Anneliese Dodds’ speech closing Opposition Day Debate
Anneliese Dodds MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, delivering a closing speech on Labour Opposition Day Debate on the Greensill scandal, said:
Madam Deputy Speaker, this afternoon we’ve heard a story of endemic cronyism. Cronyism that’s persisted for years and that’s spread right across this Conservative government and previous Conservative-led governments.
Parallels with the Conservative governments of the 1990s are clear for all to see. Jobs for the boys all over again. Conservative sleaze is back.
But as my friend for Wallasey said, there’s a difference this time. There’s a difference in scale. Because this time we’re talking about hundreds of millions of pounds of public money put at risk and thousands of jobs.
What’s staggering is the complacent and cavalier attitude of those involved as so many have said today, not least my friend for Lewisham East.
A former Conservative Prime Minister thought there was nothing wrong with texting the sitting Chancellor, and two of his junior ministers, to ask for special treatment for the financial services firm who were paying his wages.
A Chancellor who thought there was nothing wrong with “pushing” his team to see if they could amend a Government loan scheme to give Greensill access to hundreds of millions of pounds of public money.
A Treasury and the Business Department who thought there was nothing wrong with Greensill being accredited as a lender under one of the Government-backed schemes, even when it had been rejected from another – and mere months before the firm collapsed altogether.
And all of this was taking place when the vast majority of public servants, civil servants and of course key workers were working with integrity around the clock on the Covid effort.
Before that, we know that David Cameron thought there was nothing wrong with setting up Lex Greensill in the heart of government, with a desk, a pack of business cards and his own Number 10 email address.
Nothing wrong with giving him access to contracts worth billions of pounds.
Indeed, a contract was lined up for Greensill to provide supply chain financing right across the public sector, and was only pulled a few days ago when this scandal started to break.
Similarly, the Health Secretary thought there was nothing wrong with meeting the former Prime Minister for a drink with Lex Greensill to discuss how their firm could get access to NHS staff pay, packaging up loans as bonds to be sold to investors and trading on our NHS’s good name.
And again, the Government’s former Head of Procurement thought there was nothing wrong with becoming an adviser to Greensill Capital while he was still a civil servant.
I’ve never heard before of someone using the revolving door before they’ve even left the building.
Ministers can’t wash their hands of that behaviour and say “it was the civil service, it’s nothing to do with us”.
As my friends for the City of Durham and Jarrow have made very clear, successive Conservative-led governments have set the tone and the culture that allowed the behaviour we have heard about today to take place.
An approach to public office where the accountability and transparency that we should all expect has been replaced by a tap on the shoulder here, a nudge and a wink there.
We need a thorough and genuinely independent investigation to get to the bottom of this.
One which can take evidence, call witnesses and report publicly.
Instead, as we’ve heard, the Conservatives are proposing an inquiry run by the son of a former Conservative cabinet minister, who works for the law firm which advised the Treasury on the design of the loan scheme that David Cameron lobbied for Greensill to access.
And the Chancellor, as we know, continues to run scared.
He hasn’t been seen in this House since the day after Greensill collapsed.
Yesterday we called him to Parliament. But the Chancellor was frit.
He seems to have forgotten his enthusiastic communications about his loan schemes; indeed, at one point he tweeted proudly about CLBILS with the hashtag “Ask Rishi”.
We’d love to ask Rishi, Madam Deputy Speaker. But we’d have to find him first.
In offering excuses for his absence, the Chancellor claims that neither he nor his department had any oversight – any role whatsoever – in deciding who got access to the public lending schemes he announced.
He must be the first Chancellor in history to go on the record as having no idea about who was getting access to hundreds of millions of pounds of public money and how they were obtaining it.
He promised to level with the public.
I didn’t think that meant the Chancellor telling the public he didn’t have a clue what was happening with their money.
As the Right Honourable Member for Norwich North herself said earlier, and it was very good to see her through videolink, she said the use of public money is overseen by the Treasury.
Public money isn’t the Chancellor’s money. It’s not the Conservatives’ money. It’s public money. And it should only ever be used in the public interest.
It’s simply not good enough for this Government to mark its own homework and hide from scrutiny as my friend from Luton South just said.
Happy to take an intervention.
Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker. My friend very ably answered that point earlier. She made very clear the basis on which our demands are being set
And I would be very, very open with the Honourable Member for whom I have considerable respect, that it’s important for all of us – as so many members have said this afternoon – that we clear this matter up. That we are able to call witnesses, including indeed former Prime Ministers where necessary. That we can do that publicly and that we can do so about the range of matters which this affair raises. And I regret to say that the investigation which has been created by Government simply does not do that. And that is why we are calling for the approach set out in our motion today.
No, I will proceed with my remarks.
The people of this country deserve answers- and they deserve to be treated fairly. That’s a point that many of my honourable friends have made very ably – those for Wansbeck, for Ilford South, for Hornsey & Wood Green and Ellesmere Port & Neston.
Last year, I was contacted by someone I’ll call Jessica. And I’m sure that members on the opposite benches will have been contacted by many people like her.
Before this crisis, Jessica had a modest income, but it was a reliable income. She worked as a self-employed tour guide and in short-term part-time roles.
When the crisis hit, she lost all of her income. But she didn’t qualify for any of the government support schemes, and as an owner-occupier was knocked out of most support from social security as well.
She was angry, upset and worried about how she as a single parent would be able to support her family.
Now obviously as we all know as constituency MPs, Jessica wasn’t alone; the campaign group The Excluded’ suggests there were up to three million people like Jessica. People who simply couldn’t understand why the Government refused to fix support schemes so they could get help.
People like Jessica didn’t have the Chancellor’s phone number.
Last year, Greensill got ten meetings with Treasury officials.
The group representing The Excluded got one meeting. And most of The Excluded are still waiting for help.
And our country is still waiting for a strategy to support those jobs put at risk by the collapse of Greensill. Indeed, our country has lacked a strategy for steel for ten years.
Last week I visited the Liberty Steel plant in Hartlepool.
I was incredibly impressed by the world-class technology in operation there, by the dedication of the workforce and in particular, by the enthusiasm and commitment of the two apprentices I met.
Their work is good, decent work, manufacturing materials that British businesses need.
It’s a world away from the kind of complicated financial structures and share options that seem to have been par for the course for Lex Greensill and David Cameron.
But jobs are at risk because of Greensill’s collapse and because of that lack of any strategy for the future of UK steel, as my friend for Newport West made clear.
In conclusion, those steel workers deserve better. And so do the British public.
Members on the benches opposite know that.
They know their constituents are appalled by new evidence of cronyism and the sleaze that seems to be emerging every day under the Conservatives.
As the member for Hazelgrove in fact said himself, members should question why they’re being asked to defend these events. They should consider the impact this will have on their integrity. And the member for Bexhill & Battle spoke of loyalty. Well, loyalty must be to the public interest, not to partisan friends – a point ably made by my friends for Bristol South and Sheffield Hallam.
Members should, as my friend for Kingston-upon-Hull East said, how some backbone.
They should vote, today, for a full, transparent, Parliament-run inquiry. To get to the bottom of this scandal, once and for all.