HC Deb 31 October 1994 vol 248 cc1217-73
Madam Speaker

Before we embark on the motion before us, let me say that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I have not been able to select the manuscript amendment submitted to me by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), but, if he catches my eye during the debate, he will be able to deploy his arguments as he would have done had the amendment been selected.

Let me make a plea for short speeches. This is only a half-day debate. I also remind the House of the terms of the motion, which are confined to a single issue.

3.42 pm
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the Committee of Privileges should exercise its powers under Standing Order No. 108 so as to secure that when examining witnesses it sits in public, except when for clear and compelling reasons, especially for reasons of natural justice, it is more expedient that press and public should be excluded and all or part of the evidence heard in private.

I welcome your comments relating to The Guardian, Madam Speaker. While I accept that that investigation has clearly been in the public interest, the use of House of Commons writing paper on false authority is deplorable and must be fully investigated.

This debate is not about the rights and wrongs of individual Members or individual cases; that has been given an extensive airing in the media. Nor do we seek party political gain from our deliberations. Far from it: it is clear from recent events that all of us—all hon. Members—are to some extent on trial. People should remind themselves that the television records such events, and the country at large will be watching to see how we handle the matter under discussion.

This debate is about the public's faith in Parliament. It is about whether the public will be satisfied by private inquiries into very public allegations of how the actions of hon. Members should be held to public account. It would be absolutely absurd to continue to read in the press, hear on the radio, see on the television and hear in this Chamber allegations about Members of Parliament, but not be allowed to see, hear or read about the examination of those allegations in the Privileges Committee.

Today's debate is about whether the public trust Members of Parliament to investigate other Members of Parliament, free from party political considerations. I fear that they do not, in the current climate. We should not fear open investigation and debate, as it is in the interests of all of us that malpractice is rooted out and guidelines are devised which are easily understood by both us and the public.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would like the inquiry to take place in public. Will he publicly declare how much of the £800 fine that was imposed on three Labour Members by Customs and Excise for bringing in cameras which they did not declare was met by him, and how much was met by his two colleagues?

Mr. Prescott

It is wrong to say that I smuggled in a camera. I paid the duty on the camera as required, and declared it when I went through the channel.

I am trying to make the point that this debate should be about serious matters. You, Madam Speaker, have made it clear that matters of individuals will not be raised in the debate. We are dealing with the issue of the House—[Interruption.] That is what you said, Madam Speaker, and I respect that. There are no allegations whatever about individual Members in my contribution. Indeed, that is your ruling, Madam Speaker, in this debate.

I shall address directly the point about the House dealing with individual complaints made against hon. Members. That is the point I make. In calling for the Privileges Committee to hear evidence in public, we are supporting a move that we believe is in Parliament's long-term interests. We must restore the esteem of Parliament, and this is the first step. It is not, as has been suggested, an invitation to peddle any old allegation in public.

Madam Speaker, you must decide whether there is a prima facie complaint to answer, and the House has leave to debate a motion to refer a matter to the Privileges Committee. You have already decided that there may be a case to answer. That is why you referred the current matters to the Privileges Committee on 12 July.

More recent allegations have led to ministerial resignations, so the Prime Minister is wrong to call them simply matters of "tittle-tattle". This is a serious issue of genuine public concern, which requires public examination, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with that.

This debate is about openness and standards in public life. It is about the nature and quality of our democracy. It is about whether we have procedures that will enable us to regulate ourselves. That is the issue that we are discussing today—and not for the first time. But let us be clear: the days when we could take those procedures for granted are over.

The Privileges Committee is a major Committee of the House, which is convened to investigate serious matters of breaches of privilege. But it is the last major Select Committee to continue to sit in private. The House is aware that the members of the Committee are divided over whether it is proper to sit in private or in public to conduct the inquiry that was established on 12 July. The Committee was divided and voted to remain in private on the casting vote of the Chairman.

