Safety at Sea
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I have here a petition I wish to present to the House on behalf of Jennifer Vibert and some 14,000 people. When this petition was presented to me, I was told that each and every signatory had read it carefully. The petition is concerned with the safety of seamen and has come about as a result of the great grief felt by the surviving families of the young crew of the Wilhelmina J, which was sunk almost a year ago. The petition has come about also because those bereaved families feel that the lessons of that tragic accident have to be learnt and they wish their concerns to be brought to the attention of Her Majesty's Government. It is for that reason that I am presenting it here today. The petition reads :
The Humble Petition of Jennifer Vibert and families of the victims of the-- Wilhelmina J", Sheweth that :--(i) unlike the employees of many shore-based companies, merchant seamen and fishermen are not necessarily covered by personal
Column 1220insurance. Yet in an industry with such high risk to its workers, this appears to be a major flaw in the maritime legislation. We therefore propose that Her Majesty's Government introduce legislation which insists that all Shipping Owners are responsible for their employees being covered by adequate insurance in the event of personal injury or death.
(ii) Her Majesty's Coastguard perform an impeccable service by monitoring shipping movements and organising search and rescue operations, within their prescribed areas. However in many cases this area is uncertain. We therefore propose that each Coastguard station is aware of the area of territorial water under its jurisdiction, that an overlap whereby both stations are required to maintain an interest in the movement of a vessel until the receiving station accepts responsibility, as in the case of Aviation Control. (iii) Having identified an infringement of the Maritime Law, Her Majesty's Coastguards are powerless to take any physical action, unlike their French counterparts. By name and definition the Coastguard are the guardians of our coasts. We therefore propose that Her Majesty's Government supply the Coastguard with the necessary equipment, or access to such, to enforce the powers entrusted to them in protecting all vessels at sea and bring to account those who break these laws.
(iv) The English Channel is said to be the busiest waterway in the world, but without any form of policing to ensure that all laws are adhered to. Because of this many "Masters" comply only when they deem fit to do so, sometimes ramming and sinking smaller vessels, then hiding behind the "International Waters" clauses. We therefore propose that the Merchant Shipping Laws be changed to combine the English Channel shipping lanes with both English and French territorial waters. Thereby placing all traffic under the jurisdiction of the respective coastguard.
This is a detailed petition, arising out of the great concern of the families of the bereaved. The petition ends :
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House protect our seamen and fishermen in our coastal waters from unnecessary dangers, and your Petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c. To lie upon the Table.
That this House, believing that the concept of natural justice is paramount in trials before courts and all other tribunals, considers that the procedures of the House in relation to the registration of Members' interests, are inadequate ; believes that the rules for registration are vague, somewhat confusing and even meaningless both to honourable Members and outside observers ; considers that proceedings before the Select Committee on Members' Interests deprive a Member whose conduct is in question of even the most basic human rights to natural justice, to which he or she would be entitled if the matter were being adjudicated in a court of law, including rights of appeal ; is dissatisfied with the processes which take place after the Committee has made a Report ; is deeply concerned that the House can too easily be confused and be led to a decision based not upon justice but upon party political or personal motives, including the abuse of the party whipping system in what should be a matter for the individual conscience of all Right honourable and honourable Members attending the debate ; believes that the case of the honourable Member for Winchester provides a classic illustration of the dangers of abuse inherent in the present procedures, which allowed even outside events to influence judgment ; and calls for the appointment of a Select Committee urgently to re-examine all these issues and to make recommendations before similar great and deliberate injustices are done to other Right honourable and honourable Members and to their constituents.
