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Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) : The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Committee of Privileges investigating the allegations against individual Members. However, Madam Speaker referred specifically to The Sunday Times . Will the inquiry that the hon. Gentleman envisages include a thorough inquiry into The Sunday Times , and into why it makes wild allegations every time there is a meeting overseas, so that, whenever my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes back to report, it is eclipsed ? Will it also make inquiries into the allegation that The Sunday Times has said that it intends to
Column 1010get rid of the Government by causing by- elections ? Those are allegations that I have heard from The Sunday Times itself.
Mr. Brown : The motion invites the Committee of Privileges to examine the issues dealt with in The Sunday Times story--the cash-for- questions row. It invites it separately to consider the wider questions of principle that are involved in the relationship between Members of Parliament's public duty and their private business interests. That is what I seek to refer to the Committee of Privileges. I am closely paralleling the statement that you, Madam Speaker, made yesterday.
The hon. Gentleman asks that the Committee should investigate more widely. I am not sure that it will want to investigate quite so widely as he wants it to do. Nevertheless, I hope that it will examine the broad issues of principle, rather than merely the narrow issue that has given focus to the motion today.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the public would find it utterly baffling, indeed incomprehensible, if we gave any impression that the House gave equal sense of seriousness to the activities of some journalists on The Sunday Times and to the alleged bribery of Members of Parliament ? Those two issues are not of equal importance. [Hon. Members :-- "Yes, they are."] Conservative Members say that they are of equal importance. They are certainly not of equal importance to the people we represent. It is vital that the Committee of Privileges acknowledges that, not least because it would be ludicrous if a decision was made in the end which condemned the activities of The Sunday Times and condemned the activities of the hon. Members. They would never have been found out if it had not been for The Sunday Times .
Mr. Brown : I am trying to get the Committee up and moving. I certainly do not intend to tell it what its decision should be. It is difficult for me to respond to hypothetical conclusions of the Committee of Privileges when it has not even been set up yet. The purpose of the motion is to set it up and give it the widest possible remit, including the broader issues of principle.
Mr. Den Dover (Chorley) : Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that he understood that 20 Members had been approached by The Sunday Times . Has the hon. Gentleman any evidence, since he tabled the motion, that 10 Labour Members were approached, or has he had no evidence at all ?
Mr. Brown : Those matters are referred to in the story. Clearly it will be open to the Committee of Privileges to invite the "Insight" team to come before it and say whom it approached and what the responses were. The point that I was trying to make to the House was that 16 Members from both sides of the House rejected the approach outright, and that their reasons for so doing would clearly be of interest to the Committee of Privileges. That is the only point that I make in that matter.
I do not want to go through the recent well publicised causes for concern. It will suffice to say that there is widespread public disquiet about the relationship between the public duties of Members of Parliament and their private business interests. Our rules must ensure that there is no improper overlap between the two.
Column 1011I know that, as the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), told the Committee which considered the matter a few years ago, there are profound problems of interpretation, enforcement and punishment. In my view, there is an even more profound problem in not tackling the issues. My motion enables the Committee of Privileges to try to do so.
An amendment has been tabled but not selected which suggests that, unless there are pressing reasons to the contrary, the Committee should follow its usual procedure in recent years and keep its proceedings in the public domain. I hope that the Committee will be able to do that, not merely because there is public interest in the issue but because, if Parliament looks at its own affairs and how we regulate the relationships between public and private interests, it is right that the public should see us doing it, and should understand the outcome.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I intervene simply and briefly to expresthe hope that the House will agree to the motion. As you said in your statement yesterday, which has given precedence to the motion today, Madam Speaker, the press report at the weekend which led to your receiving a number of complaints, including that from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), plainly raised serious and difficult issues.
I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman achieved the neutrality that was his ambition. Perhaps that is what provoked so many interventions. Certainly I do not think that it would be right for me as Leader of the House to follow down his path of commentary. I have no doubt that the proper course is for the House now to remit those complaints to the Committee of Privileges for its consideration and advice.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Madam Speaker, will the Leader of the House tell us how he intends to implement that part of your statement which asked for urgency ? I am sure that he is aware that, on occasions in the past when matters have been referred to the Committee of Privileges, it has taken a very long time to come to a decision--perhaps for good reasons. Does he agree that, on this occasion, it is important that consideration is urgent, and that he should use all his powers as Leader of the House to set up the Committee and let it get on with its work as quickly as possible ?
