Had a topical question in the Commons today. Few things are more interesting than Pickles' eating habits.
T4.  Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Even though a five-star dinner at the Savoy, which was paid for by the lobbyist Bell Pottinger, had in attendance at least one firm that had an application in with the Secretary of State’s Department, he says that he has no reason to register it in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because that day he was eating not as a Minister but as a private person. If we are to have a robust, transparent system of lobbying, does he not think that that loophole needs to be closed, so that we do not have to guess on which days Members are eating privately and on which they are eating ministerially?
Mr Speaker: Order. I wanted to hear the question, but the registration of Members’ interests is undertaken by Members in their capacity as Members, rather than as Ministers. I suspect that there will be a correspondence or exchange subsequently, but that is my understanding of the position.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I make it clear that the topical question that I asked earlier about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was about the ministerial code, which was altered last year, and which
“obliges ministers to declare all hospitality accepted in a ‘ministerial capacity’ and all meetings with external organisations”?
If that means that a Minister can decide, on an unknown basis, whether he is meeting someone in a ministerial or a personal capacity, it makes a nonsense of that alleged improvement.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and let me level with him: when he asked his question in DCLG questions, it was not clear to me—perhaps it should have been; perhaps the fault was mine—that the question was framed around the Minister acting in his ministerial capacity, with reference to the relevance of the ministerial code. It was because I thought as I did at the time that I ruled as I did. However, since then the hon. Gentleman has come along with, from my point of view, further and better information. I am grateful to him for explaining the point, and I hope he will accept my response in the spirit in which it is intended. It is always a dangerous enterprise to joust with somebody who has written a book about how to be a Back Bencher.
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): And a good one as well.
Mr Speaker: Yes, and a good one as well, as the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) helpfully points out, albeit from a sedentary position.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Given that cost is the main criterion, why have the Government not reconsidered the costs of nuclear power, which are ballooning? Is it not true that the coalition has been taken over by the bad science loonies of global warming denial?
Gregory Barker: That is absolute rubbish. There is no subsidy for nuclear power.
Simon Hoggart reported;
The question of his eating habits came up again later and raised an intriguing metaphysical question. Labour's Paul Flynn pointed out that he had enjoyed a "five-star" dinner at the Savoy in London, paid for by lobbying group Bell Pottinger. Yet he had not entered this in the register of members' interests, on the grounds that he was "not eating as a minister, but was eating as a private person".
Mr Flynn wanted this loophole closed so that we could always know when Mr Pickles was eating privately, and when he was eating in his ministerial capacity – which is quite a capacity.
The secretary of state did not reply but waved his arms furiously.
I suspected this was the thin man who is supposed to be inside every fat man, waving to get out. Either way, we have no idea of how differently you eat privately or publicly. Or both in the same meal?
The lobster and Montrachet would be private, the bread and soda water public. And such a successful automaton obviously needs constant refuelling, possibly at someone's expense.
DAILY MIRROR reports;
Tory MP Eric Pickles failed to declare luxury Savoy dinner with lobbyists
Luxury dinner: Tory Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles
TORY Minister Eric Pickles should have declared a luxury Savoy dinner he enjoyed with lobbyists, MPs were told today.
The Local Government Secretary dined with staff from public relations firm Bell Pottinger, but failed to report the meal because he claimed he was eating privately.
The decision was today criticised in the House of Commons by Labour MP Paul Flynn (Newport West).
Speaking at Local Government questions, Mr Flynn said: "Even though a five-star dinner at the Savoy, which was paid for the lobbyist Bell Pottinger and had in attendance at least one firm which made an application to his department, the Secretary of State says he has no reason to register that in the Members' Interests because that day he was not eating as a minister, he was eating as a private person.
"If we are to have a robust, transparent system of lobbying, do you think this loophole has to be closed so we don't have to guess on which day Members are eating privately and which days ministerially?"
Speaker John Bercow intervened before Mr Pickles could defend himself, telling Mr Flynn: "The Register of Members' Interests is undertaken by Members in their capacity as Members rather than as ministers."
But Mr Flynn said that as he was raising a matter about the Ministerial Code, he could ask the question to Mr Pickles.
Mr Bercow did not apologise for his intervention but acknowledged that Mr Flynn was allowed ask the Communities Secretary about his Savoy dinner.
October 31 2011 9:25PM
After Fox-gate, I bring you Dinner-gate. Or, perhaps, more pleasing to say, Dinner-plate-gate. Maybe we should make that dinners given that this story involves Eric Pickles, who is, even his enemies would attest, a man of many meals.
The Communities Secretary was answering departmental questions in the Commons yesterday and, as so often when he is in the Chamber, the subject of food kept popping up like, well, toast. This is a man who takes food so seriously that his weekly bin collection policy was devised around a citizen’s right to have the remnants of their chicken tikka masala (“the nations’s favourite dish”) collected weekly without fear of odours.
I understand that Mr Pickles is quite sensitive about his weight (think Santa Claus with a Yorkshire accent) but he does rather ham (sorry) it up. Thus yesterday, on a question about business rates, Mr Pickles randomly mentioned Spudulike shops. The moment he said “spud”, MPs began to smile. Spud-like Mr Pickles, chins cascading, smiled right back, eyes twinkling.
It came as no surprise that Mr Pickles had visited the Norfolk Food Fair and had, apparently, been very keen on the pies. At mention of the word “pies”, everyone looked at Mr Pickles, who put both of his thumbs up and rotated round, showing off. Someone else mentioned pies and that brought more thumbs (Mr Pickles is pie-eyed about pies, of that I can be sure).
But then came what seemed a rather sinister twist. Paul Flynn, a fearless and obstreperous (and slim) Labour backbencher, arose to note that Mr Pickles, earlier this year, had eaten a “five-star dinner” at the Savoy. The entire Chamber went still as MPs salivated. The dinner was paid for by the lobbyist Bell Pottinger, said Mr Flynn, and at least one other diner was from a company that had made an application to Mr Pickles’ department.
MPs were beyond pie-eyed now, so to speak: the words “Savoy” and “not paid” have that effect on them. Mr Pickles was staring at Mr Flynn, eyes beedy, leaning forward which, given that he is spud-shaped, made him seem precariously close to (jam) roly-polying.
“The Secretary of State says he has no reason to register that in the Members’ Interests because that day he was not eating as a minister, he was eating as a private person,” scoffed Mr Flynn.
“If we are to have a robust, transparent system of lobbying, do you think this loophole has to be closed so we don’t have to guess on which day Members are eating privately and which days ministerially?”
Wow. I love the idea that Mr Pickles can “eat in a private capacity”. Mr Pickles pointed his finger at Mr Flynn and began to mutter. Was that was a private finger or a public finger? Also, can dinner with Bell Pottinger — the crème de la crème of lobbyists — really ever be such a private affair?
We never did find out, as Mr Speaker intervened, but I suspect Dinner-gate isn’t over yet. What about just desserts? Are they private, or public? We should be told.