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Tony Wright: That is a most interesting and revealing intervention. It is best answered by a short extract from the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, published in 1995. In the section on Members of Parliament, paragraph 13 states:

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Paragraph 15 states:

We are not talking about a small handful.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman quotes accurately from the first report of the Nolan committee. However, he will admit that, after we take away Ministers, there were about 230 Conservative Members in the previous Parliament. I was one and I did not have any consultancies, and many of my hon. Friends did not, either. Out of the 389 Members of Parliament mentioned, quite a few--at least 150 and possibly more--were from parties other than the Conservative party. Indeed, most of them were from the Labour party, and I make that point in a spirit of bipartisanship.

Tony Wright: That is a nice try, but it is simply not true. The figures are entirely clear. I do not make my point in a churlish or ungenerous spirit, because it is a matter of historical record that the previous Parliament, I am afraid, was contaminated by the behaviour of large numbers of Conservative Members of Parliament. We ought to put that point on the record, but we should put it behind us. Thank goodness, the Neill committee was set up to do something about the problem and, thank goodness, it managed to do things that the House had failed to do over many years.

Paragraph 49 of the first report of the Nolan committee sums up the position. It states:

Mr. Bercow: I am a little worried by the hon. Gentleman's propensity to smear or, at least, to seek to smear. Will he, therefore, tell the House how many of the people to whom he has just referred were found to be guilty of wrongdoing?

Tony Wright: I am surprised when hon. Members ask such questions, because they are almost an invitation to go through the whole wretched roll call again. I am more than happy to do that. I have the roll call with me, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that going through it would embarrass him far more than it would detain me. In a spirit of generosity towards him, I do not think that it would be helpful to do that. However, I am sure that I have friends here who would be more than happy to toss names into the pot and to remind the House of these great episodes of the past.

I am perplexed by the Opposition's approach to this issue. Why on earth do they want to return to the issue of the Committee on Standards in Public Life? Every time that they return to the issue, it revives all these blessed memories. It tells the British public again why the committee was set up in the first place and what its history is.

Even more, I cannot understand why the Conservative party wanted to ennoble the wretched Ashcroft. All that it did was revive the same memories. Why, having spent

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years trying to bury that history, do Conservative Members want to resurrect it by such an outrageous act? It brings back all the memories of why on key issues, such as party funding, the previous Government resolutely refused--despite being asked many times--to refer the issue of party funding to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. They would not do it, because they were dreadfully embarrassed about the secrecy surrounding the Conservative party's accounts and the fact that it was funded by a small number of individuals, most of whom were based abroad. Therefore, we were not able to have the type of public scrutiny that we should have had. It took this Government to refer the issue of party funding to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and to proceed with detailed legislation following from that inquiry.

Dr. Julian Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman will not give us a number, will he not tell us whether he is trying to suggest that the many people who held consultancies were all guilty of wrongdoing? If he is not trying to suggest that, what was the point of his saying what he said? He seems to think that the previous Government included people who were guilty of wrongdoing and that they were manifestly punished at the polls by being ejected from office in such large numbers. However, if he thinks that that will stop the present Opposition from holding this Government to account, he has got another think coming. We will expose their wrongdoing as rigorously as though there had never been the problems for which most of us were not responsible in the past.

Tony Wright: The words and the figures that I gave were not mine; they were Lord Nolan's. I merely reminded the House of the context in which his inquiry was established, the evidence that he pointed to and the links that he made.

However, as the hon. Gentleman invites me to reflect more on this serious issue, I shall consider what has happened to trust in public life in the same period. We can have a party political battle and it is the Opposition's job to make useful political mischief out of the headlines of the day. We all know that is what it is about. However, the underlying issue is how people perceive the political system and the trust that they have in it. That is far more fundamental than the party political battle.

The biggest indictment that I would level against the Conservative party is not so much the individual incidents that took place, but the corrosion over that period of the fundamental trust that people have in public life, politicians and the political process. If we lose that trust and it is eroded, it is very hard to claw it back. Lest the hon. Gentleman is about to intervene to ask me whether I am making that up, let me assure him that I am not. According to the annual British attitudes social survey, by the mid-1990s fewer than one in four people trusted British Governments to put the interests of the nation above those of party. That is a fall of 16 percentage points on the previous decade. That was the effect on trust in politicians and public life in that period whereas the proportion had been more or less constant for the decade before the mid-1980s.

I referred to a period of steep decline in public trust, but that began to recover just before the 1997 election. In fact, its recovery was associated with the establishment

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of the Nolan committee. When people saw that something was being done about the problem, there was the beginning of a recovery in the figures for the trust that people have. I do not make the point in a partisan sense, but that trust grew sharply during the 1997 election and grew even more sharply afterwards. In 1996, although 25 per cent. of people strongly agreed with the statement that parties were interested only in their votes and not in their opinions, that figure had fallen to 20 per cent. by the time of the 1997 election. After polling day, it fell to 14 per cent. The cheering news from those figures is that, despite the catastrophic erosion of people's trust in politics and public life in the 1990s, it has been possible to reverse the trend. I take that to be a rather good development.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman is a versatile specimen, so I should like to tax him on the breach of trust involved in briefings against Ministers. If Alastair Campbell was not, as is widely supposed, responsible, who was responsible for describing the Chancellor of the Exchequer in every national newspaper as "psychologically flawed"?

Tony Wright: As I said, it is the Opposition's job to make political mischief and they are fully entitled to do that. I wish them well, but it is a wearisome business.

As I have been invited to say something about the issue, however, may I point out that I am astonished by the outbreak of what one might call political virginity among the political classes? It is though it is a shock and a revelation to learn that politicians like to be liked, like to be liked more than their colleagues and try to ensure that the world knows that they are liked more than their colleagues. [Hon. Members: "Ah."] As I said, this bogus political virginity is extraordinary. I take the fact that politicians want to be liked as an axiom of political life at all times in all places. The idea that that fact is somehow something about which the world should know is extraordinary. It is an interesting political game to play; it is probably more interesting than chasing after real issues.

I should like to make one further, perhaps more substantial, point on the matter, because it concerns me.

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