I have been told by the Clerk to the Committee that I am not entitled to know that the Committee was even divided, and I am not entitled to raise the matter in the Chamber. However, we are aware that the Leader of the House, the Chairman of the Committee, made a statement about the issue when he left the last meeting of the Committee, so it is proper for the House to discuss the issue. It is already a matter of public knowledge, having been reported in the press.

Society, democracy and Parliament are evolving systems. As society has changed, attitudes have changed. So must Parliament change, and it is changing. When the electorate demand greater accountability for our actions and intentions, we must be more accountable to them. The matter of the abuse of privilege is a parliamentary matter, and it is proper for Parliament to deal with it.

That is why the Opposition have in the past few moments made the decision that Opposition Members will be allowed a free vote at the conclusion of the debate as our contribution to removing the party politics from this issue. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that as a serious contribution to the House making decisions about Members of the House of Commons.

Will the Leader of the House likewise remove the party Whip from Conservative Members, and allow them the freedom to vote according to their conscience? I hope that he will give us his response.

The matters that have led my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to table today's motion are of major public concern, and the public demand the right to hear the investigation of those matters. Concern has been growing for some time. It is concern about the growth of quangos, the influence of lobbyists, the practice of former Ministers joining the boards of companies they have privatised, and the recent allegations about Members of Parliament. Their proliferation has created a culture that has undermined public standards and the public's faith in those standards.

Recent events show the seriousness of the matters. Two Members of this House are being investigated by the Committee of Privileges. Two Ministers have resigned. There is controversy about other Ministers. There is talk of blackmail and misleading information. All that has undoubtedly increased public concern about standards and the accountability of the House. It is not a simple party political matter.

Even The Daily Mail, in its editorial on Friday, said: What is at stake here is the reputation, not just of Government, but of our whole Parliamentary process. John Major must change his mind. And let the Privileges Committee work in public.

If I cannot convince Conservative Members on whether the issue is about party politics or not, I assume that the Daily Mail editorial might persuade them that there is a proper issue to be considered in the question whether the Committee should conduct its work in public.

In response to public concern and pressure from the Opposition, the Prime Minister has set up the Nolan inquiry into public standards. I welcome it, but it does not go far enough. It does not cover everything that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition requested last week. It does not cover the specific allegations that have been made, and it will leave many questions unanswered.

The Government's handling of the whole affair has been questionable. The Prime Minister has dithered, been made to look foolish, been buffeted by events. Finally, he lost his temper in public. He has publicly supported Ministers—[Interruption.]

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Prescott

But he is the Prime Minister.

Madam Speaker

Order. I appear to have a point of order.

Mr. Brazier

I should be most grateful for your ruling on whether the alleged conduct of the Government or, indeed, the Prime Minister is relevant to the motion before the House.

Madam Speaker

As I said earlier, the motion before the House is a very narrow one, but references of that nature are reasonably in order. I am sure that hon. Members will make similar references throughout the debate.

Mr. Prescott

Thank you for that ruling, Madam Speaker. The way in which the House deals with these matters—whether it is the Prime Minister or the Committees of the House—is an important issue. The Prime Minister has made several statements to the House on that very issue, and it is obviously right to refer to him.

Mind you, if I was a Minister in the Prime Minister's Government I would be a little uneasy— [HON. MEMBERS: "No chance."] No chance may be the case for those Ministers in whom the Prime Minister said he had full confidence, but whom he got rid of within 48 hours. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he has confidence in you, it is the surest sign that you should be clearing your desk.

It is also not sufficient for the Prime Minister to instruct the Cabinet Secretary to prepare a report. Anyone reading about recent events cannot be satisfied that the Prime Minister has not compromised the Cabinet Secretary. It is clear from statements to the House that Sir Robin Butler's report is insufficient and incomplete.

Sir Robin did not have all the information available to him at the appropriate time. In the absence of evidence, he was forced to accept the word of those he interviewed, and he was unable to interview the chief complainant, Mr. Al Fayed. He has already given the House a report, to which the Prime Minister referred. Some people may also feel that Sir Robin's meeting with the Conservative party Whips may well have compromised his role as the head of the civil service.