Mr. Newton : I was about to come to that. It is obviously for the Committee, when it is set up, to decide how to proceed. If the motion is agreed, the Government will, of course, undertake appropriate consultation with a view to tabling a motion to nominate the Committee as soon as possible.
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Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Very few hon. Members have ever been called before a Privileges Committee, and I wish to take a few minutes to explain exactly what can happen. That is why I tabled my amendment today.
The sad fact is that if the Committee decides that it wants to hand out a public spanking--for example, to a recalcitrant trade union leader such as Arthur Scargill--it will hold all its hearings in public, and its proceedings will gain a great deal of publicity. On the other hand, there is a tendency for a Privileges Committee to say that it is there to protect the House rather than the public.When that happens, there is a feedback to the culprit which says, "Grovel, apologise, purge your contempt and say you will never do it again." Proceedings will drag on for three or four months, and then the Committee will quietly produce a report which says that the hon. Member concerned apologised for his bad behaviour and that, as far as it is concerned, no further action should be taken. A Committee will sit in private to reach that conclusion, it will hear virtually no evidence and its report will not be debated in the House. The matter goes into limbo. And that is exactly what happened to me.
I was the whistleblower in 1974, when I wrote a piece in Labour Weekly which alleged that there were Members for hire. That was at the time of Poulson and T. Dan Smith, and allegations such as those about Harold Wilson and the slagheaps and Tony Crosland, the Foreign Secretary, being given a coffee pot. My piece in Labour Weekly said that those allegations were nonsense, and that the number of Members out of 650 in the House who were susceptible to a proposition could be counted on one hand. Immediately the tabloids splashed across their front pages, "Name the guilty five." On the day when the T. Dan Smith trial ended--when what had been sub judice was no longer sub judice--I was the subject of a terrific amount of investigation. The hon. Member for Peterborough at that time, Sir Harmar Nicholls, stood in the House and moved that the matter be referred to a Privileges Committee. That was between the two elections of 1974, when we had a majority of 22. I might add that things were done differently in those days, because I had to leave the Chamber immediately. With respect to you, Madam Speaker, I think it was the rule at that time that the Members accused had to leave the Chamber.
The matter went upstairs to the Committee, and word came back that I should apologise and that no further action would be taken. I refused, and I put up a defiant defence. I was helped in that by my hon. and learned Friend Arthur Davidson, then the Member for Accrington and now a leading libel lawyer in Fleet street. We said that we had the facts in a file which was about a foot thick and there were immediate panic stations around the place.
Members of Parliament were, at that time, very badly paid. There were even advertisements in the whip on Friday saying that, if a Member wanted a £10 trip to Iceland to study the cod war, and he wanted to take his wife and two kids, it could be arranged. It was as blatant as that. A man came to me at the time and said that he wanted to make a commercial which said that the man who wound up
Column 1013Big Ben wore a Timex watch. "All we would have to do," he said, "is film a man walking across the bridge and down through the door into Big Ben." He asked if I could arrange it, and said that there would be a good fee for doing that.
I wrote to the Leader of House and asked whether that could be arranged. He wrote back, and hit the ceiling. But that was part of a specific campaign to get a Register of Members' Interests, which Eddie Milne, Phillip Whitehead and I and a few others were engaged in. We constantly wrote articles saying that the matter should be brought out into the open and that there should be a register--and eventually a register was brought out.
My point is that the Privileges Committee decided at that time that it would sit in private and would not publish any evidence. I alleged at the time that Members were renting out the banqueting rooms and staging receptions, and that fees of £300 had been paid for scotch whisky receptions on Budget days.
I asked for the catering booking forms so that I could produce them to the Committee, but the Catering Committee said no. I said to the Committee of Privileges that I wanted those booking forms, but I was told that I could not have them. I did not object to the fact that I could not have them, but I did object that the fact that I had asked for them was not even reported in Hansard . None of it was reported in Hansard , and all the report said was that the Committee had sat on several occasions and had had deliberations.
I was asked whether I wanted to go before the Committee--my hon. and learned Friend Arthur Davidson said that I should not go because the lawyers and the Attorney-General would tear me to shreds--or whether I wanted to write and ask questions. I wrote to them ; they asked me questions ; and we wrote back. It went on for months, which was what everybody wanted.
