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Propriety in Public Life

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 7 September 2023

As the Prime Minister set out when he first entered Downing Street, this Government will uphold the highest standards of integrity and propriety. In July we announced a wide- ranging programme of reform, acting on recommendations from Nigel Boardman, the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Public Administration Committee.

We have all heard that the former Member for Mid Bedfordshire failed to speak in this House for more than a year and that her farcical resignation, which was to have “immediate effect”, took nearly three months, but what about the years when there was no constituency office listed for people to make representations to? With no regard to standards in public life, it is clear that the Tories have sold my neighbouring constituency down the river. Does the Secretary of State agree that the good people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve a hard-working, full-time Labour MP such as Alistair Strathern instead?

The people of Mid Bedfordshire deserve a hard-working Member of Parliament who lives and works in the constituency, and in Festus they will find exactly that. I have every confidence that they will return him to this House in the by-election next month.

At the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) made a point of order, picking up on a statement made by the Prime Minister that she described as “categorically untrue”. This is about the sixth or seventh time this year that we have had to make such points of order about the Prime Minister. How can we have any confidence that we are going to get high standards in public life if this keeps happening?

That is simply not the case. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the exchange, he would have heard that the Prime Minister answered comprehensively every question raised by the Leader of the Opposition and demonstrated a far greater understanding of the detail of this than that demonstrated by his opposite number.

Last year, the Prime Minister said that his Government would do “everything we can” to recover covid fraud losses, yet the crony PPE VIP lane helped Tory-linked business owners over small and medium-sized businesses, meaning that £15 billion of taxpayer money was wasted on useless PPE. The Public Accounts Committee found it “unacceptable” that the Government are not prioritising recouping misused money, with only £21 million—only 2%—recovered from fraudsters. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to fulfil his Government’s pledge to reclaim misused taxpayer money? Or is that, like the Prime Minister’s promise of integrity and accountability, another failed vow?

What we saw during the crisis was the Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor, acting decisively and rapidly to save the economy and millions of jobs. Since we have passed out of the covid period, we are taking action to recover fraud and error losses. As set out by my hon. Friends, in the past two years alone, we have recovered more than £3 billion. I would gently say to the hon. Lady that people in glasshouses should perhaps not throw stones, given the experience of her party’s leaders being frogmarched by the police to investigate the misuse of funds by her own party.