Theresa May: You Ask The Questions

The Shadow Leader of the Commons answers your questions, such as 'Should Michael Martin resign?' and 'Have you toned down your shoes?'
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The Independent Online

Do you believe Cabinet ministers have lied over the Damian Green affair? Which ones? TONY COLLINSWORTH, Bournemouth

No: However the issues at stake are serious and there are a number of unanswered questions that urgently need addressing. Did the Home Secretary at no point ask who the subjects of the investigation were? Were counter-terrorism police operating without any Home Office ministerial notification, oversight or accountability from start to finish? Did the police try to obtain a warrant to search the House of Commons office? What role was played by the Cabinet Office?

Do you think if you were in government you would be relaxed about civil servants leaking internal documents? LOUISE FARRELL, Exeter

The unauthorised disclosure of official information is a disciplinary matter, and in some circumstances might constitute a breach of the Official Secrets Act. However, the information that Damian Green uncovered had no detrimental impact on national security, intelligence or international relations. It was just politically embarrassing for ministers. Using the criminal law against those who receive information which is merely embarrassing is disproportionate and, as the judge in R v Murrer last week suggested, may be illegal.

Shouldn't ministers be allowed to communicate privately without fear of their comments entering the public domain? Doesn't making everything public undermine honest discussion? ELLIS HAMILTON, Nottingham

I agree that not everything should be made public but it's important to remember that ministers are public servants. The electorate vote for them and the electorate have a right to hold them to account. If they have made mistakes or are concealing information that it is in the public interest to know then I believe they should be made to explain their position.

Should Michael Martin resign? YASMIN CARR, London

No. Clearly mistakes have been made, which must never be allowed to happen again and we need an inquiry. We now look to the Speaker to put those mistakes right and to demonstrate his authority in upholding the independence of his office and that of the House of Commons.

Don't you think the public gets sick of MPs going on about why they should get special treatment from the law? JOHN MCLEAN, Bradford

No MP is above the law but the Government cannot be above scrutiny by the Opposition and its own backbenchers. It's also important to remember that the relationship between an MP and their constituents is one that often requires confidentiality and sensitivity. It is that relationship that deserves special treatment, not MPs themselves.

You're shadow Leader of the House. Do you see the police searching an MP's office as a major blow to the institution? ADRIAN CURTIS, Huddersfield

The searching of an MP's office by the police holds serious consequences for the ability of MPs to do their jobs properly and with the full confidence of their constituents. All Members must abide by the law. But I think it is very unfortunate that the police did not have a warrant and there does seem to have been a serious breakdown in the system. The Home Secretary and the Leader of the House should say whether they believe it is acceptable for the police to search an MP's office without a warrant.

What would you do in government to strengthen respect for Parliament and make it more relevant? FREYA DAVISON, London

I think we need to make Parliament itself stronger, as opposed to the executive, by improving the legislative process. At the moment, government has too much power and the voice of the backbench MP is being eroded. We need to do more to reassert the ability of Parliament to hold the Government to account.

Winning in 1992 did the Conservatives no good in the long run. Could the next election be another one to lose? DANIEL BROOKER, Oxford

No. Just look at the mess this government has got the country into. The country is crying out for change and the Conservative party is the only party that can offer it.

Did you see the financial crisis coming? JESSICA PUSEY, St Helens

I don't think even the brightest economists predicted the extent of this downturn but, as someone with a financial background, I was concerned about the levels of debt this government had got us in to and the changes the Government had made to bank regulation and supervision. Sadly we can now see how irresponsible it was for the Government to leave the cupboard bare so that we enter this downturn with the third biggest budget deficit in the world.

As shadow minister for Women, do you ever feel embarrassed by some of the old sexist dinosaurs in your party? DAISY CUSTANCE , Devizes

I don't like sexist attitudes, wherever they come from. I was the first female chairman of a major political party and have been involved in changing attitudes in the party so that at the next election we will see a significant increase in the number of Conservative women MPs.

I can't help thinking of the Conservatives as the Nasty Party. Do you regret coining the phrase? NATHAN MURTAGH, York

No. I think it was an important statement to make at the time as the party did need to change. Under David Cameron's leadership we have done that, whilst at the same time remaining loyal to our principles and values.

Who will be the next female prime minister? PHOEBE WALKER, Middlesbrough

Well I hope that the next prime minister is David Cameron and I hope that the next female prime minister, whenever that is, will be Conservative too. We've got so many great women, not just in the parliamentary party but also running as candidates, that it would be impossible and unfair to name just one. We may be spoilt for choice!

Do you think that the Government's new Equality Bill is a good thing? LUKE MERRY, Leeds

Currently the vast amount of equalities legislation is confusing and complicated. This Bill seeks to bring all of that under one roof and that is a good thing. I have broadly welcomed the Bill but we need to see the detail, for example on age discrimination. It is vital that this Bill doesn't make equality seem even more complex. I want a commonsense approach that promotes fairness and I'll be working with the Government to pass a bill that embodies that.

What would you do about the pay gap between the sexes? JANE CHARRINGTON, Reading

The pay gap is something I feel really strongly about. The average pay gap widened last year to 17.1 per cent. David Cameron and I launched a plan to tackle the gender pay gap called "Fair Play on Equal Pay" which sets out some key points such as extending the right to request flexible working. I've set up a group on Facebook called "Theresa May for Equal Pay" to raise awareness of the problem.

You want to extend flexible working rights to everyone with a child under 18. But should parents of 17-year-olds really get this sort of special provision, especially in an economic downturn? NEIL KEYTE, Portsmouth

The important thing to remember about our flexible working policy is that it extends the right to request flexible working, not the right to get it. In a downturn, flexible working can be helpful for companies. It can enable them to keep staff on who otherwise would be out of a job, it can cut office costs and enable companies to operate more flexibly to meet customers' needs. Parents of older children should be eligible because I firmly believe we need to take action to tackle family breakdown and the social problems that go with it.

Should there be a Minister for Men? KAREN MERCER, Lincoln

I am actually Minister for Women and Equality so I am fighting for fairness for everyone, not just women. I think it's important that there is a voice in government that speaks for women. But I don't believe that should be at the expense of men.

You've been an MP for 11 years – and never in government. Does it get frustrating? OLIVER RENDALL, Sutton Coldfield

What gets frustrating is being unable to change things. On a local level I've been able to do things for my constituents I think have made a real difference, and I'd like to be able to do things now that would help people living throughout the country. Having said that, we've been able to effect some significant changes in opposition.

I feel like I've heard less about your shoes lately than I used to. Have you deliberately toned them down? CHLOE BOOTH, Swansea

No way! I can assure you I am still wearing leopard print and other interesting shoes. I like shoes and I don't see why I should worry about that just because I'm a politician.

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