§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
I beg to move,That this House, believing that the concept of natural justice is paramount in trials before courts and all other tribunals, considers that the procedures of the House in relation to the registration of Members' interests, are inadequate; believes that the rules for registration are vague, somewhat confusing and even meaningless both to honourable Members and outside observers; considers that proceedings before the Select Committee on Members' Interests deprive a Member whose conduct is in question of even the most basic human rights to natural justice, to which he or she would be entitled if the matter were being adjudicated in a court of law, including rights of appeal; is dissatisfied with the processes which take place after the Committee has made a Report; is deeply concerned that the House can too easily be confused and be led to a decision based not upon justice but upon party political or personal motives, including the abuse of the party whipping system in what should be a matter for the individual conscience of all Right honourable and honourable Members attending the debate; believes that the case of the honourable Member for Winchester provides a classic illustration of the dangers of abuse inherent in the present procedures, which allowed even outside events to influence judgment; and calls for the appointment of a Select Committee urgently to re-examine all these issues and to make recommendations before similar great and deliberate injustices are done to other Right honourable and honourable Members and to their constituents.I move today's motion drawing attention to my case in the hope that it will encourage the House to make fundamental changes in its present rules and procedures as they relate to Members' Interests.
On Wednesday 7 March 1990 a very great and quite deliberate injustice took place in this House. It was against me and my constituents. After almost exactly two years to the day, this is my first opportunity to speak in my defence. On that fateful day two years ago, the £480 million Paris scandal was given just 32 minutes of debate in the House but I was subjected to a five-and-a-half-hour internationally televised politcial show trial. At the precise time I was attending the House for the judicial debate, apparently —closely co-ordinated by Conservative central office—moves were being made in my constituency by my constituency chairman, Mrs. Felicity Hindson, to initiate my deselection by means of an ambushed reselection motion which was accepted without my being notified under my constituency rules, namely rule 18(2)(c), and with Mrs. Hindson urging that it would be to my best interests.
On that day I was found guilty of two accidental breaches—SAMA and Chidiac. Those two names are important. I was found guilty of those two accidental breaches—SAMA and Chidiac—of the House rules governing the Register of Members' interests some seven years previously. One of the rules—SAMA—was so vague that I understand that it took the Committee itself many hours to determine the meaning of it. A clarification amendment was then passed by the House immediately after I had been sentenced. I wonder whether that it is natural justice.
My unintentional transgressions resulted in no financial gain to me, had harmed no one, and no Government policy was either changed or even influenced. Despite this, the Select Committee on Members' Interests deemed, on circumstantial evidence, that my errors were serious. However, neither in the Select Committee's report nor in 1222 the debate in the House did any member of the Select Committee, or the Leader of the House, attempt either to justify or to explain what was meant by the vital word "serious". In fact, they seemed to lead the House away from any detailed discusion of the report. I shall quote later where these leads happened by referring to Hansard of 7 March 1990.
I notice that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests is here, and it may be that he will be able to help us later in the debate.
As I shall point out later, I was not allowed to make a speech in the debate which took place on 7 March 1990. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was allowed only to make a statement, which had to be heard in silence, and it had to be totally uncontroversial. Furthermore, I was not allowed to ask any questions or to make any interventions in the debate. I therefore had no chance to raise this issue. In the two years since that trial, this is the first opportunity that I have had to speak on the subject and in my own defence.
Most strangely, the two breaches of the rules—SAMA and Chidiac—concern precisely the same two cases in relation to which I had taken out libel suits against the complainant. Was this merely a very strange coincidenece? The complainant was a personal friend of and had a close working relationship with one of the most active—I may even say aggressive—members of the Select Committee; the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who never declared this interest either to the Committee or to the House, although he intervened in the debate on 7 March 1990. This is referred to in early-day motions—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Do I understand that the hon. Member has given notice to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that he intended to refer to him?
§ Mr. Browne
Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
As I have said, this is referred to in early-day motions 1210 of the last Session and 115 of this Session. Since my trial, the Select Committee has investigated allegations against several other Members. Remarkably, all were found to be in error. Indeed, one—a Select Committee member himself—was found to have repeatedly and deliberately disobeyed a specific rule. However, none of those Members' cases was recommended for action by the House. All other pending cases, such as those against other Conservative Members, have been dropped. How was it that of all the similar cases the Select Committee considered that mine alone was serious, just on circumstantial evidence, and given a five-and-a-half-hour debate in the House followed by a draconian sentence? I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the answer was not only injustice but grand and deliberate injustice.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
The hon. Gentleman has said that he had informed my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that he would name him in the debate. I wonder whether he will reaffirm that. Secondly, he has said that other Conservative Members were also up on "charges", which were dropped. I should like to know their names.
§ Mr. Browne
On the first point, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. I have written to the hon. Member for Workington. I did so at the beginning of this week. 1223 Secondly, on the subject of the names of Conservative Members, I personally would prefer not to give them. I do not feel bound to give them, but I respect your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if you feel that I must name them, I must. As I have said, I would rather not.
How was it that of all the similar cases that the Select Committee considered mine alone was "serious", just on circumstantial evidence? I was given a five-and-a-half-hour public debate in the House followed by a draconian sentence. I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the answer was not only injustice but a grand and deliberate injustice.
The precedent set by my case has never been followed. I was selected as a one-off scapegoat. Here I must place on record my sincere feelings. I did not in any way blame or bear any grudge against the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members who voted in all innocence for my punishment, or who abstained from supporting me. In my view, 99 per cent. of hon. Members were misled—quite deliberately, I believe—and I hope to show the House both how and why that great crime was perpetrated by those in power.
It is vitally important because if that can happen to me, as it did also to the late Lord Boothby before the war, it can happen to any right hon. or hon. Member—or, indeed, to anyone, because ordinary citizens can be called to the Bar of the House. Furthermore, if such a deliberate injustice can happen in the high and sovereign court of Parliament, against which—and contrary to all human rights conventions—there is no appeal, then which citizen of this realm is safe? I believe that the long-term good of the whole is most definitely not best served by the protection of the whole at the expense of the human right to justice of the individual citizen. Surely the long-term good of the whole is best served by the added protection of the rights of the individual to justice. I believe that it is greatly in the interests of the House, of our country and of our civilisation in general that such deliberate political injustice be never allowed to happen again.
I submit that in the present state of affairs no one is safe from an individual purge by Government Ministers for political reasons. Surely such a state of affairs cannot be allowed to remain available as a weapon of government.
