Tory welfare chief Esther McVey rebuked by House of Commons Speaker for attack on Labour’s use of statistics
John Bercow slapped down Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey after she accused Labour of twisting statistics – instead of answering a question about pensions
Tory welfare chief Esther McVey has been rebuked by the House of Commons speaker for an attack on Labour that was not “relevant”. John Bercow slapped down the new Work and Pensions Secretary today after she accused Labour of twisting statistics – instead of answering a question about pensions. In her first Commons Questions since she took office, Ms McVey repeatedly highlighted a letter from the UK Statistics Authority watchdog to her Labour rival Debbie Abrahams.
The watchdog has rebuked Ms Abrahams over Labour’s claim that “40,000 children will wake up in poverty on Christmas Day because the Tories refuse to pause and fix Universal Credit.” Chair Sir David Norgrove said Labour’s claim was not “fully supported” by the statistics and sources it relied on. But Ms Abrahams accused Ms McVey of using the letter to distract from the Tories’ dire record.
And Commons Speaker John Bercow repeatedly admonished the minister – and fellow Tory MPs – for bringing up the watchdog’s letter in a Commons session designed to look at her own record.
He told MPs: “She should stick to the line of questioning that is relevant to the questioning of a government minister.” Later, when Ms McVey defied him and did it again, he added: “I don’t blame the Secretary of State for taking her opportunity and ramming home her point with force and alacrity.
“But… this is not question time about the policies, the tactics, the preferences of the opposition. It’s question time about the policies of the government. “And even if there’s some whip handout saying ‘ask the minister about the behaviour of the Labour party‘, that doesn’t make it in order. It is not in order. End of subject.”
He also scolded Tory MP Simon Clarke for doing the same, saying: “No, he’s finished. He’s finished for today on this. Please don’t dilate on that matter because it’s out of order.” Ironically Ms McVey launched her attack despite the UK Statistics Authority also rebuking her boss Theresa May today.
Sir David Norgrove said the Prime Minister’s comparison of A&E waiting times in England and Labour-run Wales was “not valid” because the figures are compiled differently.
Speaking in the Commons today, Ms McVey told Labour’s Ms Abrahams: “She will have received a letter from the UK Statistics Authority in the last two days saying many of the things that she said do not have accuracy.
“Whether that was about children waking up in poverty at Christmas, or whether that was linking Universal Credit with poverty.
“It said these were mot supported, they weren’t true statistics, and the sources could not be replied upon.”
Ms Abrahams fumed back: “I will take no lessons from this Secretary of State or her cohorts – who accuse us of scaremongering as a way of distracting us from the reality of her government’s cuts.”
Labour MP Lucy Powell also told the minister: “Perhaps she might think to show a little more humility.”
Ms Abrahams’ original question was how Tory ministers could allow “the administrator of a pensions scheme to help bring about the downfall of the company and the employees they represent – and to profit from that downfall.”
Ms Abrahams said there was “absolutely no answer” to her question and highlighted pensions scandals in Carillion, Capita, BHS and British Steel.
She added: “How many pensions scandals does she need before she introduces the robust regulatory oversight needed to protect people’s pensions for the future?”
Ms McVey insisted: “The vast majority of defined benefit pension schemes are working very well indeed.”
And she accused Labour of “sound, fury, drama” and “incorrect information”.
Fellow Work and Pensions minister Sarah Newton told MPs: “I think it’s a very very important matter that anybody who stands up in this Parliament takes their responsibilities towards the truth extremely seriously.”