put their heating on. Will the Minister concede that the Government are more interested in their own internal turmoil than in helping those most in need? Will he now join the calls for the Prime Minister to step aside so that we can finally begin to get grips with this Tory cost of living crisis?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

As I said in this House last time, the Prime Minister is going nowhere.

Martin Docherty-Hughes Portrait Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last night, the food critic Jay Rayner, quoting the late, great Julia Child, said

“a party without cake is just a meeting. Johnson’s staffers supplied a cake. Ergo, it was a party.”

Does the Paymaster General agree not only with Jay Rayner, but with the late, great Julia Child?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If while at work someone eats cake for 10 minutes, I do not think that conclusions can be drawn from that, so the hon. Member is putting the cart before the horse.

Mark Jenkinson Portrait Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is it not the case that those on the Opposition Benches are in cahoots with the media to undemocratically depose this Prime Minister not because he is an electoral liability for us, but because he is an electoral liability for them?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

One has to wonder. The Labour party’s focus on gatherings two years ago, as alleged, rather than on Ukraine and the Russian troops massing on the border of Europe, is quite extraordinary. What we are doing is focusing on the matters that really make a difference for the people of this country, while the police and the Cabinet Office continue their investigations.

Barry Gardiner Portrait Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that it has taken six weeks since the Daily Mirror first broke the story of parties in Downing Street to have a police inquiry, what consideration have the Government given to appointing Pippa Crerar as the commissioner of the Metropolitan police?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Well, I have no reason to be concerned about who the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Over the last few days, I have been out and about with my constituents in Great Grimsby, and they are sick and tired of listening to this constant thread. They are very happy that essential workers have gathered together for two years to get us through the pandemic. Will my right hon. and learned Friend send a message to the Prime Minister that they support his policies and want him to carry on getting on with the job?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will gladly send the Prime Minister that message. In fact, my hon. Friend’s message is very similar to those that the Prime Minister is hearing from colleagues around the House, and that is the focus that matters.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister really think that it is in the interests of our country—our country, not the Prime Minister—that the Prime Minister remains at the helm, giving public health advice to the people of Newcastle and security reassurances to the people of Ukraine, while mired in scandal and facing criminal investigations?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I do, passionately. I think that the Prime Minister is the best leader for this country, and he would bring to shame any leader that the Labour party might put forward for this country. The Prime Minister knows what matters and focuses on the matters that are important to the British people. This investigation is also important, but it is being conducted by the Cabinet Office and the Metropolitan police. We recognise the upset that has been caused by these allegations, which are being properly investigated.

Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I know that I myself, colleagues and constituents were shocked by the alleged lockdown rule breaking by none other than the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). Does the Minister agree that there can be no hypocrisy and that all sides need to be investigated—after all, those in glass houses should not throw beer bottles?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I am sure that “hypocrisy” was not aimed at an individual Member—surely not. I think that was badly phrased and I will let it go.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Nothing in the law forbade people who were legitimately at work from having a 10-minute coffee break in between meetings, and I am sure that people across the country did that, whether they ate cake with it or not. The reality of the matter is that my hon. Friend’s point is completely accurate.

Diana Johnson Portrait Dame Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Home Affairs Committee has been looking into the consistency of enforcement of covid regulations, because we are well aware that failure to enforce consistently can erode public trust. The Committee will have an opportunity to question the Metropolitan Police Commissioner soon. However, as the police have primary responsibility for criminal investigations in this country, does the Minister think that it would have been much better to pass this on to the Metropolitan police as soon as these allegations came to light, and that we would now be concluding that Metropolitan police investigation and he would have to stop coming to this House to defend the Prime Minister?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I know that the right hon. Lady is a very fair Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and she will acknowledge that the police have their job to do. It is not a matter for the Government or the Executive to refer matters. That has been done by the Cabinet Office, independently, as part of its investigation. As to the length of the police investigation, we have no idea how long it will be.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is clearly correct that the police should investigate any suspicions of breaches of the law, regardless of who may be involved. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure this House and the country that Sue Gray is being left to conduct her investigation independently and freely, and that there are no barriers to her passing on to the police any relevant information she may find on any potential rule breaking?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Yes, I can confirm that. The fact the Cabinet Office has passed matters to the Metropolitan police is proved by today’s news.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister explain to his less quick-witted colleagues that the claimed good works on covid are no excuse for breaking the law?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

No one is proved to have done what the hon. Member alleges.