As the October election was coming up in 1974, there was a strange mood around the House. People were saying to me that they knew that I was right, but that we could not fight an election in October while all this was going on. The hon. Member for Slagthorpe, North would come up and say that the hon. Member for Slagthorpe, South might be a bit dodgy, but that the allegation rubbed off on him. "It rubs off on us all," I was told, "so for God's sake drop it."
There was constant pressure on me to drop the matter. I am afraid that I was not a popular person at that time, but the campaign ultimately resulted in the setting up of the Register of Members' Interests. That was not done until two years later when Poulson had gone bankrupt and had had to reveal the payments which he had made. The Committee met again and recommended that three hon. Members--Reggie Maudling, Albert Roberts and John Cordle-- should be suspended for six months. Michael Foot said--I do not think that Labour had a majority then--that there were two Members from one side and only one from the other. We could not have that, as we would be accused of rigging a majority for the Government of the day. There was a tremendous kerfuffle. John Cordle did not wait for the House to decide on the matter, and handed in his resignation. The other two did wait and, I am sad to say, the House divided along political lines--perhaps because of the climate at that time. Reggie Maudling's suspension came up first, and the Conservatives voted solidly against the proposal. When it came to Albert Roberts, the Labour party voted solidly to keep him in as well.
Column 1014We got the Register of Members' Interests set up, but because there was not a clear majority in the House we could not get the House's full agreement. That meant that the register was toothless in a way because, although it said that Members had to register their consultancies, it did not say that they had to register any offers or that the people who were making the offer had to register. That is important because if the people making an offer had to register, nobody would make an offer. It is as simple as that. If it were against the law to make an offer to a Member--which it should be--nobody would make an offer. But we could not get that through the House at the time, and that very important part had to be left out. What we are debating today has a different dimension, and a very important one. The question--with respect to my hon. Friends who were talking about The Sunday Times --is one of bugging. I do not object to newspaper investigations at all. I object to the growth in the use of tape recorders which we have seen in the past two years. I sat on the Select Committee on National Heritage which looked at the matter.
Within the past 18 months, a tape recorder has been placed under a Cabinet Minister's bed, the results of which were then splashed in the papers. In another example an offer of £2,000 was made by a prominent politician at a railway station, and one of the people involved in the incident was wearing a mike. We now have an instance where a conversation has been taped and where telephones have been bugged. The royal family's telephone conversations have been bugged, and then printed. I hope that the Committee will look at the growth of technology which did not exist 20 years ago when the House was not televised and was not even on the radio.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I concur with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. He has been in the Chamber and may not be aware that this afternoon the editor in charge of The Sunday Times Insight team--he is in the Gallery this afternoon and is hearing what I am saying-- admitted on the record that his team had been researching this story and trying to stand it up since January. They had investigated a number of Members, and had been unable to pin the story on any particular Member at any time, and they had to resort to subterfuge to set up the story.
Mr. Ashton : I do not want to comment on what the hon. Gentleman has said. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) said at the beginning of the debate, we should not produce evidence which might be prejudicial to any inquiry. We are talking about the general merits of the matter.
The Committee must certainly take a look at electronic surveillance. That problem has been compared with the banning of journalists from the Terrace because of allegations that they were harassing Members. A long tradition of trust with the journalists' lobby has been built up, but we can no longer talk to journalists without fearing that they may have microphones or tape recorders in their pockets. We can no longer use the telephone without wondering whether we are speaking on lobby terms or whether we are being recorded. The Committee must look into that too, because all this technology is a new dimension of privilege, and the House has never before examined the matter.
Column 1015I tabled my amendment just to make sure that members of the Committee know that everything said in it must be subject to full public scrutiny--perhaps not all the deliberations, but certainly all the evidence given to the Committee.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential that there be a public record ? If there is not, for the next few months there will be nothing but speculation in the newspapers to the effect that the Privileges Committee has heard this or that, or recommended this or that, or probed this or that. We need an open record of what goes on, so that we can all judge on the basis of fact, not hearsay.
Mr. Ashton : My hon. Friend is of course right. I believe that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) made a mistake by going to the Press Complaints Commission. That will only result in a verdict being given by a body before this House gives its verdict, thereby pre-empting it.
I hope that the Committee will adhere to my hon. Friend's suggestion and insist that every scrap of evidence be published. Several hon. Members rose
Madam Speaker : May I draw to the attention of the House the fact that a number of hon. Members want to speak in this debate ? I ask them to exercise voluntary restraint in respect of the length of their speeches. Secondly, I draw their attention to the fact that the motion is a very narrow one, and I hope that they will read it before speaking.