I raise this matter in the hope that, despite any official cover-up, the House will look into the issue and so amend its procedures that no similar injustice can happen again to any other hon. Member or to any other citizen who might be called to the Bar of the House.
People will no doubt ask why I have waited some two years until now before raising this matter.
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says "correct", and I hope to answer him. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I tried hard for over a year to bring this matter to the attention of the House. You will know that I first tried to appeal to the Select Committee. After months of delay, the Chairman replied that there was no avenue of appeal. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have tried to raise this issue in a ten-minute Bill, by means of a private Member's Bill, in a petition under Standing Order No. 132 and in an Adjournment debate. All those avenues, including no fewer than 12 proposed titles for Adjournment debates, were ruled out of order. I was told that my only avenue 1224 was to get lucky and win a balloted motion. On 11 February 1992 I received from the Leader of the House a final negative reply to the appeal that I began a year ago. Twenty four hours later I won a Members' ballot for this debate, in the closing moments of this Parliament.
So here we are, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with my first opportunity to speak in my defence. Sadly, this is the story of the deliberate manipulation of justice for party political reasons. It is also the story of a cover-up so powerful that even vast sections of the media appear to have been silenced. Even the boldest men, of great integrity, who have seen and recognised injustice have hesitated. Those whose prime duty it was to speak up have kept their silence.
This is also the story of a long and necessarily complex web of intrigue. It may therefore help the House if I now cite the Official Report references that I intend to use in my speech. I shall refer mainly to quotations from the official Hansard report of the debate on 7 March 1990, and to the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests dated 19 February 1990. I shall also refer to early-day motions 1210 and 1211 of the previous Session and to early-day motions 115, 121 and 585 of this Session. Finally, I shall refer to the High Court judgments of Mr. Justice Wood dated 6 February 1986 and 25 November 1986 and to the Court of Appeal judgment dated 23 November 1988.
Two of the most fundamental of human rights are the right to a fair trial and the right of appeal. Those two fundamental rights are enshrined in clauses 1 to 4 and in clause 5 of the 14th article of the United Nations international convention of 1966, to which the British Government are signatories. That convention applies to both civil and political trials.
Political show trials have a classic structure. First, they are preceded by a secret inquisition or inquiry at which the prosecution case is established. The accused is then paraded in front of the public for a sham trial in which he is not permitted any of the normal rights of defence. The prosecution holds sway, as the jury is fixed. It is typical of almost all show trials that there is no mechanism for appeal. That, in itself, is a breach of one of the most fundamental human rights enshrined in clause 5 of article 14 of the convention. We are accustomed to thinking that political show trials happen only in foreign countries, under regimes such as those in Nazi Germany or communist Russia, but even in our own country they happen occasionally. The late Lord Boothby was subjected to such a trial in 1940–41, and one slipped past the nose of this House on 7 March 1990.
It is important that the House, and our country, know something of what happened. My political show trial followed the classic structure that I have described. It was preceded by a secret inquisition or inquiry at which the prosecution case was established. That was carried out by the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which was seen by the media, the public and other hon. Members as being, in effect, the court. The strength with which that was denied in the debate on 7 March 1990, both by the Chairman of the Select Committee and the then leader of the House, shows how true was that widely held concept.
Some 308 Members of the House voted, of whom some 239 voted along the whipped Government line in favour of punishment. However, apart from during the opening and winding-up speeches, not more than 30 Members—10 per cent., at most—attended the debate. As my hon. and 1225 learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), a Queen's Counsel and former Solicitor-General for Scotland, said:Here we all are. Some members of the jury are out, and some are in. The jury is being asked to say what the sentence should be, but the jury was not even in court. Most of its members who are in court now have not read the report, and do not conceive of the rights or wrongs of what the Committee found…this partial jury should not exercise the concept of punishment."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 187, c. 957–58.]
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman says that only 30 Members were present to listen to the debate. The truth is, as we all know, that that number is about par for the course. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us how many times he has sat in on debates for the Government —before the Government did the dirty on him. He talks about party political reasons, but the reason why he is not a Tory candidate for the next election has nothing to do with anything that the Labour party has done—it is because his own Tory party in Westminster has ditched him.
When the hon. Gentleman was supporting the Tory party, how many times did he vote for a guillotine motion when he did not even know when and how the guillotine was to be imposed? Most guillotines are supported by Conservative Members who do not sit in on the debate, so the hon. Gentleman should not give us any of this claptrap about not many people having listened to the debate. The truth is that he got caught out by the gentleman's club whose members usually sit on the Tory Benches—he got knifed by his own side.
§ Mr. Browne
I agree with some of what the hon. Member for Bolsover said, but not all of it. It is true that for normal debates in the House there is a pretty good attendance for the opening speeches and the winding-up speeches made by Members on both sides, but a pretty sparse attendance in the middle. That is because right hon. and hon. Members of the House have great pressures on their time. Some 20 Committees sit at the same time as debates are being held on the Floor of the House. However, in a judicial debate—a debate in which the House is sitting as a court, as a jury when people are to vote on whether an hon. Member is guilty, hon. Members should surely at least listen to the case before voting. Thirty Members attending a debate may be par for the course, but the case to which I refer was certainly not par for the course.
In what other court or even tribunal in this land—or in any other country—would a member of a jury be allowed to be absent while a case was being presented, only to return to deliver a guilty verdict and pass a draconian sentence? I submit that the answer is none. Yet that happened here on 7 March 1990. Is that justice, Mr. Speaker?
The sham trial in the House was, as always, made very public, with five-and-a-half hours of prime television, syndicated world wide. The charges against me were made to appear massive, and even combined with innuendo. The apparent unwillingness of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), to reply to a stream of interventions is recorded in column 893 of the Official Report of the debate.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for exactly 20 minutes, and it is clear that—apart from a degree of spontaneity introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—the hon. Gentleman has read every word of his speech so far. I have counted six pages, and seeing the notes that he still has, I fear that he intends to read us another 60 pages, which will take up most of the debate, and it will all be written material. Surely it is not within the proper procedures of the House to allow someone to read an entire speech of that length. I understand the difficulties, and that hon. Members may want to use copious quotations and refer in detail to notes—I am not in any way trying to prevent the hon. Gentleman from putting forward a reasonable case—but surely it is outside the accepted procedures of the House to read what appears to be several hours of written material.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
All hon. Members are aware of the hallowed phrase that hon. Members are allowed to refer to "copious notes". We have also traditionally taken the view that Members who speak from either Front Bench or an hon. Member who introduces a debate, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) is now doing, have a little more discretion than would otherwise be the case. The hon. Member for Winchester will be in order so long as he continues just to refer to copious notes.
