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Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : When we bring visitors around this place and they attempt to sit down on the green Benches, they are shouted at by the policemen. I have often wondered why that happened. I found out--I do not know whether the story is true--that it is not allowed on the ground that it could just be that someone sat in the place where their Member of Parliament sat and pushed a bribe down the back of the seat. I must say that, religiously, for the last 11 years I have looked down the back of my seat and I have never found any used fivers, indeed, not even a 50p piece. So bribery has affected and has interested the House over many years. Since I was elected, I notice that I have tabled 6,919 questions. If I had received £1,000 a throw for each of those, I would have
Column 1034netted a cool £7 million, which would have meant I could have faxed this speech from Mustique or some other exotic place.
Criticism of The Sunday Times is simply out of place. If not one hon. Member had accepted the £1,000, we would have had a strong case for referring The Sunday Times to the Committee of Privileges, if, indeed, we had ever found out about it, which somehow I doubt. However, two hon. Members did accept the bait and they have done themselves and the rest of the House a grave disservice. I listened carefully to the speech made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). It was a difficult speech for him to make and we were right to listen to it very carefully. With respect, I would have had more sympathy with him if I had not heard him recently attacking members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers for trying to get a decent return for their services in operating the railway--£1,000 would have gone down very well there.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : None of us, of course, is conducting a trial. We are trying to establish the ground rules for the Committee, which will look into the matter. Since the matter has implications for the whole House, because, as several hon. Members have pointed out, the perception of people outside is affected by it, may I ask my hon. Friend a fairly straight question ? If The Sunday Times had asked 20 hon. Members to take money and no one had taken it, would the paper have run that as a major story ?
Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend obviously missed the point, but I said that I doubted very much that we would have heard of the story. But the fact is that we have heard of it and, of course, we now have to deal with it. I do not think that we should turn it into a general attack on The Sunday Times or the press, although we can all feel disquiet about the way in which it went about getting its information. Regrettably, it did get some evidence and we must address that and not attack The Sunday Times .
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was right. There is a view among people outside that we are all in this place for ourselves. It is not true, we know that it is not true, but, unfortunately, incidents such as this do not help.
I am very worried about the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), which is the reason why I am making this speech. He began by suggesting that consultancies were, in many respects, no different from the one-off payment. That worries me because I have a number of consultancies and I must consider that. I act as a parliamentary adviser to three trade unions, for which I receive intermittent payments, which go to my constituency. I also receive money from the International Fund for Animal Welfare to pay a full-time worker because I do much work in that area. I table a lot of questions connected with animal welfare. They are not specifically requested and they are not paid for on a question-by- question basis. However, the sort of things that are being said place worries in my mind and make me feel that we should look carefully at the issue. I may add, I also act as the parliamentary adviser to the London Association of Beekeepers, for which I receive 12 pots of honey and I would pleased to give you one, Madam Speaker, if you were to need it.
At the end of last year, I gave a cheque to the Fees Office for £8, 000 : the excess of my office costs. Those consultancies paid for that, in effect. I am putting those points on the record because one needs to consider them as well.
It is quite clear that the Register of Members' Interests is deficient, which our good friend, our dear, departed colleague Bob Cryer was always saying. First, if we are to declare interests, we must declare how much we receive. Secondly, we must declare from whom that money comes and, thirdly, for what was that money given, what services were provided in exchange for that money. Interests must either be transparent so that everyone can see them, or we must stop them completely and say that Members of Parliament cannot serve any outside interest whatever for which they receive payments. That may be the way in which to go forward, but the Committee of Privileges must consider it.
Whatever emerges from this highly unfortunate matter, it is clear that we cannot continue in the way in which we currently operate. If we bring about a change which restores us in the eyes of those we serve, The Sunday Times should be thanked for doing us a great service.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : I was grateful to be given the chance to intervene during the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) but my intervention did not quite come out in the way that I intended.
