HC Deb 29 April 1974 vol 872 cc783-6
Sir Harmar Nicholls

I beg to submit, Mr. Speaker, that it is in the best interests of Parliament's reputation that radio comments and newspaper articles emanating from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) should prima facie be ruled a contempt of Parliament, so that a properly constituted committee of Parliament can examine what amounts to an allegation that a number of MPs have for money surrendered their freedom of action as parliamentarians to outside bodies.

The whole matter is based on a radio interview, a transcript of which I shall hand to you, Mr. Speaker, and a report in the Daily Telegraph, to which I shall also refer, and which I shall hand to you. The few extracts I want to give will justify my submission that this matter ought to be examined by the Committee of Privileges.

The radio interview opened with the tone being set by the interviewer, Mr. Young, who said: Now news of an allegation that a number of Members of Parliament are making on the ride by taking fees for some of their activities in the House of Commons. Mr. Joe Ashton, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, exposes the way in which our politicians make extra in today's issue of Labour Weekly. He lists such ways as phoney charities, lush trips and the public relations game. Well, to get the details of these charges we have Joe Ashton in our BBC Radio Sheffield studio. I quote: Hello Joe…could you first of all explain the ways in which MPs make money on the side? The hon. Member for Bassetlaw replied: … if a firm needs publicity or if it needs pressure putting on a Minister, or if it needs a campaign launching or something which is not political it's quite easy to hire an MP… to pay a fee, there are perhaps a few, not many, about half a dozen or so who are approachable … you can hire their services and ask the mto raise things in the House of Commons. He then goes on: Then there's the other thing that, for instance, non-political things like gambling, there is a gambling lobby in the House of Commons and if somebody had a bright idea to take money from the bookies to give it to… charity or something such as that the bookies would pretty soon organise a few MPs to stop it. Later in the interview the question was asked: What amounts of money would be involved in this sort of operation? The hon. Member for Bassetlaw replied: It's difficult to say but I did hear of somebody launching, let's say, an alcoholic reception and getting a fee of a hundred guineas. Taken together this can only mean that an identifiable MP took a ©100 payment for misusing parliamentary procedures.

I turn now to the matter of phoney charities as referred to in the interview. Anyone who collects money from the public under the guise that he is helping a charity which is in fact not a charity is committing a fraudulent act, and on any understanding of words a phoney charity, such as was mentioned in the interview, comes into this category. Yet this is what was said. I again quote from the transcript of the radio interview. The interviewer said: You mentioned phoney charities, Joe "? The reply to that was: Yes, there are some charities where the people running them make a very good living. I hesitate to name them because they'd probably sue me…some MP will appear on their brochure or will ask a few questions in the House or will have his name on the top of their notepaper…it all helps to give it a bona fide atmosphere— Again the question was asked in the interview: What amounts of money would be involved in this sort of operation? The reply was: It is difficult to say but I did hear of somebody … getting 100 guineas. I do not believe that anyone could have heard those words without attaching importance to them, an importance which could only be derogatory of Parliament, particularly bearing in mind this further extract which shows that the interviewer himself was disturbed, for he said: you know, speaking as a layman, I'm quite certain there will be a lot of people listening at home who will be absolutely shocked by this … what we're really saying now is that a guy gets elected to Parliament, he happens to be in a marginal seat, he thinks ah, I shan't be here very long so he has to … so he immediately cashes in on the fact that he's an MP. I have represented a marginal seat for 25 years, having had 21 counts over eight elections, which shows how marginal the seat is. I resent very much any suggestion that only those hon. Members with big majorities can be upright in Parliament.

Finally, I refer to the Daily Telegraph. It was alleged that the Prime Minister and the Whips knew of this misuse of parliamentary procedure, the association through Parliament with phoney charities, and that hon. Members were misusing their membership of the House in this way. I quote from the Daily Telegraph of 27th April which stated that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw had said: I know about these six men Mr. Wilson knows about them and the Whips know about them … But they are able to continue with their extra-curricular activities. At a time when parliamentary institutions everywhere are under attack by those who want to undermine them, this type of allegation, related over the air to millions of people, becomes doubly dangerous, and therefore I suggest that it should be examined by the Committee of Privileges. The original article on this matter was in Labour Weekly. That is not read by many people, and it may have been overlooked, but the allegation was repeated over the air within the hearing of millions, and the interviewer himself expressed shock. It is because of possible consequences and of the danger that I hand in the transcript of the broadcast and a copy of the newspaper to which I have referred, and I submit that the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges for examination.

Mr. Skinner

I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir H. Nicholls) and to some of his comments regarding some of the allegations. I wish to draw to your attention Mr. Speaker, while you are looking at this matter, a report in the Sunday Times of yesterday, dealing with another Member of Parliament. In this case the Member of Parliament was named. I refer to an article by Tony Dawe of the Sunday Times referring to the T. Dan Smith/Cunningham case, referring to the fact that an incident took place in the House when a Conservative MP sat beside the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and discussed the question of the Poulson. T. Dan Smith and Cunningham link up. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet was suggested by the Sunday Times correspondent to have said, "We are in deep with Poulson, you know. How is this affair of Dan Smith getting on?". It appeared from the whole article that there was something sadly amiss with the connections between the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, the last but one Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Poulson.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, if you are to deal with matters which have been referred to rather frivolously by the hon. Member for Peterborough, may I suggest that you also examine the article in the Sunday Times and take account of everything, lock, stock and barrel? If we are to have a clean out, let us clean the lot out.

Mr. Speaker

With regard to the matter of privilege raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Peterborough (Sir H. Nicholls), I will, in accordance with recent practice, consider that matter and rule upon it.

With regard to the different matter of privilege raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), before I consider it he must bring to me for my consideration the document to which he has referred.

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