Valerie responds to Urgent Question

As Shadow Leader of the House, I responded to the following urgent question asked on 23 July 2018: “to ask Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Chief Whip) if he will make a statement in relation to Government policy and practice with regard to pairing arrangements, especially as they relate to members on maternity, paternity or adoption leave.”

You can read my speech below:

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on successfully bringing another Cabinet Minister to the Chamber to answer a question about breaking a pair. It clearly shows the seriousness of the political situation facing the Government Chief Whip that the deputy Prime Minister has to come to answer the urgent question, to try to avoid another damaging Cabinet exit. Clearly, the Government Chief Whip decided to phone a friend, and it was not the Leader of the House.

The deputy Prime Minister said that the Government had a better record on pairing. Could he explain what that means because a pair is twice—you have two pairs? The issue is simple: it comes down to the integrity of the word of a member of Her Majesty’s Government, the Government Chief Whip. You will recall, Mr Speaker, that a former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, demanded a rerun of a vote—and got it—from a Labour Government.

The answers in the statements made by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House on 18 July confirmed that the Government Chief Whip was less than candid with his fellow Ministers, including the Prime Minister, by not declaring that he actively instructed Conservative MPs to break pairing arrangements. It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have unwittingly misled the House by characterising the Government Chief Whip’s action as an “honest mistake”. This is a serious breach of the ministerial code.

Does the Minister for the Cabinet Office believe that the Government Chief Whip’s integrity is above reproach? We are asked to believe that the breaking of the pair for the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) was an honest mistake, while he admits that he ordered others to knowingly break their pairs. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? Can he confirm that the Government Chief Whip rang those who refused to break their pairs to demand an explanation as to why? If that was the case, that in itself is a clear breach of a number of the Nolan principles, such as integrity and honesty, that form the basis of the ministerial code.

In her foreword to the latest version of the “Ministerial Code”, the Prime Minister states that it “sets out the standards of behaviour expected from all those who serve in Government. In abiding by this Code, we will show that Government can be a force for good and that people can trust us”.

I reiterate our offer on Wednesday, following the previous urgent question, to discuss implementing a system of baby leave today without the need for a vote. How do the Government think that the business of the House—including Select Committee visits, international delegations, important ministerial negotiations, and even having a baby—can proceed when they admit that, under this Government Chief Whip, no one can or should trust them?