Stephen Timms – 2022 Speech in the No Confidence in the Government Motion

The speech made by Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, in the House of Commons on 18 July 2022.

I want to focus on one example of a specific problem with this Government that I think makes it impossible to have confidence in them. Between November last year and the end of March this year, the Prime Minister claimed 10 times at Prime Minister’s questions that more people were in work than before the pandemic. That was untrue. The figures show that total employment is still 366,000 lower than just before the pandemic.

The Prime Minister made that untrue claim twice on 24 November 2021, three times on 5 January 2022, again the following week and then again the following week. He claimed it again on 2 February and on 23 February. On 24 February, the exasperated chair of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Prime Minister to point out that the claim was not true. The Prime Minister claimed it again on 27 March.

On 30 March, I asked the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee whether he accepted that his tenfold statements had been wrong. He replied:

“I think I have repeatedly—and I think I took steps to correct the record earlier.”

Well, he had not corrected the record, and he still has not. In his answer at the Liaison Committee it was clear that he understood what has actually happened since the pandemic, and that about half a million people—mainly older people—have given up on work, substantially reducing the number in work overall. However, four weeks after that discussion on 27 April, the Prime Minister said:

“Let me give them the figures: 500,000 more people in paid employment now than there were before the pandemic began”.—[Official Report, 27 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 754.]

That was even though he had made clear to me on 30 March that he knew that to be untrue.

At the Liaison Committee two weeks ago, the Chair of the Justice Committee

asked:

“How important is the truth to you, Prime Minister?”

The Prime Minister replied, “Very important, Bob.” But it clearly isn’t important, and the record still has not been corrected for any of the 11 instances of the false claim that the Prime Minister knows he has made.

Other examples of a lack of truthfulness have been much more consequential. After negotiating customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister went to the Democratic Unionist party conference and announced that there would be no such checks. That was obviously untrue, and the DUP has paid a very heavy political price for taking him at his word. Democracy does not work if Ministers routinely say things that they know to be untrue. Why did they not see through him before?