Mr. Browne: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try to look up from my notes to the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who is leading for the Opposition. However, I will glance down through my spectacles occasionally at this large volume of notes.
The apparent unwillingness of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, is shown in Hansard at column 893. He was most unwilling to reply to a string of interventions by hon. Members seeking confirmation that I had done nothing illegal. I felt that that was quite disgusting, but classic. Also, in common with all political show trials, the jury decision was—as has already been said this morning—fixed by the ruling party. In this case, the fixing was ensured by the operation of the Whips, both payroll and informal.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he has now referred to another right hon. Member. If he intends to refer to several right hon. and hon. Members, rather than my interrupting him on every occasion, will he assure me that he has informed those right hon. and hon. Members that he intends to refer to them?
§ Mr. Browne
Yes, I have, Sir.
Following the trial, very few people mentioned any of the criticisms of injustice or blatant abuse of human rights. Instead, the public image was created that I had been guilty of a major criminal offence. Indeed, it was interesting to note—
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman is making pretty heavy weather of the fact that he was kicked out of this gentleman's club for 20 days. I call it a gentleman's club, 1227 but it is known as the mother of Parliaments, although only about 42 women are allowed in here. The hon. Gentleman is complaining that he got 20 days. His real problem is the fact that he is not the Tory party candidate at the next election—and that has nothing to do with what happened in this place.
I have been kicked out of this place about seven times, but I did not have any chance to explain. No one said to me, "Dennis, will you explain why you said that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was lining his pockets when he picked up that non-executive directorship of British Telecom?" I would have loved to tell everyone all about that, but Mr. Speaker said, "On your bike—early bath," and off I had to go.
When I called the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) a pompous sod, Mr. Speaker said to me, "You had better withdraw that". I said I would withdraw "pompous", but said, Mr. Speaker "That's not the word I'm looking for." There was laughter in the House and everyone thought that I had hit the nail on the head. I thought that that was a real parliamentary triumph, but Mr. Speaker thought differently. He said, "Off you go," and I did not get a chance to reply.
I accused the noble Lord, Lord Pym, when he was a Member of this House, of being the Minister for unemployment because there were nearly 2 million people on the scrap heap—that pile of human misery known as the dole queue. Again, I was not able to make a speech before Mr. Speaker sent me out.
Those were all genuine statements that I had to make. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was kicked out for 20 days because he lined his pockets with about £50,000 and did not put it in the register as he is supposed to do, and now he is whingeing but I reckon he got away with blue murder.
§ Mr. Browne
I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. I actually have not mentioned 20 days yet, and I totally refute the claim that I lined my pockets with £50,000 and did not report it. That was not true, and it is part of what this whole debate is about.
It was interesting to note that although the Select Committee felt my errors to have been serious, not one member of that Committee, nor the Leader of the House, ever attempted to explain how or why those accidental errors were considered serious. Before I describe the details of what happened in my case, I wish to point to some general points on the subject of the Register of Members' Interests which I hope will be of interest and help to the House.
The Members' interest registry was initiated for very understandable and good reasons, to show Members' interests to the public and to the House. It is a laudable aim, but there are serious problems and anomalies. First, our Parliament consists of two Houses—a Commons House and a House of peers. This is an important but much overlooked point which I will return to later in my speech. The declaration of financial interests applies only to the Commons House and yet the House of peers execute legislation and have great influence over the Government. Why is there no declaration for all of Parliament?
Secondly, the register is of financial interests and yet monetary amounts are not required to be registered. Is that not only farcical, but downright misleading? How does it truly inform either the public or the House?
1228 Thirdly, in the early 1980s the register was treated in a very casual manner indeed. When my case came to this House in 1989 about events in 1982, some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite admitted to me that they had not even heard of the register—hence, I imagine, the greatly increased size of the registry since I was arraigned.
Fourthly, as it is not a legal requirement, the registry is, as Mr. Enoch Powell maintained, unconstitutional. Worse still, because it is not a legal requirement, anyone brought to account under it is given none of the legal protection normally afforded to anyone standing accused of a crime in law.
Fifthly, the rules of registration are vague—for example, the rules about declaration of foreign earnings. When I went to the registrar in 1982, I was told that the foreign earning of my company, if my company was declared, need not be declared as a client unless it was specifically related to the House. I was accused of not reporting it as an earning to me. Interestingly enough, it took the Committee hours to decide what that rule meant, and it was changed after my sentence: 10 minutes after my sentence, the rule was changed to say that if one owned a certain percentage of one's company, then one had to declare it.
I also looked at the register of interests and the sort of groups of people who were declaring overseas payments, and found virtually none: no farmers, no scriptwriters, no broadcasters, journalists, lawyers or barristers—none of those people. Yet surely one, at least, of all the hundreds in the book must surely have had some foreign-derived earnings.
§ Mr. Browne
I did not say that I knew, but looking at the registry in 1982, 1983 and even in 1989, the guideline seems to be that if earnings go to a company, the earnings are not declared as foreign payments, and that they should only have been declared as foreign payments if they actually went to the Member concerned. That is only a guideline, but it is something that I went by in those early days, plus consulting the Registrar himself—who, incidentally, was not called to give evidence by the Select Committee and I was not allowed to call him myself.
Also, there are no strict definitions of sibling relationships such as there are in relation to the law on insider trading and securities. In the registry, this is still an area of very considerable doubt and therefore of danger to right hon. and hon. Members.
The rules are somewhat vague and, as I have said, they are therefore dangerous because they can be bent by those in authority to snare almost any hon. Member who has outside interests. This is a danger hanging over many Members, particularly now that this subject is taken far more seriously and, I believe, correctly.
Sadly, there is precedent for abuse of this danger hanging over hon. Members. In the two cases that I shall mention, the abuse was carried out by Government Whips who, although they strenuously deny it, have control at least over the profile of the majority of Select Committee members and can very strongly influence their voting.
