Three Questions today in the Commons.
The EU is likely to delay or scupper the crazy wasteful planned funding for Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station that parliament has not yet debated. A statement that allows only three sentence questions from backbenchers is not a debate.
City analysts from Liberum Capital have described the Hinkley Point nuclear power station deal as “economically insane” for offering a price for electricity at double the going rate, index linked and guaranteed for 35 years, at the cost of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Next week, there will be a decision on whether an investigation takes place in Europe—that would delay the power station for at least 18 months. So is it not crucial that next week Parliament decides its view on this astonishing rip-off for taxpayers?
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change came to this Dispatch Box and made a statement announcing the Hinkley Point deal. The hon. Gentleman should not construe the fact that the European Commission looks at it as anything to be remarked upon; it was inevitable and a matter of necessity that it would do so. It was always anticipated that that would happen.
A Commons innovation today was the first statement from a Chair of a Select Committee. Questions were permitted to Alan Beith Chair of the Liaison Committee.
Has the Chair of the Committee observed that this Government, possibly more than any other, have followed the traditional practice of blaming all problems on their predecessors, then on the European Union and then on the civil service? The civil service’s overriding weakness is the great ethos of the unimportance of being right, because those who spoke truth to power are the ones whose careers have withered, and those who spoke comforting untruths to power are the ones whose careers have prospered and who have got to the top. Can he give us an assurance that the Committee, in the splendid work it is doing, will follow what other Committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee, have done by saying that we need to respect, value and continue the great contribution that the independence of the civil service has made to this country over many years?
The hon. Gentleman made some comments on which I would hesitate to give a collective view on behalf of the Liaison Committee, which comprises Members of very different political persuasions, but he is right to emphasise the value of the civil service and the fact that we need a public service. It must be a public service that is capable of not only telling truth to power, but carrying out the decisions that democratically elected Governments make. Getting that balance right exercised the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms and was a consideration in the Haldane reforms. It is time that we looked again at how we can maintain the important and fundamental principles on equipping the civil service for the very different and challenging tasks that we place upon it today.
Transparency is short lived. Proof that the appearance of top spooks at the ‘Intelligence’ Select Committee was a cheap stunt aimed at stuffing the Guardian is revealed. The Home Secretary is advising the spooks not to appear at the Home Affairs because of fears of genuine scrutiny.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. A unique procedure was followed very recently in this House when the people at the head of the security services gave evidence to a Select Committee. Unfortunately, this was not the elevating experience that it might have been; it was one that was probably demeaning to this House. There are reports that the questions were notified to the witnesses and that they were carefully manicured questions, and there were even allegations of the answers being rehearsed. That is not in the spirit of scrutiny that this House has followed for years. We now hear reports that the same heads of security are not willing to give evidence, or have possibly been advised by Ministers not to do so, to another Select Committee—the Home Affairs Committee—where there would be proper scrutiny without pre-publication of the questions. Is this not a matter for you, as Deputy Speaker, to investigate?
Absolutely not, but I know that the hon. Gentleman has a very good record of using other avenues to pursue matters, and I am sure that he will not give up just because it is not a matter for the Chair. I look forward to him continuing