The real question today is whether Parliament can regulate the actions of its Members. The issue under debate is whether the Select Committee on Privileges should meet in public.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

It may surprise the right hon. Gentleman to know that I have taken some heart from his argument, apart from the party political rhetoric. Could he develop his argument about why the House should break with precedent in this matter? Is the free vote that he announced genuine, in the sense that it means that there has been some difference of opinion within the Opposition parties as to whether there should be such a vote?

Mr. Prescott

The issue is very important, and events have developed, even over the weekend, sufficiently for us to say that we would like to contribute to the House making an honest decision about whether the Committee should meet in public. It is clear that things have developed quickly. I will come to the matter of precedent, as it is important. Other matters of accountability clearly involve the Prime Minister, and I dealt with those.

I think that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) will accept that the Cabinet Secretary was asked to undertake investigations and to report back to the Prime Minister. There has been considerable coverage of that matter in the press and a report to the Prime Minister, which was published in this place last week. Events have moved on since that report, which is why I referred to the different pieces of information and dates.

You have ruled, Madam Speaker, that we cannot refer to all those matters, and I shall not do so, but I want to deal with the accountability of the House and of Members to it. The real question is whether Parliament regulates the actions of its Members. The issue under debate is whether the Privileges Committee should meet in public. It is not a question of whether it can do so, as we all know that it can. Standing Order No. 108 makes it clear that a Select Committee

shall have power, if it so orders, to admit strangers during the examination of witnesses. The question is whether it should, and that is the question posed in the motion.

It is up to the Privileges Committee to take that decision, but as it is deadlocked, the House can guide it. There is much talk of precedent, but one precedent can give way to another. The evolution of the procedures of the House has required precedents to be set on several occasions. The admission of the press to report our proceedings in 1803, the admission of television and radio to provide live coverage of events in this Chamber and in Committees, and the opening of other Committees to public scrutiny, were all unprecedented and controversial decisions at the time. All those decisions made the House more accountable to the public, and they were all to the benefit of greater democracy.

It is true that Privileges Committees have never sat in public before, but they can do so, as I have shown. The motion merely asks the Committee to exercise its powers under Standing Order No. 108 and to sit in public now, except when there are clear and compelling reasons why it should not do so.

Last week, the Prime Minister said: It is necessary to have an investigation in depth, without unsubstantiated allegations subsequently being made. That is a matter of natural justice. It is right that there are checks and balances to prevent unwarranted slurs being made, but those exist in the procedures of this House.

Let me repeat what I said earlie: if a complaint is made by a Member of this House, Madam Speaker will decide whether there is a prima facie complaint before she will allow a motion of referral to the Privileges Committee. The motion of referral can be debated in this House, as it was some weeks ago on a recent referral, and the Committee can decide whether it wishes to hear evidence in public or in private.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)

If we assume for the moment that we accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that the Committee hears evidence in public and then allows itself to vote to go private on certain issues, will he now give an undertaking that, if the Committee voted to go private, the Opposition members of the Committee will not walk out and make a public spectacle of it?

Mr. Prescott

The House is generally agreed that members of the Privileges Committee will make their own decisions on the matter. The issue here is that we have divided along party political lines. All the Opposition parties have opposed the Government Members on that Committee. The issue—if I am allowed to refer to it—is that a motion which would have allowed the Committee the possibility of sitting in public and taking certain evidence in private was not put before the Committee, and the Committee now finds itself deeply divided along party political lines.

I should have thought that it was in the interests of the House not to have further debates along party political lines, and for the House to have this debate. We are trying on this occasion—[Interruption.] I have made it clear that we are not whipping the Labour members of the Committee, and I presume that the Government are not whipping their Committee members. But since the Government are so bitterly divided, we have said that we should debate the issue, and we have provided an opportunity for the House to do so.