I agree that many people think that we should not have a continuous line of people ruling the country without letting ordinary people come in for one generation or for five years or 10 years. That was one of the reasons why on a previous occasion I argued with the right hon. Gentleman that there was good reason for having the House of Lords, so that some families who are continually represented in Parliament may have a seat without keeping the rest of us out. The other point about which I feel strongly is that the greatest power over Members of Parliament, the way in which they vote and what they do is the Whips, the party system, which I expressed inelegantly in my intervention.
However, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield has said that, both in opposition and in government, hon. Members may find themselves losing an argument and then being asked in public to say things that they cannot say whole-heartedly, to put it gently, and merely do the best that they can. I suspect that there is far more of that behaviour than there is of hon. Members who may be bought or induced to do something for money.
I hope that the Committee, if it is the right one, will quickly say that, for tabled written and oral questions, there should be a distinguishing mark to indicate areas in which hon. Members have an interest in the same way that the first hon. Member listed on an early-day motion is marked. I do not understand why the first hon. Member only is marked as having an interest and not every other hon. Member who has signed it. There may be logistical problems, but I think that only the first name of the six is marked. I apologise if I have got that wrong, but I believe that I have described the situation accurately.
Column 1036We ought to have a system which induces the best to happen and reduces the worst. There are fewer bought Members of Parliament now than there were in the 1930s. I am not saying that all those who were subsidised from outside in the 1930s were bad Members of Parliament. The House has good reason to be grateful to some who were supported, even by newspaper editors, during their times in the wilderness. I declare that I once received £200 from The Sunday Times for writing an article.
When I was in Government at a junior level for a time, someone asked me if I kept a diary. I said no. They said that, if I kept a diary, I would be able to earn more money, have more accurate and more interesting reflections and that the details which might be a blur six years later would be down in black and white, with who said what to whom. They said that that would make a good living afterwards or would help to illuminate the process of government. It is difficult to be clear about what is right and what is wrong, but having a discussion about it is a good idea.
I disagree with those who think that we ought to apply the same standards for the press and for Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament should set what we expect to be our minimum standards and the press in general should set what it expects to be its minimum standards. Our standards should be higher than those of the press. There are parallels between the activities of a Back-Bench Member of Parliament and an editor of a newspaper. It is not the written rules which basically control what we say on the Floor of the House, but what people around us are willing to tolerate. It is fair to say that people around journalism are willing to tolerate more, on a consistent basis, that is wrong than we are in the House. There is as much ambition and competition to be the writer of a front-page story in The Sunday Times as there is to be elected to this House and to serve as a Member of Parliament. I am not saying that that ambition and competition always produces bad people. It does not. Indeed, it produces some of the very best. On the way, however, there are casualties. The way in which newspapers proceed and the habits that they adopt deserve examination, preferably by them.
I hope that the Committee of Privileges will be able to bring in special advisers on the press. I hope, for example, that it will consult someone like Professor Stephenson from City university, who runs a journalism course. I hope also that it will take advice from someone like Ray Snoddy of the Financial Times , who is one of the more respected of those who comment on the media. It would be appropriate to ask someone like that who could provide advice to the Committee of Privileges on the elements of the reference that relate to the conduct of the press.
I hope also that the Committee will produce separate reports on the parliamentary side and the press side. To bundle everything in one report would be wrong and would help to distract attention from initiatives that might properly be taken that would be useful, effective and proportionate.
As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, it is to be hoped that the Committee will pay attention to the Salmon committee's recommendation,
Column 1037which reflects, probably, the most pointed contribution that has been made to the debate. That could make a difference. It would allow whistle blowers throughout the country to say, "I have some knowledge of a payment. Was it declared by the person who made the payment ?" That might lead to a self-checking system.
I have the feeling that the press makes a significant contribution to our country because most of us want to try to do things that the press will not be able to nail us for.
My personal test--I do not pretend to be especially good at all this--is that of the local newspaper. I ask myself whether I am doing something that I am prepared to read about in my local newspaper. If the answer is yes, I ask myself whether I have sent it a press notice. I know, of course, that it will ignore it.
