Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the county constituency of Richmond, Yorks in the room of the right hon. Sir Leon Brittan, QC, who, since his election for the said county constituency, hath accepted the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty's Manor of Northstead in the County of York.-- [Mr. Waddington.]
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I rise to oppose the issuing of the writ for the Richmond, Yorks constituency, under the rules set out in "Erskine May", pages 326 and 327, and on the precedent of 19 April 1983.
The crux of the argument for opposing the writ is that, before the electors of the Richmond, Yorks constituency go to the polls, they are entitled to the truth about exactly what happened in January 1986. Before the writ is issued a tribunal should be set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which should report to the House about what occurred before the by-election takes place. As things stand at present, the purpose behind the writ, to allow one of our former colleagues--we must now call him Sir Leon Brittan--to become Vice-President of the European Commission, seems improper. To many of the electors of Richmond, it looks like the reward for silence.
In normal circumstances perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been a highly qualified candidate on grounds of intellectual and academic attainment and of experience of great offices of state. But as things stand at present the circumstances are far from usual ; in fact, they are exceedingly unusual and abnormal. The electors of Richmond need to know the real reasons for the departure of Sir Leon Brittan before they are required to make an electoral judgment.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that this is Opposition time. Would it be in order, if the hon. Gentleman is to make a speech about the writ, for hon. Members on this side of the House to make speeches of similar, if not greater, length? If so, it might be rather tragic for the Opposition motion this afternoon.
Mr. Dalyell : Whether hon. Members like it or not, the fact is that the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond remains the scapegoat, the fall guy, the man who has taken, and continues to take, the blame for one of the most shoddy misunderstandings that this House has seen.
There are colleagues who say that the Westland affair occurred three years ago, but it continues to be the case that the electors of Richmond need to know whether the House of Commons is simply going to shrug its collective shoulders when it knows that matters have not been cleared up. Are we doucely to allow a by-election to facilitate the then Member who, we are required to believe, caused misunderstandings in the stratosphere of British politics? The electors of Richmond are entitled to know, because it is an issue of the collective self-respect of the House and, in my opinion, the self-respect of the honourable profession of being a politician.
Column 298Remember the consternation of the present Attorney-General, formerly the Solicitor-General, the author of the Law Officer's letter which was so abused without his knowledge. Remember how the then Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, came back from his sick bed and was so angry that he said that if an inquiry were not set up he would have the police at the door of No. 10 Downing street. That is why an inquiry was set up--because of the Attorney-General's threat to have the constabulary at the door of No. 10 if an inquiry were not agreed to.
Before we agree to the issuing of a writ, the electors of Richmond should have an explanation about how that inquiry never came to any conclusions about the timing and the state of knowledge of senior Ministers as to how that leak occurred. The electors of Richmond will want to know, before they choose a new Member, how it was that their last Member appeared before the Select Committee on Defence, chaired by a Conservative Privy Councillor subsequently sent to the House of Lords, and solemnly refused to answer questions properly put by his colleagues and mine.
Never has a Minister treated a Select Committee of the House in that manner. Members of the Committee and others present, as I was, will not forget the contemptuous attitude displayed upstairs that day by our former colleague Leon Brittan, stonewalling a Committee that was set up by the House to do a job.
Mr. Dalyell : One thing will alter our attitude towards the by- election and allow us to send our former colleague on his way to Brussels with our good will, and that is if it were explained to the electors of Richmond that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not to blame for the Westland affair and that he was simply carrying the can for the misbehaviour of someone else.
In order to accept the Prime Minister's version of events in January 1986, the House has been required to believe that, for 14 days or more, Leon Brittan, the cause of this by-election, kept his senior civil servants, such as Sir Brian Hayes, his Cabinet colleagues and his Prime Minister in the dark about his role relating to the Law Officer's letter. If Leon Brittan really did that, should the House be creating a by-election to send him as our country's nominee to a highly prestigious job in the EEC? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman's behaviour is by no means the whole story, should not the electorate of Richmond
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to 1986. There has been a general election since 1986 at which Leon Brittan had an overwhelming majority. The people of Richmond must have been highly satisfied with their representative.
