§ Question again proposed.11.41 am
§ Mr. John Browne
As I was saying Mr. Speaker, I was told that, if I did agree to stand down at the next general election, I would not be punished in any way. In fact, sympathetic and even laudatory speeches would be made about me from the Government Front Bench and from Government Back Bench supporters. The House would pass a take-note motion, and there would be no punishment. I would then be assured of an easy time here with regard to late nights, pairing and so on, until the next election. I would be positively considered for any Committees or overseas visits for which I applied. On the other hand, if I did not submit, I could rest assured that the House would pass a hostile motion involving severe punishment.
That offer was entirely unconstitutional, in that it denied the rights of my constituents to vote either for or against their sitting Member at the next general election. When I asked, "What about my constituents?", I was told by the party chairman, "Do not worry about your constituents." But I do worry about my constituents and their rights, over those of party officials, to hire and fire hon. Members of the House.
This is a fundamental pillar of democracy. Surely we want hon. Members to be answerable to their constituents, and thereby to serve the interests of their constituents rather than those of party officials. We do not wish Members of the House to be answerable to, and thereby to become the private delegates of, a few party officials. Is that not what our British democracy is all about? Surely that should be a matter of concern to all right hon. and hon. Members of the House.
Worse still, what happened was one of the gravest possible abuses of judicial power. Pressure was put upon me by some of the most powerful people in the land—namely, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East who is not only a Queen's Counsel of the High Court of England, but was then Leader of the House, in charge of the business of the House, and, as Foreign Secretary, had been in charge of MI6; the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who, as Home Secretary, is in charge of MI5; and the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, who was in charge of the Government Whips Office.
With such great power wielded with impunity against the flow of justice, what man or women in our land can consider himself or herself safe from an individual purge for political reasons? Under such circumstances, when the Government call for silence, it is indeed the silence of the lambs. Does that not worry you, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
That illicit pressure was placed on me at a series of well-recorded meetings held in the Chief Whip's Office and the offices of the Leader of the House and of the party chairman. Interestingly, some of those meetings are not even recorded in the official diaries of the Ministers concerned. One meeting was so secret that I was met outside the door of the building not by the Minister's secretary but by the Chief Whip himself, who ushered me in to see the Minister in a back room, without my name being registered as a visitor.
§ Mr. Browne
No, I shall not—not for the moment, anyway.
That series of meetings confirmed my worst thoughts.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Why will the hon. Gentleman not give way? He has made a series of allegations—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The wider general public, and those who read Hansard, will know that, over the past hour and a half, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has made a series of outrageous allegations about me. Do you not think it right in the circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is it not the custom of the House—that, when such allegations have been made, the Member on his feet who is making them should give way at least once, so that a single question can he asked?
§ Mr. Browne
I shall refer to the hon. Gentleman again, and I shall gladly give way at that time, but I shall not give way to him at the moment.
§ Mr. Browne
No. I am talking about the Government Whips Office. I have had the vibes to get a move on, and so far I have given way to every demand that I do so. I must get on.
The series of meetings to which I referred confirmed my worst thoughts. It was apparent to me that the Labour party was out for the blood of a Conservative Member on the issue of Members' interests. That was mentioned in Mr. Merrick Denton-Thompson's letter, referred to on page 147 of the Committee report, which I have already read out, and which said that people were after my blood.
It is interesting that that letter was discarded out of hand by the Committee on the word of another journalist. As the hon. Member for Bolsover has said, the question is: why my blood? I shall attempt to answer that key question by referring to some outside factors that were allowed to influence the course of justice.
In 1988–89, the flavour of the season in the media was the subject of Members' interests. That was magnified by consistent pressure brought by some socialist Members. Allegations were made by socialist Members and by the 1256 media against a number of Conservative Ministers, former Ministers and senior Back Benchers. It was an unpleasant and threatening pressure on the Conservative party.
In 1989, the Labour party—especially Members seated below the Gangway—began to interrupt Prime Minister's Questions with persistent choruses of, "Sleaze party," and, "Party of sleaze." Again, that gave cause for considerable concern, which was apparent in the way in which it was received by the then Prime Minister.
At that time, I was involved with the Protection of Privacy Bill, and in an acrimonious divorce, about which there have been many misconceptions. Despite such provocation, I have never spoken ill of my former wife, nor sought to put publicly my side of that great human tragedy. However, I shall now list some undisputed facts.
In 1983 my former wife—now Mrs. Elizabeth Jowitt —left me for my one-time lawyer, Mr. Ernest Jowitt, with whom she had previously committed adultery, and whom she has since married. She sued me for divorce and it was agreed that the divorce should take place on the grounds of my adultery. There may have been reasons, even understandable reasons, with a wife committing adultery, but there can be no excuse for it—and, indeed, I felt much shame.
In the subsequent High Court action concerning financial settlement, Mr. Justice Wood reached some important judgments, most notably those of 6 February 1986 and 25 November 1986. These judgments were subsequently confirmed before the Court of Appeal on 23 November 1988. All of them were public and, indeed, all but the main initial hearings were in public. Despite that, certain sections of the media chose to present a totally different picture of the truth.
According to the Court of Appeal, page 9, columns G and H and page 10, column A:there has been a great deal of publicity in the past over this case. There has, it appears, been misleading impressions of the types of applications and the purpose of the applications made by this husband, the suggestion, I believe, that he was a man hoping to live off a rich wife. The facts are very different.In the media, the breakdown of the marriage was blamed upon my adultery. However, in his judgment of 6 February 1986, Mr. Justice Wood points to the fact that my ex-wife had two prior adulterous relationships—page five, paragraph H, and page six, paragraphs A and F. The media have never made mention of this to my knowledge.
Mr. Justice Wood also said that he was quite satisfied that the tactics of my ex-wife were to pressurise and to try to break me financially—page seven, paragraph F. In describing my ex-wife's character, Mr. Justice Wood said on page 11, paragraph F:I judge Mrs. Browne to be highly intelligent and to be manipulative. Where her own interests are concerned she is unscrupulous even to the extent of total lack of frankness.He went on, on page 13 paragraph D in referring to my ex-wife, to say:Unless her evidence is corroborated from independent and reliable sources, it remains suspect and indeed unacceptable.Finally, on page 8, paragraphs D and F, Mr. Justice Wood refers to my wife's theft of documents from me. It is most interesting to note that no mention was made of the public hearing in which I have pleaded consistently through my counsel not to have my wife sent to prison. Also ignored was the very significant statement made by Mr. Justice Wood in open court which was well attended by journalists on 25 November 1986, when he said: 1257It is right that I should make it perfectly clear that Mr. Browne, throughout these proceedings, from beginning to end, has behaved entirely properly, and indeed, I know in correspondence from Mr. Jowitt he earned the comment that he has behaved as a gentleman. With that comment I would agree.This statement was published by only one small newspaper.
Despite those published findings of a High Court judge who had heard the case presented to him by barristers over some two weeks, a totally distorted picture was accepted and disseminated to the public. It was a sensational story, I agree, but it was largely false and it was repeated, repeated and repeated. No one appeared willing to correct it.
The evidence: in essence, the story blamed the breakdown of the marriage upon my adultery. This was false, as I have said. Secondly, I was accused of trying to put my wife in gaol. That was false. It was a very newsworthy story, I admit, with a parade before the court on a day when there was not even a court hearing. Some of my lawyers felt that she should go to prison, but I did not. I have never thought so, and in fact I fought successfully in public court to prevent it. That is very different from the story that has been put about.
Thirdly, I was accused of applying for maintenance. Again, that was false. I applied for a division of assets of a marriage which was long and to which I had contributed very heavily and rightly so.
Fourthly, the size of the settlement was considered wrong. I cannot comment on a judge's decision, but, as he said, he noted the deliberate run-up of legal expenses amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. He saw an attempt at financial destruction of a spouse. He also saw assets of the marriage stashed away in an overseas trust and the sole beneficiary of that trust of almost £1 million claiming rights to legal aid. This false mass publicity had understandably a most detrimental effect on my standing in my constituency and upon my standing among colleagues in this House. It provided food for my political enemies.
In 1988, I introduced the Protection of Privacy Bill. I understand that, at the outset, it had the tacit support of the majority of the Cabinet. Subsequently, the Government moved to kill it under the guidance of the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, who, ironically, was later to operate the payroll and informal Whips against me on 7 March 1990.
Apparently, the Government did so largely due to the enormous pressure brought against the Bill by the media. I personally was subjected to very serious and consistent media criticism and character assassination. Allegations were made that I had introduced a Bill to smother charges of my incorrect registration of a Member's interest. Prima facie, this was false. A reading of the Bill will show quite clearly that business, political and all non-family private matters were specifically excluded from protection under the Bill.
I mention this background only because of the quite unprecedented insults and critical coverage given to me by certain sections of the mass media. I submit that it must have been a material fact in the minds of both members of the Select Committee and of the House in reaching their judgment. However, no attempt whatsoever was made by 1258 those Members guiding the judgment, such as the Leader of the House or the Chairman of the Select Committee, to encourage Members to dispel such critical and false assertions from their minds.
Of particular note among others in this respect is the speech of the socialist Member, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in Hansard at column 961, in which he pointed out that the House would not be discussing my case if it had not been for the press references to my matrimonial problems and the fact that I had introduced the privacy Bill. I believe that he was quite right.
In addition, the press coverage of the Select Committee inquiry, its report and the judgment by the House, were also quite unprecedented. The right hon. Member for Shropshire, North, (Mr. Biffen), a former Leader of the House, was moved to say in the debate, as reported in Hansard:One of the least happy aspects of the whole case has been the trial by tabloids …It has been done in a way that has made the Shropshire luminary Judge Jeffreys seem like a lilac social worker."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 945.]Even before the House sat in judgment upon me, it had viewed major detrimental headlines which I believe affected judgment.
