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Procedure of the House

Volume 739: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2012

Motion to Agree

Moved by

My Lords, I congratulate the Chairman of Committees on an excellent and sympathetic report. However, could he arrange for the Procedure Committee to look at another matter: namely, the accountability of Ministers to this House, particularly the accountability of the noble Lord, Lord Green? I have here a table that shows that his attendance in the current Session was less than 10%; whereas, just to take a random example, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was here nearly 100% of the time. The noble Lord, Lord Green, was absent yesterday when there was a PNQ, which he knew was coming up, about his attendance. He is absent again today. I do not know where he is, but he is certainly not here. However, he is going to make a statement today, not to this House but to Jeff Randall on Sky television.

It is appalling and a discourtesy to this House and to Parliament as a whole when the noble Lord considers that it is appropriate for him to make a statement on television and not to this House. Since we have the noble Lord the Leader of the House here—I shall wait for a reply to the Committee—he will say that at a time when the Prime Minister is under tremendous pressure with his former press adviser and good friend having been charged with very serious offences and when his judgment is in question, it would add to that for his adviser on banking, a senior Minister of State, not to come before this House and be accountable to the place where he ought to be.

I apologise for intervening on this issue, but I wish to say something. I address my remarks to the noble Lord the Leader of the House rather than to the Lord Chairman. In view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Green, is going to be on television this evening and that he has written a letter to Mr Chris Leslie in the House of Commons, I thought it pertinent to raise this matter on the Floor of the House.

As a matter of procedure, the noble Lord the Leader of the House yesterday told your Lordships’ House in relation to the noble Lord, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint:

“No Minister needs to be accountable to Parliament for their previous career”.—[Official Report, 23/7/2012; col. 482.]

However, in a letter to my honourable friend the shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the noble Lord, Lord Green, does precisely that in giving, as a government Minister in an official letter from a government department, his views on HSBC and what he described as the “failures” of the bank, about which he says, “I share that regret”. If the noble Lord, Lord Green, can make that kind of point in a government letter—let alone what he might say in an interview on Sky television at 7 pm this evening—he should come to this House and make those points here. I therefore invite the Leader of the House, in the light of the actions today of the noble Lord, Lord Green, to make arrangements for the noble Lord, as a Minister and a Member of this House, to take the opportunity to come to this House tomorrow to dispel the questions that are being posed about his ministerial role.

My Lords, I think that it is worth replying to this. The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition was kind enough to give me notice that she would raise this issue. There are two accusations against my noble friend Lord Green. The first is that he has written to Mr Chris Leslie, who is a Member of the House of Commons. The only reason why my noble friend Lord Green has written to Mr Leslie is because Mr Leslie wrote to him and he has simply replied. That strikes me as being entirely the right and correct thing to do.

The second accusation is that my noble friend has not come to this House to answer questions. The reason why my noble friend has not come to this House to answer questions is because none has been put to him on this subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made much of the table of attendance and referred to my noble friend Lady Anelay. However, she happens to be the government Chief Whip, and if she was not here practically every day, I would want to know why. Incidentally, I also want to know why the Minister for Trade should spend all his time in here when his job is to do his best, banging the drum for British business—as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, used to remind us—rather than coming here. How many questions has the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, put down in the past 12 months to my noble friend Lord Green on matters of trade? I shall check the record later.

If the noble Lord the Leader of the House would care to check, he will find that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, attended here regularly. He answered question after question. Not only did he do so, but so did the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, who also attended regularly. The noble Lord, Lord Green, is the senior Minister from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in this House, but who has to stand in? The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who comes very high in the table, gallantly stands in regularly to answer these questions; and if she is not able to do it, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, stands in. However, we never see the noble Lord, Lord Green. I do not think that the noble Lord the Leader of the House understands that he is the Leader of the House, not of the Conservative Party. He is responsible for the whole House. It is a grave discourtesy for a Minister never to appear to turn up. He is not just responsible for trade and investment; he is the main Minister in that department, and he should be here answering questions.

I will not continue this for very much longer. All I can say is that if the noble Lord wants to put down questions on trade and investment, my noble friend Lord Green will be here to answer them.

My Lords, while the noble Lord is here and answering questions, I hope he does not mind my saying this, but I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Green, should have made from BIS the Statement on loan guarantees. For some reason, he was not here, although I gather he was in the House. Could the noble Lord inquire into why that happened? I would rather that the noble Lord, Lord Green, had answered, given that he was the Minister concerned.

My Lords, I do not wish to prolong this either. I would merely say that I did not write to the noble Lord, Lord Green, because on a couple of occasions I asked for the noble Lord to come to this House, of which he is a Member, to answer questions. Next time I will write to the Minister responsible, because I know that Ministers do not think that it is fitting to come to this House and to be accountable to this House. Clearly, we have to do things by correspondence.

Can we get a better understanding of this issue? My own memory goes back to two excellent Ministers of Trade: Cecil Parkinson, who is now a Member of this House, and Richard Needham—both of whom will be familiar to many Members of this House. I was rude to them if I ever saw them, because their job was not to be here. At a time when we needed trade and exports, they needed to be out and about promoting British business. The other House respected the fact that they had to lead delegations and had greater impact outside. The more they did, the better they did it. They were very effective Ministers of Trade at a rather successful time for the British economy. If ever we needed a Minister of Trade to be active overseas, it is now. I thought this House would appreciate that.

My Lords, my noble friend puts it extremely well. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, a Written Ministerial Statement on the loan guarantee scheme was made by my noble friend Lord Sassoon because it was a Treasury matter. The noble Lord was able to ask him a Question a few minutes ago.

My Lords, it seems so long ago, but if I remember correctly the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, began by commending the report. I thank him for those very few words on the report. He raised issues that have been dealt with by the Leader of the House. The only thing I should say is that if anyone wishes to take these matters further in light of the Procedure Committee, they can always write. I do not think that any points, let alone points of substance, have been raised on the content of the report, which makes a number of important advances in how we enable people with disabilities to contribute fully to the business of this House. I commend the report to the House.

Motion agreed.