Given I left Downing Street in 2003, it’s rare these
days I get mentioned in Parliament.
Then … it’s like waiting for a bus. Two mentions one
after the other, first in Prime Minister’s Questions, then in the main debate
of the day.
First mention came from a Tory MP, Mark Harper, and
was surprising both in tone and content.
He said I used to provide a good service in giving
advice to TB, and he urged GB to take my advice in relation to repealing
Section 141 of the Mental Health Act.
He referred to the evidence I gave recently to the
Speaker’s Conference on diversity, about which I blogged here last week, and
the discriminatory nature of legislation which bars MPs from Parliament if they
are sectioned for more than six months, when no such measure exists for
There was a time when the mere mention of my name
would bring forth jeers and howls of outrage from Tory MPs, but instead Mr
Harper was heard in silence and sat down to a few ‘hear hears’ around him.
GB was pretty non committal in reply but I hope he
will now go away and look at it, and pledge to remove this law. It has never
ever been applied in practice but it would be a hugely significant symbolic
I am grateful to Mr Harper for raising it. For all the
disdain for MPs post-expenses, the truth is an MP standing up and making a call
like that can really make a difference. I know from the rash of texts which
alerted me to what he had said that it gave a real boost to mental health
The second mention came from William Hague in the
debate on the Iraq inquiry and here I have to take issue with what the Shadow
Foreign Secretary said.
I know it is part of his job to make life difficult
for the government, but he is a clever enough man, and a good enough speaker,
to do it without misrepresenting people.
He claimed that I had been consulted about the nature
of the inquiry, seeking to draw a contrast with others who had not been. He
also sought to give the impression I pressed the government to go for a private
As I explained here a few days ago, that is not so. I
made the point that it was possible to make a case both ways, and rehearsed
some of the arguments on both sides, public or private. I also said I had
observed to the Downing Street advisor who told me there was a debate going on
about whether some of the inquiry should be public and some private, that I
thought it was important to have a clear position, otherwise they could end up
with the worst of all worlds.
I have given evidence to a number of inquiries before
and if asked would obviously give evidence to this one. But for the record, I
was not consulted until after the Prime Minister had decided what sort of
inquiry the government wanted, and I am not complaining about that. Any more
than I am complaining about the changes announced since.
I remain of the view that many critics of the war have
closed minds and will refuse to accept anything other than grave condemnation
of the government, just as they have condemned previous public inquiries as
whitewashes because they did not say what they wanted them to. There is an awful
lot of politics and politicking wrapping itself round the inquiry already. It
is nonetheless clearly right there should be one.