Simon Baynes Portrait Simon Baynes (Clwyd South) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is absolutely right for there to be a full investigation into these matters, just as it was right for the police to investigate the cash for honours scandal under the Blair Government. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that the police will, of course, be given full co-operation on these matters, just as the Cabinet Office investigation has been?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I can assure my hon. Friend that full co-operation will be accorded to the police as and if they ask for it.

Angus Brendan MacNeil Portrait Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is quite clear that, even after this, the Prime Minister does not want to leave No. 10 Downing Street, but do we not face the possibility that the UK’s PM might eventually be leaving No. 10 Downing Street in police handcuffs?

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

On 8 December the Prime Minister told this House “there was no party”. Paragraph 1.3 of the “Ministerial Code” says that anyone who knowingly misleads the House will be expected to resign, so why is the Prime Minister still in his job?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If a group of people take cake for 10 minutes while at work, everyone is permitted a reasonable break as part of their working day. That is one possible interpretation. Ten minutes of eating cake and wishing someone a happy birthday would not a party make, but it is a matter for police investigation, and that is what is now happening.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Paymaster General for his responses to these questions. It seems like there are new reports of suspected lockdown breaches each day now. I am pleased, however, that the Metropolitan police’s investigation is under way. Will he confirm that any and all findings from these investigations will be disclosed to the media for public reassurance, that this will be the case for all reports of potential breaches that may yet come before Sue Gray’s investigation is concluded and that justice will be done?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the findings of Sue Gray’s report will be put before this House.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Once again, the Paymaster General has been forced to come to the Dispatch Box to defend the indefensible, and no one is buying it. Honesty, transparency and leadership should be at the heart of this country’s Government, but they are severely lacking. Will the Prime Minister now come to this House to set the record straight and tell us exactly what gatherings and parties he attended at Downing Street? Or better yet, will he just resign?

--- Later in debate ---
Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I know the hon. Lady wishes to make a political point, and it is kind of her to focus on my comfort, but I am not forced to do anything. I am here because I know the Prime Minister is entitled to the same justice as anyone else. It is unedifying to see the Opposition making party political points over this matter. The focus of this Government is on the primary concerns of the cost of living, employment, the economy and the situation in Ukraine and Russia, while the police and the Cabinet Office conclude their investigations.

Barbara Keeley Portrait Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The police were asked to enforce covid rules across the country and faced difficult challenges in doing so to keep us all safe, issuing tens of thousands of fines to people who broke the rules—even those gathering for birthdays. Does the Minister believe that the Prime Minister is above the law? My constituents are asking why these events took place, disregarding the rules. I say to Conservative Members who have attacked this business that these matters do concern our constituents—they do.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

No one is above the law in this country.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Paymaster General does not want to speak about the specifics of the investigation. So, for all the dodgy coronavirus contracts, the cash for honours for the Tories, the stated intention to break international law, illegally proroguing Parliament and the many other crimes and misdemeanours of this Government, does he find it a tad ironic that it is the parties in which they demonstrated their contempt for the public that finally prompted the police to investigate?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

If there is anything ironic, it is the Scottish National party.

Andrew Gwynne Portrait Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I remind the Minister that it started with a joke about a fictional party during a dummy press conference. Then there was the faux outrage from the Prime Minister, who was angry about that joke. All the while, there were parties—lots of them—and he was at some of them. There is a mountain of evidence of truth twisting, rule bending and lawbreaking, and it lands at the feet of the man at the top. Why is the Minister still defending the indefensible?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I see that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be judge, jury and executioner, but no one in this House would give him that position. What matters is justice—justice for all—and that will apply in this case as it does in any other.

Cabinet Office

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Thursday 20th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Ministerial Corrections
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Kate Osborne Portrait Kate Osborne (Jarrow) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

19. When the Government plan to bring forward legislative proposals to reform public procurement.

Michael Ellis Portrait The Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
- Hansard - -

In December 2020, we published the Government’s response to the consultation on the Green Paper on “Transforming Public Procurement”. We intend to bring forward these detailed and ambitious legislative proposals when parliamentary time allows.

[Official Report, 13 January 2022, Vol. 706, c. 631.]

Letter of correction from the Paymaster General:

An error has been identified in my response to these questions.

