Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Letter from Lord Harris of High Cross to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards


  I am venturing to write as one who has known Neil Hamilton well since his student days and who has followed his career closely ever since. I am therefore able to declare from direct knowledge over almost 30years that he has been unwaveringly consistent in the causes he has espoused and I know of no exceptions to that course of conduct. Indeed, it was because I largely share his dedication and beliefs that I felt no hesitation in composing the attached letter (5 October 1996) which was duly published in The Daily Telegraph. Accordingly, I would say that Guardian and other journalists who have repeated the foul accusations by Mr Fayed, that he is principally motivated by money and his opinions could be bought, demonstrate that they simply do not know the man.

  I vividly remember first meeting Neil Hamilton as an outstanding Conservative student leader at Aberystwyth in 1969. He stood out as a high-spirited, articulate exponent of the classical conception of free society. He liked to provoke more earnest left-wingers by proposing ideas that are now commonplace but were then characterised as extreme (like ending rent controls, denationalising the coal mines and privatising the welfare state). These extravagances were made palatable to the main student body by an irrepressible sense of fun.

  Despite much student tomfoolery, he was always a totally serious student of the publications of the Institute of Economic Affairs (which I ran for 30 years) and similar "think tanks". From there, he went on to develop a rare understanding of the scholarly writings of Hayek, Friedman, Adam Smith, etc. His deep commitment to monetarist and free market ideas predated by many years the emergence of "Thatcherism" after 1979.

  One among many libertarian causes Mr Hamilton and I share is upholding the rights of adult smokers. Indeed, I am chairman of FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) of which he has been a member for many years. Whatever view is taken of personal health risks, we believe it to be the hallmark of a free society that adults should be able to make up their own minds about such indulgences so long as no harm is caused to others. (Extensive epidemiological research on so-called "passive smoking" has failed to show a statistically significant correlation with cancer, which has a wide variety of causes.)   Accordingly, Neil Hamilton's support for US Tobacco over the "Skoal Bandits" was entirely predictable and completely in line with his philosophical approach over many years. Yet he was criticised for putting down a motion to annul draft regulations to ban Skoal Bandits, notwithstanding that these regulations were later over-ruled in a High Court action which will be known to your Mr Pleming as junior Treasury Counsel in that case.

  In the 1980s, before this miserable press campaign on "sleaze", I was by no means alone in thinking Hamilton clearly marked out for political advancement, hardly less certainly than Portillo, Redwood or Lilley. Indeed, qualities that led me to prefer Neil Hamilton were his candour and courage in revealing his true mind and his less inhibited, cheerful, even jocular style of discourse.

  It must be admitted that in debate he could deploy a caustic turn of phrase that must have made some enemies, especially among the slower-witted or ideological opposed. The Guardian can at least be credited with having singled-out for destruction one of that highly ideological paper's most formidable political foes.

Ralph Harris

26 February 1997

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Prepared 8 July 1997