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Angry John Bercow accuses Defence Secretary of "rank discourtesy"

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.

Tim Montgomerie

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 question.

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.

Bob Ainsworth: 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.


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