Marion Fellows – 2022 Speech on Standards in Public Life

The speech made by Marion Fellows, the SNP MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, in the House of Commons on 7 June 2022.

If the House divides at the end of this debate, I shall be voting with the Opposition. Standards in public life are a foundation of our democracy. We must be able to have trust in those in public life, and we need Ministers, and especially a Prime Minister, to adhere to the ministerial code. Breaches of the Nolan principles and the ministerial code affect us all. It is fundamental that those in positions of power are honest and truthful; otherwise, we lose the trust of the public who elect us.

Independence is a word I am extremely fond of—indeed, I am wedded to it for Scotland’s sake—but we also need independence because we need a brake on this Prime Minister. He must not be judge and jury on the ministerial code, and I shall lay out my reasoning on this using the Nolan principles. Selflessness—denying yourself what you want for the greater good—is not what our current Prime Minister is noted for. My constituents showed selflessness during the pandemic for the common weal—the greater good. Our current Prime Minister did not. He carried on regardless, and permitted an ethos in Downing Street in which those working for him believed, as he did, that the rules did not and should not apply to them. They allowed guardians and security staff who knew wrongdoing was afoot to be belittled. Nae selflessness, then.

Again, the rules do not apply to the PM. His ethos was, “I want my flat refurbished, but I don’t want to pay for it myself.” But donations and loans were not registered with the Electoral Commission during the statutory time limit. Nae integrity there. This Government acted illegally, as judged by the High Court, by having a covid VIP lane to give money to individuals and companies run by friends and donors to the Tory party. Nae objectivity. Then there was the Owen Paterson debacle, where the Prime Minister tried to condone egregious lobbying and contracts awarded to Tory donors—a running theme. This Prime Minister and his Government believe they can do what they like, and there is nae accountability.

The Prime Minister knew he had attended parties at No. 10, but he used weasel words to try to deny it. He breached the ministerial code by using “terminological inexactitude”. For my constituents’ benefit: that is sometimes known by you as lying.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)

Order. We are not having the word “lying”. That was stressed by the Speaker at the beginning of the debate, so please will you withdraw the word “lying”?

Marion Fellows

I will withdraw the word “lying”, and thank you for your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I think my constituents struggle a bit with “terminological inexactitude”.

How does this Prime Minister deal with breaches of the ministerial code? Simple. You change it, or ignore it. So, nae openness. Partygate damaged our democracy, according to the Health Secretary, and since St Andrew’s day last year—189 days ago—we have heard nothing but, “We must move on. The Prime Minister saved us all during covid and he will save Ukraine. Nothing to see here, move along.” No acceptance of wrongdoing apart from set-piece apologies that were allegedly recanted at private meetings of the 1922 Committee. So nae honesty, either. To be a good—or even middling-to-good—leader, you need to have a moral compass. This Prime Minister has a well-hidden moral compass—

Mr Deputy Speaker

Order. Was the hon. Lady trying to say that certain members of the Government were being dishonest when she said “nae honesty”?

Marion Fellows

Yes, I think that the Prime Minister—

Mr Deputy Speaker

Were you are accusing the Prime Minister of being dishonest? If so, can you withdraw that, too, please?

Marion Fellows

Sorry. Yes, of course.

Forty-one per cent. of the Prime Minister’s own MPs want him gone, a majority of his Back Benchers want him gone and even the Scottish Tories want him gone. It is worth repeating that former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, a professor at the University of Glasgow, said:

“When a government asserts that the laws do not apply to it…such an assertion offends not only the law itself but our very idea of constitutional government.”

The former head of the Scottish Tories, Baroness Davidson, said the Prime Minister’s position is “untenable.” The Tory party knew what it was getting when it elected this Prime Minister as party leader, as he has a track record.

The current Tory leader in Scotland, the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), has been doing the hokey-cokey on the Prime Minister: in, out, in, out. He has not been able to make up his mind, but apparently he knows now that the Prime Minister should not be in office because he has not exhibited the correct leadership.

We in Scotland have not voted for a Conservative Government for 60 years, but we keep getting them, and this one is the worst so far. The only way forward is independence. We need to break free of this corrupt Government and their leader, who does not think truth matters and who thinks the rules do not apply to him.

I never expected to be a Member of Parliament, but I have been honoured to be returned three times. During that time, I have seen for myself how the public have lost faith in politicians. We need strong, enforceable standards for those in public life, and we need stronger, more enforceable standards for Ministers, and especially the Prime Minister. We need to build back trust in politics. In Scotland we will do that best by achieving independence; and here we will do it best by supporting this motion.