Mr. Dalyell : The electors of Richmond will want to know about the Prime Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has often put pertinent questions to her. She said to my hon. Friend that she did not know about the role of the then Trade Secretary until the inquiry had reported. Before a writ is issued, a tribunal should be satisfied on that point.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether I could have your guidance. Clearly this is a narrow debate on whether the writ should be moved. We all know that the former Member for Richmond has already left. Surely we must be talking about the candidates who are to be put forward. Clearly Sir Leon Brittan is not to be one of those candidates, so what we are hearing must be out of order.
Mr. Speaker : I am listening with great care, as I listened on Friday nearly two weeks ago when this writ was first moved. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said today and nothing that was said then was out of order.
Mr. Dalyell : Before the House agrees to the issuing of a writ for the Richmond constituency, for the sake of the good name and reputation of the former Member, should not the Prime Minister give the electors of Richmond an explanation of her own role--
Mr. Field : Representing the Isle of Wight, I cannot take too much excitement. I have heard this argument once or twice before. I wonder whether it would be in order to move a writ this afternoon for a by- election in the constituency of the hon. Member for Linlithgow.
Mr. Dalyell : Before the House agrees to the issuing of a writ, for the sake of the good name of Leon Brittan, should not the Prime Minister give an explanation to the electors of Richmond of her own role in the Westland affair? The House heard her answer yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. All this could have been avoided had she explained her role. After all, at the end of the day the Prime Minister is accountable not to President Bush, Mr. Gorbachev or any other world politician ; she is accountable to the British electorate through the House of Commons, and particularly to the electors of Richmond.
The House has not yet had an explanation of the unique resignation correspondence between the Prime Minister and the then right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, which ended :
"I hope that it will not be long before you return to high office to continue your Ministerial career."
The Prime Minister did not say that to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) or to anybody else. That is unique. How could any Prime Minister have expressed such a hope if her Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had really misled her? The electors of Richmond will want to know.
They will want to know that it was a negotiated correspondence. As things turned out, the Prime Minister
Column 300found it hard to deliver her side of the bargain. What we have before us today, with the Government asking for thewrit to be issued, is the shoddy compromise of being made a Vice- President of the European Commission. Should the House of Commons go along with allowing the by-election to oblige the Prime Minister and Sir Leon Brittan?
Is it not in the interests of the electors of Richmond that we should have an inquiry which might ask Colette Bowe and John Mogg why they found it necessary to put their accounts of these events in a bank vault? Civil servants whose accounts of events tally with that of their political masters do not normally find it necessary to put their accounts in bank vaults.
The inquiry might also ask Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell why they did not tell the Prime Minister what the Select Committee--chaired, I repeat, by a Conservative Privy Councillor, sent subsequently to the other place--knew about Leon Brittan's role : paragraph 187 of the report of the Select Committee on Defence.
The Prime Minister should also be asked by the inquiry for the benefit of the electors of Richmond why, if Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell failed to tell her what they knew about the Law Officer's letter, they still remain in two of the most important offices in Britain. Why are they still in Downing street, basking in unprecedented favour, if that was the case?
The tribunal might also ask why this most inquisitive of Prime Ministers-- no Conservative Member would deny that--requires us to believe that she never had the curiosity to ask her Secretary of State for Trade and Industry--
Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman's comments are interesting, and we have cantered round this course before, but how far are you prepared to let the debate widen? For some while the hon. Gentleman has been talking about circumstances in which Sir Leon Brittan left the Government, not the House of Commons. Therefore, I suggest that he is going wide of the point.
Mr. Speaker : I was present for much of what went on a fortnight ago when the motion was first debated. Nothing was out of order then, and nothing that I have heard today has been out of order. However, I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will not take too much time of the House.
Mr. Dalyell : I am curious to know how it was that, according to the Select Committee, Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham knew all about its former member's role on 7 January, and yet a Prime Minister who saw them five times a day never sought to ask about a matter that was threatening her Government, or at least her personal position, day after day. That was an exceedingly uncharacteristic lack of curiosity.
There is something more that the Prime Minister and Sir Leon Brittan ought to tell the electorate.
Column 301"I may not be Prime Minister at six o'clock tonight."-- [Interruption.] She herself confirmed that to David Frost.He asked her four times, and on the fourth time of asking she replied to Mr. Frost, "Well, it is just one of the things that one says."
Mr. Dalyell : The British electorate may wonder why, after seven years in Downing street, and wanting to be re-elected for a third term, the Prime Minister would say such a thing. She said it for one reason only-- because she did not know whether Sir Leon Brittan, sitting on the Back Benches, would spill the beans on her. That is why she said, quite uncharacteristically, that she might not be Prime Minister by six o'clock on that night.