The case of the late Lord Boothby was described superbly in the recent excellent book by my hon. Friend 1229 the Member for Cambridge (Sir R. Rhodes James) entitled "Bob Boothby". I quote briefly from that book, from chapter 11, "A Terrible Injustice", on pages 270 to 298:A Select Committee is not a court of law and one of its fundamental problems is examining matters of this kind is that it is composed of Back-Bench MPs who are in fact judge and jury. The conclusions of the Committee were heavily and unfairly loaded against Boothby. There was no evidence that Boothby had any expectation of payment. Boothby was allowed to defend himself in his speech in Parliament. His speech influenced the opinion of Parliament—I will bring out later the fact that I was not allowed to make such a speech but merely a statement—Churchill then intervened and recommended that the House not proceed any further in the matter. The Government gave a clear message to the press that they would oppose any motion to condemn him.The vague rules on Members' interests are potentially very dangerous for many hon. Members, particularly when we see the precedent for the abuse of power to distort justice.
Briefly, the background to the Select Committee inquiry was this. In the general election campaign of 1987, Mr. David Leigh, a journalist from The Observer, made several serious allegations that I had incorrectly registered my Member's interests some years before. This was seized upon, understandably, by my local media and had a major impact on my support. My share of the vote was seriously eroded and there was a cut in my majority of approximately a half. It provided grounds for subsequent moves against me in my constituency. Suits for libel were issued against Mr. David Leigh and I had every hope of a major settlement. The suits for libel were issued against Mr. Leigh on the subjects of SAMA and Chidiac, in which I and my lawyer thought Mr. Leigh was particularly vulnerable, and so obviously that a court of law might be prepared to rule favourably upon them even though they were to do with the rules of this sovereign House. As I said, I had every hope of a major settlement.
Subsequently, Mr. Leigh made a complaint against me to the Registrar of Members' Interests on those two issues and a number of surrounding issues. I was very confident of my innocence, and even welcomed the hearing before the Select Committee publicly so as to put an end to the sniping articles on the subject in some sections of the press. What I did not know was that Mr. David Leigh was a close friend of and had a close working relationship with a leading member of that Select Committee—the hon. Member for Workington. I was asked to make written submissions to the Select Committee in response to Mr. Leigh's complaints in the spring of 1989.
After some delays, I was finally summoned before the Select Committee in the early summer of 1989. I sat before some 10 or 11 Members over some three sessions to answer just under 1,000 rapid-fire questions concerning some 20 companies over a time span of some 12 years. It was a mind-boggling exercise in research and in memory. I understand that the Committee and, indeed, the Conservative Whips experienced great difficulty in obtaining agreement to the report from the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton). However, after some seven further months of so-called deliberation during which there was a constant flow of leaks to my local press, the Committee issued its report on 19 February 1990.
The Select Committee was widely seen as a court and its report was greeted with headlines normally reserved only for mass murderers and rapists. However, the court or 1230 Select Committee proceedings were criticised repeatedly in the debate by right hon. and hon. and learned Members with considerable legal experience for not having adopted procedures of natural justice towards me as the accused. Particularly noteworthy are the criticisms levelled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), an experienced barrister and junior judge. He criticised the Select Committee asWhether intentionally or not, it was the worst type of kangaroo court but the press have been noticeably silent about that.He also pointed, in Hansard column 933, to what he termed "the smell of scapegoat". He also remarked on the smell of witch-hunt and the hypocrisy of the House. Most interestingly, he pointed to a catalogue of manifest injustices perpetrated against me. He said thatit would be a great injustice for us to use"—"me" in brackets—as a scapegoat to exorcise…embarrassment about…the criticism that our rules on Members' interests are inadequate.What my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton was referring to was the following catalogue of injustice. The Select Committee hearings, first of all, were all held in secret. None of the evidence was taken on oath. Secondly, contrary to Standing Orders of the House, I was not allowed to hear and thereby challenge directly in cross-examination the evidence of any witness whatsoever. Only rough typescript proofs were provided retrospectively. They were difficult to read and very difficult to handle because of their bulk and the bad copying. This was to the distinct disadvantage of me as the accused operating alone, unlike the Committee with its vast secretariat. From his similar experience, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said in the debate:Everything that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has just said about taking evidence was absolutely true. One writes to the Committee, its members write back, and there is no cross-examination or proper Hansard. At the end, the Committee makes a pronouncement and the word goes out to grovel.If hon. Members grovel and apologise, they will be let off with a caution and it will all be over in two or three weeks." —[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 935–41.]In addition to this, I, unlike certain members of the press, was not informed when the Committee called witnesses until some weeks later—after the fact. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Thirdly, I was specifically denied the right to call any witness in person for cross-examination. Here the assertion to the contrary by the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), in Hansard columns 906 and 907, seems to me to be quite extraordinary and was in direct conflict with the statement of his Select Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Streatham, who in column 918 clearly stated to the House that there was no verbal cross-examination except by the Committee. In the fact, I was specifically forewarned by the Registrar that only the Committee was empowered to call witnesses and that I would have to be content with asking for written statements.
The lack of equality in the calling of witnesses was crucial. The Select Committee was able to recommend that the written evidence of vital defence witnesses such as that of Mr. Chattington in the report, page 28, paragraph 54, and of Mr. Denton-Thompson, page 147, be ignored by the House. Neither defence witness was called by the 1231 Committee to explain or to support their written statements which the Committee criticised or ignored out of hand. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Fourthly, there was no representation. This case was vastly complex. I was arraigned not to explain or to testify about some political issue but was on trial for my political and personal life. Despite that, I was denied the effective counsel or assistance of a lawyer, except over the physical handling of the vast documentation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Workington even protested in question 282 when I referred to my solicitor to gain a more informed answer as to a legal question.
Why was it that in 1940 I understand the late Lord Boothby was allowed to have his legal representation? Why was it that after my case, on 13 January this year even the Maxwell brothers were allowed legal representation before a Select Committee and addressed the Select Committee through them? Why was I, uniquely as an accused, denied that important protection and most important assistance? Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Fifthly, no right of discovery. The documentation produced by the complainant, Mr. Leigh, was vast, comprising some 100 documents, some over 30 pages long. To my knowledge there were no originals. The copies were very poor and badly collated. The documents were largely stolen from my personal and company files. They were produced very selectively and out of context. This was greatly to the disadvantage of the accused, as there was no means by which I could put crucial documents into context, particularly in the relationship between me and each of the Chidiac brothers and with regard to the missing SAMA report and its relationship to the supplementary Prime Minister's question that I asked.
Even the Committee found it difficult to obtain certain documents, but, remarkably, paragraph 60 of the report then criticised me who, acting without the Committee's powers of discovery, was unable to trace or recover certain stolen documents such as the SAMA report.