The correct information should have been:

Michael Ellis Portrait The Paymaster General (Michael Ellis)
- Hansard - -

In December 2021, we published the Government’s response to the consultation on the Green Paper on “Transforming Public Procurement”. We intend to bring forward these detailed and ambitious legislative proposals when parliamentary time allows.

Downing Street Garden Event

Michael Ellis Excerpts
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(2 years, 3 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

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

(Urgent Question): To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on reports of an event held in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020.

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

Both the Prime Minister and I came before the House in December to set out the details of the investigation being led by the Cabinet Office into the allegations of gatherings in Downing Street and the Department for Education in November and December 2020. As I did then, I again apologise unreservedly for the upset that these allegations have caused.

The Prime Minister has asked for an investigation to take place—[Hon. Members: “Where is he?”]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. I cannot hear what is being said. It is quite obvious that he is not the Prime Minister, so we do not need to keep asking that question. So please can I hear what the Minister has to say? He has got a tough job as it is; do not make it harder for him. Come on, Minister.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The Prime Minister has asked for an investigation to take place, and the terms of reference for the investigations that are under way have already been published and deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. The investigations are now being led by Sue Gray. She is the second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and of course a former director general of propriety and ethics. The Government have committed to publishing the findings of the investigation and providing these to Parliament in the normal way. The terms of reference set out that where there are credible allegations relating to other gatherings, it is open for those to be investigated, and I can confirm to the House that this includes the allegations relating to 15 and 20 May 2020. It will establish the facts, and if wrongdoing is established requisite disciplinary action will be taken.

As with all internal investigations, if evidence emerges of what was potentially a criminal offence the matter will be referred to the Metropolitan police, and the Cabinet Office’s work may be paused. Matters relating to adherence to the law are, as ever, matters for the Metropolitan police to investigate, and the Cabinet Office will liaise with them as appropriate. As I am sure Members of this House will appreciate, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing investigation, and the Government have committed to updating the House in due course.

I must again point out, as I did in December, and as I know the House will understand, that there is a long-standing practice of successive Administrations that any human resources matters concerning personnel relating to individuals does need to remain confidential. But Mr Speaker, both the Prime Minister and I came before this House in December; we set out the details of the investigation being led by the Cabinet Office into these allegations of gatherings, and those investigations are continuing. [Interruption.]

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Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. It is incredibly disappointing but not surprising that the Prime Minister, of whom I asked this question, is not here today despite not having any official engagements. His absence speaks volumes, as do his smirks on the media. The public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can’t hide.

I received an email this morning from a man called John. He told me that on 20 May 2020

“I found my long-time partner dead on the bathroom floor. I had been unable to get a GP visit for her and she had suffered terribly for some time before the blood clots stopped her heart.”

On that day the House heard from the Prime Minister himself that 181 NHS workers and 131 social care staff had died. Many people made huge personal sacrifices.

Frankly, the Minister hides behind the Gray investigation. There is no need for an investigation into the simple central question today: did the Prime Minister attend the event in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020? It will not wash to blame this on a few junior civil servants; the Prime Minister sets the tone.

If the Prime Minister was there, surely he knew. The invitation was sent to 100 staff, many of them his own most personal senior appointees. This was organised in advance, so did the Prime Minister know about the event beforehand, and did he give his permission for it to go ahead? If so, did he believe this event was in keeping with the restrictions and guidelines at the time, and was the chief medical officer consulted before it went ahead? What did the Chancellor know about the party given that he lives and works next door, and can the Minister confirm that no other Ministers were present? Finally, may I ask the Minister here today whether he still believes the Prime Minister to be a man of honour and integrity?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The right hon. Lady’s first point was that the Prime Minister is not here in person. She knows as well as everyone else in this House that it is not routine for the Prime Minister to answer urgent questions before the House, but that his Ministers are appointed to do so. However, he also attends this House more often than anyone else to answer questions and will be doing so tomorrow in the normal way at Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the appalling loss suffered by one of her constituents. My heart goes out to that constituent and, indeed, to all others from whom we have heard in this House—from all parts of this House—who have suffered tragic loss as a consequence of this appalling pandemic.

There is a need for investigation. The right hon. Lady said that there was not. There is a need, and that need is clear. The investigation is in progress. It is being conducted by someone in whom we have great confidence and who is, if I may put it this way, a paragon of independence and integrity in the civil service, of long standing. She is conducting that investigation.