The Committee could have a public hearing of evidence, it could deliberate in private and—in those areas where the Committee so decided—it could take evidence in private. That applies to all of the Committees of the House. We do not dispute the rights of the Committee to hear evidence—

Sir John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker


Mr. Prescott

I shall not give way, because the hon. Gentleman does not have an intelligent intervention to make.

We do not dispute the right of Committees to hear evidence in private when it is in the interests of natural justice to do so. We ask that there be a reasonable balance between public and private hearings—as there is already in the majority of our Committees—that the evidence be heard in public and the deliberations take place in private, that the conclusions be published and debated by this House, and that to sit in public should be the norm and in private the exception.

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

May I follow down the road of hearings being held in private where the interests of natural justice dictate that that should be the case? What would the effect be on the media if the Committee decided that some of its hearings would be held in private and some held in public? Surely the media will immediately focus on that, and ask what the Committee has to hide. Will not the media say that the Committee is covering up by having some hearings in private?

Mr. Prescott

The obvious answer is that it depends on the reasons which are given. The courts and professional bodies often make such judgments, and the press has to live with the fact that it cannot observe matters because the agreement of that professional body—or the Privileges Committee—is that they believe it to be right to have private hearings.

We disagree about the decision that has been made that the Committee will never take any hearings in public—quite contrary to the rest of the Committees. All we are saying is that the Committee members should make the judgment, and that that judgement should start from the proposition that evidence should be heard in public unless there are special reasons not to do so. That is the simple point which we are trying to make.

Sir John Gorst

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott

I must get on, as an awful lot of hon. Members wish to take part.

Sir John Gorst


Madam Speaker


Mr. Prescott

I am bound to say that, when the argument of natural justice is invoked, there are some contradictions in Government Members' arguments.

Sir John Gorst

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I plead with you to find out whether it is possible to obtain information during this debate as to whether any Labour member of the Select Committee will address himself without party politics in mind when he is heard in public.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order. Were the hon. Gentleman fortunate enough to catch my eye, he might employ such a point during the debate.

Mr. Prescott

I was right the first time—the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst) is not capable of making an intelligent intervention: he has amply proven that.

Some contradictions are apparent when the argument about natural justice is invoked. If it is in the interests of natural justice to suppress all the evidence from the hearings of the Privileges Committee until the report is published, why is it not equally in the interests of natural justice to suppress all the evidence given at a Crown court trial until the verdict is reached? On Thursday, the Prime Minister told the House: I am not prepared to see confidence in elected or unelected public servants undermined by the public parading of unsubstantiated slurs and innuendo."—[Official Report, 27 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 1002.] Why is he therefore prepared to allow the public parading of unsubstantiated allegations against defendants in a court of law? It is the central tenet of justice that, for justice to be done, it must be seen to, be done. If it is seen to be done in the courts, why will the Prime Minister not agree that it should be seen to be done in Parliament?

We live in a different climate today, because professional bodies are becoming more open. The professional conduct committee of the General Medical Council meets in public; the solicitors disciplinary tribunal now meets in public, and the barristers disciplinary tribunal is now considering a report that recommends that it should also meet in public. Other Parliaments are moving towards greater openness, and some have even accepted the recommendation that to accept money is a criminal offence. That recommendation was made in 1975 by the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, but the House did not accept it.

The Government themselves are moving towards greater openness in their inquiries. Ten years ago, the Scott inquiry would never have been held in public. Now, the Nolan inquiry has been established, and we will be able to hear its evidence in public. The reputation of our public life is at stake, and only public examination will satisfy the public's concern.

The House has nothing to fear from supporting the Opposition motion, but the public will assume that we have something to hide if we continue to investigate such matters in private. We need to display to our constituents the simple truth that we are here to serve them before we serve ourselves. That is best done by being open and by holding the investigations of the Privileges Committee in public. I commend the motion to the House.

4.6 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'this House re-affirms the long established practice that decisions as to how a Select Committee once established should proceed are for the Committee itself.'.

Before turning specifically to the terms of the motions and the amendment, I think it right to make as clear as I can, both to the House itself and to those who follow and comment on these matters outside, four very important points about the background to today's debate.

