Lib Dems ‘have questions to answer’ about Alexander’s role in base closure

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by a Newsnet reporter

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP is coming under increasing pressure to clarify his role in the controversial decision to close the Leuchars airbase in Fife.   Party colleague Menzies Campbell claimed in an interview that Mr Alexander had intervened in the defence review in order to secure the Lossiemouth base which had been slated for closure.  Some of Mr Alexander’s constituents work at the base, which is close to the MP’s constituency, and others amongst his constituents depend for their livelihoods on the millions of government pounds which the base injects annually into the local economy.

Labour MP Thomas Docherty, who represents the Dunfermline and West Fife consituency at Westminster, has written to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence asking for details of all correspondence which passed between MoD officials and Mr Alexander’s office.

Now an SNP MSP has alleged that Mr Alexander’s role in the affair may have been in breach Westminster’s own code of behaviour for ministerial conduct.  According to section 6.4/6.5 of the code, a minister with a constituency interest cannot take part in processes such as the defence review from inside government.  The MP may intervene only as a local MP, but the rules strictly forbid any intervention as a government minister.  

The rules state:

6.4 Where Ministers have to take decisions within their departments which might have an impact on their own constituencies, they must take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest.  Within departments, the Minister should advise their Permanent Secretary and, in the case of junior Ministers, their Secretary of State of the interest and responsibilities should be arranged to avoid any conflict of interest.

6.5 Ministers are free to make their views about constituency matters known to the responsible Minister by correspondence, leading deputations or by personal interview provided they make clear that they are acting as their constituents’ representative and not as a Minister.

Rod Campbell, SNP MSP for North East Fife, believes Mr Alexander may have breached these rules and that the Lib Dems now have some very serious questions to answer.

Mr Campbell said:  “Fighting for your constituents is one thing, but to do it from within government is completely against the rules.  If Danny Alexander used his position as a minister to influence the decision then he will be in breach of the ministerial code.

“If Danny Alexander received government papers or briefings on the bases review, if he talked to the MoD in his role at the Treasury and if he played a part in government in deciding the economic impact of closure then he will be in a clear breach of the ministerial code.

“If Danny Alexander played any role as a minister in any of the decisions that led to the closure of Leuchars in order to protect Lossiemouth then he will have clearly broken the rules.

“The SNP argued for both Leuchars and Lossiemouth because both bases served key strategic roles.  Danny Alexander only had Lossiemouth on his mind and in what seems to have been an increasingly bitter battle with the Lib Dems he may have sacrificed Leuchars in order to protect Lossiemouth.

“No one would wish closure on either base.  But the Lib Dems have a lot of questions to answer about their minister’s role in the process.”