Let us suppose that I am going to the middle east with the Israeli Government or the Palestine Liberation Organisation, or both, or to another area of the world. Am I willing to say it out loud ? If I am, have I done it ? That is guidance that I have found useful. We should have the courage to say almost anything in public. If it is said on the Floor of the House, it can be virtually guaranteed that the press will ignore it. If it is taken up, however, it will come as no surprise and it will appear somewhere on the record. My first parliamentary question was tabled two years before I was elected to this place. The late Sir Brandon Rhys Williams kindly agreed to table a question on family allowance for the first child. Many people want questions answered in Parliament for many different reasons. It is not a new concept and it is not a bad one. I hope that we shall not give those outside the idea that it is bad to contact a Member and ask for information or help.
Yesterday, at my surgery, I dealt with many different cases. I hope that constituents will never feel shy or embarrassed--the issues may involve business or personal matters, immigration, tax problems or criminal proceedings--in approaching their Member because any of us has been put off, as it were, from the job that we were elected to do.
I regret that which has caused the debate. I believe that the reference to the Committee of Privileges is the right response. The procedure is the best way of getting these issues off the Floor of the House after a short debate. There can be a better debate when we have received the considered views of those who have taken evidence. There can be no secret sources in this story with the exception of the person who originally said to journalists, "I think that people are taking money that they should not be taking." I look forward to knowing that the Committee of Privileges has had all the tape recordings, all the journalists' notes and all the electronic records in the newspaper's files. On the one occasion that I had seriously to go to law with a newspaper it transpired that most of the things that some of the staff had been saying after I had first made my complaint were falsehoods.
We should follow the audit trail. I understand the problems that may ensue when stories change, but in this instance there should be no secret sources. All the information should be available to the Committee.
Column 10386.43 pm
I remain concerned that there may be a stitch-up by the Committee of Privileges over its report. I am concerned about the Committee's composition. I refer my hon. Friends to your ruling yesterday, Madam Speaker. You said :
"Of course all the rules of the House will be respected."--[ Official Report , 12 July 1994 ; Vol. 246, c. 831.]
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the resolution in paragraph 24 of the first report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1991, which I referred to yesterday, which deals with conflict of interest. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman, when replying to the debate, should give us an assurance that no Members who are consultants to any organisation will be a member of the Committee of Privileges to be appointed.
Furthermore, no Members should be appointed to it who are directors of companies which have lobbied, are lobbying or could in future lobby Ministers on behalf of those companies, or ask questions or table motions. I believe--[ Hon. Members :-- "And trade unions ?"] Yes, trade unions as well.
We need specific assurances on these matters. If they are not forthcoming, the public will accuse the Committee of Privileges of stitching up a bad report.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I do not take the view that is taken by some outside this place, that the House of Commons is more or less corrupt and that every Member can be bribed to table questions or to act for commercial lobbyists. If a comparison were to be made with other Parliaments, I believe it likely that the House would be found to be relatively clean. It does no service to the cause of parliamentary democracy to give a different impression. For a considerable time, however, as my right hon. and hon. Friends know, there has been anxiety about the way in which parliamentary facilities, such as questions, early-day motions and letters to Ministers, can be used for commercial purposes.
I remember the controversy before the Register of Members' Interests was introduced. It was argued that we were all honourable Members, and that there was no need for a register. Those who took that view said that the register would impugn our motives even in tabling a question. Now that Enoch Powell is no longer a Member, no one, as far as I am aware, disputes the need for a register. It is accepted.
I see little value in a register that does not give real information about the value of an outside interest. I have written to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests--the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)--on several occasions, and my point was pursued. My view is simple and clear. Why not give the value of the outside interest ? Is it small or large ? Why should we not be told ? Why should the public not be given that information ? Why should a Member feel that the interest is so secretive that in no circumstances should it be revealed ?