I now turn to the House debate itself on 7 March 1990, the day upon which this political show trial was staged for the world to see. As I said, it was first preceded by a secret inquiry where the prosecution case was made and established.
Most people considered the Select Committee inquiry to be the court and saw the House merely as a court of appeal. This was a grave error, because, as I have said, there was no appeal at any stage. No, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the House was used by the Government Whips as a public stamp of approval—the show itself.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and many other people will, when they realise what happened, be aghast. As I said at the beginning of this necessarily long speech, it is often important to remember that Parliament consists of two Houses, not one. They both have a crucial role to play, and no way more so than in judging any Member of Parliament—be they a peer of the realm or from the Commons House of Parliament.
Searching through "Erskine May" on the subject of trying Members, chapter 25 of the 12th edition and chapter 2 of the 14th edition, you will see that the court of Parliament involves both Houses, not just one. This is most important, because it allows a sense of justice to permeate the more immediate pressures of political expediency. It sounds more like justice.
When Parliament tries one of its Members, it is the Commons House which is seen as the natural inquisitor and prosecutor, and it is this House which conducts the inquiry and prosecutes the case, but it does so in front of the Lords, who act as a jury under the watchful and skilled eye of the man entrusted to run the whole judiciary of our land—the Lord Chancellor of England, who acts as the judge.
The Lords are far less susceptible to Government Whips. So why were the late Lord Boothby and I tried against ancient precedent by only the Commons House or the prosecuting body standing alone? Does that sound like justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
1259 The high court is of Parliament, not the high court of the Commons House, and it is before Parliament that right hon. and hon. Members should be judged.
Furthermore, on such matters as contravention of House rules and privileges, surely Mr. Enoch Powell is right when he says that disputes should be tried by the Select Committee on Privileges which, unlike any other Committee, is equipped to take evidence on oath and adjudicate as a tribunal.
Why were the late Lord Boothby and I placed in the hands of a Select Committee which was not only ill-equipped to try hon. Members but itself had a vested interest—the sanctity and upholding of its own rules? Is that justice, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Why were even the ancient mechanisms for justice within this Parliament so ruthlessly and cleverly short-circuited? Was it because the short circuit was the insider circuit of the Government Whips and, like all insider circuits, more easily fixed? Does that ring alarm bells, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Even before the show trial started, it was wrongly based, not in the normal law of the land but by the customs of this high and sovereign court of Parliament, against which, and contrary to all major human rights conventions, there is no appeal. I believe that it is precisely because of the awesome power of Parliament and the lack of appeal that these somewhat cumbersome mechanisms were evolved over centuries. They were cumbersome, but they ensured greater justice. They acted against the manipulation of justice by Government.
I now turn to the debate itself. In this show trial, I was paraded before the television cameras from this very seat to the world for some five and a half hours. The judge in the debate was the Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East. As I have said, he is a Queen's counsel, so he is well versed in the requirements of natural justice. He is no amateur at persuading a jury or a court. He was also to act as chief prosecutor. However, he protested that he was not the prosecutor, merely the judge. In Hansard, column 966, he said:I put the question before the House, not in any sense as a prosecutor—At this stage there was a large interruption, which you can see on the video. This interruption was most important, because it indicated the House's feelings that he was indeed acting as chief prosecutor, and it can be clearly seen on the video. The Leader went on:I should like to have the attention of the House while I try to focus on exactly what that question is. [Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 966.]The jury were the Members of the Commons House of Parliament. The jury foremen, were the members of the usual channels, most importantly, the Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East and the Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. The jury were whipped, and voted strictly along party lines, with the only rebellion being among some 50 per cent. of Conservative Members who, disobeying their Whips, voted against my punishment. As an ex-Deputy Chief Whip yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will know the power of those Whips.
As judge, the Leader of the House briefed the jury of right hon. and hon. Members extremely carefully and cleverly. In his speech, great importance was attached to the fact that I had apologised. The Leader of the House referred to that apology repeatedly—this is in Hansard in 1260 columns 891, 896, 898, 899, 906, 926, 963 and 964—together with the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden, and the hon. Member for Workington. Indeed, the hon. Member for Workington even insisted in column 906 that, because I had conceded some errors, the Select Committee was correct in not allowing me to call any witnesses. In their speeches, they all alleged or insinuated that, as I had apologised, I had obviously agreed with the findings of the Select Committee and the procedures—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
May I ask the hon. Gentleman for a yes or no answer to a simple question? Has he, since he was elected to the House in 1979, ever recorded with a taping device a conversation with any Member of the House of Commons without their knowledge and approval? Will he give me a straight answer to that question?
§ Mr. Browne
Yes, I have, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realised at the very outset, as I said, of this fixing operation that it was very important that I did so, just to make sure that the record was clear.
The insinuation was that, as I had apologised, I had obviously agreed with the findings of the Select Committee and the procedures upon which those findings were based. This was totally untrue and unsupported. Even in my statement, which I emphasise was not a speech in the debate on 7 March 1990, at the risk of being controversial in such a statement, I said that I was not happy with the investigation procedures. I utterly abhorred the methods used by the Select Committee. However, I had to accept their existence and the referee's whistle.
In the debate on 7 March 1990, I was not granted the right to defend myself. I was permitted only to make a personal statement which, according to the rules of the House, could not be controversial. I was specifically prevented from speaking, making interventions and from asking questions in the debate. Nor was I permitted to challenge any of the wrong or misleading statements of others. I was effectively prevented from making any defence whatsoever.
If the House had not been adversely steered by the Leader of the House and whipped by the Government Chief Whip, there is strong reason to believe that the Government motion for my punishment might have been defeated. The eminent past Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), said:My conclusion is that the House should accept that apology. In my experience, the House has always been magnanimous to Ministers or hon. Members who recognise their errors and come to the House to apologise. In this instance I believe that that is the right step".—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 926.]The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, as a point of interest, voted against my punishment in the subsequent vote, as did the right hon. Members for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). As judge, the Leader of the House—I am sorry, I have got it wrong; he voted against my punishment. The right hon. Members for Finchley and Huntingdon abstained, but they were here in person.
As judge, the Leader of the House never even attempted to show the House either why or how my errors were serious. On the other hand, he steered the jury of Members present strongly away from any detailed review of the Committee's findings. In Hansard, columns 894 and 895, he said: 1261the House will wish to proceed on the basis of the conclusions recorded by the Select Committee. I do not consider it any part of our function today to review those findings in detail.I find that statement amazing. He also steered the House away from any feelings of allegiance or sympathy with the accused—column 895. He tried to convince the Committee that there should be no real concern over natural justice, due to my apology—columns 963 and 964. Finally, while he obviously knew that the vote would be whipped, he sought to convey to his fellow right hon. and hon. Members in the jury that the decision would be made by the House—column 966. He said:For my part, I stand by the terms of the motion, but I am content to leave the matter to the House.Does that sound, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like an honest judge?
In short, the Leader of the House acted as both judge and prosecutor in a clever but totally biased and hostile manner. Of course, he was a member of the jury. Worse still, he held that coveted legal title and privilege of assumed integrity of Queen's counsel. From him, there was no sympathy for the accused, even though he knew that the jury had been fixed—no sympathy, in fact the reverse, for the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, in column 895, urges the House away from any temptation of sympathy. I quote what he said:We must not, for example, be swayed by some feeling that we are all, as it were, members of the same club and owe some kind of primary allegiance to each other"—[Official Report 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 894–967.]Of course we must seek to act justly—justly, Mr. Deputy Speaker—when dealing with our colleages in such matters".Again, I find that an amazing statement in view of the fact that he knew that this vote would be fixed.
He went on:but as we form our judgment in this case I suggest that we should also be mindful of the advice offered to the House, again in 1977, by Lord Strauss—better known to us in the House as George Strauss, former right hon. Member for Vauxhall and Chairman of the Select Committee which reported on the earlier case. He said:'This is a national affair and the national aspect of it is that there must remain in the mind of the whole public a high esteem for this body, because it is the emblem of democracy in this country'.What emblem of democracy is deliberate injustice?
The Leader went on:We can all say, 'Hear, hear,' to that. The strength and authority of the House of Commons rests upon the respect of the people. If that respect is endangered, much greater damage may follow. That is the fundamental background against which we must remind ourselves why we are so deeply concerned by the topic of today's debate.What hypocrisy! Here is a right hon. and learned Member, a Queen's counsel, who knows that the charges were very sketchy, who knows that the motion put down was purely political and that if I had accepted his threat to stand down, he would have changed it for a motion completely different, one involving no punishment. Who knows he knew that the House or jury was fixed? What sort of judge, what sort of colleague, was that?
It is somewhat hard for me to reconcile the leading association of any right hon. and learned Gentleman with the totally unjust and most unconstitutional pressures to force me to stand down at the next general election in return for a take note motion and no punishment with the 1262 words of the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, as Lord President of the Privy Council and a Queen's counsel—in my view, it is amazing that, as an honourable man, he felt able to say, knowing what he did:The House has increasingly, and in my judgment rightly, taken the view that the composition of the House, in personal as well as political terms, is not a matter for the House itself, but for the electorate. A Member's election to, and continued membership of, this House is a matter between him and his constituents.That was said by the Leader of the House who had just asked me to stand down in return for no punishmenmt, who had bargained my place in this House, who had bargained the rights of my constituents either to elect or not elect me at the next election.