I move today's motion drawing attention to my case in the hope that it will encourage the House to make fundamental changes in its present rules and procedures as they relate to Members' Interests. On Wednesday 7 March 1990 a very great and quite deliberate injustice took place in this House. It was against me and my constituents. After almost exactly two years to the day, this is my first opportunity to speak in my defence. On that fateful day two years ago, the £480 million Paris scandal was given just 32 minutes of debate in the House but I was subjected to a five-and-a-half- hour internationally televised politcial show trial. At the precise time I was attending the House for the judicial debate, apparently--closely co- ordinated by Conservative central office--moves were being made in my constituency by my constituency chairman, Mrs. Felicity Hindson, to initiate my deselection by means of an ambushed reselection motion which was accepted without my being notified under my constituency rules, namely rule 18(2)(c), and with Mrs. Hindson urging that it would be to my best interests.
On that day I was found guilty of two accidental breaches--SAMA and Chidiac. Those two names are important. I was found guilty of those two accidental breaches--SAMA and Chidiac--of the House rules governing the Register of Members' interests some seven years previously. One of the rules--SAMA--was so vague that I understand that it took the Committee itself many hours to determine the meaning of it. A clarification amendment was then passed by the House immediately after I had been sentenced. I wonder whether that it is natural justice.
My unintentional transgressions resulted in no financial gain to me, had harmed no one, and no Government policy was either changed or even influenced. Despite this, the Select Committee on Members' Interests deemed, on circumstantial evidence, that my errors were serious. However, neither in the Select Committee's report nor in
Column 1222the debate in the House did any member of the Select Committee, or the Leader of the House, attempt either to justify or to explain what was meant by the vital word "serious". In fact, they seemed to lead the House away from any detailed discusion of the report. I shall quote later where these leads happened by referring to Hansard of 7 March 1990.
I notice that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests is here, and it may be that he will be able to help us later in the debate.
As I shall point out later, I was not allowed to make a speech in the debate which took place on 7 March 1990. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was allowed only to make a statement, which had to be heard in silence, and it had to be totally uncontroversial. Furthermore, I was not allowed to ask any questions or to make any interventions in the debate. I therefore had no chance to raise this issue. In the two years since that trial, this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak on the subject and in my own defence.
Most strangely, the two breaches of the rules--SAMA and Chidiac--concern precisely the same two cases in relation to which I had taken out libel suits against the complainant. Was this merely a very strange coincidenece? The complainant was a personal friend of and had a close working relationship with one of the most active--I may even say aggressive-- members of the Select Committee ; the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who never declared this interest either to the Committee or to the House, although he intervened in the debate on 7 March 1990. This is referred to in early-day motions--
As I have said, this is referred to in early-day motions 1210 of the last Session and 115 of this Session. Since my trial, the Select Committee has investigated allegations against several other Members. Remarkably, all were found to be in error. Indeed, one--a Select Committee member himself-- was found to have repeatedly and deliberately disobeyed a specific rule. However, none of those Members' cases was recommended for action by the House. All other pending cases, such as those against other Conservative Members, have been dropped. How was it that of all the similar cases the Select Committee considered that mine alone was serious, just on circumstantial evidence, and given a five-and-a-half-hour debate in the House followed by a draconian sentence? I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the answer was not only injustice but grand and deliberate injustice.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The hon. Gentleman has said that he had informed my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours) that he would name him in the debate. I wonder whether he will reaffirm that. Secondly, he has said that other Conservative Members were also up on "charges", which were dropped. I should like to know their names.
Column 1223Secondly, on the subject of the names of Conservative Members, I personally would prefer not to give them. I do not feel bound to give them, but I respect your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if you feel that I must name them, I must. As I have said, I would rather not.
How was it that of all the similar cases that the Select Committee considered mine alone was "serious", just on circumstantial evidence? I was given a five-and-a-half-hour public debate in the House followed by a draconian sentence. I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the answer was not only injustice but a grand and deliberate injustice.
The precedent set by my case has never been followed. I was selected as a one-off scapegoat. Here I must place on record my sincere feelings. I did not in any way blame or bear any grudge against the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members who voted in all innocence for my punishment, or who abstained from supporting me. In my view, 99 per cent. of hon. Members were misled--quite deliberately, I believe--and I hope to show the House both how and why that great crime was perpetrated by those in power.