I do not wish to try the patience of the House, but for some right hon. and hon. Members these are not frivolous issues but issues of deep importance concerning the integrity and probity of public life. That is why--for the first, and I suspect only, time--I oppose the writ.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) seems not to have understood that our former right hon. and learned Friend took up his appointment as commissioner in Brussels at the beginning of last month. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's attempt to deny the people of Richmond the opportunity to have a Member of Parliament, if its purpose is to prevent Sir Leon Brittan from becoming our commissioner, is futile. The hon. Gentleman told the House today nothing that he has not told it on many previous occasions. I have no doubt that the electors of Richmond will pay precisely the same avid interest to his remarks this afternoon as they paid to his remarks on all the previous occasions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) pointed out, since the events to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow referred took place in January 1986, there has been a general election, when Sir Leon Brittan was Conservative candidate for Richmond. Between January 1986 and June 1987, the hon. Member for Linlithgow made many speeches almost identical to that which he made this afternoon. Therefore, if the people of Richmond were to be influenced by his words, they had the opportunity to do something about the matter in the months that elapsed between January 1986 and June 1987. The people of Richmond gave their verdict on our former right hon. and learned Friend when, at the last general election, the Conservative majority in Richmond increased from 18,000 to 19,500. That was in marked contrast to the Labour majority in Linlithgow, which fell from 11,000 to 10,000.
We are entitled to inquire about the real motive behind the hon. Gentleman's speech. At the last general election, the Labour candidate for Richmond received even fewer votes than the alliance candidate. This time the Labour party, characteristically, has chosen a dud candidate in Richmond.
The reason why the hon. Gentleman seeks to defer the writ--
Column 3022 in the morning of D-day to capture the bridges behind the beaches? Is that man a dud? He is our candidate at Richmond.
Mr. Gow : The courage of the Labour candidate is not in doubt ; but, almost by definition, if one is a candidate for the Labour party in present circumstances, one is a dud. Indeed, it is a mark of the courage of the Labour candidate at Richmond that he has put himself forward as a candidate.
We may mark the contrast between the courage of the Labour candidate at Richmond and the courage of the Labour delegation which has made a journey to Moscow to seek advice about what defence policy should be put before the electorate. Indeed, that is one factor behind the wish of the hon. Member for Linlithgow to defer the by-election, for it may take many months--some might think many years--for the Labour party to fashion a defence policy suitable to be put before the electorate of Richmond, or anywhere else.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is in his place. He is anxious to expound the virtues of the Government's housing policy, but my right hon. Friend will expect, as I do, that those on the Opposition Front Bench will seek to prolong the life of this Parliament so that they may try to get together a defence policy to submit to the electorate.
There is another aspect of the Richmond by-election. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, because you follow these things closely, that at the general election there was but a single candidate for what was then called the alliance. Since then the alliance has split asunder and we are told that there will be two candidates for the single grouping which at the general election formed the alliance. I could well understand it if the representatives of the Liberal party and of the Social and Liberal Democratic party had sought to postpone the by-election because they need more time to get their act together. I have a keen affection, as does the hon. Member for Linlithgow, for another former Member of the House, Dick Crossman. I had the good fortune to be the Conservative candidate in Coventry, East nearly 25 years ago. I have to say, because I am a fair man, that as a result of my efforts, Dick Crossman's majority rose from 6,000 to 16,000--but we shall let that pass. I have been re-reading the diaries which are so beloved by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. On page 49 of volume 1 these words appear :
"Tam Dalyell himself makes it very difficult. He is as awkward, stubborn and lovable as ever."
I agree with Dick Crossman's verdict.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : The House has considered at some lengththe question of the issuing of the writ for the Richmond by-election. On a previous occasion I said that I preferred to rely on the judgment of the Patronage Secretary as to when the writ should be moved, although I signified that he would, of course, follow the convention of moving it before three months had elapsed from the time the seat became vacant.
