A government minister has resigned from his job for being absent from the House of Lords when he should have been there to answer a question, then walked out of the chamber to the shock of his fellow peers.
Michael Bates, a minister at the Department for International Development (DfID) since 2016, said he was “thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place” for the question, and walked out to loud shouts of “no!” from others in the chamber.
However, No 10 later said the resignation had been refused and it appears Bates will continue in his post.
The brief resignation was one of the most dramatic in recent years. Bates, who has been in the Lords since 2008, stood up to say he had not been in his place when he was supposed to answer a question from the Labour peer Ruth Lister.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies to Baroness Lister for my discourtesy in not being in my place to answer her question on a very important matter at the beginning of questions,” Lord Bates said.
“During the five years in which it’s been my privilege to answer questions from this dispatch box on behalf of the government, I’ve always believed that we should rise to the highest possible standards of courtesy and respect in responding on behalf of the government to the legitimate questions of the legislature.
“I’m thoroughly ashamed at not being in my place and therefore I shall be offering my resignation to the prime minister with immediate effect. I do apologise.”
He then tucked his ministerial papers under his arm and left to cries of protest.
Lister told the Guardian she had subsequently written a note to Bates saying she hoped he would reconsider. “Of all the ministers I’d want to cause to resign, he’d be the last,” she said.
“I made the point that he was one of the most courteous of ministers when he’s answering questions at the dispatch box. Although I didn’t put it in the letter, many ministers show us much greater discourtesy by evading the questions we’re asking, whereas he always tries to answer them.”
Lister said she assumed Bates had resigned as “he felt it was the right thing to do”. She added: “The response from our benches was a sort of spontaneous ‘no’. I’m not sure we’d respond to many other ministers in that way.”
Bates had been due in the chamber at 3pm on Wednesday to answer a scheduled question from Lister on income inequality but arrived a couple of minutes late. In his absence the question was answered by the Lords chief whip, John Taylor.
It is believed Bates might have been caught out because the usual prayers that delay proceedings slightly had instead been held that morning.
However, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “With typical sincerity, Lord Bates today offered to tender his resignation after missing the start of an oral questions session in the House of Lords, but his resignation was refused as it was judged this was unnecessary.”
Bates, who was MP for Langbaurgh from 1992 to 1997, has held a series of junior ministerial roles since entering the Lords. In 2016 he stepped down as a Home Office minister to take a leave of absence from the chamber and undertake a 2,000-mile charity walk across South America.
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