Tough and very welcome words from John Bercow today. The new Speaker rebuked Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth for releasing the 'Gray report' on arms procurement just one hour before the Commons was due to debate it.
Ministers have had the Gray report for a number of months. It finds average procurement over-runs are costing the Ministry of Defence £2.2bn every year.
Full report in the London Evening Standard.
4.30pm Update: Here is the full transcript of the exchanges:
Dr. Liam Fox: On a point of
order, Mr. Speaker. About an hour ago, the Government published the
Gray report, the very important report into acquisition which has been
suppressed throughout the summer recess. Only this week we were told in
an answer that the report is expected to be published in the autumn.
Now, an hour—or even less—before a debate on defence, Members are asked
to read and digest 296 pages of non-stop damning criticism of
Government procedure. This is an insult to the House; it is a
despicable and cowardly act and indicative of a Government who care
more about their own reputation than informing the House. As the
Secretary of State is present, may I ask, Mr. Speaker, that we get a
separate statement on this tomorrow? If the Government do not provide a
separate statement, the Opposition will certainly ask for an urgent
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful
to the hon. Gentleman for raising his point of order. The laying of
documents, including the timing of when they are laid, is a matter for
Government. However, I have listened very carefully to what the hon.
Gentleman has said and in the light of the fact that, as I understand
it, the report was completed some time ago, I say to members of the
Treasury Bench that, frankly, it can be regarded as a rank discourtesy
to the House that it has been published only an hour or so before the
next debate. As the Secretary of State for Defence is present, I invite
him to respond to the point of order.
I know what is said, but the report was not completed some time ago.
That is why it was not published before the recess, and I think the
House would have been damning of me had I published it during the
recess. I have published it at the earliest opportunity in the House. I
sincerely regret that we were not able to get it to Opposition Members
earlier this morning, but it is now available for everyone to examine,
and we will be able to do that in the months ahead in the run-up to the
Government’s Green Paper, where we will have to address acquisition
reform and many of the issues raised by Bernard Gray.
Mr. Speaker: The Secretary
of State has heard the point of order and my response to it, and I have
listened with interest and respect to his response. I must say to him
that publication a matter of an hour before the debate is regarded by
Members as a discourtesy, and I confess that I myself also regard it as
a discourtesy, and I hope that this will not happen again.
Mr. James Arbuthnot [Chairman of the Defence Select Committee]: Further to that point of order, Mr.
Speaker. I am surprised at what the Secretary of State has just said. I
read this report in July. I have just read it again as fast as I could,
and it has changed by a few words but its entire structure and basis
are exactly the same, so for the Secretary of State to say that it was
not complete before the summer recess surprises me.