It is vitally important because if that can happen to me, as it did also to the late Lord Boothby before the war, it can happen to any right hon. or hon. Member--or, indeed, to anyone, because ordinary citizens can be called to the Bar of the House. Furthermore, if such a deliberate injustice can happen in the high and sovereign court of Parliament, against which--and contrary to all human rights conventions--there is no appeal, then which citizen of this realm is safe? I believe that the long-term good of the whole is most definitely not best served by the protection of the whole at the expense of the human right to justice of the individual citizen. Surely the long-term good of the whole is best served by the added protection of the rights of the individual to justice. I believe that it is greatly in the interests of the House, of our country and of our civilisation in general that such deliberate political injustice be never allowed to happen again.
I submit that in the present state of affairs no one is safe from an individual purge by Government Ministers for political reasons. Surely such a state of affairs cannot be allowed to remain available as a weapon of government.
I raise this matter in the hope that, despite any official cover-up, the House will look into the issue and so amend its procedures that no similar injustice can happen again to any other hon. Member or to any other citizen who might be called to the Bar of the House. People will no doubt ask why I have waited some two years until now before raising this matter.
Mr. Browne : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says "correct", and I hope to answer him. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I tried hard for over a year to bring this matter to the attention of the House. You will know that I first tried to appeal to the Select Committee. After months of delay, the Chairman replied that there was no avenue of appeal. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have tried to raise this issue in a ten-minute Bill, by means of a private Member's Bill, in a petition under Standing Order No. 132 and in an Adjournment debate. All those avenues, including no fewer than 12 proposed titles for Adjournment debates, were ruled out of order. I was told that my only avenue
Column 1224was to get lucky and win a balloted motion. On 11 February 1992 I received from the Leader of the House a final negative reply to the appeal that I began a year ago. Twenty four hours later I won a Members' ballot for this debate, in the closing moments of this Parliament.
So here we are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with my first opportunity to speak in my defence. Sadly, this is the story of the deliberate manipulation of justice for party political reasons. It is also the story of a cover-up so powerful that even vast sections of the media appear to have been silenced. Even the boldest men, of great integrity, who have seen and recognised injustice have hesitated. Those whose prime duty it was to speak up have kept their silence. This is also the story of a long and necessarily complex web of intrigue. It may therefore help the House if I now cite the Official Report references that I intend to use in my speech. I shall refer mainly to quotations from the official Hansard report of the debate on 7 March 1990, and to the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests dated 19 February 1990. I shall also refer to early-day motions 1210 and 1211 of the previous Session and to early-day motions 115, 121 and 585 of this Session. Finally, I shall refer to the High Court judgments of Mr. Justice Wood dated 6 February 1986 and 25 November 1986 and to the Court of Appeal judgment dated 23 November 1988.
Two of the most fundamental of human rights are the right to a fair trial and the right of appeal. Those two fundamental rights are enshrined in clauses 1 to 4 and in clause 5 of the 14th article of the United Nations international convention of 1966, to which the British Government are signatories. That convention applies to both civil and political trials.
Political show trials have a classic structure. First, they are preceded by a secret inquisition or inquiry at which the prosecution case is established. The accused is then paraded in front of the public for a sham trial in which he is not permitted any of the normal rights of defence. The prosecution holds sway, as the jury is fixed. It is typical of almost all show trials that there is no mechanism for appeal. That, in itself, is a breach of one of the most fundamental human rights enshrined in clause 5 of article 14 of the convention. We are accustomed to thinking that political show trials happen only in foreign countries, under regimes such as those in Nazi Germany or communist Russia, but even in our own country they happen occasionally. The late Lord Boothby was subjected to such a trial in 1940-41, and one slipped past the nose of this House on 7 March 1990.
It is important that the House, and our country, know something of what happened. My political show trial followed the classic structure that I have described. It was preceded by a secret inquisition or inquiry at which the prosecution case was established. That was carried out by the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which was seen by the media, the public and other hon. Members as being, in effect, the court. The strength with which that was denied in the debate on 7 March 1990, both by the Chairman of the Select Committee and the then leader of the House, shows how true was that widely held concept.