Sir John Gorst (Hendon, North) : Madam Speaker, the day before yesterday I made a complaint to you about bribery and the surreptitious use of bugging devices within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. I begin by setting out the facts on which that complaint was based.
On Wednesday 29 June a Mr. Jonathan Calvert came to see me at the House of Commons by appointment. Several days earlier he had left telephone messages, saying that he wished to discuss a consultancy matter with John Gorst and Associates Ltd., a consultancy that I formed six years before I was elected to this House. It is also registered as a business and public relations consultancy in the Register of Members' Interests.
I took Mr. Calvert, a young man in his late twenties or early thirties, to a bench seat off the Central Lobby, and he immediately explained that he had been left some money which he wished to invest in a drugs company that was unable to establish the facts about an uncommon disease. He spelt it out as an unpronounceable illness called "thising aphonitus infeston". Before deciding whether to proceed with an investment, Mr. Calvert explained that he needed information from the Department of Health about the incidence of this disease. He asked whether I would table a parliamentary question for which he was prepared to pay £1,000. He did not require any regular consultancy ; it was just that one-off question to which he sought an answer.
I explained to him that it was not proper for a Member of Parliament to accept money for tabling questions. He
Column 1016seemed to think that that was either pedantic or unhelpful, so I explained, as The Sunday Times reported, that although it might not be illegal it was certainly not very nice if Members of Parliament asked questions in return for money.
I did not comment, although the thought crossed my mind, that his request was more than somewhat improper. I am used to certain types of business people, unfamiliar with the ways of Parliament, thinking that money can buy whatever they want. So I was inclined to put his request down to ignorance or naivety.
I therefore confined myself to suggesting that if Mr. Calvert set out on paper what he wanted to know and sent it to me I would consider tabling the question for nothing. I could see no objection at that time to asking a question about the incidence of an unusual disease. As Mr. Calvert had ostensibly come to see me about the possibility of my company undertaking consultancy work, I concluded the 10 or 15-minute meeting by saying that, if in the future he felt the need for consultancy, I would be perfectly willing to discuss some sort of arrangement.
I hope that the House will take the view, irrespective of Members' views on the desirability or otherwise of Members having outside interests, that this was a perfectly correct response to both the letter and the spirit of our regulations. Certainly it was a dubious approach, and I hope that I responded correctly.
After Mr. Calvert's departure I consulted a medical dictionary in the Library. There was no reference to the so-called disease he had mentioned. Meanwhile I also decided that there was something that did not quite ring true about Mr. Calvert. At the same time, I was inclined to suspect that he was a slightly cranky individual of a type not unfamiliar to Members of Parliament from their surgeries. Indeed, on checking his telephone number, which was in the Richmond area, I could not understand why he had not consulted his own Member of Parliament. Even though it appeared that his Member was a Minister, there was no good reason why the information that Mr. Calvert sought could not have been obtained by a Minister through normal correspondence.
Thereafter I gave no further thought to Mr. Calvert--or rather, not until Saturday 9 July--10 days later--when I returned a call from The Sunday Times , in the course of which I was informed that the paper intended publishing a report to the effect that two Members of Parliament had accepted money in return for tabling parliamentary questions. It was also revealed to me that the Mr. Calvert who had come to see me in the House of Commons was in fact a member of the paper's staff.
I was indignant at this subterfuge, but more to the point, I recognised that a deliberate, seemingly criminal attempt had been made to bribe me, and that there had been nothing naive or unknowing about the proposition put to me by Mr. Jonathan Calvert.
When, later that evening, I obtained an early edition of The Sunday Times , I also took exception to what I took to be a libellous innuendo. I rang the paper and remonstrated with the editor of the column. During our conversation he revealed to me that he had a transcript of what I had said, thereby making it perfectly clear that Mr. Calvert had been using a concealed recording device throughout our conversation.
Column 1017payment for a one-off service under the heading of consultancy and payment for a consultancy that lasts for a period ?
Sir John Gorst : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am trying to deploy a case. I do not wish to dodge the question, but I hope that he will understand from my subsequent remarks that I am discussing the two points in this motion about which I have personal knowledge.
Hon. Members will be well aware that "Erskine May" states on page 128, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) has already said :
"Attempts by improper means to influence Members in their parliamentary conduct may be considered contempts."