The point about the SAMA report is most interesting. First, I wonder how Mr. Leigh could have written his detailed articles on SAMA in 1987 without referring to it. I believe it was stolen from my company's files along with other evidence produced by Mr. Leigh, which was widely acknowledged as stolen property, most probably by my ex-wife. If the SAMA report was stolen, how could I produce it? Even more interestingly, in the report questions 310 to 317, it is clear how heavily the hon. Member for Workington, a close friend of Mr. Leigh and working with him on this project, criticised me for not finding the SAMA report. But why did Mr. Leigh not produce it? I ask, could it have been that it would have proved conclusively that it had no relationship with the supplementary question that I put to the Prime Minister? Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
No. 6—no statute of limitations. The Committee accepted to investigate all the charges made against me, even the most trivial, including minor errors that I had already admitted. This made the case vastly more complex in its ramifications. The case, as I said, covered some 20 companies over a span of some 12 years. [Interruption.] I wonder what the Leader of the House was looking at. The questioning of one man alone by 11 prosecutors putting rapid-fire questions at random is awesome. Given the complexity and in the circumstances of this case, it was a grave injustice.
1232 Great sympathy was shown by the hon. Member for Workington over this issue to one of his prosecution witnesses, Mr. Brian Deutsch, whose memory was very hazy about only one company in which he had worked almost full time. On the contrary, I was criticised severely in the report for not remembering precise details of events that had taken place many years before regarding companies in which I had been involved on a very part-time basis, such as in the report, paragraph 59. The hon. Member for Streatham, a member of the Committee, made a special point of this when he said:To have something dredged up after eight years is absurd.No. 7—time pressures. Time pressures were exerted upon me as the accused. Despite the fact that the Committee took some nine months in its deliberations, decisions at which I was permitted to be present, which were merely three when I was being examined, were all pressured for time. Examples of this exercise of time pressure against the accused are in the report at question 523—I am sorry I must return to that. These were not time pressures exercised against the accused, but time pressures that resulted in pressure against the accused. I do not accuse my right hon. Friend of deliberately doing this at all, it is just that the time pressure did act against the accused.
Examples are the time pressure in questions 523, 593, and 763, and also, contrary to normal Select Committee procedure, I as the accused was not given the time to complete an opening statement, and this was referred to in the report, questions 269 to 296. I must emphasise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this was my only chance in that whole proceeding of nine—almost 11—months, to speak in my own defence. Was that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The eighth point is that there was no prosecution case. Mr. Leigh presented allegations. He did this outside my presence and I was unable to challenge or cross-examine him verbally on a contemporary basis. There was no single line of argument that could be followed from one prosecutor, as there is in a case in a normal court. I was therefore given no structure and no knowledge as to what points the Select Committee considered important among a vast array of often unsupported allegations and so-called but unsworn evidence. This, combined with the time pressures, I submit, acted seriously against me as the accused. There was also no defence. While I was allowed to make written submissions, they in no way equated to the contemporary challenges of verbal evidence that take place in a normal court. Furthermore, as there was no prosecution case I as the accused had no knowledge of which of the myriad subjects the Committee would consider important.
Nine—the onus of proof. A reading of the report will show clearly that the onus of the proof was placed, contrary to basic tenets of English law, squarely upon the accused. This was clearly pointed out by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton, and examples include SAMA and Chidiac.
Tenth, no motive was either alleged or established. Indeed, the complainant made note of the fact that he felt that my alleged breaches were not necessarily intentional. Any transgressions were accidental. Yet the Select Committee deemed these technical errors to be serious although, as I have said before, none of the members of the Select Committee when speaking in the debate sought to 1233 describe to the House what they meant by serious. Indeed, the hon. Member for Wealden, the Chairman of the Committee, said:I do not wish to go into the reasons why we came to our conclusions and what we did.Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The eleventh point is that questions of publicity ranged far outside the scope of the Register of Members' Interests. The hon. Member for Workington was allowed by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, to introduce sub-judice law suits and have monetary amounts disclosed to the public—all contrary to the declaration of rules which specifically exclude monetary amounts. The latter point was used in the SAMA case greatly to my disadvantage as the accused by encouraging jealousy, and thus expressed outrage both in the media and by fellow Members who were later to sit in judgment.
The twelfth point was the charade of unamimity. While the Select Committee report was approved unanimously by its members, only one of them, the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, attended more than 84 per cent. of the sessions. Unlike the King's Cross Bill, of which I have an example here which I quote from and which every Member of this Committee was asked to sign—I was one of those Members—which states:I the undersigned, having been selected by the Committee of Selection to serve as a Member of the Committee on the King's Cross Bill, hereby declare that my constituents have no local interest and that I have no personal interest in the said Bill, and that I will never vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto.I think that that is very correct, but no such demand was made on members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, who were voting on a vitally important judical matter affecting the whole future life of one of their colleagues, although they had not even been present for the evidence. Again, in a matter of this importance the mere assumption that Members had read the vast and unclear transcripts surely was not good enough. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Finally, there was no right of appeal. The most obvious denial of basic human rights to natural justice was the complete absence of appeal, and this was in direct violation of clause 5 of article 14 of the United Nations international convention on civil and political rights. Again, I ask, is that human rights to basic justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
I would now like to turn to the question of political bias on a Committee. It is obvious to anyone studying the reports of Select Committees that strong political bias normally exists. I submit that the Select Committee on Members' Interests was no exception. Again, the repeated protests in the debate of 7 March 1990 by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden, show how conscious the Committee must have been about this matter. In the debate the hon. Member for Wealden said, referring to the hon. Member for Workington:I can speak with my hand on my heart when I say that the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer),…were hon. members of that Committee, were totally bi-partisan. No sign of political passion crept into the Committee to prejudice the case against my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Winchester."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 900–37.]1234 These statements were particularly interesting in the light of the vote of the House on 7 March 1990, which was very strictly along party lines. It was also most interesting with regard to the crucial defence evidence in this respect of Mr. Merrick Denton-Thompson, which was written on page 147 of the report. I quote from the letter written to me by Mr. Denton-Thompson on 8 June 1989, submitted in evidence to the Select Committee and in the report, page 147, but discarded by the Committee out of hand. The last paragraph states:I am, however, extremely concerned that two Labour Members of the Committee made it quite clear to Mr. Valters that they believed that you would be found in breach of the code of practice and they were both actively seeking evidence against you in a way that could not be described as impartial, indeed they were said to be 'after your blood', 'We will do him'. I have been uncertain as to whether I should alert you to their biased and partial activities, because clearly you are in a very invidious position. Under normal circumstances I would take little notice of statements from the press. However I know this reporter well and indeed he is both totally trustworthy and reliable. As I have no involvement with politics he would have gained nothing by making his comments to me. Please do not hesitate to use this letter at your discretion.I submitted the letter to the Select Committee. This crucial evidence of alleged political bias was discarded out of hand by the Select Committee, who made no attempt to call Mr. Denton-Thompson to the Committee to be cross-examined. I was not allowed to call him to give evidence verbally to the Committee. Was that denial of the basic right to call a witness justice? The political motivation risked being bust wide open and the evidence was disregarded out of hand.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the bias of friendship. Unlike any court, quasi-court, tribunal or even judical Select Committee, such as sat on the King's Cross Bill, the members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests who were effectively trying a colleague for his political and family life were not asked to make any declaration whatever on whether they had any personal friendship or business relationship with any of the witnesses appearing before them. Such a crucial relationship existed with perhaps the key member of the Select Committee, who intervened repeatedly in the House debate—the hon. Member for Workington. Early-day motion 1210 refers to that.