Some 308 Members of the House voted, of whom some 239 voted along the whipped Government line in favour of punishment. However, apart from during the opening and winding-up speeches, not more than 30 Members--10 per cent., at most--attended the debate. As my hon. and
Column 1225learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), a Queen's Counsel and former Solicitor-General for Scotland, said : "Here we all are. Some members of the jury are out, and some are in. The jury is being asked to say what the sentence should be, but the jury was not even in court. Most of its members who are in court now have not read the report, and do not conceive of the rights or wrongs of what the Committee found this partial jury should not exercise the concept of punishment."--[ Official Report, 7 March 1990 ; Vol. 187, c. 957-58.]
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman says that only 30 Members were present to listen to the debate. The truth is, as we all know, that that number is about par for the course. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us how many times he has sat in on debates for the Government--before the Government did the dirty on him. He talks about party political reasons, but the reason why he is not a Tory candidate for the next election has nothing to do with anything that the Labour party has done--it is because his own Tory party in Westminster has ditched him.
When the hon. Gentleman was supporting the Tory party, how many times did he vote for a guillotine motion when he did not even know when and how the guillotine was to be imposed? Most guillotines are supported by Conservative Members who do not sit in on the debate, so the hon. Gentleman should not give us any of this claptrap about not many people having listened to the debate. The truth is that he got caught out by the gentleman's club whose members usually sit on the Tory Benches--he got knifed by his own side.
Mr. Browne : I agree with some of what the hon. Member for Bolsover said, but not all of it. It is true that for normal debates in the House there is a pretty good attendance for the opening speeches and the winding- up speeches made by Members on both sides, but a pretty sparse attendance in the middle. That is because right hon. and hon. Members of the House have great pressures on their time. Some 20 Committees sit at the same time as debates are being held on the Floor of the House. However, in a judicial debate--a debate in which the House is sitting as a court, as a jury when people are to vote on whether an hon. Member is guilty, hon. Members should surely at least listen to the case before voting. Thirty Members attending a debate may be par for the course, but the case to which I refer was certainly not par for the course.
In what other court or even tribunal in this land--or in any other country- -would a member of a jury be allowed to be absent while a case was being presented, only to return to deliver a guilty verdict and pass a draconian sentence? I submit that the answer is none. Yet that happened here on 7 March 1990. Is that justice, Mr. Speaker? The sham trial in the House was, as always, made very public, with five-and-a-half hours of prime television, syndicated world wide. The charges against me were made to appear massive, and even combined with innuendo. The apparent unwillingness of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), to reply to a stream of interventions is recorded in column 893 of the Official Report of the debate.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for exactly 20 minutes, and it is clear that--apart from a degree of spontaneity introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)--the hon. Gentleman has read every word of his speech so far. I have counted six pages, and seeing the notes that he still has, I fear that he intends to read us another 60 pages, which will take up most of the debate, and it will all be written material. Surely it is not within the proper procedures of the House to allow someone to read an entire speech of that length. I understand the difficulties, and that hon. Members may want to use copious quotations and refer in detail to notes--I am not in any way trying to prevent the hon. Gentleman from putting forward a reasonable case--but surely it is outside the accepted procedures of the House to read what appears to be several hours of written material.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : All hon. Members are aware of the hallowed phrase that hon. Members are allowed to refer to "copious notes". We have also traditionally taken the view that Members who speak from either Front Bench or an hon. Member who introduces a debate, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) is now doing, have a little more discretion than would otherwise be the case. The hon. Member for Winchester will be in order so long as he continues just to refer to copious notes.
Mr. Browne : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try to look up from my notes to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is leading for the Opposition. However, I will glance down through my spectacles occasionally at this large volume of notes.