I contend that offering money for tabling a question constitutes such a contempt. Before I reach that point, I hope that the House will allow me to finish what I was saying about Mr. Calvert. It was only because I believed that I was being offered money out of ignorance or naivety rather than duplicity that I did not report the conversation I have outlined sooner. I have explained to the House why I now think differently.
I wish to go further, however, and argue that those who from the start seek in the precincts of the House to cause a Member to commit a contempt by accepting bribes, are themselves guilty of committing a contempt and should be dealt with accordingly. Their motives are irrelevant. They should operate within the laws of Parliament and not above them. Should they seek to justify their conduct on the grounds of public interest, I would submit that they are abusing and usurping powers that properly belong either to Madam Speaker or to the House.
Who are these members of the fourth estate anyway ? Who are these so-called guardians of the public interest who are arrogating to themselves exceptional powers and rights : the right to break the law ; the right to offer felonious bribes ; the right to invade the precincts and privileges of the mother of Parliaments ? Such contemptuous arrogance has not been seen since the days of the robber barons.
The power of the press has grown, is growing and needs to be diminished. As a voice for the grievances of the nation it is essential, invaluable and must not be fettered, but as a power above the law, without accountability, it has no rights, no role and no function in our parliamentary democracy.
There are those who plead eloquently against the erosion of the sovereignty of Parliament in Europe. What price that sovereignty if it is to be subservient to the Murdoch empire, an empire in the ascendant that has a higher budget than the British Empire ever had in its decline ? Against such mighty and overweening assertiveness, what is the value of the ancient, jealously guarded privileges accorded to the elected representatives of the people ? What is their value if they are to be subordinated to the news editor of The Sunday Times , who places his concept of the public interest as superior to that of the constitution ?
Column 1018Finally, I turn to the use of clandestine bugging devices. Although there is no explicit reference to their use in the Palace of Westminster, I would draw the attention of hon. Members to page 115 of "Erskine May" :
"Generally speaking, any act . . . which . . . impedes either House in the performance of its functions, or which . . . has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.".
In this case, such recording devices were used without my knowledge within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster.
The use of bugging devices in any circumstances in the Palace of Westminster could impede uninhibited discussion between Members and Ministers, constituents, or accredited members of the lobby, or between Government and Opposition parties.
As that is a practice not permitted to such authorities as the police, the security forces or indeed any official acting under the authority of you, Madam Speaker, it would be wrong in my view to permit it to journalists. Moreover, the use of recording devices in such circumstances places improper influence and pressure on Members of the House and therefore ought to be treated as a serious contempt.
Bribery and bugging by any section of the media are a gross abuse of Parliament. To censure and outlaw it inside the privileged precincts of the House is not an infringement of the liberty of the press. Those practices are a violation of freedom, not a protection of it.
Corrupt means to expose corruption are a corruption in themselves. We do not sanction corrupt methods in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland, nor should we tolerate them in this place. Deception and trickery are the tools of a totalitarian state ; they have no place in this country.
Across the span of our public life we have a variety of properly constituted inspectorates. Are we now to tolerate a secret self-appointed journalistic police answerable only to the commercial imperatives of the transatlantic Rupert Murdoch ?
If something is to be done--and I support the motion
wholeheartedly--if censure or penalties are to be imposed, I hope that the Committee of Privileges will ensure that The Sunday Times is denied access to any privileged facilities of the Palace of Westminster and that it will not be allowed to return until it has purged its contempt and given assurances that there will be no repetition of this disreputable conduct.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : I support the motion before the House and, as a former member of the Committee of Privileges, I do not wish to comment on the individual cases. The matter of the next Committee will be for the House to determine. However, it is sensible to set the framework against which these issues have come into the public domain.
Without regard to the individual details that have been given, if people observing Parliament, which is widely reported in the press and on television, were to be persuaded that the transactions that we present to them as being a conflict of ideas and interests were really just a cover for financial arrangements which were concealed from them, their confidence in the House would rightly disappear. I have long thought--and I hinted at it in the debate when you were elected to the Chair, Madam Speaker--that the threats to democracy in Britain come from quite
Column 1019surprising places, not least from those who seek to replace our work by moving it to other places at Millbank and elsewhere. It is important that this House, which has a very long history-- I think it is 700 years next year since the model Parliament was called-- should recognise that in a sense the whole development of Parliament has been a struggle by the common people to prevent the country from being run by rich people.