We all know that there is little or no effective control over lobbyists and the manner in which they use the House.
Column 1039There is a film--many of us want to see it- -that sets out the way in which certain lobbyists go about their business. That is the sort of film that we should see.
I can remember the various occasions when our late colleague, Bob Cryer, raised these matters. He did so not to undermine or discredit Parliament but to ensure that we had a clean Parliament. He wanted to ensure that, where there were outside interests, lobbyists, and payments being made to Members, that information should be available and that everything should be above board. He took that view in the name of parliamentary democracy. In my view, he was right. Incidentally, we much miss him and the work that he undertook day after day in the House.
It is understandable that criticism has been made about The Sunday Times . As I said in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), I think that on the whole The Sunday Times did a job that needed to be done. It is almost inevitable that in future, if we table a question and we have an interest, we shall be expected to declare that interest. That reform will almost certainly come about. The debate is taking place in the light of what The Sunday Times did.
I am always willing to criticise newspapers, but in trying to spotlight a weakness in our parliamentary procedure--outside interests and commercial interests-- The Sunday Times did no harm. It will be for the Committee of Privileges to tell me that I am wrong. My view is that The Sunday Times acted in the public interest. If anything, it should be congratulated.
There is a cynical attitude outside this place. Perhaps some Conservative Members will disagree with me, but it is felt by some that we are all in politics for our own good, that more or less all of us can be bought, and all the rest of it. We must dispel that view. We must make the point clearly that we are not in it for our own interests. We must make it clear that Parliament and parliamentary democracy are of the greatest value to the British people and that all our civil liberties would not last five minutes without this place. That is the historical value of the House of Commons.
It is unfortunate that people have a cynical attitude to Parliament. It is essential that we dispel that attitude, not only in our interests as individual Members, but in the interests of parliamentary democracy and our successors in the years, and hopefully centuries, during which this place will continue. It is essential that we do that in the interests of what we are trying to establish and maintain.
There is, perhaps linked to the cynical view, a great deal of concern over what has occurred and what the two hon. Members are accused of. After our debate today, the matter will go to a Committee and it could then be more or less buried. The summer recess is coming up and, by the time the Committee meets, other matters will be on the agenda and public and parliamentary interest in this matter might have faded away.
I hope that we will have a report by the end of the year. These are matters of crucial importance. However much hon. Members may have criticised The Sunday Times , I do not believe any hon. Member has disputed the fact that these matters are important. If the matters are important and if they are to go to the Privileges Committee, we should have a report as quickly as possible. I hope that the Leader of the House will bear that point in mind because
Column 1040that view is shared by many hon. Members. Obviously the report will be debated and it may be disputed. However, we should not leave it in abeyance for a year or so. The sooner we have that report, the better for this House and for our reputation.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : May I first apologise fervently to you, Madam Speaker, for attempting on 11 July to raise a point of order which you ruled out of order because I was trying to suggest that more issues should be considered than just the behaviour of individual Members ? I should, of course, have realised that you would have considered the issue more widely and the statement that you made yesterday showed that.
Madam Speaker : Order. Points of order are concerned with our Standing Orders or breaches of procedure. I caution Members not to raise points of order just because they want to make a point or a comment, which is what so often happens.
The point that I was trying to make is very salient to today's debate. I wish to suggest, like many other hon. Members, that the remit of the Privileges Committee should be to look seriously at the inadequacies of the register that we hold at this moment. I tried to make the point that the value of the interest is important. Sadly, I disagree with my good friend and someone I have admired for some time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who suggested, rather weakly, that value should not be included in the register. That undermined the very splendid case that he made. I also disagree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). He is another good friend of mine and someone I admire. He said that a consultancy was in some way different from taking an individual payment for a particular issue. He said that it was all about a marriage. I suggest that all hon. Members are already married. To take a consultancy is an infidelity, because we are married to our constituents and to the people we represent. It is actually a bit on the side, when one is so good that one is paid for the service one renders. That is totally inappropriate to this House.
