Speaking by remote in the House of Commons on Tuesday 12 May, Peter Bone, conservative MP for Wellingborough and Rushdensaid, criticized the Government saying that “this is not how our parliamentary democracy works.” After congratulating the Prime Minister on doing a good job in the face of adversities, Mr Bone quickly turned against the Government explaining why the message communicated in the week-end by the Prime Minister himself was bad and contributed to chaos. Indeed, Boris Johnson informed the public through the TV and media channels saying: “I will be setting out more details in Parliament tomorrow and taking questions from the public in the evening”, thus utterly by-passing Parliament and MPs. Here’s what Mr Bone had to say.
The television presentation by the Prime Minister was plain wrong. Too many of the Prime Minister’s special advisers and aides think they are running a presidential government, that the Prime Minister goes on television and announces all sorts of executive orders without any reference to Parliament. Many of them have clearly clearly been watching too many episodes of West Wing. They just do not understand how the government works in this country. Let me just run by some of the reasons why Sunday’s television address was wrong.
First, the Speaker had warned the Government twice not to do this. It made it clear that the Government should announce new policy in the chamber of the House of Commons first. The Government decided to disobey the Speaker’s wishes. This is not how our parliamentary democracy works.
Secondly, the government clearly breached a ministerial code. On page 23 under section ‘Ministers and Parliament’, it says in bold type: ‘When Parliament is in session the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance in Parliament.’ Clearly the Prime Minister’s television address breached the ministerial code.
Thirdly, every member of parliament know in detail the concerns and issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic because we have hundred and hundreds and hundreds of emails, letters and phone calls from worried and concerned constituents. MPs would have been in the best position to constructively question the Prime Minister when a change in policy was announced.
Fourthly, the fine details of the change in policy, which has now been published in a 51 page document, should had been published at the same time as any change in government policy. This would have enabled people to understand exact detail of the changes. But it wasn’t published and therefore uncertainty and confusion reign.
Fifthly, with parliamentary scrutiny on government policy severely hampered by the hybrid nature of proceedings, the government should have gone out of its way to give the utmost opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise changes to the most important issue facing the country at the moment.
Madam Deputy Speaker, what should have happened was a statement should have been made in the House of Commons first, the Prime Minister should have been questioned by MPs, the command paper with the details published at the same time and absolutely no media briefing in advance. This would have given the best launch to the changes in government policy. Madam Deputy Speaker I would like the Minister, when she winds up, to confirm what happened on Sunday was a mistake and to confirm in future that all new government policy will be announced in Parliament first.
In conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker, spin and presentation don’t make good government. It is Parliament that makes good government.