The apparent unwillingness of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, is shown in Hansard at column 893. He was most unwilling to reply to a string of interventions by hon. Members seeking confirmation that I had done nothing illegal. I felt that that was quite disgusting, but classic. Also, in common with all political show trials, the jury decision was--as has already been said this morning--fixed by the ruling party. In this case, the fixing was ensured by the operation of the Whips, both payroll and informal.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has now referred to another right hon. Member. If he intends to refer to several right hon. and hon. Members, rather than my interrupting him on every occasion, will he assure me that he has informed those right hon. and hon. Members that he intends to refer to them?
Following the trial, very few people mentioned any of the criticisms of injustice or blatant abuse of human rights. Instead, the public image was created that I had been guilty of a major criminal offence. Indeed, it was interesting to note--
Column 1227but it is known as the mother of Parliaments, although only about 42 women are allowed in here. The hon. Gentleman is complaining that he got 20 days. His real problem is the fact that he is not the Tory party candidate at the next election--and that has nothing to do with what happened in this place.
I have been kicked out of this place about seven times, but I did not have any chance to explain. No one said to me, "Dennis, will you explain why you said that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was lining his pockets when he picked up that non-executive directorship of British Telecom?" I would have loved to tell everyone all about that, but Mr. Speaker said, "On your bike--early bath," and off I had to go.
When I called the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) a pompous sod, Mr. Speaker said to me, "You had better withdraw that". I said I would withdraw "pompous", but said, Mr. Speaker "That's not the word I'm looking for." There was laughter in the House and everyone thought that I had hit the nail on the head. I thought that that was a real parliamentary triumph, but Mr. Speaker thought differently. He said, "Off you go," and I did not get a chance to reply.
I accused the noble Lord, Lord Pym, when he was a Member of this House, of being the Minister for unemployment because there were nearly 2 million people on the scrap heap--that pile of human misery known as the dole queue. Again, I was not able to make a speech before Mr. Speaker sent me out.
Those were all genuine statements that I had to make. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was kicked out for 20 days because he lined his pockets with about £50,000 and did not put it in the register as he is supposed to do, and now he is whingeing but I reckon he got away with blue murder.
Mr. Browne : I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I actually have not mentioned 20 days yet, and I totally refute the claim that I lined my pockets with £50,000 and did not report it. That was not true, and it is part of what this whole debate is about.
It was interesting to note that although the Select Committee felt my errors to have been serious, not one member of that Committee, nor the Leader of the House, ever attempted to explain how or why those accidental errors were considered serious. Before I describe the details of what happened in my case, I wish to point to some general points on the subject of the Register of Members' Interests which I hope will be of interest and help to the House.
The Members' interest registry was initiated for very understandable and good reasons, to show Members' interests to the public and to the House. It is a laudable aim, but there are serious problems and anomalies. First, our Parliament consists of two Houses--a Commons House and a House of peers. This is an important but much overlooked point which I will return to later in my speech. The declaration of financial interests applies only to the Commons House and yet the House of peers execute legislation and have great influence over the Government. Why is there no declaration for all of Parliament?
Secondly, the register is of financial interests and yet monetary amounts are not required to be registered. Is that not only farcical, but downright misleading? How does it truly inform either the public or the House?
Column 1228Thirdly, in the early 1980s the register was treated in a very casual manner indeed. When my case came to this House in 1989 about events in 1982, some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite admitted to me that they had not even heard of the register-- hence, I imagine, the greatly increased size of the registry since I was arraigned.
Fourthly, as it is not a legal requirement, the registry is, as Mr. Enoch Powell maintained, unconstitutional. Worse still, because it is not a legal requirement, anyone brought to account under it is given none of the legal protection normally afforded to anyone standing accused of a crime in law.
Fifthly, the rules of registration are vague--for example, the rules about declaration of foreign earnings. When I went to the registrar in 1982, I was told that the foreign earning of my company, if my company was declared, need not be declared as a client unless it was specifically related to the House. I was accused of not reporting it as an earning to me. Interestingly enough, it took the Committee hours to decide what that rule meant, and it was changed after my sentence : 10 minutes after my sentence, the rule was changed to say that if one owned a certain percentage of one's company, then one had to declare it.