The Prime Minister was himself affected by the consequence of covid-19 infection. He takes this matter very seriously, as does everyone in government. I will say this: the right hon. Lady asked if I have confidence in the Prime Minister’s integrity and honour, and I do.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

All this should be a powerful corrective to the urge to order the rest of our lives, should it not?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We each of us, in this House and no doubt everywhere else, live our lives in the best way that we can. Those of us in positions of responsibility acknowledge that responsibility. That is why there is an investigation in progress, which will get to the bottom of all these matters. That is in progress.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) on obtaining this urgent question, but let us look around: where is the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister should be here to answer these serious questions. Where are the Government Front Benchers? Indeed, where are the Government Back Benchers?

This is the most serious of matters: this is a Prime Minister who has been accused of breaking a law that he himself set. It could not be more serious. I have sympathy with the Minister, the fall guy who has to answer the debate today. The harsh reality is that people around these islands watched loved ones dying and missed funerals, and the PM and his staff partied behind the walls of his private garden.

On that very day, on 20 May, there was a tweet from the Metropolitan police reminding people of their responsibilities, “You may meet only one person outside”. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, in the Cabinet, gave a press conference at No. 10 at 5 pm to reiterate that message. There was one rule for the rest of us and another rule for those in No. 10. The Minister seeks to hide behind the investigation, but let me ask him: was Sue Gray one of those invited to that party on 20 May, and did she attend?

This is a Prime Minister who has lost his moral authority. He does not deserve the respect and trust of the people of these islands. If he will not do the decent thing and recognise that he ought to resign, I say to the Minister and to the Conservative Back Benchers that they will have to do what the Prime Minister has failed to do—force him from office, and do it now.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I do not accept the characterisation that the right hon. Gentleman makes. In this country, it is clear that the same rules apply to everyone. That is why an investigation is in progress. I hope that he will not adopt the approach of questioning the integrity of any civil servant investigating this matter. Sue Gray is someone who has conducted previous investigations with thoroughness and vigour. We can rest assured that the result of her inquiry will be in the public domain in due course. She is a person of integrity and upstanding. I hope that he will not adopt that approach.

Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that this place debates such serious allegations, but that we do so once the evidence has been collected, and that—

--- Later in debate ---
Maria Miller Portrait Mrs Miller
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that we have a debate in this place about these issues once the final recommendations have been put forward by Sue Gray, because it is important that we look at the evidence?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. In fact, she is agreeing with the Leader of the Opposition, I think, because it was he who said:

“Let’s let the inquiry play out, let’s see what the findings are”.

Her point is a good one: we should wait to see the results of the investigation, rather than prejudging it.

Ed Davey Portrait Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister set out what he thinks should happen if a Conservative MP is found to have flouted and broken a covid law?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It is not for me to pass judgment or pass sentence. The natural order of justice, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, is that a fair and impartial investigation takes place before there is a judge, jury and executioner. That investigation needs to take its natural course in an orderly way, rather than guilt or innocence being judged beforehand.

Peter Bone Portrait Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con)
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I of course have great confidence in the Prime Minister and the way he has been governing the country, but does the Minister agree that the House needs to have the report urgently so that we can debate it and reach a conclusion? I was slightly worried when he said that this would have to be paused if there was a Metropolitan police investigation. Is he confident that the House will have the report quickly, and if so, could he indicate when?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The Prime Minister did ask for the investigation to be conducted swiftly, and I think that is on the record. As to how long it lasts, I do not know, because we have not stipulated a time. Sue Gray is conducting the investigation independently of the Executive’s directions, as my hon. Friend and the House would expect. We hope to have a result swiftly, but that will be a matter for her.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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Perhaps it would be faster if Sue Gray were to investigate the days when there were not parties—[Laughter.] I have sympathy for the Minister, because he has been sent with his “gatherings” excuse to defend the utterly indefensible. We know, do we not, that an invitation to a “bring your own booze” party was sent out for 20 May, when 268 people died in hospital that day? We know that it was illegal to meet anyone outside one’s own household, except one person overnight. So what is there to wait for? The Prime Minister should come here now, fess up and tell us what happened.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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If I may say so, the hon. Lady has an excellent reputation in this House for, among other things, fairness. I know that she would want a fair investigation to take place before any comment is made. All that we are asking is for the House to wait a swift period of time for the investigation to conclude. That is in the natural order of justice and fair play.