My right hon. and learned Friend is now keen to give the voters of Richmond the opportunity, as is their wont, to return a Conservative Member of Parliament. A wide
Column 303variety of issues concerning this motion have already been debated, from the likely weather on polling day to the rigours of Catterick camp.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made his predictable speech and he will know by heart myresponse to it. We have an important Opposition day debate this afternoon, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would thank him if their Supply Day were truncated by yet another debate on the Richmond writ. I hope that the House will now approve the motion.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : I support the Leader of the House in calling for the House to move ahead with the writ. The people of Richmond have been deprived of representation for a considerable time by silly party political bickering between Labour and Conservative Members over the timing of this by-election.
The real scandal is the delay on the part of the Conservative party over this by-election, which could have been over before Christmas and the people of the constituency would have had proper representation. The delays that are now occurring are preventing important matters being debated, including housing.
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : We should be told why the Labour party is so undesirous of having this by-election held. This is the second occasion on which the Government have attempted to move the writ. Two weeks ago the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) frustrated the evident desire of the people of Richmond to have a Member of Parliament to represent them. Today the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) seeks to delay the moving of the writ yet again. The hon. Member for Linlithgow is sticking as tenaciously as ever to his obsession with the Belgrano, with Westland and with various other issues in which the country long ago lost any interest. Just as the Belgrano has gone to the bottom of the Atlantic, so the Labour party will go to the bottom of the poll when this by-election is held. Although the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) sits on the Labour Front Bench and appears to be desirous of having this by -election, Labour Members are running scared and do not want it to take place under any circumstances.
We could resolve this matter today and the hon. Member for Linlithgow could bring his views to the attention of the country if he would apply to the Patronage Secretary for the Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead, resign his seat and then become the Labour candidate in the by-election in Richmond. In those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the county aristocracy in his part of the world, would greatly appeal to the up-market members of the community in Richmond. So he could do a great deal to improve the Labour party's potential in the by-election.
But if the hon. Gentleman were to take that course, it might not appeal to the occupants of the Labour Front Bench. I do not think they would be happy to have a by-election in Scotland at this time. It is not long since there was a by-election in the Glasgow, Govan
Column 304constituency, and just as Queen Mary of England went to her grave with "Calais" written on her heart, so I believe the Leader of the Opposition will go to his political grave at the next election with the word "Govan" tattooed on his fingers. Therefore, the Labour party would not be keen on having an election in Scotland, or anywhere else, just now.
The Labour candidate in Richmond is performing the same sort of function as the Light Brigade performed for this country in the Crimean war. He knows that he is going into the jaws of death and the mouth of hell, and we admire his courage. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hamilton : I know what it must be like to be the Labour candidate in Richmond. On the first occasion that I put myself forward as a parliamentary candidate I stood for Abertillery. I duly turned in 9 per cent. of the vote, which I doubt the Labour condidate in Richmond will achieve. A least I had the satisfaction, when we were able to bring the boundary changes into force after the election, of seeing that constituency abolished and divided between Islwyn and Blaenau Gwent. I thought, "Serve them right" in the Abertillery constituency for rejecting me.
I appreciate the sensitivity of Labour Members to having by-elections at this time. That is surprising because at the mid-point of a Parliament Oppositions normally do well. At present, we seem to be in the extraordinary situation--perhaps not so extraordinary when one considers the huge success of the Government--that today the Conservatives are doing better in the opinion polls than they were at the time of the last general election. So we shall be looking to increasing the majority of the Conservative candidate in the Richmond by-election, and that will be the most eloquent testimony to the interest of the people of this country in the points that the hon. Member for Linlithgow has made today and in the policies of the Labour party.
While I, as a kind and compassionate individual, should be happy not to cause more hurt and harm to the Labour party--because we should always look upon the political down-and-outs with the same compassion as we should look to those who have difficulty in running their own lives--the interests of the people of Richmond, and of Britain generally, depend on moving the writ, not only for this by-election but for Pontypridd as well. I look forward to seeing another two representatives of the Conservative party on these Benches after those by-elections have taken place.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) : There is a melancholy ruin in Linlithgow. I recall that the Palace of Linlithgow is a red sandstone building. Queen Margaret, shortly after the battle of Flodden, took to one of the upper rooms and gazed across the horizon for her husband to return, and he did not. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) reminds me of Queen Margaret gazing forlornly, hoping for something to turn up.
My constituency of Skipton and Ripon borders that of Richmond. I worked with Sir Leon Brittan when he was the Member for Richmond--one of those happy parts of the country which could be described as a Labour-free zone-- and I am in a position to testify to the esteem in which he was held by his constituents.