I also looked at the register of interests and the sort of groups of people who were declaring overseas payments, and found virtually none : no farmers, no scriptwriters, no broadcasters, journalists, lawyers or barristers--none of those people. Yet surely one, at least, of all the hundreds in the book must surely have had some foreign-derived earnings.
Mr. Browne : I did not say that I knew, but looking at the registry in 1982, 1983 and even in 1989, the guideline seems to be that if earnings go to a company, the earnings are not declared as foreign payments, and that they should only have been declared as foreign payments if they actually went to the Member concerned. That is only a guideline, but it is something that I went by in those early days, plus consulting the Registrar himself--who, incidentally, was not called to give evidence by the Select Committee and I was not allowed to call him myself.
Also, there are no strict definitions of sibling relationships such as there are in relation to the law on insider trading and securities. In the registry, this is still an area of very considerable doubt and therefore of danger to right hon. and hon. Members.
The rules are somewhat vague and, as I have said, they are therefore dangerous because they can be bent by those in authority to snare almost any hon. Member who has outside interests. This is a danger hanging over many Members, particularly now that this subject is taken far more seriously and, I believe, correctly.
Sadly, there is precedent for abuse of this danger hanging over hon. Members. In the two cases that I shall mention, the abuse was carried out by Government Whips who, although they strenuously deny it, have control at least over the profile of the majority of Select Committee members and can very strongly influence their voting. The case of the late Lord Boothby was described superbly in the recent excellent book by my hon. Friend
Column 1229the Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James) entitled "Bob Boothby". I quote briefly from that book, from chapter 11, "A Terrible Injustice", on pages 270 to 298 :
"A Select Committee is not a court of law and one of its fundamental problems is examining matters of this kind is that it is composed of Back- Bench MPs who are in fact judge and jury. The conclusions of the Committee were heavily and unfairly loaded against Boothby. There was no evidence that Boothby had any expectation of payment. Boothby was allowed to defend himself in his speech in Parliament. His speech influenced the opinion of Parliament" --I will bring out later the fact that I was not allowed to make such a speech but merely a statement--
"Churchill then intervened and recommended that the House not proceed any further in the matter. The Government gave a clear message to the press that they would oppose any motion to condemn him."
The vague rules on Members' interests are potentially very dangerous for many hon. Members, particularly when we see the precedent for the abuse of power to distort justice.
Briefly, the background to the Select Committee inquiry was this. In the general election campaign of 1987, Mr. David Leigh, a journalist from The Observer, made several serious allegations that I had incorrectly registered my Member's interests some years before. This was seized upon, understandably, by my local media and had a major impact on my support. My share of the vote was seriously eroded and there was a cut in my majority of approximately a half. It provided grounds for subsequent moves against me in my constituency. Suits for libel were issued against Mr. David Leigh and I had every hope of a major settlement. The suits for libel were issued against Mr. Leigh on the subjects of SAMA and Chidiac, in which I and my lawyer thought Mr. Leigh was particularly vulnerable, and so obviously that a court of law might be prepared to rule favourably upon them even though they were to do with the rules of this sovereign House. As I said, I had every hope of a major settlement. Subsequently, Mr. Leigh made a complaint against me to the Registrar of Members' Interests on those two issues and a number of surrounding issues. I was very confident of my innocence, and even welcomed the hearing before the Select Committee publicly so as to put an end to the sniping articles on the subject in some sections of the press. What I did not know was that Mr. David Leigh was a close friend of and had a close working relationship with a leading member of that Select Committee--the hon. Member for Workington. I was asked to make written submissions to the Select Committee in response to Mr. Leigh's complaints in the spring of 1989.
After some delays, I was finally summoned before the Select Committee in the early summer of 1989. I sat before some 10 or 11 Members over some three sessions to answer just under 1,000 rapid-fire questions concerning some 20 companies over a time span of some 12 years. It was a mind-boggling exercise in research and in memory. I understand that the Committee and, indeed, the Conservative Whips experienced great difficulty in obtaining agreement to the report from the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton). However, after some seven further months of so-called deliberation during which there was a constant flow of leaks to my local press, the Committee issued its report on 19 February 1990.