It was the King who conquered--William the Conqueror came to Westminster abbey on Christmas day 1066--and his power was power by conquest. He owned the country, so he ran it. Similarly, when the barons went to Runnymede--an activity sometimes misunderstood as having played a significant part in the development of democracy--the feudal landlords told the King that they were not prepared to have him run the country because they were landlords and they owned the land. The serfs who suffered under the landlords never really benefited from Magna Carta.
I shall not take the House through any more history--we all take school children round this place--but it is worth remembering that in 1832, which is not so very long ago, only 2 per cent. of the population had the vote and they were all rich white men. The Chartists and the suffragettes wanted the vote. Why was that ? It was because they wanted to use the ballot box to countervail the power of money.
That is what the whole parliamentary story is about. People did not want the vote because they had done an A-level in government ; they wanted it in order to buy collectively what they could not afford individually. That is what the history of the labour movement means. People said, "Many of us cannot afford houses or proper education, health care or pensions. We will band together and campaign for the vote. We will then campaign for candidates who, when elected, will be able to use the power of Parliament to countervail the power of money." If we allow that idea to be put in question by giving the impression that money--by means of subterfuge--still runs the proceedings of the House of Commons, we destroy the whole thing at a stroke.
Then there is the question of privilege. There are two views of privilege, one of which is that its purpose is to protect Members of Parliament from being criticised outside. I have never taken that view. Clearly, if a Member of Parliament receives a death threat--"If you vote for such and such a Bill, we will kill you"--that is a breach of privilege. Why is that ? It is because it prevents that Member of Parliament from performing the function for which he or she was elected. Privilege is there to protect the electors, so that the Parliament that they have elected can perform the functions for which they elected it.
The Committee of Privileges recently dealt with an interesting case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). It concerned an employee of Birmingham city council. When that council promoted a Bill to allow a road race in Birmingham, that employee--in his personal capacity--petitioned against it. The council then tried to move him from his job as a punishment for petitioning against his employer.
I am proud to have played some part in what followed. The Committee of Privileges ruled that Birmingham city
Column 1020council was guilty of a breach of privilege by threatening a citizen, thus preventing him from coming to Parliament. I hope that when the Committee meets on this occasion it will bear in mind that view of privilege--that it is there to protect those who elect us so that Parliament can work for them against those who will always seek to get their results by means of money.
Some Members of Parliament are already governed by very strict rules. I take it that the Leader of the House and other Front Benchers are governed by the same rules that governed me when I was a Secretary of State. They are contained in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers", a copy of which I have kept. The document will vary from Government to Government, but it is sent to every Minister by the Prime Minister of the day. My copy is copy No. 21, dated 23 April 1976 ; Jim Callaghan, who was then Prime Minister, sent the memorandum to all of us. I will quote two of the rules.
The first of those rules states :
"It is a well-established and recognised rule that no Minister or public servant should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone which would, or might appear to, place him under an obligation."
The second passage, which is equally short, states :
"It is a principle of public life that Ministers must so order their affairs that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their private interests and their public duties."
My opinion--which I submitted, unsuccessfully, to the Select Committee on Members' Interests--is that every Member of Parliament should be covered by those rules. What is so special about Ministers that they are public servants ? Are we not public servants ? Do we not table questions ? I table many questions for business men who come to me and say, "I have an invention" or "I have an export problem", but I would not dream of either expecting or receiving money for doing that, either in a personal capacity or by setting myself up as a consultant. I do not put myself in any position above that, but Members of Parliament are elected to act as consultants to the British people : that is what we are here for.
Why do people write to Members of Parliament and visit their surgeries ? It is because they want our advice : they want to consult us about how their problems might be resolved. That argument, I think, is both powerful and easy to advance, because the rules are already there for Ministers. I presume that the current wording is very similar to what I read out, although it may vary slightly--indeed, the present Government published the rules.
When I put the matter to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, it would not allow the document to be published. It was frightened, because the document was marked "confidential". Ministers were governed by rules that were secret, while the rest of us were not. We often boast that we are a high court of Parliament. If that is so, Members taking the oath should swear to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Rather than being an oath of allegiance to the Crown--I shall not go into that now--the oath that we take in the House should have some bearing on the duties that we perform. I drafted such an oath and submitted a Bill that dealt with it. It read :
"I . . . Solemnly declare and affirm
That I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the peoples of the United Kingdom, according to their respective laws and customs"
that is from the coronation oath
"preserving inviolably their civil liberties and democratic rights . . . through their elected representatives in the House of