The Leader went on for more, this time for blood, my blood. He said in regard to punishment:Finally I come to consider what is probably the most difficult question—that of penalty or reproach. Should the House proceed to impose a penalty upon my hon. Friend or require him in some way to be reprimanded or rebuked? If so, in what form or at what level should that be set? Some hon. Members, I know, believe—and will, I dare say, argue today —that talk of penalty is, in such circumstances, inappropriate. I do not share that view; nor do I believe that it accords with precedent."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 895–97.]What does he mean by precedent? The late Lord Boothby was saved in his trial debate by the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, and the Government Whips then immediately changed tack and supported him. That was the precedent which my researches have shown. There is no other precedent—the case of Mr. John Cordle is not appropriate in this respect, because he resigned. There was no vote to be fixed.
To what precedent did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East refer? Was it really the precedent of justice, or the precedent of quite deliberate injustice to another hon. Member of the House? You have seen much in your time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will warrant that you have seen nothing like this. I hope that nothing like this ever happens again.
In my show trial, the Leader produced no motion for clemency according to his threat. Unlike the broad spectrum of motions that the Government made available for the last abortion debate, the Government sponsored only one motion in my show trial, and that was guilty as charged, with a call for draconian punishment, a punishment so severe that even a member of the Select Committee itself, the hon. Member for Streatham, was moved to say in the debate:I believe the retribution is far greater than the offence.The hon. Member for Bolsover intervened earlier in the debate to say that he considered that even that retribution was mild and virtually nothing. However, the hon. Member for Streatham said that it was greater than the offence.
The importance of this single Government motion should not be underestimated, because it was obvious that very few Members had read the vast Select Committee report. In all innocence, they relied upon the Leader of the House, who was also a Queen's counsel, to lead them towards a just decision. They believed that the Select Committee report was the hearing and that the Government judged in all honesty that I should be punished. This, together with the Whips, was the decisive influence on the voting of most Members. This motion was the party political deal, which was reflected in it.
1263 On this crucial issue, a past Prime Minister, and ex-Chief Whip, voted against my punishment. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup made some most interesting points. He said:In my experience, the House has always been magnanimous to Ministers or hon. Members who recognise their errors and come to the House to apologise. In this instance I believe that that is the right step to take.I am not trying to rebuke my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, but I think that he has tried to produce a solution which would meet disparate views in the House.This again, I emphasise, was the party political motion. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup went on:This is a personal matter for each one of us to decide and I think that it has been settled because the apology has been made; the whole House knows it and my hon. Friend's constituents know it."—[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 897–926.]Without any inside knowledge whatsoever, this ex-Prime Minister and ex-Chief Whip had hit upon one of the key elements of this clandestine injustice. He earned my total respect.
As I have said, as the accused in the debate I was permitted to make only a short statement, which according to custom Mr. Speaker announced would be heard in silence and without interruption. That is in Hansard at column 889. The custom of the House is that such statements should he apologetic and not controversial, and I was carefully briefed as to that. I was specifically forbidden to speak, to ask questions or even to intervene in the debate. I was therefore denied any opportunity whatsoever either to defend myself or to challenge the report or the speeches or interventions of any Member of the House who spoke in the debate.
You can now see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that from start to finish—throughout the Committee hearings, when I was not allowed to make any verbal presentations of my case but merely to answer questions—I was given no opportunity of a defence case either to the Select Committee or to the House—or, incidentally, to the media. It appeared that the whole case was cut and dried from the beginning. Surely in such a condition, the right of appeal should be considered fundamental.
It is also of interest that the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley, whose Ministers organised and whipped the vote, abstained in person. A fine lawyer and Whip, the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) also abstained. The ex-Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and the ex-Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North voted against the motion, as did many free, non-payroll vote Ministers who were barristers, such as my hon. and learned Friends the Members for Burton and for Perth and Kinross and my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Mr. Powell) and for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck), and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee voted against my punishment, as did a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, the hon. Member for Streatham. That was a great credit to their integrity, and I thank them now formally.
I wish to place it on the record that I attach no blame whatever to the vast bulk of hon. Members who voted for my draconian punishment. I believe that they voted in all 1264 innocence of the injustice of the Select Committee and of the deliberate perversion of justice by some of the most senior officers of state, including a Queen's counsel.
The judicial vote should have been a free vote of the House, but in effect it was along party lines. At 10pm on 7 March 1990, the House voted, but it did so along strictly party lines. The ultimate injustice was that the decision of the House on a judicial vote was done by means of a whipped vote.
§ Mr. Fraser
It was a free vote on this side of the House. Hon. Members voted in different ways. There were different motions from different Opposition Members. Any idea of it being a party political issue on this side of the House is utter rubbish.
§ Mr. Browne
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, because he would know much more about that than me. Nevertheless, it is clear from the voting record on the first crucial vote, on the motion that I was guilty and to be punished—I am not talking about the subsequent votes —that, with one exception, the members of his party voted one way.
Two facts stand out clearly even from a cursory observation of the voting list. The first is that the House divided along party lines, perhaps not whipped in the Labour party's case. The same political bias that had been so consistently and heavily denied by the Chairman of the Select Committee in column 937 of Hansard was made clear for all to see. Secondly, Conservative Members were subjected to a payroll Whip. What is not clear, but nevertheless true, is that they were subjected to an informal Whip.
Again it is interesting to note what the Chairman of the Select Committee said in an intervention in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton. He said:I must ask my hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind that there is no question of our punishing or convicting my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). We did no such thing and it is for the House to decide.The hon. Member for Wealden knew that the Whips were armed. He continued:My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester had every chance to produce any documents he darned well wanted to.What about the stolen documents that were not returned? They were not mentioned. He continued:My hon. and learned Friend will spoil the debate".I do not know what he meant by that, but as he is present he may tell us in his speech. He continued: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), whose reputations he tried to traduce a moment ago, and who were honourable members of that Committee, were totally bipartisan. No sign of political passion crept into the Committee to prejudice the case against my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester." —[Official Report, 7 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 937.]I should like to have conducted the House through further parts of that debate, but—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Could the hon. Gentleman answer me another question, again: yes or no? He referred previously to divorce proceedings. Has he ever changed, modified or removed from a transcript of any legal proceedings in this country any words? Has he ever used such a transcript in any meeting anywhere in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Browne
Not that I can think of. There was however a document that was produced in my constituency on the advice of a lawyer who said that I should answer questions that had been raised in my constituency executive by not going outside the judgment of the learned High Court judge in my case, Mr. Justice Wood. So I prepared a document and took from his published judgment those items that affected just the answers to the questions that had been raised at my executive.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he quoted selectively? Is he saying that he admits in the House of Commons to quoting selectively from a legal document?
§ Mr. Browne
No, that is not quite what I am saying at all, and the hon. Gentleman does himself no credit whatever in trying to put those words into my mouth. Various questions were raised by my executive that pertained to my divorce. I merely quoted the judge in order to answer those questions that were raised at my executive meeting. So there was selection, just as there is when any Member quotes from Hansard. We cannot produce the whole of Hansard for every quote. It is common practice to quote. It is a matter of getting the quotes correct, which I made every attempt to do. There was one typographical error where a secretary missed out a bracket that was not all that vital. I was also criticised severely for putting round brackets instead of square brackets. My typewriter did not have square brackets, and in those days I was unaware of the huge legal significance of the difference between a round bracket and a square bracket. Otherwise, I have nothing further to say in answer to that question.
Immediately after my sentencing by the House, it was asked to vote for a motion clarifying the vague rule on foreign payments, under which I had been sentenced. The goalposts were immediately moved. The result of the vote of the House was portrayed in the media internationally as if there were something very serious and I had got a hugely serious punishment, almost like a criminal. As the hon. Member for Bolsover said, in this House a 20-day suspension is not considered vastly serious, but in the outside world it is. The problem is that judgments by the House are seen by the outside world very differently from the way in which they may be considered by hon. Members.
On the question of precedents, I should like to say that the inquiry report and my subsequent punishment by the House, with the exception of the case of the late Lord Boothby, were virtually unprecedented. The perversion of justice it involved in fixing the House vote was absolutely unprecedented. Following my punishment, all Opposition barracking over the "party of sleaze" stopped immediately. Cases were brought against other hon. Members, but, although they were found guilty, none of them was brought to the House.
Most interestingly, a case was brought against a member of the Select Committee itself—the hon. Member for Workington—and it showed the hon. Member to have deliberately and repeatedly broken a specific rule regarding the declaration of Members' interests. Surprisingly, his case was not referred to the House. Obviously, the precedent set by my punishment was not to be followed.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is the hon. Gentleman aware what the report to which he refers says? I do not receive and have never received moneys from the Confederation of Health Service Employees, the trade union, either for expenses or directly to me. That is accepted by the Committee. Is the hon. Gentleman aware what the report said in its conclusion? It said:We recognise that Mr. Campbell-Savours has never sought to conceal his sponsorship by COHSE, and that this sponsorship has always been properly registered in the Register of Members' Interests. As we have noted above, it is by no means clear that the House necessarily expects trade union sponsorship, when there is no direct payment whatever to the Member, to be declared.That is the case in my case. How can the hon. Gentleman link that case, in which no payments were made to me, to his own case, in which he received $88,000 from the authorities in Saudi Arabia?
§ Mr. Browne
I have the report on the hon. Member's case in my hand. I do not have time to quote it all. However, the last lines of the recommendation of the Select Committee are:Since it is a specific rule that sponsorship should be registered, we believe that Mr. Campbell-Savours is technically in breach of the rule on declaration.The Committee recommended no action. The point is that it was a technicality. Sure. My contention is that so was my case, as I said before. The payment—
§ Mr. Browne
Right from the very beginning, when he was allegedly out for my blood before the Committee even sat, the hon. Gentleman has been quoting vast figures. These monetary amounts are not required by the Select Committee on Members' Interests in the Register. I think that they should be. I think that it should be total—either no declarations or total declarations. However, because we steer this rather grey area in the middle where, as I said at the beginning of my speech, there is this farcical situation of a financial declaration with no monetary allowance needing to be disclosed, we now have this situation.
