Curiouser and curiouser

Written By: - Date published: 12:21 pm, September 25th, 2009 - 3 comments
Categories: bill english - Tags:

english-houseIt’s not just Bill English that’s twisting in the wind over the rearrangement of his affairs to provide a pecuniary benefit to his family.

Here is a copy (PDF link) of the Parliamentary Services email tabled in the House by Pete Hodgson this week.

It shows that:

  • Parliamentary Services was requested to take a lease over the property described as the “English home.” Who made the request is not stated, but it is noted that Bill English supplied the information that it was owned by a family trust
  • Parliamentary Services sought confirmation from the “ninth floor” that a lease to a Minister’s family trust was appropriate, as Parliamentary Services would be paying into the trust for the lease
  • Parliamentary Services was advised by the “ninth floor” that such a lease was appropriate provided that several criteria were met, most importantly that the Minister had advised in writing that he had no pecuniary interest in the trust
  • Bill English had supplied this information, together with a legal opinion from the Office of the Clerk
  • The staff member in Parliamentary Services sought further approval from her manager that it was appropriate to issue the lease

References to the “ninth floor” in the Labour government either meant H1 or H2 – nobody else. We must assume in this case that the request was approved by either John Key or his chief of staff. John Key is the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services so it is most likely he who has approved the advice.

Here’s where Bill gets slippery in question time last week – he tries the old “no Ministerial responsibility” trick until the Speaker gives him a hint that that won’t work:

Hon Pete Hodgson: What is the precise pecuniary interest that must be met before it is permissible to lease a home from a family trust for use as a ministerial residence—is it a personal pecuniary interest test or a familial pecuniary interest test?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the Minister of Finance has said many times, he accepts that there was a perception problem with the arrangements. He kept to all the rules, but he paid the money back. What else can he do?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very precise. It had no extra material in it. It asked which of two tests should be used. That question was not addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: I would ask the Hon Bill English whether he could focus on the test that is applied, because the question was specifically about that.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has no ministerial responsibility for that in his capacity as Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma I face is—I take it that the honourable Minister is still arguing that there is no ministerial responsibility for that issue.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is happy to answer the question? I thank the Minister.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is asking for a legal opinion. The Prime Minister has been advised that the Minister of Finance took legal advice—legal advice that was available to every member of Parliament about the declaration of pecuniary interests.

Last week Bill English said he took legal advice. This week Gerry Brownlee was designated to answer the question and the story had changed:

Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: Who provided any legal advice to support his view that the Hon Bill English is ‘fully compliant with the rules that operate’?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: The Department of Internal Affairs’ chief legal advisor advised Ministerial Services that there were no legal impediments to the lease occurring. No legal advice was provided to the Minister.

Then Gerry got in deeper:

Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: Was the legal advice from the Department of Internal Affairs that he spoke of yesterday informed by any legal advice from the Office of the Clerk of the House; if so, what was the date of the advice from the Office of the Clerk of the House?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister for Ministerial Services): No.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member gets very excited about his own question when he should simply refer to the fact that the executive travel, accommodation, attendance, and communications services declaration 2003, brought down by the Rt Hon Helen Clark, was the provision in place at the time he is concerned about. It simply required that a pecuniary interest was denied. That was done.

Hon Pete Hodgson: How can the Minister substantiate that answer in light of an email dated 3 February between an official of Ministerial Services and the chief executive of Ministerial Services, which says: ‘I attach the relevant information, a declaration signed by the Hon Bill English together with a copy of his legal advice from the Office of the Clerk of the House.’, and the memo then concludes ‘Therefore, conditions have been met.’; how is it that the advice of the Office of the Clerk of the House was not part of the Government’s decision?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Earlier in the week I gave the House an explanation about the status of the email that Mr Hodgson refers to.

Hon Pete Hodgson: If the status of the email is that it says something other than what it meant to say, what did it mean to say?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not know what it meant to say. What I do know is that it is wrong. If the member would like to put down a written question, then Ministerial Services will provide a proper explanation of the circumstances—[Interruption]—the proper explanation for the email sent on 3 February by an employee who no longer works for Ministerial Services.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Who, then, did sight the Endeavour Trust deed to confirm that the pecuniary interest that was publicised in 2008 on the register is now declared to be no longer the case; who did sight the trust deed to ensure that the truth was being told here?

This is an “Alice in Wonderland” government – the words mean what Gerry, Bill and John say they mean.

Extraordinary! For very good advice from the media as to what should be declared, read Vernon Small here.

3 comments on “Curiouser and curiouser”

  1. BLiP 1

    I quite agree with you. And the moral of that is: Be what you would seem to be, or if you’d like it put more simply: Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

  2. Ianmac 2

    Would Bill Cheshire’s grin get a bit strained?

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    Oh that learned Counsel on property, election and all other matters , The Clerk of the House.
    He was the one who gave a get out of jail card for John Key over the matter of his statuary declaration of place residence in his enrolment application form.

    Now he gives another convenient opinion outside his area of expertise

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