Suzanne Webb Portrait Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) (Con)
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There is absolutely no doubt that this is an important matter, but there will be a full investigation into it, and that is the most important thing to remember at this time. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, as we recover from the pandemic, this House’s time would be better spent debating how we build back better and level up? That is what my constituents are looking for.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend is right to mention that in the governance of this country, and in the performance of the Executive in delivering for the people of this country, both in dealing with the exigencies of the pandemic and in matters such as levelling up, this Government are performing and prioritising. She is right to focus on that. This is, of course, a matter of concern to the House—that is accepted and it is why we are before the House today—but it will be investigated and that will take place in the proper order of events.

Karl Turner Portrait Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)
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We know that the Prime Minister is socially distanced from accountability, responsibility and integrity. Can we be absolutely sure that he will be here tomorrow to face the music instead of hiding behind Sue Gray?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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No one is hiding. The fact is that the Prime Minister will be before the House for Prime Minister’s questions in the normal course of events, so tomorrow, at this time, he will be in this Chamber. The reality is that, at the moment, we are awaiting the outcome of an investigation that is in progress. I know that he will want to approach this matter reasonably, and that is to wait for the result of an investigation.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Why cannot all the dirty linen be washed at once? Why are we getting this drip-feed of parties? Surely the civil service must have known that there was a party on 20 May and should have referred that already to the inquiry.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. The reality is that we have a number of dates that have come out at different times. That will presumably have the effect of delaying matters, but we have commissioned the terms of reference of the investigation, which I told this House about on 9 December. It is laid in the Libraries of both Houses that any dates that the second permanent secretary feels are appropriate to investigate, she will. I have confirmed to the House that 15 and 20 May 2020 are now among those dates.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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Does the Paymaster General agree that it would be utterly obscene if, at the same time—[Interruption.]

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the Paymaster General agree that it would be utterly obscene if, at the same time that a support group for recovering alcoholics was contacting me, desperate to meet because they needed the mutual support to manage their addiction during the crushing isolation of lockdown, staff at No. 10 were not only being encouraged to gather, but being told to bring their own booze while doing so? I appreciate that the Prime Minister is not here to answer for his actions, but does the Paymaster General agree that that would be obscene?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am not going to presuppose any conclusions of the inquiry. It is taking place and even the Leader of the Opposition has said that we should let the inquiry play out and see what the findings are. Conclusions can be drawn then.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
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The work of the second permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office is both important and urgent. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give any indication of when it might be completed?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I can say only that the Prime Minister has asked that the inquiry be swift and I have no indications other than that.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
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This is not the straw that broke the camel’s back; it is a 10-tonne weight being placed directly on the poor dilapidated beast’s posterior. Surely if the Prime Minister has a smidgen of self-respect or any sense of integrity, he will be listening to this and decide himself that it is time to go—for goodness’ sake, man, go!

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The Prime Minister focuses on the primary purpose of running this country, which is to deliver on the manifesto promises of this Government. The primary purpose of the investigation will be to establish swiftly a general understanding of the nature of the gatherings that we have been hearing about, which will include attendance, the setting and the purpose. I know that the hon. Gentleman is inclined to presuppose the result, but the fair approach would be to wait until the results of the investigation, which has been commissioned for several weeks now.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
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If the Prime Minister broke the law, he will resign, won’t he?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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It is an entirely hypothetical position. The Prime Minister is going nowhere. The right hon. Gentleman seeks to draw me into making a supposition about the result of any inquiry, but the Prime Minister retains the confidence of the people of this country, and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decades.

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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A survey by the Alzheimer’s Society shows that the health of 82% of people affected by dementia deteriorated during the first lockdown. Reduced social contact was a significant contributory factor. Does the Minister therefore agree that it would be unforgivable for the Prime Minister to prevaricate, obfuscate, seek to evade or distract, joke, take refuge in an industrial refrigerator or perhaps just lie about parties at No. 10?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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We will await the result of the investigation.

Zarah Sultana Portrait Zarah Sultana (Coventry South) (Lab)
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More than 150,000 covid deaths, the highest toll in Europe; a cost-of-living crisis, with universal credit slashed and bills rocketing; a second jobs scandal; an attempt to let his corrupt mate off the hook; a dodgy flat donation; accusations of cash for access; and now this, a Downing Street party that was against the law and that the Prime Minister claimed did not happen but that he reportedly attended. After all this, does the Minister not feel embarrassed that the Prime Minister does not have the decency to resign?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I would say to the hon. Lady that she is fond of making unsubstantiated accusations that are devoid of evidence, and she should wait for the due course of events before doing so. She has particularised certain items that are part of her allegations, about which she has no evidence, and she should be very cautious about doing that.