It was said that the fee was for one little bit of work, and there has been some downgrading and attempts to make it look like a huge fee for almost nothing—which was totally false. The fact is that the hon. Member for Workington keeps mentioning this figure. Why? Because it creates more jealousy? People say, "How does this man get a huge fee for almost nothing?" Even hon. Members have said to me, "My gosh, that seems an awful lot of money, John." Jealousy was aroused among the jury sitting in this House by statements such as the hon. Gentleman has made.
As I said earlier in my speech, the technicality was that I asked the Registrar whether that payment should be registered, and he said no, because it was a payment to my company which had already been declared. It was because of the manipulation—the bending—of this rule that the Select Committee said, "Oh, but as you own 50 per cent. of the stock, you should have declared it." What did the Committee do immediately I had been sentenced? It changed the rule.
It is now clear for Members' interests that, if one owns over a certain percentage of stock in a company, all payments to those companies, declared or not, have to be declared. Now, I understand it is very clear. It was a technicality. I am not trying to insult the hon. Member for Workington: all I am saying is that he was on a technical 1267 charge as well. Why was the precedent of my case not followed? Why was a member of the Select Committee not brought back to the House, as happened in my case?
Some people have asked me why I have waited until now to raise the matter. The truth is that I have been trying to raise the matter for well over a year. My hope in explaining the case, which involved not just a great injustice but, much more importantly, a deliberate injustice, was that some right hon. Member would not only see the outrage, but be prepared to do something about it or even to speak out. I therefore tried to appeal.
I soon discovered that there was no right of appeal anywhere. This was in direct contravention of article 14 of the United Nations convention on civil and political rights of 1966. One of the most fundamental of all human rights, as I have said, is the right of natural justice to appeal. I have tried for over a year to appeal this on the grounds that I was systematically denied almost every basic human right to natural justice and that the procedures of the Select Committee itself stood in the way of justice. I do not blame the members of the Select Committee. These are the procedures. My aim with the Leader of the House today is, by showing what happened in my case, to get the procedures changed.
If an hon. Member is arraigned before a Select Committee, particularly on a matter of such seriousness affecting his whole career—so that he is virtually sitting in a court on an issue affecting his life—evidence should be taken on oath and the Committee should be equipped to take evidence on oath and to adjudicate. Those are the procedures which I am trying to get at. I am not trying to criticise the members of the Select Committee. They do not decide whether or not certain things can be done. They are part of the system. So I believe that great matters need to be corrected.
To give an example, the Select Committee denied me some of the rights that are given to all murderers and even to thieves, such as the right to call witnesses in one's defence and to have them heard and cross-examined. I do not know whether it was the wish of the Chairman of the Select Committee or whether it is the system, but the fact remains that those rights were not granted, even though they are essential to proving one's case. The defendant should be able to call witnesses and have them cross-examined by himself and by the Committee—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have heard the hon. Member refer to those particular points on many occasions. He is now getting very close to tedious repetition.
§ Mr. Browne
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to drum them home. I will get on.
I have also tried to appeal against the findings of the House on 7 March 1990 on the grounds that the decision was made as a result of a quite deliberate perversion of justice by some of the most senior and powerful officers of the Government. I tried in vain. I realise that there is no established appeal mechanism in the House of Commons, but the Government certainly have the power to bring the matter back before the House.
Surely any Government who are a signatory to the United Nations convention and are made up of men of honour would move decisively to expose wrong and to punish any deliberate abuse of justice in the treatment of an hon. Member. As I said, I believe that the House was 1268 deliberately misled when it debated and voted on the issue on 7 March 1990. Therefore, as I have said before, I do not hold the vast majority of hon. Members to blame in any way whatever.
I have said that the right of appeal is very basic. It is-enshrined in clause 5 of article 15 of the UN convention. It is also enshrined in the European convention. Governments talk much about human rights, and rightly so. Our Government have signed those two conventions, but I understand that they have not signed the protocols that allow individuals to bring cases against the Government under the United Nations convention. Why not? Be that as it may, I have to accept—and I had to accept—that there was no appeal.
I believe that my case is similar to the Dreyfus case in Paris in the 1890s.
§ Mr. Browne
Yes, similar to the Dreyfus case. He was a captain in the French army. He was falsely charged, falsely convicted, disgraced and imprisoned for five years on Devil's Island.
§ Mr. Browne
I am anxious to get on.
His case was then covered up by the state, and a state cover-up is very powerful. As Anatole France said in describing the Dreyfus case:Some people began to recognise the injustice done, but it was supported and defended by so many open and secret powers that even the boldest hesitated. Those whose duty it was to speak up kept silent.As no official avenue of appeal was open to me, I approached some of the most powerful Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, with my appeal, listing what the House has now heard. I approached some of the most influential people in the realm. My hope was that honourable people would move to correct this injustice. My hope was that they would certainly move to root out deliberate injustice, for what greater crime can there be than deliberate injustice?
Sadly, the result of my approaches was silence, in all but one case—yes, a constructive suggestion from the right hon. Member for Finchley. In the case of the Government Chief Whip, it even aroused hostility. I was even threatened. Certainly, my constituency has been put into trouble by it and has become almost a laughing stock.
Does that state silence amount to a cover-up—a cover-up so powerful that even parts of the media are silenced? Does deliberate injustice by the Government amount to corruption, and if a little corruption is accepted for the good of the party, where does it stop? Who will be next? Which right hon. or hon. Member of the House would be selected in future? For if Ministers, given charge of secret agencies such as M16 and M15, can take such blatantly discriminatory and unjust action against a loyal colleague, no citizen of this land is safe under the law.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting close to impugning the integrity and honour of other hon. Members of the House. He knows that that is not in order. The only way in which he can do that in order is by putting down a motion. Criticism is in order—even strong criticism—but he must not impugn integrity and honour.
§ Mr. Browne
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept that ruling and I have put down early-day motion 585 to that effect.
I fought my case in the knowledge of my innocence and also the knowledge of this great and deliberate injustice and that it could happen to other right hon. or hon. Members who have outside interests. I have fought my case in the hope that the House will urgently examine and change its rules and procedures to prevent the same deliberate injustice from ever happening again.
As Clemenceau said, again in the Dreyfus case:The cause of human justice admits no compromise. You must be either for it or against it.I wonder who will be the first to break the silence—the silence of the lambs.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)
It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this point.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) covered three main topics affecting the House and those are the only topics on which I may comment.
The first topic is the debate on 7 March 1990, when the House considered the report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith). The findings of the Select Committee in that report were fully covered in that debate, when a variety of different views were expressed before the House came to a clear decision on a vote. I have re-read that debate thoroughly. Certainly, a variety of views were expressed. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester that there was no whipping. It was a free vote and my hon. Friend mentioned the difference in the way that some of my hon. Friends voted.
As the House will know, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is aware—he and I have corresponded about this—there is no formal route of appeal following the decision that the House reached in March 1990, after the debate conducted in accordance with the rules of the House. The resolution that the House approved at the end of that debate is the final decision of the House.
§ Mr. John Browne
I find it hard to accept my right hon. Friend's statement. I know that he is an honourable man —I sincerely mean that—but he said that there was a free vote. Perhaps, on the surface, there was a free vote. Everyone in the House knows how the Whips operate, with the payroll and by applying pressures—what is called the informal vote.
§ Mr. Browne
Maybe, but I am talking about the Conservative side of the House. Even a Cabinet Minister came up to me and told me that he was pressurised. He actually said that he was ashamed of what he had done, but that he was ordered to do it by the Whips. He did not attend the debate, but he came in to vote because he was ordered to do so by the Chief Whip. My right hon. Friend must admit that although it was a free vote on the surface, it was very much a whipped vote, under the table, on this side of the House.
§ Mr. MacGregor
If my hon. Friend looks at the Division lists, he will see that my hon. Friends voted in a variety of different ways. Therefore, I think that the position is clear.
The second topic raised in my hon. Friend's speech was the procedures followed once the Select Committee has made a report following a complaint against a Member. As my hon. Friend is aware, the rules of the House are clear in relation to reports from the Select Committee. They are set out in the annex to the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration) of the 1974–75 Session, and summarised in "Erskine May" at page 389. It is made absolutely clear there that the final decision is for the House to take. The proceedings in respect of Select Committee reports are of long standing and perfectly well understood by the House, and I see no need for them to be re-examined.
The third topic discussed by my hon. Friend for Winchester at great length was the procedures that the House has established for the registering of Members' interests and for the investigation by the Select Committee on Members' Interests of alleged breaches of those rules. The House will recall that on 7 March 1990 the House approved a second motion requesting the Select Committee on Members' Interests to study and report further on the questions raised by its report relating to, first, the definition of outside interests and the enforcement of obligations in relation to declarations of outside interests by hon. Members and, secondly, the procedures whereby complaints may be brought before the Select Committee and whereby the Select Committee investigates such complaints; together with such other questions as might appear to it to arise therefrom.
My hon. Friend spent a considerable part of his speech today examining the procedures in front of the Select Committee and also making various recommendations on the definition of "outside interests" and the "enforcement of obligations". I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden will have noted the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester. At present, those matters are in the hands of the Select Committee, as the House requested. I do not think that it would be right for me to discuss them in detail today before the Select Committee has produced the report as requested by the House.
The matter was fully debated in March 1990 and the points that my hon. Friend raises about future issues affecting the Select Committee are ones which the Committee is currently investigating. I believe that it is right to leave it there.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Will the Leader of the House ask those following our debate to note how the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has interpreted what happened during the Divisions that evening? Is not it significant that the hon. Gentleman stated that, 10 minutes later, the House took a decision in effect to change the rules, but that was not the decision taken? The House recommended that the Select Committee should consider the rules. There is a great distinction between the way in which the hon. Gentleman presented what happened and the way in which the House made its recommendation. Will the Leader of the House allude to that fact? The speech of the hon. Gentleman, which lasted about three 1271 hours, was littered with examples of slight distortions of the facts that he believes would benefit the presentation of his case.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I must reply to the hon. Gentleman's point. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester has taken a great deal of the time of the House.
