Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 26 October.
“I was disappointed, on leaving my previous Department last night, that I would no longer be seeing the right honourable Lady across the Dispatch Box, and I am so glad that she has put that right for me today. She has a good memory, and I know she will recall that last week the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office—my honourable friend the Member for Bassetlaw, Brendan Clarke-Smith—said, in responding to a Question that she had tabled, that questions relating to
‘breaches of the ministerial code’
or related issues
‘are a matter for the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office’.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/22; col. 834.]
That is why I, not the Home Secretary, am here answering the question today. My honourable friend the Member for Bassetlaw set out the circumstances regarding the departure of the Home Secretary last week. The Home Secretary made an error of judgment. She recognised her mistake, and she took responsibility for her actions. The Ministerial Code allows for a range of sanctions when mistakes have been made. The Home Secretary recognised her mistake, raised the matter and stepped down. Her resignation was accepted by the then Prime Minister.
The right honourable Lady will be aware that ministerial appointments are a matter solely for the Prime Minister, as the sovereign’s principal adviser on the appointment, dismissal and acceptance of resignations of Ministers. The Prime Minister was very clear in his speech to the nation yesterday when he said:
‘This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.’
He has said that he will work ‘day in, day out’ to earn the trust of the country and live up to the demands and expectations that the public rightly have of their Prime Minister. The Prime Minister expects all Ministers to uphold the values and standards set by the Ministerial Code, as the public would rightly expect.
As I have said, the Home Secretary made an error of judgment. She recognised her mistake, and she took accountability for her actions in stepping down. After consideration, the Prime Minister has decided, given the apology issued by the Home Secretary, to reappoint her to the Government. They are now focused, together, on working to make our streets safer and to control our borders. However, while we should learn from mistakes, we should also look to the future, and the Prime Minister has appointed a team of Ministers to lead the country through the issues that it faces.
All Ministers are bound by the Ministerial Code, and the Prime Minister expects his Ministers to uphold the code and hold the highest standards. As I have noted, the code allows for a range of sanctions for breaches, and on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the code was updated in May to make that clear. On an ongoing basis, we will need—every Minister—through our actions and in how we conduct ourselves, to demonstrate that we can continue to command this Prime Minister’s confidence as we tackle the huge challenges that are to come for the country.”
My Lords, the response in the other place that the sacking or resignation of the Home Secretary in last week’s Government was for “an error of judgment”, and that she recognised her mistake and stood down, is now under scrutiny and it is starting to wilt like a lettuce. A range of sanctions is available for the breach of the Ministerial Code, yet for this particular breach, which the Government now want to play down, apparently resignation was the only option, not the other sanctions available.
Last night, Sir Jake Berry, who was the Chairman of the Conservative Party until Tuesday, said that there had been “multiple breaches” of the Ministerial Code. Numerous questions are now becoming more evident—it is quite a murky business—but two are really important for Parliament. First, did the Home Secretary immediately refer herself for this security breach, or did it come to light only after being reported by somebody else? Secondly—I was surprised this question was not answered by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons yesterday, when Keir Starmer asked it, so I will ask it again—have officials raised any concerns about Rishi Sunak’s decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as Home Secretary?
My Lords, I think it is actually very simple. Noble Lords have seen Ms Braverman’s letter. She made a mistake when she was Home Secretary. She acknowledged the mistake; she acknowledged an error of judgment; she apologised. That was dealt with by the previous Prime Minister and Ms Braverman resigned. Separately, the present Prime Minister has decided to appoint Ms Braverman as Home Secretary.
Everyone deserves a second chance. The Prime Minister was clear that this is a Government with integrity, professionalism and accountability, and I believe it was right to bring her back. On the question of advice, noble Lords will know that we do not comment on internal advice; such advice is confidential.
My Lords, apparently the Member of Parliament for Fareham, when previously Home Secretary, sent a restricted document to her own personal email address and then forwarded it to a Back-Bench MP and to someone she wrongly thought was the MP’s wife, apparently to get their advice. It was the second recipient of her email who alerted the authorities, not the MP for Fareham. If she is so unsure of her own judgment, and given that she goes to such lengths to circumvent security measures, why is she now Home Secretary?
My Lords, I can only say again that mistakes were made and that the Home Secretary acknowledged those. It is a good thing to acknowledge when mistakes have been made. She apologised, sanctions were applied under the last Administration and the new Government have put together a united team to deliver for the British people, and that includes Ms Braverman. She needs to be able to focus on illegal immigration, on control of borders and on making our streets safer. She needs to deal with the murderous channel crossings criminal racket, and I hope the party opposite will support that.
I am not sure how much I can say, but as a new Minister, I can confirm that extensive security training is given to new Ministers. On taking up office, I was impressed at the security training. Noble Lords will note that there is a confidential annexe to the ministerial code which deals with security issues. This is a very important matter, which we all take very seriously. People can make mistakes—I remember this from being outside government—but there are remedies and they have been served.
My Lords, I know that the Minister, of all people, will understand the sensitivity of what I am putting to her, but I do so nevertheless. Is it not true that there could be two really unfortunate outcomes to the reappointment of the current Home Secretary? One is the reluctance of the security and intelligence services to provide the briefings and the openness needed, and the second is the reluctance of other international security agencies to share information with us if they are fearful that it will be passed out from government?
My Lords, when the previous Prime Minister accepted—perhaps invited—the resignation of the person who is now Home Secretary, did she or the Cabinet Secretary envisage that a period as short as a week would be sufficient expiation for what had been done wrong, or is that judgment now irrelevant?
Things have moved a little bit faster in recent weeks than perhaps some of us would have foreseen, even the currency markets. These circumstances are very unusual, and it is very important that people are not excluded for ever from opportunities. The Prime Minister felt, in his wisdom, that he needed to bring together a Cabinet with different talents and experience. She brings experience and talents to the job and, as I have said, she apologised and acknowledged her mistake, and that was dealt with by the previous Prime Minister. You have to allow us to look forward.
My Lords, as a self-identifying tofu-eating person who believes in the rehabilitation of offenders, I am glad to hear that from the Minister and I look forward to hearing it from Ms Braverman in relation to other people. To apply the rehabilitation of offenders, we must look forensically at the nature of the offending and the mitigation. Can the Minister please readdress the question asked by my noble friend about how this offending was detected? Was it detected because the former and current Home Secretary owned up, or because somebody else reported her? What does the Minister say about Mr Berry’s suggestions that there were “multiple breaches”, not a single breach, of the Ministerial Code?
I cannot comment further on the detail. I do not know exactly what happened, in any event, but what I am clear about is that Ms Braverman wrote a letter to the Prime Minister setting out why she was resigning, and she resigned in good order and quickly. She deserves another chance. Mistakes were made—I will not go into those mistakes—but the Government have moved on, they have reappointed the Home Secretary and she must now be allowed to get on with her job. We seem to be going round and round in circles. I slightly feel like Boycott today, rather than Bairstow, but we need to give her a chance.
My Lords, I do not come at this from any party-political angle. The question in my mind is this. Even if all the justifications are correct—and there are big questions about that—was it wise, in seeking to offer integrity and leadership, to appoint someone so rapidly who had raised so many questions about whether she was suitable to hold the office?
Ms Braverman apologised. She resigned from a great office of state. She accepted the remedies of the Ministerial Code. Things then moved on at great speed. We have different circumstances. We have a Government who need to deliver for the British people in difficult economic circumstances. She needs to be able to play her part in making our borders safer and better, and she needs the support of this House.