Anything that anyone does in this House which is directly related to influencing the business of the Houses of Parliament or clearly designed by action or inaction to do that should be done only because of someone's beliefs or judgment and not because there is any question of influence by the taking of money for anything that connects us to a party outside which can profit from our actions in this House. We are here to represent our constituents and their interests in a broader frame.
I have stated in the House, and have put it on the record, that I receive money, or my constituency party receives money, from the Union of Communication Workers. It is entirely consistent with the wishes of my constituency party that I defend the Post Office and post office workers. If there were ever a difference, I would suggest to my constituency party that it should let that money go by, so that I could represent my constituents properly and honestly.
Column 1041I attempted to raise the question of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who asked a question about power in Scottish Question Time on 6 July. That hon. Member is a consultant to Scottish Power. He admits that he has a car from Scottish Power. He has not, in fact, declared how much he has in the register. It was interesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead, whose entry is next to that of the hon. Member for Ayr, has entered the fact that he is an unpaid political consultant for an organisation.
Mr. Bill Walker : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not the convention of the House that, if an hon. Member is going to make points about another hon. Member, courtesy requires that that hon. Member should be notified about that in advance ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I had assumed that, in this debate, Members would be very circumspect, and that that is what happened. Has the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) notified the hon. Member concerned ?
As a result of what I have described, articles appeared in the Daily Record . In my opinion, and in the opinion of other hon. Members who have spoken, someone who receives a consultancy fee should enter it so that people know the value that is placed on the services.
The question that occurred to me was, what is a consultancy for ? The hon. Member for Ayr has said that he has not asked any questions on behalf of Scottish Power in the time that he has been a member of this place and has been a consultant. It appears to me that, if a company is willing to pay a large sum of money, as yet unspecified as it is not declared in the Register of Members' Interests, and someone does nothing on that company's behalf for two years, that company is getting a very bad deal.
No one in the public domain outside this House believes for a minute that, if someone takes a consultancy fee, something is not being done for it to advantage those who pay the fee.
As an hon. Member who pays Scottish Power for his electricity, I am concerned that it is paying a sum of money to an hon. Member to do nothing for the company or for me as one of its customers. That does not make sense. It does not stack up.
Mr. Foulkes : Does my hon. Friend accept that it is always possible to pay someone to keep quiet ? The fact that Scottish Power is planning to build a huge interconnector through my constituency, about which the
Column 1042hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has kept completely quiet despite the fact that many of his constituents are up in arms about it, may have some connection with that.
Mr. Connarty : The point has been well made, and I do not need to repeat it. It seems to me that silence can be bought as much as speech. That is a matter of judgment for the electors in the constituency of Ayr.
My point is that there is a question about immunity and privilege in the House in respect of what people can say in the House about members of the public outside, who may be entirely and utterly innocent. When I took up a case in the medical field, I was threatened on occasions by an organisation called the Medical Protection Association. It said that it would take litigation against me. I squared it with the association by telling it that, if it thought that I would be silenced by that threat, it was not on. We have that privilege to protect us in speaking on behalf of our constituents.
When that privilege is abused, and when someone consistently gets up and accuses, on the record, council officials, councillors, or a council of being corrupt and of using dubious practices, such people sully the names of many hard-working officials in local authorities up and down the country. That happened in respect of the hon. Members for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) and for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in respect of Monklands. They did that continually and without justification. I sat in this place at 2 am to defend those officials, whom I know to be honest, upright citizens. The Privileges Committee should consider how we can curtail that kind of thing.
I repeat the words of Lord Whitelaw, which were quoted earlier. The point of this House is to set a good example. It should be part of the Committee's remit to see how we can better set a good example. My father used to say : "Civility costs nothing, and honesty earns admiration." That should be the aim of the Privileges Committee. 6.59 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown : In moving my motion, I sought to do two things : to refer to the Privileges Committee the allegations contained in The Sunday Times article, and the circumstances in which they were made, and separately, to refer to the Privileges Committee the wider questions of the public duties and private interests of Members of Parliament. All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have emphasised different aspects, but no one has spoken against the motion. Therefore, I assume that the motion commands a consensus in the House, and I hope that it will be agreed without a Division. Question put and agreed to.
