Paterson: Lib Dem MPs debate calamitous events of last week

Yesterday, the debate moved on from the behaviour of Owen Paterson to the behaviour of the government, especially prime minister Boris Johnson. Wendy Chamberlain who had requested the debate and said actions of the Government had tarnished the Common’s reputation. Layla Moran said the government had distracted attention from the more important business of COP26. Tim Farron said ministers had undermined trust in democracy at every level and Alistair Carmichael said the decision to whip Conservative MPs was a seriously colossal error of judgment. Closing the debate, Wendy Chamberlain told MPs that the government’s actions last week a clear executive overreach, and the Prime Minister has serious questions to answer. The prime minister did not however attend the debate.

Here are some highlights from the Lib Dem contributions to the debate.

Opening, Wendy Chamberlain, MP for North East Fife  told the house:

The actions of the Government last week have tarnished this House’s reputation… It is hard to be proud to be a Member of Parliament when, as a body, we are all tarnished with the Government’s brush and when in the eyes of the public we are tainted by allegations of sleaze… The Government’s actions last Wednesday have rightly been condemned across the board.

Intervening, Layla Moran, Lib Dem for Oxford West and Abingdon asked:

This has been a distraction from one of the most important sets of debates going on at the moment, at COP26… Instead, the focus was on the shenanigans of this Government, and that is the real tragedy here.

Turning her attention to Boris Johnson, Chamberlain said:

They say that a fish rots from the head down, and I am disappointed to see that the Prime Minister has chosen not to turn up today to answer our questions… I cannot help but feel that he thinks the rules do not apply to him… This is the Prime Minister who flew to Afghanistan to escape a vote on Heathrow when he was Foreign Secretary, and he has driven to the north-east to escape questions today… Back in May 2020, it was Dominic Cummings’s trip to Barnard Castle, in flagrant breach of covid regulations; then it was the Home Secretary, found to have breached the ministerial code, but let off; and then it was the then Health Secretary breaching covid guidance he had been instructing others to follow. That is just the tip of the iceberg…

Over the past 20 months, my constituents have had to follow more rules than they have ever had to deal with before, while sadly we are governed by Ministers who seem to care far less about the rules than any predecessors in living memory.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale said:

Being gracious does not mean ignoring the reality when one side behaves especially badly. We do not need to be soppily neutral. The reality is that the Government made a decision last week to do something that undermined trust in democracy at every level, locally and here in Westminster.

Wendy Chamberlain:

There has been much discussion of a right to appeal—this is something we have heard a lot from the Government as they try to justify their actions. I would point out that, through the Nationality and Borders Bill currently going through Parliament, the Government are attempting to take the rights of appeal away from asylum seekers.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland:

One of the rules we have always observed in this place is that we do not whip House business. Just about everything that has happened since last week can be traced back to the determination of the Government to whip that…

I do not know whose decision it was to whip the motion and amendment last week, but it was a seriously colossal error of judgment. They have damaged the authority of the Prime Minister, they have damaged the credibility of the Leader of the House, and they have seriously undermined the ability of the Government Whips Office to do the job with which it is charged. Some might say that that is a silver lining, but the cloud, which is the damage to Parliament as a whole, is otherwise impenetrably dark…

I remain to be convinced about the need for an appeal, but given that this is a committee and not a court, and the process is not informed by legal practitioners, I see the argument for there being a fresh pair of eyes on such matters. If, however, all we do in the process about which the Leader of the House was speaking last week is tinker around with a few procedural matters, we might as well not bother. That is simply not equal to the task before us of restoring public confidence in the House’s ability to deal with its own standards and discipline.

On those right hon. and hon. Members who have outside interests or second incomes, I do not favour an outright ban on second jobs, as that would have the unintended consequence of making more people see this as an occupation from which there would never be any departure. The idea that people can come here for a term or two and then return to whatever profession or occupation they had beforehand is good and sensible, but this weekend I saw reports about the time given by some right hon. and hon. Members, and the money they received in return, which I think is simple indefensible. As we look to what we do in future, we must consider that, and at very least we must have a cap on such matters…

When you are in a hole, stop digging. The Government look as if they have stopped digging, but I still get the sense that somehow they cast rather envious and wistful glances in the direction of the shovel.

Wendy Chamberlain closed the debate:

Last week’s actions by the Government were a clear Executive overreach, and the Prime Minister has serious questions to answer. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster suggested that there was regret on the Government side and among ministerial colleagues, so I am disappointed that the Prime Minister is not here. However, when he has had the opportunity to apologise, such as in comments he made to the press today, he has chosen not to do so.

This is about trust. It is about trust in the Government that they will represent the House and not the Government in House business, and it is about trust in us as our constituents’ representatives. That trust, once eroded, is very difficult to regain. Trust in our politics has been eroded in this past week. That includes all of us here in this House. On behalf of all our constituents, we must do all in our power to do our best to rebuild that trust as we take the next steps on standards.

The full debate.

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6 Comments

  • Michael Hopkins 9th Nov '21 - 7:45am

    I’ve always been a big fan of Alistair Carmichael, and he didn’t disappoint yesterday.

  • John Marriott 9th Nov '21 - 9:10am

    And yet, if you were to rely on the broadcast media for your information you would have thought that it had been Labour’s debate.

  • John Marriott 9th Nov '21 - 9:32am

    Just ‘caught up’ on ‘Newsnight’ and my fears have been realised. At least they managed a short comment from Daisy Cooper; but the main discussion consisted of a Labour and Tory MP and a lady, who lead a group on corruption. No wonder that Labour has at last overtaken the Tories in one opinion poll.

  • Nigel Jones 9th Nov '21 - 10:51am

    Should we learn something from the way Boris spends his time, especially when in trouble ? Instead of being in his job, he goes out and about being nice to people who he wants to vote for his party. Like Trump, he knows that campaigning for the next election has to be number one priority and as long as the opposition is weak and dis-united that works. I was pleased that we led the debate yesterday, but let’s now move on and see our MPs spending more time around the country in places where we stand a chance of wining next time. It’s the people who decide the next election, not the activists in Parliament and Civil Service.

  • Barry Lofty 9th Nov '21 - 11:01am

    It is a wonder that Johnson is ever in Westminster as he is always in trouble!!
    Perhaps the accumulation of troubles will eventually catch up with him, hopefully??

  • Ianto Stevens 10th Nov '21 - 9:16am

    Was it Wendy Chamberlain or Alistair Carmichael that Radio 4 had to correct itself for referring to as being SNP?

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