It is not right for me to comment on detailed points made today. My position as Leader of the House is to deal with key issues in the motion relating to the way that the Select Committee deals with Members' interests and the procedures thereafter. I have responded to both those matters.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is right about the recommendation—I have re-read all the papers and note that the Select Committee recommended a change but that, on 7 March 1990, the House did not approve that recommendation. Instead, it asked the Select Committee to look at the wider issues to which I referred. I understand that the Select Committee is now doing that. When the Select Committee makes its report to the House, that will be the time for the House to consider the matters to decide whether changes are required.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
What we have heard today is a catalogue of events from a Member of the Tory party who, in the run-up to the 1987 general election, did what many Tory Members do—made money on the side. Not content with being a Member of Parliament on a salary that was then about £25,000 or £26,000 a year, he wanted to line his pockets from outside. Many people do that—about 250 Tory Members and a small handful of Opposition Members, although the number of Opposition Members who make money outside this place is thank God, decreasing.
In 1974 people in local government were told that they had to sign a register of their interests when they became councillors. We in Parliament said that that was a great idea because it would ensure that councillors discussing and voting on planning decisions had to tabulate in a register their interests and for whom they were speaking.
In our society there has always been a conflict of interests. Can you truly represent your constituents on a local authority or in Parliament and at the same time represent someone else? That is the classic question. Over the years, many people have said that they can do both jobs. They have even gone so far as to say that your need to do another job to keep up some interest. That is like me saying, "Where is the nearest pit?"—miners who come to Parliament cannot work in a pit for half a day a week, but Members who are lawyers can go off to the law courts and pick up £60,000 a year, quite apart from what they get for being in the House—if and when we see them.
The reason why his place starts at half-past two in the afternoon, except on Fridays, is so that people can make money in the City and in the law courts. They could also make money at Lloyd's, but in recent years it seems that they have not been able to open the box and pull out a lot of money all the time. They are now squealing and they want their money back. They put their bets on in that posh 1272 gambling den of Lloyd's and they have nearly always made money, but now that they are not winning they want Parliament and the taxpayer to foot the bill.
In that environment, along came the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). He told his Tory friends that he had interests outside Parliament which were making him a lot of money on the side. When he became a Member of Parliament, I suppose that they told him that he had better declare those interests in the register which Skinner and his friends forced through the House of Commons in the early 1970s. We said that if it was right for people in local government to have a register, there should be one in Parliament, too.
That register was no big deal. We were not asking people to put in how much they made, although they ought to do that. A section of the register should record such facts. For example, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) worked for two months for Maxwell Communication Corporation. He got a £300,000 pay-off when he packed in, £100,000 extra as redundancy pay for working two months, and a Mercedes for a quid. That should all have been in the register.
Along comes the smart Alick hon. Member for Winchester. Given that none of his mates on the Tory side had disclosed their interests, he decided not to do so either. He picked up £88,000 from Saudi Arabia. I have always said that that money should have ended up in the miners' fund. During the strike, the hon. Gentleman accused the miners of getting money from the middle east, while all the time he was picking it up himself.
That 88,000 quid was not disclosed, but in the run-up to the 1987 election some bright-eyed spark at The Observer called David Leigh found out about it. It was a nice juicy little piece. OK—the story could have related to any of the 250 Tory Members, and for the hon. Member for Winchester it was sad that it was him, especially as he had a bit of trouble, to which I shall not refer, with another matter.
The net result was that the voters of Winchester decided that they had someone representing them who was making a lot of money on the side, and the Tory vote slumped. It is pretty obvious that someone in Winchester Tory party would have said, "We had better do something about this." So along comes the Select Committee. Here I am paraphrasing because I am not a member of it—I do not have owt to do with Select Committees.
§ Mr. John Browne
The hon. Gentleman has paraphrased a lot. It was not that the voters of Winchester thought that here was a chap who was making money on the side—the article by Mr. Leigh suggested that I had done something wrong. My point was that, according to the registrar, whom I asked in 1983, I had done exactly correctly. That was the point, and that is why I issued the suit.
§ Mr. Skinner
So, along comes the hon. Member for Winchester and he says, "I don't like this article in The Observer, so I'll issue a writ—I'm going to stop it and I'm going to make a lot of money." After all the business of the Select Committee and the writ being issued, the case was never pursued. Like many other writs, it was issued to silence somebody. He has talked about being silenced, but he decided to silence The Observer for a convenient period, and he has never pursued the matter. If David Leigh had said something extravagant and outrageous why is it that, 1273 with all his money, the hon. Gentleman was not capable of pursuing the writ to make sure that he landed The Observer with a big, fat bill? The truth is that he did not follow it through. He blames the Select Committee for having looked into the matter, as he said earlier in his long tirade.
§ Mr. Browne
That is not the point. How could a suit like that possibly be pursued successfully when the Select Committee came along and said that I was not right in the way that I gave information to the Register of Members' Interests?
§ Mr. Skinner
When I was at school, that was known in geometry as QED. The hon. Gentleman has proved my case. He is saying that his friends in the Tory party said to him, "I'm afraid we'll have to rap you over the knuckles, John." As a result, the paper realised that it had a first-class chance of sustaining its argument. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that he has made a statement which proves that The Observer had a case because a gang of his friends in the Tory party proceeded to do what The Observer thought they ought to do. The Observer is not supposed to be a Tory paper, although I am not sure about that.
The hon. Gentleman has been whingeing this morning. He got 20 days. Somebody said to me, "What shall we do, Dennis, with this bloke who's up for trial?" Trial—I ask you! The hon. Gentleman has compared himself to Dreyfus. He has a lot of brass. According to the register, he is still making a big, fat packet on the side, as well as picking up his salary of 30,000 quid. A lot of Tories do that, but to come here and say that he has been treated like Dreyfus is worse. He may be a lot of things, but Dreyfus he is not. He got 20 days. Big deal!
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) touched the Mace.
§ Mr. Skinner
He dropped it. He tried to pick it up, but he dropped it and his case turned into a cause célàbre. My hon. Friend got kicked out of Parliament for a longer time than the hon. Member for Winchester, and he has suffered in other respects. Others have been thrown out for other reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) got thrown out because he said that the last Prime Minister was lying. Other people get kicked out and their penalty can add up to well over 20 days, and they have not lined their pockets. They have been kicked out of Parliament because they have said things that they believed in, as a matter of principle.
The truth is that the hon. Member for Winchester has suffered at the hands of his friends. Let us put it on the record once again. The Select Committee has a Tory majority—his friends. One hon. Member who serves on the Committee has been referred to several times—my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). The hon. Member for Winchester is trying to make us believe that my hon. Friend has twisted all the other members of the Committee—a majority of whom are Tories—round his little finger like some Machiavelli so as to do down the hon. Member for Winchester. I will believe a lot of things, but I ain't believing that.
1274 The hon. Member for Winchester should understand what really happened. His party decided in 1987, when it saw the Tory vote in Winchester slump, that it had better get rid of him and that he would be the casualty. He may be standing against the Tory candidate at the next election.
§ Mr. Skinner
Quite frankly, he should get on with it. If I see Tories falling out, I will do everything that I possibly can to help, although I will not go down and speak for the hon. Gentleman. If they are to fall out and fight one another, that is their business. We all know that the Tories have divided the working class over the years. Divide and rule is their tactic.
The hon. Member for Winchester told us this morning that he is dividing against his right hon. and hon. Friends, and that is why he has found himself in a predicament. The hon. Gentleman talked about the attendance in the Chamber when a certain private Bill was considered. He got his facts wrong. When a private Bill is considered in this place, Members have to attend. He tried to make a comparison between a private Bill involving King's Cross and another private Bill dealing with the Register of Members' Interests. Of course fewer Members turned up here for the Bill on Members' interests. We all know that it was not a private Committee.
As I see it, the hon. Gentleman has produced his manifesto for Winchester when the general election takes place. I will give him some advice. I shall not give him a great deal today, but I will tell him this: that manifesto is too long for the general election. You need a few pictures and a shorter manifesto. If you make the speech that you used this morning when you are at the guildhall at Winchester, you had better complete it much more quickly than you did today. In other words, you should get to the point. You would also be better off not reading it all out.
§ Mr. Skinner
I am just giving the hon. Gentleman some advice. You were not here this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman went through it all and we heard it.
§ Mr. Skinner
I get your drift, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was giving him serious advice if he is to stand against the Tory party. If that happens, the Labour candidate could slip through the middle and win the seat. That is one of the principal reasons for my involvement in the debate.
The hon. Member for Winchester should understand that this place is a gentlemen's club as well as a place for enacting legislation. I have been here for 20-odd years and I know that. I do not like the gentlemen's club part of it. I decided when I came here not to be part of it, but I knew it existed. The hon. Gentleman has been done by many of his hon. Friends who are in this club. He was not done by Labour Members. We had a free vote. The hon. Gentleman says that there was a whipped Government vote against him, and he must prove that. As I have said, we were not whipped. We did not get involved in the club. Many of my hon. Friends said, "We will not vote to send somebody out for 20 days." They did not want to vote. A hell of a lot of Members did not vote for that reason.