Ian Lavery Portrait Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab)
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The Paymaster General has been given an unenviable task this morning—he really, really has—but perhaps he could use his experience as a former Solicitor General and Attorney General to explain to the House what advice he would give to a hypothetical Prime Minister: someone who has perhaps lied to the country, someone who has perhaps lied to this House, someone who has laughed at times when people have died in their communities. What advice would the Paymaster General offer to that hypothetical Prime Minister?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The advice that I would always offer as a Law Officer, as I did as a barrister in practice, is to be fair to all sides. That includes listening to evidence, collating evidence properly and acting judiciously at all times. That is what we expect in this country, rather than prejudging matters and jumping to unwarranted and unfair conclusions. That applies to justice to all in this country.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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Assaults on police officers in 2020-21 in England and Wales saw a 20% increase to over 25,000. I personally know of police officers who have been spat at, pushed, shoved and punched while doing their job, which includes enforcing the covid regulations, so I think police officers up and down the country will be appalled to hear that the Prime Minister and Downing Street staff were allegedly partying while they were doing their job during the worst of the pandemic. Given that all the evidence suggests that the party took place and that the Prime Minister was present, does the Paymaster General agree that the Prime Minister should write a letter of apology to every one of the police officers assaulted while enforcing covid regulations?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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As the hon. Lady knows, this Prime Minister has always been a very strong supporter of the police. As Mayor of London, unlike the present incumbent of that office, he oversaw a reduction of crime in London. As Prime Minister, he has increased the number of police officers serving on the streets. This Prime Minister believes in law and order, and he supports the police—they know that. In fact, he visited a police station in my Northampton constituency only last week. The Prime Minister is very supportive of our police service and will continue to be.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. The last of that is not the language we should use, but I think we can let this one go. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want it to stand on the record.

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am appalled at the hon. Gentleman’s tragic loss, and I am so sorry to hear about his mother. My heart goes out to him and his family.

The Prime Minister knows the seriousness of covid-19 and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, he was in intensive care as a consequence of it. The Prime Minister also knows, having spoken to innumerable individuals who suffered loss themselves, that it has resulted in the death of many people in this country and around the world. He knows that, and he will never forget it.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept my assurance that the Prime Minister is someone for whom his responsibilities are writ large. He works hard in the interest of this country and he will be subject to Sue Gray’s investigation, together with her inquiry into all of these parties. I ask him to wait to see the result in, I presume, the relatively short time until we hear from Sue Gray.

Charlotte Nichols Portrait Charlotte Nichols (Warrington North) (Lab)
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A constituent of mine, who I will call Malcolm, got in touch this morning having been fined with a £100 fixed penalty notice for breaching the coronavirus regulations. He accepts his wrongdoing, but it strikes me as incredibly unfair that, at the same time as the Downing Street parties were happening and Ministers and MPs seemed to be flagrantly breaching the rules, constituents like mine should have to pay. When will Malcolm and everyone else who has been fined for breaching the regulations be getting their money back?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I presume that the hon. Lady’s constituent, together with others who have been penalised for breaching the regulations, was either duly convicted or accepted their responsibility. If I may say so, she is prejudging the matter. She should wait for the result of the investigation, just as Malcolm presumably did.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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There is an expression, “the buck stops at the top,” which is usually applied by people in leadership when they take responsibility. In April last year my 58-year-old friend Ray lost his battle with covid and died. We went to his funeral online via video link. In August my father passed away and I was fortunate enough to be in the room to hold his hand as he passed away. In the intervening months, I lost count of the number of conversations I had with families and council officers who were trying to negotiate more than six or eight people at a funeral. Will the Paymaster General please explain why the Downing Street social world is more important than those lives and the law of the land?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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May I start by saying that I am very sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s loss of his friend and of his father? I think it would be only fair to challenge him on his point about what Downing Street staff think. Downing Street staff work very hard for the people of this country—[Interruption.] It would not be fair to characterise all the work they have done over the course of years in the way that he does. We do not want to prejudge what occurred on that occasion. The reality is that we should take the approach that, unless proven to the contrary, most people in public life, no matter what their party political persuasion, work in the public service and do the best they can.