The first is that the Committee of Privileges is not a Committee appointed by the Government, or with terms of reference determined by the Government. It is a Committee appointed by this House, on a motion moved by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), following your statement on 12 July, Madam Speaker, and with a remit determined by what you said in that statement.

Secondly, I am its Chairman not on the basis of having been imposed on the Committee by any group of members on the Committee, let alone by the Government, but on the basis of a motion moved, in accordance with precedent, by a member of the Committee and accepted without dissent by the Committee as a whole. It is in that spirit that I have sought to act as Chairman and it is in that spirit that I shall speak in the debate.

The third point is one that takes me into somewhat more difficult territory, but which I nevertheless think it right to make, given that public reference has already been made to the fact that the decision to maintain the precedent of taking evidence in private followed a tied vote in the Committee, so that the matter necessarily had to be settled by my casting vote as Chairman. I need to make two things clear. One is that I had not intervened in the very full discussion that had taken place, except to assist in elucidating points made in the course of it. The other is that the vote I eventually had to cast was cast quite explicitly on the basis of the nearest parallel to what you, Madam Speaker, would be expected to do following a tied vote here in the House: that is to say, to maintain the status quo. In this case, it seemed to me that that meant my vote should be cast to maintain the established precedent, never before breached, that the Committee of Privileges conducts its proceedings in private.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

On status quo and precedent, why did the Attorney-General, when writing to advise the Committee, say: There are no settled rules governing the proceedings of the Committee of Privileges"—

Madam Speaker

Order. We must be very careful in this debate. The hon. Gentleman is now bringing Committee proceedings to the Floor of the House. We should not use Committee proceedings in this debate because the Committee has not yet reported to the House.

Mr. Newton

Without following the hon. Gentleman fully down that path, I can properly make the point that it is not in dispute that the Committee has the power, as it has accurately been stated, to take evidence in public if it thinks it right to do so. But the Committee did not think it right to do so and my vote was cast on the basis that I have just set out: to maintain the status quo, which, in this case, meant preserving a long-standing precedent.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) described what happened in Committee, you properly drew attention to the normal rule that proceedings are not mentioned until a Committee has reported. Understandably, the Leader of the House has described proceedings, including the fact that I moved the motion that he be in the Chair, according to precedent. [Interruption.] Well, of course I did. As the senior member, I convened the Committee on instructions from the Clerks.

The point that I am making is that this debate is about the Privileges Committee while it is proceeding, so it must be in order for us to refer to what has happened. We would not be having this debate had there not been a vote in the House. I therefore hope that you will relax your judgment on the matter or those of us on the Committee will be unable to explain what went on and why we take a different view.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) was speaking about a deliberative meeting that is not mentioned in the motion. If he reads the motion carefully, he will see that it is about the Committee exercising its powers under a particular Standing Order so as to secure that when examining witnesses it sits in public". The motion is extremely narrow and does not deal with what has taken place in Committee. I understand the point that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) puts to me. It is difficult to debate this matter without making some reference to the Committee's proceedings. But we must be careful about how we proceed and keep in mind the fact that the Committee has not yet reported to us.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Speaker. If the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) reads my words when they are reported in Hansard, he will find that I was careful not to mention which Member moved the motion to put me in the Chair. I simply said "a member of the Committee" and that I was put in the Chair without dissent.

Mr. Benn

The precedent is that the senior Member moves the Leader of the House into the Chair. The Clerks told me to do that. It was not my desire to put him in the Chair, but it was my duty to convene the Committee and then perform that function. It is no good the Leader of the House saying that, in not mentioning my name, he was not reporting proceedings. He was, and the House must discuss the proceedings in the course of this debate.

Mr. Newton

I cannot sensibly add to what I have already said on that point. May I make it clear, if it was not already clear, that in no sense was I levelling what the right hon. Gentleman has treated almost as an accusation. I merely recorded the fact against the background of the sedentary interventions in this debate suggesting that I was somehow imposed on the Committee by the Government and that I voted as instructed by the Government. That is simply not the case.