1275 The hon. Member for Winchester must understand that when he came to the House he came as part of the gentlemen's club. If he wants to be involved in the camaraderie of that club, he might have to accept some of the rules. When Mr. Speaker tells me that I must leave the Chamber, I do not like it. On those occasions, I should like to appeal. I should like to say to Mr. Speaker, "Look, there are good reasons for my saying that someone is lining his pockets." But that is not possible, and I have to leave. When I pass through the doors, there is a bobby waiting waiting for me to escort me from the premises. An hon. Member who finds himself in that position is not allowed to speak in front of a camera in the Norman Shaw building. Yet the hon. Member for Winchester is whingeing because there was no appeal. In fact, he secured one, whereas I have never had one—I have never had a chance to put my case on the occasions when I have been told to have an early bath.
The hon. Gentleman should understand what the game is all about. That is all that I say to him. He has sat among those who want to make money on the side. I think that I know what is getting to his craw. It is that he has been done when many of his hon. Friends are making money. At the beginning of his speech I sat in my place thinking that he would reveal all their names. I thought that he would give us the figures that are absent from the register. I thought, "He might tell us what ex-Cabinet Ministers —who have 59 directorships between them—are getting". I thought for one fleeting moment that the hon. Gentleman would put numbers by the side of all those directorships, but he did not. Instead, he pulled back.
Here is another bit of advice for the hon. Gentleman: if he means to fight the election, he must not pull back. He will get some good copy. Not only the Winchester press but the national press as well, will be interested. Chris Moncrieff will be ringing the hon. Gentleman every morning. Think about it. Name the names—they are all in the register. The hon. Gentleman could make 20 or 30 speeches in Winchester and they could be in —I was going to say The Sun, but I think that The Sun would black them. Anyway, he could be in the Daily Mirror every morning.
I know that there is something wrong with the register. We all know that. Two or three things need doing—and we should be sharp about it. We want to know how much money is being made by all the company directors and the rest. What would be wrong with that? I would go further, but the House would not carry it. Every Member of Parliament should have only one job. I would like to see that in the Labour manifesto—not many of my hon. Friends have outside interests. It would be a good thing, and we should sweep the country. There would be no talk of hung Parliaments and the like. I would like us to say to the millions of voters that the next Labour Government will insist that when someone enters Parliament he must represent his constituents—he should have one job and one job alone. But the hon. Member for Winchester would not support that.
§ Mr. Skinner
If the hon. Gentleman supports the idea of one job, and one job alone for a Member of Parliament, why has he still got so many interests in the register?
The hon. Member for Winchester had a choice in the gentlemen's club, and he did not take it. A lot of hon. Members who go before the Select Committee about such 1276 matters give in. I would not do that—I would take it on the chin. If I had stood up and said something in the Chamber or outside, or if I had done something, I should stand by it, but the hon. Member for Winchester wanted to have his cake and eat it as well—he wanted to plead to the Select Committee, but he did not want to take the consequences of what he had done and said. He could have apologised at the beginning, and that probably would have been the end of the matter. But he chose to bluff it through, and the bluff did not work.
The hon. Gentleman should be a man. He should understand what happens when someone enters to the House as a Member, with all this apparatus. It may be true that he is one of many Tory Members of Parliament who are making a lot of money. He feels, "Why should I get done?" He is like the bloke who speeds up the motorway at 100 mph—the Minister of State for Defence Procurement did so twice in a fortnight, and said that he thought that the police were escorting him. One cannot say in court. "Seven other people broke the speed limit as well, Mr. Judge, or Mr. Magistrate, so why have you picked on me?" Such things happen. Some people get picked on occasionally, and they think, "Why me?" The hon. Member for Winchester should understand that he has had his chance, but he wanted everything and it did not work.
I think that the rules are wrong. They want tightening up. We want to ensure that the register is complete, and there is only one method of doing that. It is for all of us to represent our constituents, and there is an end of it. If hon. Members want to help someone they can do so and get nothing out of it. When I get up in the morning and the House does not start sitting until 2.30, I look in the papers to see if there is a strike, and I join in if it is within 20 miles of this building. That is my interest. I do not want to be paid for it. I may have to pay, to help the people who are on strike. But to think that one can make money and get away with it is another matter.
The hon. Member for Winchester has achieved one thing in raising the issue today. He has again raised the question whether the register is satisfactory. The answer is clear: it is not satisfactory. It is time to change it, and I hope that that happens in the next Parliament, after Labour sweeps to power. If the Labour Government cannot introduce the idea that one Member of Parliament should have only one job, who can? My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is very sound on such matters and I ask him to convey to the next Labour Government the fact that the least we can expect is for the register to be brought up to date. Not only that—we should ensure that we know fully how much money people are making on the side in the law courts, in the City and in the board rooms. If this debate has done that, it has served a useful purpose.
§ 1.9 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was courteous enough to give me notice that he intended to refer to me today as I am Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. Like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I do not intend to reply in detail to the criticisms of that Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester will be aware, the Select Committee was faced in 1989 with a 1277 disagreeable and complicated task when it was required to investigate complaints made against him. Our inquiry took nine months, which was a long time. The Committee's report, and even more important, the 150 pages of oral and written evidence which were printed with it, must be seen and read as a whole. They are the basis on which the House took its decision in March 1990.
To take any particular political part or passage in isolation can only distort the overall picture. If anyone in the House or outside, having read the report and the evidence in full, were to accept the interpretation of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester of the events in preference to the Committee's findings, I would disagree with him profoundly. I must point out that the findings were unanimous and I stand by the integrity of my colleagues on the Committee in the discharge of their duties.
As I said, I do not want to go into the details. However, there is one very important point which is a matter of justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester said many times today that he was specifically denied the authority to call witnesses. That is certainly not my recollection.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
It is obviously also not the recollection of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester did not make any request to call witnesses either before or during his evidence. However, very much later, during our inquiry—
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I will finish my sentence first.
Much later, during our inquiry, my hon. Friend asked to call a former business partner. That was the only occasion. Otherwise, in the course of his evidence, that was not the case. I am afraid that I must point that out to him. Although I do not want to go into detail, that is an important point that he has made today.
§ Mr. Browne
I respect what my hon. Friend has said, but I asked on a number of occasions to call witnesses. I asked the registrar, I think, on at least three occasions whether I could bring three specific people to address the Committee to have them cross-examined—particularly Mr. Chattington, Mr. Merrick Denton-Thompson and the former registrar. I was told, "Certainly not." I was told that the only people who could call witnesses to the Committee were the members of the Committee themselves, and this was verified in the debate. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton) said exactly that —that I was not allowed to call witnesses for cross-examination.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am very sorry, but I must tell my hon. Friend that he was given the chance to call witnesses. I will not go into the details about Mr. Chattington because if we go into that, we will get very involved and we will become involved in a situation in which we found ourselves so often in respect of our hearing evidence from him.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)
My hon. Friend referred to the report of his Select Committee which, of course, I read with the greatest attention before our debate two years ago. I have no doubt that he conducted the proceedings of that Committee with the great probity with which we all associate him in the House. Does he agree that that report did not reach any conclusions about the guilt or innocence of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne)? It rejected a number of allegations against him and focused on two, on which it recommended further investigation. Those were the conclusions of the Select Committee report.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
No, that is not quite the story. In our view, not all the allegations were founded. In the course of our report, we indicated that that was the case, but in two particular instances we believed that there was a breach.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Will the hon. Gentleman further qualify his reply to the invervention of the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies)? Is not it true to say that we did not recommend further investigation? We recommended that the House should make a decision on the decisions that we took. The words in our report are:We therefore uphold the complaint.That was a decision that we took on the basis of all the evidence before the Committee. It was then for the House to decide whether, in the light of our upholding the complaint, action should be taken.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
The hon. Gentleman is correct.
There is another aspect into which I do not intend to go in detail. It concerns the procedures which the Committee followed when investigating the case. They were the procedures which had been approved by the House in 1975 when it first instituted the Register of Members' Interests. Essentially, they are the same procedures that any Select Committee uses to establish the facts of a matter and then to come to a conclusion on the basis of those facts. At the end of the debate on my hon. Friend's case, the House gave the Committee a wide-ranging remit to review the rules of registration and declaration and the procedure for investigating complaints.
The Committee has had a lot of other business to tackle in the intervening period, but it has not neglected the remit which the House gave it. I hope that the Committee will be in a position to agree a report on those matters before Parliament is dissolved. In the meantime of course, it would be quite improper for me to anticipate the report.
When the House eventually comes to debate that report, it will be able to take into account the points made in today's debate and in the debate in March 1990. However, it would be wrong to regard that review as in any way reopening the case on which the House reached a decision nearly two years ago. If the House had considered that the alleged deficiencies in our present rules and procedures were sufficiently serious to tilt the balance of judgment in my hon. Friend's case, it could have done so. It did not do so and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has made clear, its decision cannot now be reopened.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
This has not been a very happy or pleasant occasion. We all know briefly the history of the matter. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) had a well-publicised matrimonial squabble. he was complained about by a journalist who, in the terms of the Select Committee's report, was not wholly without professional interest in the result of those matters.
The hon. Gentleman was suspended by the House for 20 days, which is not a terribly serious punishment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has pointed out. His real complaint is that he was disowned by his party. That is a matter between him, his party and his constituency; it is not a matter for rehearsal in the House today. The hon. Gentleman was lucky in the ballot, and he has chosen a matter of personal interest rather than a subject of interest to his constituents.
We have one very clear and one slightly vague obligation in relation to our interests. When we speak in a debate, we should declare our interest where the speech touches on that subject. That is a much wider responsibility than the responsibility for declarations. I used to have a caravan at one time. I do not think that that is a declarable interest, but, if I was speaking about caravan sites—indeed, I have done so—I should declare an interest, because, although it is not something that needs to go in the Register of Members' Interests, it is clearly relevant to what I am saying.
Equally, if I have a dwelling house that is in the path of a motorway or is subject to the channel tunnel connection, although I do not have to declare my dwelling house, nevertheless if I was talking about legislation about which directly affected my interests, it is something that I should declare. That is a clear, wide and relevant declaration which we all understand.
