HC Deb 16 March 1972 vol 833 cc759-62
Q3. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will establish new machinery for scrutiny of the Honours system.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Hamilton

Did the Prime Minister read the article in the Spectatorof 4th March dealing with the conferring of a knighthood on a certain individual, allegedly for charitable purposes? This individual was in the Prime Minister's list and is alleged to have given £600,000 to the European Movement, for which charity the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) was a principal sponsor—[Interruption.]—taking his usual cut—[Hon. Members: "Shame."]—and the Prime Minister was the most enthusiastic supporter of that Movement. The article therefore impugned the honour of the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Louth. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore not consider that the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. David James

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to cast a reflection on another hon. Member who is not in his place?

Mr. Speaker

It is the convention of the House that if any kind of imputation is to be made notice is given to the hon. Member concerned.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to that point of order. I gave notice to the hon. Member for Louth of my intention to raise this matter. I have not yet had a reply from him.

The Prime Minister

The article to which the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) referred consisted of a succession of nasty innuendoes based on a series of unfounded and completely irresponsible statements. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have used his opposition to European policies to attack a distinguished man—[Interruption.]—and his opposition to Her Majesty's Government to attack a very distinguished man who has made this country his home, who has contributed greatly to its prosperity, and who has made a quite outstanding contribution to charities, in particular to medical care and research, to cancer research, to the creation of a Welsh sports centre, and to the national sports centre which is now under construction in Islington.

This recommendation came to me, as Prime Minister, through the normal machinery after proper scrutiny. The dates indicated in the article are completely untrue. I therefore immensely regret that this distinguished man should have been attacked in this way.

Mr. Harold Wilson

It is always regrettable when matters of this kind are debated in the House—by tradition they are not—but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, to express regret for the words he used to so distinguished a pro-Marketeer as my hon. Friend? [Interruption.] Will he, secondly, give a great deal of thought to this problem? Will he confirm that it is an extremely difficult and delicate matter for Prime Ministers from either side of the House—[Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter. I am trying to get this issue taken out of the kind of atmosphere in which hon. Gentlemen opposite apparently want it to be. If they object to that, I am quite prepared to stop trying.

The question of recommendations to the Queen—which are uniquely within the power of the Prime Minister—on charity always raises difficult questions. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there was deep consideration of this matter by an independent committee on the ground that nobody wants anybody to be able to pay a price to buy an award. On the other hand, people who have spent a lifetime of dedication to charity should not be penalised thereafter.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this individual, who has been widely respected and, indeed, recommended—[Interruption.] I cannot understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite keep interrupting me. If there is any objection to my pursuing this matter, I shall be happy to sit down, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman feels that what I am saying is helpful to what we are trying to discuss—[Interruption.]—and is showing up some of the hooligans who are seated behind him. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that what I have just said is true? Will he further agree—[Interruption.]

Sir D. Walker-Smith

In regard to my right hon. Friend's alleged mistake about the sentiments of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) concerning our entry into the Community, may I ask him if it would not be easier, and avoid confusion, if all hon. Members voted on this question in accordance with their views and principles?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman had been supporting us in the Lobby I would gladly have been paying tribute to him, but he will be the first to agree that that is not the case.

In reply to the Leader of the Opposition, I agree entirely with his comments. It has long been the tradition in this country that individuals who have made personal sacrifices in various ways have received recognition. As the Leader of the Opposition was, I think, beginning to say, there is a proper procedure by which this is handled. That was followed in this case.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman was also about to say that there had been previous recommendations; I did not, however, wish to refer to the period when he was Prime Minister. Nevertheless, as he raised it, I gladly endorse everything that he said.

Mr. Wilson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those remarks. The reason why I did not complete what I wanted to say was the behaviour of certain hon. Gentlemen opposite—[Interruption.] I am not being touchy. This is a matter for which the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone, is responsible. The same has been true of previous Prime Ministers. [Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to exercise their normal political reaction to most things that are said from this side of the House, then on this issue they are only making it more difficult for the Prime Minister, whom I was trying to help. [Interruption.] I can only regret the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who want to treat this matter with their usual parliamentary discourtesy. That was why I sat down.

As allegations have been made, not only in the matter of honour but in other respects, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in a cooler moment—he is cool but his hon. Friends are not—to look into some of the allegations, while making it clear, as I would on his behalf, that these honours recommendations have nothing to do with any of the seamier allegations that have been made.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said. When any allegations of substance are made I am always prepared to look into them. I would have thought that my record as Prime Minister bore that out. If the right hon. Gentleman has other matters at which he would like me to look, I hope that he will bring them to my attention, when I will certainly look into them.