Column 305The hon. Member for Linlithgow kept referring to what the people of Richmond were entitled to have and needed. I can tell him about both of those. They are entitled to a Member of Parliament, and that we are now trying to give them. They are concerned with issues about which I could speak for some time, but I assure him that they are not concerned about the events of several years ago to which the hon. Gentleman frequently refers.
Mr. Curry : The Secretary of State for Education and Science has said that more British history should be taught in our schools. If it were, perhaps more people, including the hon. Gentleman, would be aware that the battle of Flodden pre-dates the Westland affair, having taken place in 1513.
The matters which concern the people of Richmond and which need the attention of a Member of Parliament are, for example, the future of the national parks, which was referred to in the recent planning document published by the Secretary of State for the Environment, farm incomes, matters affecting the uplands and less favoured areas and the whole question of planning permission. We are speaking of one of those happy areas where there is rapid growth and where unemployment is rarely over 4 per cent., thanks to the success of the Government's policies. While they are concerned about low-flying aircraft, they welcome the presence of our defence forces in the constituency which testify to the success of the policy of deterrence.
They wish Sir Leon well in his new responsibilities. They saw him go with regret because he was such a good Member. They know that he will have great enthusiasm in Brussels and that he will do an outstanding job for Britain, and I could easily enumerate his responsibilities there and their great importance.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : As Sir Leon Brittan's old constituency borders my hon. Friend's constituency, I presume that my hon. Friend will be including in his peroration comments about the Settle to Carlisle railway line.
Mr. Curry : My hon. Friend is right. I have received some letters about that matter from Richmond constituents, and I am dealing with that correspondence. They are most anxious to ensure that the line is maintained. My hon. Friend will recall that a report on the tourist implications of the closure of that line said that there could be a serious tourist loss. We support, therefore, the continued existence of a railway which is unique in the United Kingdom and which touches the Richmond constituency, mine and many other constituencies. We could go into the details of this matter this afternoon.
There are two essential points. First, the people of Richmond are concerned about their Member of Parliament getting their matters dealt with and supporting the Government in the House. For that they need a Member of Parliament--a Conservative Member of Parliament. The dismal battle for fifth place between the ecologists and the Labour party is of very little concern to the people in that constituency. Secondly, they wish Sir Leon the greatest luck in his important responsibility. They saw him go with regret and they wish him well. They applaud his excellent work, and they are confident that the next Conservative Member will do just as well.
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Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : When I looked at my Order Paper this morning, I noticed that today was an important day, because it was an Opposition day. I noticed that the Opposition have set out two important--I presume they are to them--motions. The first was to have been on housing, and the second on wages councils. I said "was", but they still may be debated. I then asked myself why, when the Opposition have what they consider to be important motions on the Order Paper and have a few of their troops here--there are many Conservative Members here, but not many Opposition Members, which is the usual position--they have decided to initiate a debate about the Richmond by-election. They have initiated it, and they shall have it.
I believe that there are many points to be made about the Opposition's reasons for initiating this debate. I confess that I am not capable of making all the points myself. The Opposition may be having a debate on the moving of the writ for the by-election because they are concerned about their motions on the Order Paper. The Opposition may have had second thoughts. They may be deeply worried about the implications of those motions. They have a motion on housing. Why should they be worried about that one? Perhaps it is because they do not have a housing policy.
Mr. Marlow : I will indeed, when I have addressed myself to this important debate, which her hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow initiated, I presume, with the full support of the Opposition. I shall sit down when I have dealt with this matter, but, of course, some of my hon. Friends may then have something to say.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On three occasions the hon. Gentleman has said that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made this point about the writ with the agreement of the official Opposition. The hon. Gentleman and the House know that that is untrue. Any individual Back Bencher can raise any subject he likes. I have done it many times, and certainly without the agreement of my Front Bench. Hon. Members must not say that the Opposition are doing something officially when, in fact, it is a Back Bencher using his rights in this House.
Mr. Marlow : If I have made a wrong statement, I crave the indulgence of the House. However, I and my hon. Friends have a great deal of difficulty with this, because there are so many splits and crevices in the Opposition that it is difficult to know whether a motion or a measure such as this is proposed with the whole-hearted support of the entire Opposition Front Bench, part of the Opposition Front Bench, the Chief Whip on the Opposition Front Bench, the leader of the party or anybody else.