The findings of the Select Committee are contained in its report to the House of 19 February 1990. It is a vast document and was obviously read by very few hon. Members. However, the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, tried to persuade the House otherwise. He said:Many hon. Members have studied the matter closely and read the report, and it is they who will pronounce at the end of the day."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 900.]There was no mention of the party Whips in that. The statement was followed by the submission of a socialist, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I have not warned him about this, but I will merely quote from what he said in Hansard. Is that in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman should give notice to an hon. Member if he wishes to refer to him or, indeed, quote him. The hon. Gentleman would be wise to leave that out.
§ Mr. Browne
I will leave this out on your recommendation, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
1235 I was found guilty of the accidental, technical breach of two rules: one so vague that it had to be corrected 10 minutes after I was sentenced. In the SAMA case—
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman has dealt with some of the technicalities in his long speech. As I understand it from reading the report, the issue on SAMA is relatively simple. The hon. Gentleman's company, Falcon, received $88,000 from the Saudi Arabian Government. I will concede to the hon. Gentleman that the wording of the lists of interests is vague in some respects, but once it was drawn to his attention that there was some concern about the $88,000 that he received through his company from the Saudi Arabian Government, why did he not then declare it?
§ Mr. Browne
When the hon. Gentleman says "attention", does he mean by the Select Committee or in newspaper articles?
§ Mr. Browne
As I said to the Select Committee, the reason was because I thought that I was right. I had asked the then Registrar on this particular issue whether I had to declare the payment and his answer had been that ii the payment was made to my company which was declared in the normal course of business, it was not a payment to me and need not be declared. He even cited the hypothetical case that if an hon. Member were a director of ICI and all the foreign payments to ICI were printed in the Register of Members' Interests, the computer book would be hugely thick every day just on payments to ICI. That was the justification. Yet, when the Select Committee looked at the matter some eight or nine years later, it read through that and said, "Ah, the hon. Gentleman should have declared that because he owned 50 per cent. of the stock of the company". As I understand it, and the Member for Wealden will verify this, the Committee took several hours to discuss what the foreign payments rule meant. Then, 10 minutes after I had been sentenced by the House, the rule was changed to say clearly that if a Member owns more than 33 per cent. of his company—the Chairman will correct me if I am wrong—he must declare all foreign payments to it, although it itself is declared. That was not part of the rule in 1982 or before 7 March 1990.
In the SAMA case, I had asked the Registrar whether a foreign payment to my company should be declared. In 1983 he told me, as he told other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), that if the company to which the payment was made was itself declared, as mine was, there was no need to declare the payment if it was made in the course of business. Despite that, the Select Committee apparently made no attempt to call the registrar to give oral evidence. Nor did it call any of the other hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, to whom the same advice had been given. I was specifically prevented from calling the registrar or any of the hon. Members to give verbal evidence. Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
The Committee said that the payment should have been declared because I owned 50 per cent. of the common stock of the company. That ownership rule was not part of the Members' interests rule and was added retrospectively by the House immediately after my sentence on 7 March 1990. It appears that the Select Committee was somewhat desperate to obtain a conviction on this issue. What is 1236 strange is that nothing has been done with regard to the other Conservative Members who were vulnerable on precisely the same point. Stranger still is that all similar potential cases have been dropped.
§ Mr. Browne
It is worth noting that the SAMA case was the subject of one of the two potentially massive libel suits that I had out against Mr. David Leigh, the chief complainant.
In the Chidiac case the sibling relationship between the two Chidiac brothers appears to have been crucial. Although Arab people are not always strict about such matters as the use of writing paper, the Committee made much of the fact that Mr. Charles Chidiac had used the stationery of the London office of his brother's company. That, combined with the sibling relationship, led the Committee to say that I should have been aware that that relationship made my relationship with each of them declarable. The rules made no mention of sibling relationships. Again, there appears to have been considerable bending of the letter of the rules to obtain a prosecution.
Furthermore, although the Select Committee admitted on page 32, paragraph 99 that theyhave not been able entirely to get to the bottom of this matterand that "the information we have"—most of it stolen —"is incomplete", it discarded out of hand evidence from me and Mr. Chidiac without calling any of the other parties concerned to give evidence. It appears that, despite the onus of proof that was placed clearly on me as the accused, the Select Committee was thirsty for a conviction on this issue.
The big and burning question remains: why those two particular issues? In neither case had any person been harmed. There was no financial gain to me and no Government policy was either changed or influenced as a result of the relationship that the Committee feels that I should have declared.
Despite the above, the Committee found my technical breaches to have been serious and called for prompt action by the House. However, as I have said consistently, no Committee member attempted to explain why the breaches were deemed serious or what exactly was meant by the word "serious". I was present at the debate, but I was silenced: I was told that to be allowed to stay in the Chamber for the debate I had to give a verbal undertaking that I would not ask any questions, that I would not make any interventions and that I would not challenge anything that was said by another hon. Member after I had sat down, when I was allowed to make not a speech, but a statement which had to be uncontroversial and would be heard in silence.
Furthermore, there was little or no precedent of a similar case, other than that of the infamous trial of the late Lord Boothby. The precedent of some 400 similar declarations made by other hon. Members in which overseas earnings could have been expected as normal, but in which none were declared, are shown clearly on page 67 in question 644 of the report. That was completely ignored by the Select Committee.