Except on private Bills, it is fanciful to think that hon. Members actually change their vote as a result of any payment that they receive from outside. I can hardly imagine the circumstances, when it comes to voting, in which the hon. Member for Winchester will go through the Labour Lobby because there is some financial interest. Everybody would soon be on to that.
A good deal of scamming goes on here. People have received money from outside interests as consultants in their capacity of Members of Parliament. They are taking outside interests for more of a ride than they are taking the House of Commons. I cannot think of any circumstances in which hon. Members would have been paid a consultancy and would have changed their vote in the House as a result of any such payment.
Parliament does not award contracts. Parliament does not determine expenditure, except in a general sense. The real thing that matters—it is much more akin to declarations of interest for local authorities—is when one is making representations to Ministers.
It is not the House that has the mega-bucks, although we vote them; the people who can really fix the mega-bucks are Ministers and senior civil servants. That is the really important part, and that brings us to the declaration of interests. It is relevant not so much to what is said in the House or how hon. Members vote here, as to representations made to Ministers who may be placing contracts.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Will my hon. Friend go further on this? There is a whole range of interests, and he has rightly mentioned some that should be declared because people should know about them. I am particularly interested in whether or not a person is a member of a masonic order and of particular lodge. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should also be a declarable interest? I am not against people being masons—that is entirely up to them —but we should know. Does my hon. Friend agree that that should be added to the register?
§ Mr. Fraser
I think that I am on the record as saying that that should be declarable, particularly in relation to judges. If one is a member of a masonic lodge, one should not be ashamed of saying so. People can then judge actions in the light of that fact.
I mentioned the declaration of interests first. The second is the Register of Members' Interests. In it, some matters are set out so that people know of an interest. It also saves tedious repetition. I have it in the register that I am a solicitor, so I do not have to say that on every occasion when I rise to speak. It is fairly well known.
I agree with the hon. Member for Winchester slightly, in that the criteria in the register are vague. It uses words that are subjective. One does not know quite what words such as "substantial" mean. It mentions "foreign persons", which is so wide a phrase if one does not consider it in the context of foreign Governments and foreign organisations.
Nevertheless, the real deficiency is that we do not yet have declarations. We have the declarations of the puppets, but not of the people who pull the strings. That is a deficiency. The Select Committee's recommendations for a change of practice in the registration of lobbyists and their clients who seek to influence Ministers are long overdue.
The biggest interests of all, about which most of us know, are represented largely by Tory Members. They are usually the interests of the landlord against the tenant, the brewer against the consumer, the fund manager against the investor, and the employer against the worker. Those are the truly big interests. The judgment will be made about them not here, but at the general election.
In a sense, this has been an unhappy and slightly embarrassing debate. I am afraid that the epitaph of the hon. Member for Winchester will be "public schoolboy, guards officer, banker, Member, whinger".
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
In a few short moments, I wish to agree with most of those who have spoken. The motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), in so far as it refers to the inadequacy of the present system of registering Members' interests, makes a perfectly fair point. I would go further than that and agree with many of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—about the first and last time that I shall probably say that.
Many Conservative Members recognise that the Register of Members' Interests—I have it, made up to 13 January 1992, with me—is an extraordinarily inadequate document. As with so many ill drawn up documents, it conceals more than it reveals, and by doing that we do ourselves no favours. I disagree on one point with the hon. Member for Bolsover. It is a little naive to think that every hon. Member should behave in this place as if it were a 1281 nunnery. I understand the hon. Gentleman's demonic purity of view, for which he is well known, nationally famous, and his hair-shirt philosophy. That is in contrast to the Gucci shirt worn by his hon. Friend the Member for Newham. North-West (Mr. Banks). It is probably not Gucci, because Gucci is probably vastly out of style.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman's attractive tie is infinitely more fashionable than mine. Mine is an old tie which does not seem to crease, and it was issued by the IPU.
When I return home late at night after my hard work in this place at perhaps 10.30 or 11 o'clock—
§ Mr. Norris
—or indeed at 1.30 in the morning—by way of diversion I often switch on the television and see none other than the hon. Member for Newham, North-West hosting a programme, accompanied by a good friend—not my hon. Friend at this time but perhaps one day he will be a noble Lord—the putative Lord Archer of Grantchester. Between them they do very well. That role is not contained in the register, which suggests that the employment of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is as parliamentary adviser to the Broadcasting and Entertainment Trades Alliance. I am sure that that is an oversight.
There was an oversight on my part and one that I noticed only today when I saw that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and I both went to address a conference in the south of France in August. I did not put that on the register, largely because I was doing the job in the vacation and got paid for it. Here and now, I have written a note to the registrar putting that on the record.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Newham, North-West would like to comment. He is a good friend of mine, and I do not suggest the slightest impropriety. I am merely pointing to the unreality of the view expressed by the hon. Member for Bolsover that we should exist in a little cocoon and have no outside interests or earnings to be justified.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is a substantial grocer, although I understand that he takes no practical part in the family business. None the less, he probably benefits from it to some small degree. My right hon. Friend could do almost any job, but he has chosen to give up much of his free time to work extremely hard as a Member and an excellent Minister. It is utterly unrealistic to suggest that he should do that for the salary that a generous population affords to its Members of Parliament. That is nonsense, and does not wash.
I am perfectly happy with the concept that my good friend the Member for Newham, North-West and the future Lord Archer of Grantchester and others should earn money outside at the same time as doing an excellent job for constituents.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman started his speech with a fairly amusing point about my clothes. My shirt is by Balmain and the silk tie by courtesy of the Tie Rack, which will perhaps now send me a free one—which, I suppose, I shall have to declare in the Register of Members' Interests.
1282 The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, which had not occurred to me. I have three months in which to declare that programme. If the rules were more defined, no one would make a mistake. I had not thought of putting in my television appearances. I think that I will then need my own book, because there are quite a few television appearances.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman has made my point. I had not bothered to look at his entry until I noticed him sit down next to his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. I then took out the register, which is one of the greatest works of fiction I have even seen, and suddenly wondered where the bit about his television programme was.
I have often thought of asking the hon. Member for Newham, North-West how he got the job, because it seems to be a wonderful way in which to pass an hour in the evening once a week. I have often listened to the quality of the questions bobbing back and forth between the hon. Gentleman and Jeffrey Archer and thought that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I or many other hon. Members might "like a bit of that"—if I may use the vernacular. It is fair to say that I do not have one quarter of the hon. Gentleman's talent, and I am sure that the television companies are intelligent in picking him and not me.
I hope that hon. Members heard me say that, when I read the register, I noticed that the hon. Member for Copeland had mentioned that conference. I had not, and I shall have to do so. It was an error on my part. I want to make the matter clear because, although it is not significant, it is material. It was not long ago that I saw another hon. Member who had been on a tour on which I had been. I had to put that in the register, which I had previously forgotten to do.
Such matters worry me. What is this thing supposed to be? The entries of some hon. Members are so exhaustive that they are meaningless. Some almost say, "Was bought a cup of coffee by a constituent who thought that if he did so, I might vote against the Government and bring down the Commons." It is lunatic stuff. On the other hand, there are significant entries which say, "Nil." I look at those and think, "Nil on all counts? That is hardly realistic."
I list four directorships. All are unremunerated, because they are all charities. I regard the entry as significant because I should say that those are matters in which I am interested. I list a shareholding. I do not draw any money from it, but it is an interest, and hon. Members should know about it. I also list a directorship that pays me.
The solution to all this is straighforward. Without anticipating the Select Committee report, we should be far more specific about what should be in. what should not be in and why. I go along with what the hon. Member for Bolsover said on my second point. It is about time that we put numbers alongside names. The names mean nothing to me. One can open the document at any page and read fascinating names which are utterly meaningless in themselves. Some may pay an hon. Member nothing, whereas others will involve a considerable amount of an hon. Member's time which is given entirely voluntarily. Others may be worth £500 a year and others may be worth £50,000.
Am I doing wrong because, on occasions, I have had lunch with a lobbyist and have not put that in the Register of Members' Interests? He or she bought me lunch. Is that not material? The lobbyist wanted to talk to me and, presumably, to try to influence me. The hon. Member for 1283 Bolsover was right when he said that the idea that that means that I would walk through the Labour Lobby is vaguely naive. I go further. What would I achieve? It is a pointless exercise from that point of view.
Where do we start and stop? We should just say how much. The President of the United States suffers one minor indignity: his tax return is public property. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover that the road of disclosure is the proper road, whether at national or at local level. This country has an enviable reputation for honesty and integrity which I want us always to keep. We must put amounts by entries such as "occasional journalism".
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman is putting an interesting case which, I confess, I have opposed on the grounds of privacy. Even so, he puts it powerfully. How does he respond to the proposition that, suffice that hon. Members declare, they are entitled to some privacy? Does he also agree that a volume of money of a certain size might have varying amounts of influence, depending on which hon. Member receives that money?
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman anticipates me. I underline that I am a Conservative Member and that I have on occasion had significant income other than my parliamentary salary. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West constantly tells me—he has made me a few offers for it—I carry my mortgage around my wrist so that I may know the time. The hon. Gentleman has been saving up to buy it from me, and I have it on good authority that some of his earnings from the BBC may shortly be corning my way. I do not know whether I shall have to declare that transaction when it takes place. If I believe that it is notifiable, I shall declare it.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) makes a serious intervention, and I assure him that I am deadly serious about what I am saying. On the question of privacy, one quickly realises on becoming a Member of this place that one should not have joined if one cannot take a joke. There are many things about this place that involve personal sacrifices. The media are likely to want to know a lot about one in all sorts of respects and, however uncomfortable that may be, they are entitled to do that. Part of that—because, sadly, there is always the odd rotten apple in the barrel—will have to be the sacrifice of a degree of privacy.
