Michael Ellis – 2022 Speech on the Resignation of Lord Geidt

The speech made by Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, in the House of Commons on 21 June 2022.

With the leave of the House, I would like to close this debate.

As set out by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) in her opening remarks, and for the reasons I explained to the House in my opening remarks, the Government will not be supporting the motion. The Labour party has called the debate to throw mud, but I would caution that those who throw mud often find that some of it sticks to themselves. I would also caution and place on record that the Government remain absolutely steadfast in their commitment to upholding the standards in public life that we all respect, to the critical role that the ministerial code plays in standards in public life and to supporting those standards. On account of that commitment, the Government cannot support today’s motion, which would, counterintuitively perhaps, by proxy, weaken the ministerial code. As I said earlier, it would at the same time change the British constitution by the back door, without consultation and without consideration.

On the appointment of a new adviser, can I answer with this word: yes. The Prime Minister intends to appoint a new ethics adviser and we will announce how that is to be done and who is to do it in due course. But it does have to be done properly and in a way that will ensure that Parliament and the public have confidence in it. I think that I may be asked what “in due course” or “in good time” means. It means doing it right, and getting the right people to come forward, to be interviewed and to go through the process. It means actually getting it right, not just responding to the latest headline. It means making a process that might actually work in the longer term.

David Linden

Will the Minister give way?

Michael Ellis

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but he knows exactly what is meant by this.

David Linden

I am very grateful to the Paymaster General for putting on record that the Government do intend to appoint an adviser, but can I just push him a little further and ask him to say whether that appointment will take place before, say, the conference recess?

Michael Ellis

The answer is a very simple one: the process will be done properly. It will be done in a way that will give confidence to the system; it will be done in a way that the House, Ministers and everyone concerned will be confident in. So it is not possible to give a particular date for it. After all, it is only a matter of days since this situation came about. What is meant is clear: we are still considering this carefully, and we remain fully committed to making sure that all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, whose code it is, are held to account for maintaining high standards of behaviour and behaving in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety, as the public rightly expect.

Karin Smyth

I think that what the Minister is trying to say is that what has gone wrong is either the process of appointing the last two advisers, or indeed the last two advisers—both of which seem to me to be dishonourable things to say, if I may say so—rather than the fact that both have resigned because of the behaviour, as they have admitted, of a Minister and the Prime Minister.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)

Order. I do not think the hon. Lady was implying that something dishonourable had been said. If she was, I would want her to withdraw that.

Karin Smyth

I withdraw it.

Michael Ellis

I think the hon. Lady misunderstands the position, which I have made perfectly clear and will repeat. This is about getting the process henceforth right—a process that will have the confidence of this House, the Prime Minister, Ministers and everyone else. It is right to consider these things carefully and take time to reflect on them before taking a decision on how best to fulfil the Prime Minister’s commitment. It is the Prime Minister who has made a commitment to ensuring rigorous oversight and close scrutiny of ministerial interests. As I have said, we are looking at the best way to carry out this function, given some of the issues raised recently and set out in our plans. But I could not be clearer when I have given the single-word answer “yes” on the Prime Minister’s intention to appoint a new ethics adviser. We will announce how that will be done and who is to do it in due course. We will make sure it is done properly to ensure that Parliament and the public have confidence.

In the meantime, the Labour party, when its rail strike is in progress, has chosen today of all days to discuss this matter. I suppose half its Members are on the picket lines at the moment, blocking hard-working people from going about their daily business. They debate this matter for the umpteenth time and the umpteenth hour—so much so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) says that she sees more of me than of her friends. The feeling is mutual, although I think she has far more friends than me, except on the Government Benches, where I have a lot more friends, of course, because the Prime Minister wins elections. He does not talk about personalities; he talks about policies. On policies, this party and this Government win.

Mr Carmichael

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way eventually. I am sure that we all share his aspiration to have a process in future that commands public confidence, but he has not yet mentioned what it was about the previous system that did not command public confidence. What was it?

Michael Ellis

I will leave that to the right hon. Gentleman’s already active imagination, but I would say that not everything is a conspiracy. He should bear in mind the responsibility that he and his party have for ensuring that this country’s railway system is working correctly and is not subject to industrial action. Why not support the people of this country in doing that? The red herring that he focuses on is symptomatic of where we are with this debate.

I have made it clear that Labour’s motion seeks to confuse the constitutional position of this country; it confuses the powers of the Executive with those of the legislature. We propose to move on and appoint an ethics adviser, as I have said. We will ensure that an announcement is made as to how it will be done and who will do it in due course, but I emphasise that it must be done properly. In the meantime, I respectfully caution the Opposition to get their Members off the picket lines and to support the people of this country, which is what this Conservative Government will continue to do.