In this week’s Gossage Gossip, our columnist explores a recent parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas, and how it was impacted by Parliament’s high opinion of the Daily Mail.
Caroline Lucas is the sole Green MP in the House of Commons. She is also one of its most diligent placers of written Parliamentary Questions.
Such questions have two overt roles. The first, naturally, is to obtain formal answers on the record from Government ministers. Just occasionally, these do include genuinely useful information. The second, less obviously, is to draw the attention of the outside world, beginning with fellow MPs, to specific developments. Because the one publication every MP reads is the official parliamentary Order Paper, which contains these Questions.
Earlier this year the Daily Mail published on its business pages a story which nobody in the Government will have relished being publicised. It concerned the Government’s struggles to fill the large gap in the money available to build the Sizewell C nuclear power station. With the Chinese government having been forced to withdraw, increasingly desperate attempts are being made to persuade any financial institution – especially pension funds – to contribute towards Sizewell’s anticipated horrendous £30 billion capital budget.
The Mail’s exclusive story stated that two of the largest pension funds, BT and NatWest, were both saying “thanks, but no thanks” to contributing to the White Elephant-manqué. Being deeply sceptical about the merits of nuclear power, Caroline Lucas thought she would ensure that her parliamentary colleagues got to hear about this.
So she prepared a Parliamentary Question, asking what the Government thought might be the implications for Sizewell, of this Daily Mail story chronicling this big thumbs down from the key moneymen. She went along to the official parliamentary Table Office to place her question, but was told firmly that she would have to word it very differently. She could merely ask about how “discussions” with the two Pension Funds were proceeding. Not a word about the truth that they had ignominiously collapsed.
Why did the parliamentary authorities refuse her original wording? The answer is simple. The news story she was seeking to cite was only from the Daily Mail. And that publication, she was told, is definitely not “a reliable newspaper of reference.” I believe that Wikipedia takes precisely the same view about Britain’s most read newspaper.