That the matter of the complaint, together with the issues referred to in the statement by the Speaker on 12th July, be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My understanding is that my name was raised in the Chamber a short time ago, and the individual who raised it suggested that I had been informed that that was his intention. That is not the case ; I have had no
Column 1043information about it. I accept that, last Monday, I was informed belatedly that my name was to be raised, but today I have received no such notification.
I understand that the comments made on Monday referred to the question that I asked at Scottish Question Time about nuclear generation. I want to make it quite clear that nuclear generation has nothing to do with Scottish Power--with which, I openly acknowledge, I have an association.
Madam Speaker : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that quite clear. I went out of my way only a few moments ago to ask twice very clearly whether the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) had informed the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) that he was to refer to him in this debate. I accepted the word of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East, as an honourable Member of the House, that he had informed the hon. Member for Ayr beforehand. I seem to have been mistaken in that--perhaps I might now have an explanation.
Mr. Connarty : If you, Madam Speaker, did say, "in this debate" I apologise. I do not recall you saying that. I did, quite timeously, inform the hon. Gentleman, and phoned his office on Monday. I said that I would be raising the issue of his connection with the consultancy, and that
Madam Speaker : Order. Let me make it quite clear : I twice during this debate referred to the matter. I deprecate the answer that the hon. Gentleman has given me. We shall now move on with our business.
Considered in Committee.
[Mr. Michael Morris-- in the Chair ]
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill. 7.2 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Clause 1 is important. It provides an opportunity for several countries to join the European Community. If we do not approve the clause, that opportunity will not arise. I wish to make three points that I hope the Committee will consider in relation to clause 1 only.
First, I hope that the Committee will bear it in mind that the countries of the European Economic Area have had one of the most shameful and scandalous tricks played on them about the EEA. They were approached in 1989 by Mr. Jacques Delors about the idea of an EEA, which was presented as an attractive half-way house that would give its members the advantages of the single European market without giving away their sovereignty and neutrality.
Now that we know the details of the EEA, it is abundantly clear that all those countries have to accept about 60 per cent. of every EC law, whether or not they are a member. I hope that we shall bear it in mind when considering the clause that when we offer those countries an opportunity, it is not nearly as significant as some people think. It is not a choice between liberty and abandoning liberty, but a political decision. The countries have to obey the majority of EC laws, but they play no part in their drafting. Secondly, while Ministers gave us assurances in the earlier stages of the discussions when we were considering the merits of the Bill, I hope that our friends in Norway and Sweden will bear it in mind that all the assurances given to other applicants many years ago have been shown to be virtually bogus. That still happens. Hon. Members will remember that when Britain was joining the EC, we were told that it would lead to a dramatic improvement in trade with the EC. We always had a positive trade with Europe before we joined, but we now have a cumulative deficit of £100,000 million, which has done grave damage to our economy. We were also told that membership would provide a great boost to jobs. The continent is awash with unemployment and the EC faces a more serious economic problem than most other parts of the world where there are no wars.
Thirdly, I hope that Norway will consider the assurances that we have given to our fishermen. I represented a Scottish constituency at the time and was astonished at the extent to which fishermen in Scotland and England voted for the EC because they were in no doubt that a clear assurance had been given that all would be well with the fishing industry. We have seen for ourselves that
Column 1045the value of the catch of North sea fish achieved by the British fishing industry has declined by more than three quarters since we joined.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, especially to what he has to say about the fishing industry which, as he knows, is close to my heart. When the Foreign Secretary presented the Bill on Second Reading, he said that the accession of Norway would provide British fishermen with great opportunities from 1997 onwards. Is the hon. Gentleman a little sceptical about that promise ?