Useless information*

The good news is, the crates have turned up. The bad news is, that probably means I should stay late and unpack instead of taking advantage of being on a one-line whip. And the office still smells.

I’ve spent the last few hours in the Chamber, in part listening to Michael Gove’s appalling statement on axing the BSF programme. Fortunately it doesn’t affect Bristol because we schemes have either been contracted for, or have been completed – we were the first place in the country to open a BSF school, the Brunel Academy.

Many other MPs are very unhappy though, and this was compounded by the fact that Gove’s statement was full of blather about BSF bureaucracy – would he rather we’d just given each school a £20 million cheque and told them to do what they liked with it? – and very little detail.

As the statement went on, it became apparent that Gove had a list of school projects which were going ahead, or up for discussion, or axed, which he declined to share with us. He told MPs that they were all being written to, so they’d find out soon enough whether their local schools were affected. Angry MPs demanded to know why he hadn’t made the list available beforehand, so they could have questioned him about it.

And then it became apparent that this list had been given to the media at 5.20pm, not long after Gove had got to his feet. MPs were receiving texts from their local papers, asking for comments, so the media knew, but we didn’t. 

I checked with the Vote Office at 5.40pm, which is where the Government would normally place such a list, along with copies of the Minister’s statement. No list.

Gove told the House that the Commons library had a copy. Several MPs rushed off there. No list.

Eventually, at 5.52pm the Commons library received a copy. Ed Balls, who put up a very robust performance in the Chamber, was able to tell Labour MPs still waiting to speak whether their BSF schemes were being axed, whilst Michael Gove feigned ignorance.

So, as is par for the course these days, we had lots of points of order from Labour MPs afterwards and the Speaker chiding the Secretary of State for not informing the House first. This may sound like obsessing over arcane parliamentary procedure, but there’s a fundamental principle at stake. Ministers are meant to be answerable to the legislature. We can’t hold the Government to account if we aren’t given the information to do it. If we’re only given the salient facts after the Minister has left the Chamber, he avoids awkward questions. Very poor show.

* Title is from a song by The Move. This is another one, my favourite track by them, but it’s different to the version I have somewhere on vinyl.

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Comments

  • andrew cryans  On July 6, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Why do MPs keep alluding to a vat increase of 2.5 peercent? the actual increase from 17.5 to 20% is in fact 14.1% I would suggest this would have a much more effect on people of all persuasion.

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