Before making that statement, I had to consider that it might mean my tax return becoming public propery. I hasten to add that it would be unbelievably tedious reading—that is almost the answer to the hon. Gentleman's intervention—in the same way as the register is unbelievably tedious. That sacrifice of privacy is an essential prequalification for the right to be a member of this place.
The register does not show the true worth of, for example, the free airports pass that is given to us by the British Airports Authority for our parliamentary duties. For somebody who uses it to the tune of £50-worth a year and who has earnings of say, £150,000 a year, I reckon that BAA will not get much political influence out of that. But for an hon. Member who exists on his basic parliamentary salary of £30,000 a year and who saves £1,000 a year because he uses the pass every weekend, it suddenly becomes material.
So the point about the Register and an open tax return is that it allows one the crucial ability to say that, for one 1284 hon. Member, it is derisory to suggest that his failure to declare some obscure night television programme for which he got £20 is a breach of faith with the House compared with some far greater perfidy that might be perpetrated for other amounts of cash.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I have been listening with fascination to much of what my hon. Friend has said and am wondering whether I must now disagree with him. How would he extend the principles that he has been enunciating to the spouses of hon. Members?
§ Mr. Norris
I have always thought that a nonsense of the register is the way in which it ignores spouses, and there have been many famous cases where that has been self-evident. I want a Committee of the House to consider closely the practicability of including a spouse's tax return with that of a Member, and also the question of how far one should go. It is illogical simply to confine the debate on additional income to spouses.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones)
What about children?
§ Mr. Norris
My right hon. Friend—whom it is a pleasure to see joining us today when he has a busy schedule guarding our interests in the Community—asks about children. If one's child were to receive some remuneration, would that not be an obvious way to divert some money?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and have argued endlessly much of the case that he makes about spouses. Can he give a sign of the extent to which, he feels that he has support for his proposition from his hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Norris
I cannot answer. The answer to that question is no.
When any hon. Member contemplates the scenario that my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) and others have suggested to me, one simply has to decide on a cut-off point. That may be a spouse, or perhaps hon, Members will consider that an unnecessary extension. That is fine, but I would like us to debate it when there is the realistic prospect for real changes in the system. Members' interests should be understood before we make crass decisions.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies
Will my hon. Friend take the logic of his argument a little further? Would he go beyond spouses and say that the financial interests of the tax returns of Members' co-habitees should be declared? Or, if people are not formally living together but have separate addresses, although they are in a close relationship of one form or another—whether heterosexual or homosexual —should their partners declare their financial interests? Or does he feel that there is something special about the marriage contract and that the obligation should stop there?
§ Mr. Norris
My mind is reeling from contemplating the basis on which my hon. Friend has asked that question. I had not ascribed to him any of the motives that his question suggests, but I happen to know that his question is purely academic. I do not think that he is in any co-habiting arrangement, other than with his most attractive and excellent wife, on whom I commend him for his good fortune and perspicacity.
1285 Members' interests are an issue that we should be talking about instead of the utter and arrant nonsense—the absence of reality—which this solemn document, the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, represents. The lesson of today's debate is clear. There is absolute all-party interest in the public knowing that Members of Parliament are justified in doing what they do and that they are making proper declarations.
The questions that my short speech has inspired have enthused me to take the matter further, but I must make it clear that it has nothing to do with Labour or Tory, with rich or poor, it is a matter which concerns the integrity of every Member of the House.
§ Mr. John Browne
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) wishes to have his debate, so I shall be brief.
I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) has just said, especially with regard to matching numbers with names. I also agree with him on the privacy issue. Here I point out that I introduced the Protection of Privacy Bill and I believe that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and so I agree with every word that he says.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says, but I shall take up two matters. First, he said that I should have apologised to the Select Committee—
§ Mr. Browne
Oh, "could have"—the hon. Gentleman suggested that it might have been to my advantage to do so. I accept that the hon. Gentleman said "could have" apologised. The reason why I did not do so was that I thought that I was in the right and had nothing for which to apologise. I explained what I had done and that I thought that I was right. The Select Committee said that I was wrong—by sort of bending the rules, I think, but that is a matter of opinion. I apologised to the House in my statement once I had been shown to be wrong by the Select Committee's version of the rules.
The hon. Member for Bolsover said that my case was not like the Dreyfus case. I did not say that I was like Dreyfus, or that I received anywhere near the same punishment as Dreyfus. The point that I was trying to make about the Dreyfus case was that of the deliberate Government-inspired injustice and the Government cover-up that followed—those were the similarities to which I was drawing attention.
I disagree with a number of points made by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), the Select Committee Chairman, particularly the matter of calling witnesses and the right to call witnesses. I was specifically told by the registrar on about three occasions that I was most definitely not allowed to call witnesses in front of the Committee.
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) says from a sedentary position that I was not told by the Select Committee members themselves. 1286 That is perfectly true, but as everyone knows, when dealing with Committees, all of one's advice comes from the Clerks Office and the Clerks to the Committee.
§ Mr. Haynes
I am listening carefully to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). Does he agree that there should be an extension to the declaration of interests? He is talking about a Select Committee, but does he agree that Members appointed to a Committee dealing with a Bill have a job to do? The party that is in power has the highest number of Members on the Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, once appointed to a Committee considering a Bill, Members should not sit in the Cafeteria studying the Financial Times to see how they or their constituents can line their pockets by noting the state of the City while the rest of us are in Committee working away to oppose or push through a Bill? In addition, I believe that people should apologise when they have got it wrong.
§ Mr. Browne
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. When I was told that I had got it wrong, I apologised to the House.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I think that hon. Members do a good job in Committee. I do not see many hon. Members sitting in the Tea Room reading the Financial Times when they should be in Committee. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that hon. Members should work if appointed to a Committee, and I think that they do. That is not to say that I think that outside interests should be abolished. I believe that outside interests should be allowed as they encourage the system of hon. Members representing their constituents in a more informed manner.
The hon. Member for Workington correctly said that Committee Members had not told me that I could not call witnesses. But Members have to deal with briefings. I was briefed by the Clerk and, in particular, by the registrar, who was calling me up all the time. I had only three brief sessions in front of the Committee, which were action packed and we were pressurised for time. It was the registrar who told me, on three occasions that I can remember, that I was not allowed to call specific people whom I had asked to call. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden to check this vital point with the now ex-registrar who was present at the time.
§ Mr. Haynes
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. When certain Bills are being discussed in Committee, one has to be there whether one likes it or not. I am talking about important legislation going through the House. On one occasion when we had a Bill in Committee I saw with my own eyes one of the Conservative members of that Committee sitting in the Cafeteria studying the Financial Times to line his pockets. He should have been working in the Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that hon. Member should have been there working and not sitting in the Cafeteria trying to line his pockets?
§ Mr. Browne
The hon. Gentleman mentions a specific case and I have no idea of the details. All I can say is that, in general, I believe that hon. Members do a very good job on Committees. I do not know the specific case to which the hon. Gentleman is referring.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Just so that the record can be absolutely straight, will the hon. Gentleman answer a 1287 simple question? Falcon company, the vehicle that the hon. Gentleman used, received $88,000 for the SAMA document and the hon. Gentleman knew that the Select Committee wanted access to it. He knew from sources within the United Kingdom that he was unable to get a copy of it. In light of the fact that he was repeatedly asked in Committee for a copy, did he approach the Saudi authorities to get a copy so that it could be provided to the Committee? Did he try to do that? I draw his attention to the fact that his reply is being given in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Browne
Yes, I did. The hon. Gentleman was not here for that part of my speech when I dealt with that specific issue.
§ Mr. Browne
I did not see the hon. Gentleman behind my back.
It was an interesting situation because the actual document, it is alleged, was stolen from my files. Mr. Leigh wrote some articles. Obviously he had read that document, or he could not have written them. I was then accused of not producing the document. The Committee's judgment seemed incredible to me when it knew that Mr. Leigh must have seen that document. So where was it? Why did not Mr. Leigh produce the document to the Select Committee?
§ Mr. Browne
I did answer—yes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden avoided answering the vitally important question as to why the Select Committee refused to accept for investigation the case that I put to it about the hon. Member for Workington. If my hon. Friend reads the record of the debate, I should like him to give some reasons as to why it was not accepted.
1288 The Leader of the House made an extremely short speech. He said that the final decision was for the House, and of course it was. I believe that it was a heavily whipped vote and that that sort of thing must be wrong in terms of justice. It is quite right and accepted to whip an ordinary vote, but it must surely be very wrong to whip a judicial vote in the House.
§ Mr. Norris
I am sorry to intervene as I am sure that my hon. Friend wants to bring his remarks to a close and I apologise for extending the debate. However, I want to make one thing clear. As a Conservative Back-Bench Member, not the slightest pressure was brought to bear on me either way as to how I voted. I just want to make that clear. If it was, I missed it. It must have been incredibly subtle and it must have gone right over my head. So far as I am aware, no pressure was brought to bear on any Back-Bench Member of the Conservative party. I wanted to say that for my hon. Friend's reassurance.
§ Mr. Browne
I do not know whether that is reassuring, but I can only go by what people have said to me in the House. Hon. Members have told me that pressure was put on them through the informal system. If one reads the Division lists, it is pretty clear that the payroll vote was whipped. Ministers have confirmed that to me, but of course my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest was not a Minister.
The purpose of the debate was to raise the issue of Members' interests, which is a complex one. A lot of things need to be done about it in the interests of hon. Members. I wanted to present my case as an example in which many of those issues were raised. I think that that purpose has been achieved. The debate was very disappointing in terms of the reply of the Leader of the House, but I have no wish to pursue it further. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.