Maria Eagle Portrait Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
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The Minister has come here today—pretty lonely, on his own—for the Prime Minister, to deal with the serious questions that have been raised, but no self-respecting Minister would come here without knowing the facts about what happened. The question is simply this: did the Prime Minister attend the gathering on 20 May? There is a simple yes or no answer to that. I am assuming that the Minister, in coming here to answer for him, has put the question to the Prime Minister and that he knows the answer. He is here to tell this House. Can he give the answer to that question to this House, and do so now?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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That is a matter for Sue Gray and her investigation. It is not a matter for me. I am supported by my colleagues throughout Government in this matter.

Tony Lloyd Portrait Tony Lloyd (Rochdale) (Lab)
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Around 20 May, my life was saved by doctors, nurses and non-medical staff who came forward, often without personal protective equipment, and were prepared to take that risk because they did their duty. Does the Paymaster General honestly believe that the Prime Minister’s behaviour, as evidenced in our newspapers, would give confidence to those people who saved my life? Did they not deserve better?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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Those people who have served the people of this country and the national health service deserve everything we can give them. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, of course they deserve everything we can do to support them, and they get that—[Hon. Members: “No, they don’t!”] They do get that support from this Government. The reality is that we would be wrong to prejudge and to make assumptions about what happened on any given day based on unknown sources, so I think he will wait to find out for sure what occurred.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Anum Qaisar (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
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During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims across all four nations gather for iftar events to break their fast. In May 2020, they did not. In the evenings during Ramadan, Muslims gather at the mosque to pray Taraweeh. In May 2020 they did not. And on Eid al-Fitr, they pray Eid Namaaz together and celebrate with family. On 24 May 2020, they did not. Yet on 20 May, just days before Eid, those who were making the rules at No. 10 were breaking them. If Muslims and people of different faiths listened to the rules and did not celebrate religious events, why were the rules different for those in No. 10 for social events?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I acknowledge that people of the Muslim faith and indeed people of the Christian and Hindu and other faiths, including the Jewish faith, have all suffered considerable interruption to their high holy days. I absolutely accept that, and for many people of strong faith that is very painful. They did so around the world, in other countries too, in the wider public interest, to support the public health of all. They were asked to do that and they did so in order to protect their fellow citizens. We respect that and admire that. We asked people to do that with a heavy heart, but we did so for the best reasons.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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The unavoidable truth is that the public believe the Prime Minister is a liar who treats them with contempt. There is a crisis of public confidence. Is not the only way to restore public confidence for the Prime Minister, for once, to act in the public interest and resign now?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I do not think the public believe what the hon. Gentleman believes.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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I have raised this matter previously with the Paymaster General, and I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question. In January last year, I almost missed the birth of my son; my wife was 9.5 cm dilated before I was allowed in. She was found in a freezing cold bath, having uncontrolled contractions. We followed the rules to protect midwifery staff. Since I raised this matter before Christmas, I have been inundated with emails from my constituency and across the UK. I and many parents—fathers, mothers, partners—would like an apology from the Prime Minister. As we followed the rules to protect NHS staff, he partied. Can the Paymaster General show some grace and be up front with this House over what he knows, because the public really have had enough?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman nearly missed the birth of his child, and I know that many parents will have missed the birth of their children during the course of this appalling pandemic. The purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts, and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite action.

Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones (Newport West) (Lab)
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I thank the Paymaster General for coming to the House today, but the people of Newport West expected to see the Prime Minister. It is a shame that the Paymaster General has to cover for his boss and I really feel sorry for him because he has a rotten job today, but can he tell us why anyone in this House, or this country, should ever believe a word that the Prime Minister says again?

Michael Ellis Portrait Michael Ellis
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The Prime Minister will be here tomorrow, at Prime Minister’s questions, in the normal course of events; that is more frequent than almost any other Minister answers departmental oral questions here. I think it is only fair to point out that the Prime Minister answers these questions himself. I have the support of the entire Government in this matter, in the answers that I can give, and my answers are predicated on the fact that in the order of natural justice, we wait for the results of the inquiry and investigation that is taking place. That would be the case with anybody else—it is not special treatment—against whom an inquiry is taking place. I am sure the hon. Lady would accept that.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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I wonder whether the Paymaster General can simply clarify for us—has he asked the Prime Minister about this party?