The Select Committee's findings should be contrasted with the findings of the same Select Committee in the subsequent cases of the hon. Members for Surrey, North-West (Sir M. Grylls), for East Hampshire (Mr. 1237 Mates), and for Workington. All were found to have transgressed, but no action was recommended by the House. In the latter case, the hon. Member for Workington was found repeatedly and deliberately to have disobeyed a specific rule on Members' interests. However, he was a member of the Select Committee to whom the Chairman had referred in the debate on 7 March as beingso useful to us on the Committee"—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 901.]In Hansard at column 897, the Leader of the House urges the House constantly to heed precedent in dealing with such cases. The precedent in my case has never been followed, even in the case of deliberate transgression. Does that even sound like justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
I now turn to some coincidences—some very strange coincidences. The first was the strange matching findings of the Committee report with my libel case. As has been said, the journalist Mr. David Leigh had written some highly damaging articles about me during the general election of 1987. I and my solicitors felt that they were highly libellous. Writs were issued and Mr. Leigh has been successfully sued for libel by other Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), and by Sir Stephen Hastings, Military Cross. We felt that he had made another mistake—this time a big one—on which very substantial damages were due.
During the Committee hearings, it amazed me that the hon. Member for Workington was allowed by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Wealden, to ask questions about this sub judice libel case—report pages 42 and 43, questions 301 to 317. I understand that mention of a sub judice case is not normally allowed by Mr. Speaker. The intensity with which the hon. Member for Workington pressed his questions was also of considerable concern, as was his strong objection—report question 282 —to my consulting with my lawyer. He asked me repeatedly not about the substance of the cases but, most strangely—as if it were of great importance—whether or not I intended to pursue these libel cases. This appeared to be of paramount interest, although it did not relate in any way to the rules on the declaration of Members' interests.
I must stress that these two cases—SAMA and Chidiac —on which the Select Committee found me to have committed serious errors were the very same two cases on which I had current, potentially massive libel suits against Mr. Leigh, the complainant. As a result of the Select Committee hearings, these two libel cases were rendered untenable. This very strange coincidence is even more alarming when one reads early-day motion 1210 and when one hears this boast from the hon. Member for Workington.
After the report was published, the hon. Member for Workington spoke to me in the House outside Committee Room 13. He was amazingly friendly considering the circumstances. He told me that my case had got out of hand, and that the Committee was really after some much bigger and more serious cases involving some very senior Conservatives. He said that the masses of paper produced by my ex-wife made mine a good case to start with as a trend-setter. He than urged me to apologise in the debate, saying that if I did, he and his friends would not vote against me. He added, 1238Where I come from, you don't kick a man when he's down.In the event, he did vote against me despite my apology. He then added a much more sinister comment which should gravely concern all hon. Members. In response to my observation that of all the complaints, I was amazed to be found in error on the SAMA and Chidiac questions, he replied:Look, you had libel suits out on those two complaints and I couldn't allow my friend to hang with a million pound suit. That's why I pressed you hard on that point when we took evidence. You should have dropped it.In other words, had I yielded to his pressure in the Select Committee hearings—report questions 301 to 317 on pages 42 and 43—my case would not even have been pursued, let alone to a show trial in this Chamber. Does this disturb you, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Could it be that an hon. Member on the Select Committee had set out from the beginning to get his friend, the complainant Mr. David Leigh, off the hook of a massive libel settlement, and to do so had perpetrated a massive and deliberate injustice in the form of a frame-up against another hon. Member, albeit of a different political persuasion?
When this evidence was put to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, it refused out of hand to hear the case, giving no reasons whatever. Here I want to quote the return letter I got, having sent the case to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that he had a writ out against David Leigh of The Observer. He has said many times that it was a massive writ and that he was going to make a lot of money. So it was like game, set and match. He goes before the Select Committee which is dominated by Tory Members, not by Labour Members, and with a Tory Chairman. Let us get things in perspective. The hon. Gentleman gives the impression that a Machiavellian Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), has somehow got all those Tory Members round his little finger. The hon. Gentleman claims that, as a result, he cannot pursue his writ. What happened to that massive writ? If the hon. Gentleman had such a first-class case, what happened to it? How much money did he get? If he did not pursue it, why did he not do so if he had all the cards stacked on his side?
§ Mr. Browne
Absolutely right—the hon. Gentleman is right. However I am sure that he has heard of the Whips Office. Indeed, his own Whip, the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is sitting close to him. It is a point that I have already made in the debate. Regarding the writ, it would be impossible in my lawyers' view once the House had given its ruling. It was tough enough to get any court in the land to rule on an internal matter of the House of Commons concerning House of Commons rules. That was a dangerous thing. It was going to be tough. But when the House of Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests had made the ruling it did, the case was absolutely untenable.
The letter that I got back from the Committee, dated 27 March 1991, said: 1239Dear Mr. Browne. In accordance with the procedure laid down by the House on 22 May 1974, I referred your letter of 14 March 1991 containing a complaint against Mr. Campbell-Savours to the Committee.The Committee have asked me to say that they did not wish to proceed with the matter, and returned your letter to me. Signed A. J. Hastings, Registrar and Clerk of the Committee.Surely the Select Committee should normally have been expected to express keen interest in investigating a potential wrongdoing by one of its own members of such gravity and moment. Does this disturb you, Mr. Deputy Speaker? This strange matching of Select Committee findings with my libel case is the strangest coincidence of all in this saga of intrigue.
I now turn to the strange precision of the Committee's findings themselves. The precisely convenient drafting of the findings of the House of Commons Select Committee was quite extraordinary. The Select Committee's findings allowed the Conservative Whips to guarantee me one of two totally opposed options: either a take-note motion with no punishment whatever, or a motion to punish me in an extreme manner. Does it raise your eyebrows, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those findings of the Select Committee allowed both options to be put by the Government Whips?
§ Mr. Skinner
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) got a more severe punishment for what he did with the Mace.
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Gentleman says that another hon. Member got a similar punishment, I think for dropping the Mace.
§ Mr. Skinner
The hon. Gentleman is talking about having suffered an extreme penalty. The Committee, with its massive Tory majority, decided on a vote that the hon. Gentleman should be expelled for 20 days. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith touched the Mace one night and was kicked out for three months. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was thrown out because he had the guts to say that the Prime Minister of the day was lying. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who has just come into the Chamber, was thrown out because he held up proceedings on the Budget for about five minutes.