The Select Committee was widely seen as a court and its report was greeted with headlines normally reserved only for mass murderers and rapists. However, the court or
Column 1230Select Committee proceedings were criticised repeatedly in the debate by right hon. and hon. and learned Members with considerable legal experience for not having adopted procedures of natural justice towards me as the accused. Particularly noteworthy are the criticisms levelled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), an experienced barrister and junior judge. He criticised the Select Committee as
"Whether intentionally or not, it was the worst type of kangaroo court but the press have been noticeably silent about that." He also pointed, in Hansard column 933, to what he termed "the smell of scapegoat". He also remarked on the smell of witch-hunt and the hypocrisy of the House. Most interestingly, he pointed to a catalogue of manifest injustices perpetrated against me. He said that
"it would be a great injustice for us to use"--
"me" in brackets--
"as a scapegoat to exorcise embarrassment about the criticism that our rules on Members' interests are inadequate."
What my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton was referring to was the following catalogue of injustice. The Select Committee hearings, first of all, were all held in secret. None of the evidence was taken on oath. Secondly, contrary to Standing Orders of the House, I was not allowed to hear and thereby challenge directly in cross-examination the evidence of any witness whatsoever. Only rough typescript proofs were provided retrospectively. They were difficult to read and very difficult to handle because of their bulk and the bad copying. This was to the distinct disadvantage of me as the accused operating alone, unlike the Committee with its vast secretariat. From his similar experience, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said in the debate :
"Everything that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has just said about taking evidence was absolutely true. One writes to the Committee, its members write back, and there is no cross-examination or proper Hansard. At the end, the Committee makes a pronouncement and the word goes out to grovel.
If hon. Members grovel and apologise, they will be let off with a caution and it will all be over in two or three weeks."--[ Official Report, 7 March 1990 ; Vol. 168, c. 935-41.]
In addition to this, I, unlike certain members of the press, was not informed when the Committee called witnesses until some weeks later--after the fact. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Thirdly, I was specifically denied the right to call any witness in person for cross-examination. Here the assertion to the contrary by the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), in Hansard columns 906 and 907, seems to me to be quite extraordinary and was in direct conflict with the statement of his Select Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Streatham, who in column 918 clearly stated to the House that there was no verbal cross-examination except by the Committee. In the fact, I was specifically forewarned by the Registrar that only the Committee was empowered to call witnesses and that I would have to be content with asking for written statements.
The lack of equality in the calling of witnesses was crucial. The Select Committee was able to recommend that the written evidence of vital defence witnesses such as that of Mr. Chattington in the report, page 28, paragraph 54, and of Mr. Denton-Thompson, page 147, be ignored by the House. Neither defence witness was called by the
Column 1231Committee to explain or to support their written statements which the Committee criticised or ignored out of hand. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Fourthly, there was no representation. This case was vastly complex. I was arraigned not to explain or to testify about some political issue but was on trial for my political and personal life. Despite that, I was denied the effective counsel or assistance of a lawyer, except over the physical handling of the vast documentation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Workington even protested in question 282 when I referred to my solicitor to gain a more informed answer as to a legal question.
Why was it that in 1940 I understand the late Lord Boothby was allowed to have his legal representation? Why was it that after my case, on 13 January this year even the Maxwell brothers were allowed legal representation before a Select Committee and addressed the Select Committee through them? Why was I, uniquely as an accused, denied that important protection and most important assistance? Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Fifthly, no right of discovery. The documentation produced by the complainant, Mr. Leigh, was vast, comprising some 100 documents, some over 30 pages long. To my knowledge there were no originals. The copies were very poor and badly collated. The documents were largely stolen from my personal and company files. They were produced very selectively and out of context. This was greatly to the disadvantage of the accused, as there was no means by which I could put crucial documents into context, particularly in the relationship between me and each of the Chidiac brothers and with regard to the missing SAMA report and its relationship to the supplementary Prime Minister's question that I asked.
Even the Committee found it difficult to obtain certain documents, but, remarkably, paragraph 60 of the report then criticised me who, acting without the Committee's powers of discovery, was unable to trace or recover certain stolen documents such as the SAMA report. The point about the SAMA report is most interesting. First, I wonder how Mr. Leigh could have written his detailed articles on SAMA in 1987 without referring to it. I believe it was stolen from my company's files along with other evidence produced by Mr. Leigh, which was widely acknowledged as stolen property, most probably by my ex-wife. If the SAMA report was stolen, how could I produce it? Even more interestingly, in the report questions 310 to 317, it is clear how heavily the hon. Member for Workington, a close friend of Mr. Leigh and working with him on this project, criticised me for not finding the SAMA report. But why did Mr. Leigh not produce it? I ask, could it have been that it would have proved conclusively that it had no relationship with the supplementary question that I put to the Prime Minister? Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
No. 6--no statute of limitations. The Committee accepted to investigate all the charges made against me, even the most trivial, including minor errors that I had already admitted. This made the case vastly more complex in its ramifications. The case, as I said, covered some 20 companies over a span of some 12 years. [Interruption.] I wonder what the Leader of the House was looking at. The questioning of one man alone by 11 prosecutors putting rapid-fire questions at random is awesome. Given the complexity and in the circumstances of this case, it was a grave injustice.
Column 1232Great sympathy was shown by the hon. Member for Workington over this issue to one of his prosecution witnesses, Mr. Brian Deutsch, whose memory was very hazy about only one company in which he had worked almost full time. On the contrary, I was criticised severely in the report for not remembering precise details of events that had taken place many years before regarding companies in which I had been involved on a very part-time basis, such as in the report, paragraph 59. The hon. Member for Streatham, a member of the Committee, made a special point of this when he said :
"To have something dredged up after eight years is absurd." No. 7--time pressures. Time pressures were exerted upon me as the accused. Despite the fact that the Committee took some nine months in its deliberations, decisions at which I was permitted to be present, which were merely three when I was being examined, were all pressured for time. Examples of this exercise of time pressure against the accused are in the report at question 523--I am sorry I must return to that. These were not time pressures exercised against the accused, but time pressures that resulted in pressure against the accused. I do not accuse my right hon. Friend of deliberately doing this at all, it is just that the time pressure did act against the accused. Examples are the time pressure in questions 523, 593, and 763, and also, contrary to normal Select Committee procedure, I as the accused was not given the time to complete an opening statement, and this was referred to in the report, questions 269 to 296. I must emphasise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this was my only chance in that whole proceeding of nine-- almost 11--months, to speak in my own defence. Was that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The eighth point is that there was no prosecution case. Mr. Leigh presented allegations. He did this outside my presence and I was unable to challenge or cross-examine him verbally on a contemporary basis. There was no single line of argument that could be followed from one prosecutor, as there is in a case in a normal court. I was therefore given no structure and no knowledge as to what points the Select Committee considered important among a vast array of often unsupported allegations and so-called but unsworn evidence. This, combined with the time pressures, I submit, acted seriously against me as the accused. There was also no defence. While I was allowed to make written submissions, they in no way equated to the contemporary challenges of verbal evidence that take place in a normal court. Furthermore, as there was no prosecution case I as the accused had no knowledge of which of the myriad subjects the Committee would consider important.
Nine--the onus of proof. A reading of the report will show clearly that the onus of the proof was placed, contrary to basic tenets of English law, squarely upon the accused. This was clearly pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, and examples include SAMA and Chidiac.
Tenth, no motive was either alleged or established. Indeed, the complainant made note of the fact that he felt that my alleged breaches were not necessarily intentional. Any transgressions were accidental. Yet the Select Committee deemed these technical errors to be serious although, as I have said before, none of the members of the Select Committee when speaking in the debate sought to