I ask hon. Members to reflect on the situation. This bloke pocketed £88,000, did not put it in the Register in the proper manner, and is now whingeing. He is still a Member of Parliament and has been picking up his money all the time, as well as massive sums from various companies. Yet he claims to have suffered an extreme penalty. He is in trouble because the Tory heirarchy have put the knife in his back.
§ Mr. Browne
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning at least one point. Perhaps the House does not view a 20-day suspension as an extreme punishment, but outside this House, the concept is viewed as a very extreme punishment, and it does enormous damage.
The Select Committee's findings allowed the Conservative Whips to guarantee me either a take-note motion with no punishment whatever, or a motion to punish me in an extreme manner. I hope that you will forgive those, Mr. Speaker, who see the possibility—I put it no higher at this stage—of collusion. The House investigations may show more, new and additional proof than the recordings that I have on the subject.
1240 A reference in the book on Lord Boothby by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge makes an interesting comparison. Evidently Lord Boothby, when a Member of this House, was fixed by the very same mechanism, in which the Conservative Whips played a most active part in the running of the Select Committee. That active role of the Conservative Whips in important issues concerning Select Committee has recently been evidenced again by the sudden change of heart on the part of the Select Committee on Health in toning down its report of July 1991.
Even to this day the Whips Office appears to be playing a crucial role. When, on the written recommendation of the present Prime Minister, I went to the present Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), to ask for help over my appeal to the House, the door was slammed shut: "It is for the Leader of the House alone—you cannot expect any help from me," he said. Later in the conversation he said, "If you do not stand down at the next election, I will use all the resources at my command against you."
That appears already to have started, for there have been more unannounced ministerial visits to my constituency in the last six months than in the previous 12 years. Now, even the selected candidate—the candidate selected by my local association to run against me—threatens, if press reports are correct, that no fewer than six Ministers, and even the Prime Minister, will come to speak for him in the election campaign if I do not stand down. It sounds almost as though a by-election is to take place in Winchester.
Only two days ago an article appeared in the Daily Express saying that the Whips Office had said that I should have declared an interest called the John Browne foundation. I hereby say that no such foundation existed or exists, now or at any time. So the letter is about a non-existent foundation that I am supposed to have registered. I called the Chief Whip about it, but instead of offering to investigate the matter urgently, he wanted to hear none of it, saying that it was a matter for the pairing Whip rather than for him. Washed hands.
The third extraordinary coincidence to which I must refer is that of timing of the House of Commons debate on 7 March and the timing of a meeting of my executive on the same day. My constituency association, under the chairmanship of Mrs. Felicity Hindson, who was once chairman of the women's advisory committee of the then Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), arranged for a special meeting of the Winchester executive to take place in a village hall, rather than in Winchester, on the very evening of 7 March 1990. The cost of the hall was £29.50—not much to lose if the meeting was cancelled.
That meeting was heavily supervised by Conservative Central Office, in the person of the area agent, Mr. Donald Stringer—the same Mr. Stringer, who, I understand, managed the selection process in Cheltenham and was consulted about the famous letter of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), now Secretary of State for the Environment, when he wrote to his executive. By a quite extraordinary coincidence, the then Leader of the House, a friend of my chairman, arranged for the debate on my interests to be held at precisely the same time, on the afternoon and evening of 7 March 1990. He announced that fact publicly on Thursday 1 March at 1241 business question time. Mrs. Hindson who has subsequently been awarded the MBE—after only two years as constituency chairman—made no attempt to change the timing of the Winchester executive meeting to enable me to attend, or to allow those especially keen members of my executive to watch my trial on television, despite the fact that she had had secret advance warning of an ambush motion to be put by a Brigadier Lanyon at that special executive meeting to recommend the opening of reselection procedures. Mrs. Hindson finally admitted to that prior knowledge over a year later, under heavy questioning from the floor of the Winchester annual general meeting, on 25 April 1991. Furthermore, under the Winchester association rule 18(2) (c), she was obliged to keep me fully informed on matters of parliamentary candidature. In this case, I was kept totally in the dark.
The result of those conflicting meetings—of my constituency executive and in the Chamber—was that I was unable to explain to my executive my objection in principle to the whole idea of reselection. I maintain that it is a socialist phenomenon tending to make Members of Parliament more like delegates of a few senior party officials rather than the representatives of their constituents. In my absence, the meeting in my constituency was persuaded that reselection would be greatly to my advantage, as it would wipe the slate clean of all the problems that I faced in the media.
§ Mr Browne
I was not even asked to fall for it because I had to be here to make my statement. My point is that I was not even there. So the real question is whether the members attending the meeting fell for it.
Owing to my firmly held beliefs, I did not submit my name for reselection, as a matter of principle. On the other hand, as I did not submit to the unconstitutional pressure brought on me, as mentioned in early-day motion 1211, I did not stand down. The result is now total chaos in my constituency. With a Conservative ex-Whip as the official candidate, there are serious splits and extremely low 1242 morale. My constituency has now been placed in jeopardy with the prospect of two Father Christmases at the next general election.
I come to the subject of unconstitutional pressure.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am curious. The hon. Gentleman said tht the chairperson of his constituency party got her MBE after being chair for only two years. What is the tariff in the Tory party for an MBE?
§ Mr. Browne
The tariff that I have seen is that if one is chairman of a constituency association for three years and then president for three years, one has about a one in four chance of getting an MBE. The person in question had been chairman for about a year and a half, and suddenly out of the blue an MBE came winging its way. I tried to find who had recommended it, and on what grounds, but all information was tightly sealed.
I turn to the subject of unconstitutional pressure. According to the Chief Whip, the Select Committee report was leaked to him by a Committee member just over a week before it was published on 9 February 1990. I do not personally believe that it was leaked in that way, but none the less that is what I was told.
From that moment on, senior officers of state clearly sought to pervert the course of justice. Although numbed by the media onslaught, I was put under the greatest pressure to stand down at the next election, in return for a Government guarantee that I would not be punished in any way. I was told that I must stand down—not immediately, thus causing an embarrassing by-election, but at the next general election. The precision of the House Select Committee findings allowed all three of those options.
I was told that if I agreed to stand down I would not be punished in any way, and that sympathetic and even laudatory speeches would be made about me from the Government Front Bench and from some Back Bench supporters. The House would pass a take-note motion, with no punishment. I would then be assured of a very easy time regarding late night votes, and pairing until the next general election and would be positively considered—
§ It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).