The last of my preliminary points is another on which I hope that I will carry all members of the Committee, regardless of their opinions about the way in which evidence should be taken; it is that there is no equation between what has been called a "cover-up" and the hearing of evidence in private session.

Every member of the Committee is determined that its inquiry should be conscientious and thorough. Its report and any recommendations that it may make will be published, and would be expected to be discussed and debated in the House. Most important of all, in that context, the evidence that it heard would be published in full with its report, for all to read. That is subject only to some very limited possible reservations, notably where publication of part of the evidence could clearly be held to be prejudicial in relation to legal proceedings that were taking place.

Sir John Gorst

Will my right hon. Friend say whether any part of his reservations with regard to the Committee's meeting in public has to do with the fear that the opportunity may arise for certain members of the Committee to deploy party political arguments? That would seem to me to be a strong indication in favour of retaining the procedures that have previously prevailed.

Mr. Newton

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall shortly make some of the arguments that I hope the House will bear in mind in considering the motion and the amendment.

Let me now turn to the motion that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) moved, which seeks to bring about a situation in which the Committee's hearings of evidence would be in public—that is to say, with press reporters, radio microphones and television cameras present. The right hon. Gentleman set out his arguments in favour of that proposal. I think that what I can best do is to set out as clearly as I can what I believe to be the anxieties that led those people who wished to maintain the precedent of private hearings to take that view, and which hitherto—I make no apology for repeating the point—have led all the Committee's predecessors to the same conclusion, believing that that was what was required in defence of natural justice.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Leader of the House repeatedly talks about precedent. Will he accept that precedents are set and precedents end? The current situation is unprecedented—that is the whole point. Therefore, we are asking the Leader of the House to recognise the significance of what is going on, and the interest outside the House. We need the information to be in the public domain, for the public interest. That is what we should be thinking about—not the interests of Members to keep things quiet.

Mr. Newton

As it happens, I do not accept the proposition that the circumstances of the moment are unprecedented. I shall return to that later.

In essence, the anxieties of those who believe that the Committee should take evidence in private and publish that evidence only at a later stage arise from the nature of the Committee of Privileges, and especially of the parliamentary privilege under which it operates.

Although one of the Committee's functions is to establish the facts in the case, it is not, as is sometimes suggested—and a parallel is sometimes drawn—comparable to a court. It has none of the protections that a court offers to its defendants. Witnesses who give evidence to it do not have the benefit of legal representation.

The Chairman does not have the same powers as a judge to rule questions out of order. Witnesses can therefore be subject to questioning from as many as 17 people. Some of those questions, perhaps making allegations of which the witness has had no previous notice, asked under the protection of parliamentary privilege, could be highly damaging. Later in the proceedings—as has happened in the past—the allegations may well prove to be unfounded, but if the evidence has been taken in public, the damage to a witness would already have been done.

Sir Jim Spicer

May I ask my right hon. Friend to amplify that subject? In those circumstances, surely the Committee could never meet without those people appearing before it employing, if they wish to do so, lawyers to sit alongside them, as happens in all courts in America.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend raises an important point about what would be strongly argued for in the circumstances envisaged by Opposition Members. Undoubtedly, there would be pressure for what my hon. Friend has suggested, and it would dramatically change the nature of the inquiry that could take place, and hitherto has taken place.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As one of the very few people who were unfortunate enough to be called in front of the Privileges Committee back in the 1960s, may I suggest that the Leader of the House should be a little careful on the concept of justice to witnesses? If giving evidence in public can be damaging, let me assure him from personal experience that giving it in private can be very damaging. I think I can now say that the then Chairman Elwyn Jones had great doubts before he died about the Privileges Committee acting in private.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman knows that I have enough respect for him not simply to make a debating point, and I hope that he will not think that what I am about to say is a debating point. His argument, however, is rather more on my side than on his. I accept that it will not be comfortable or easy for people if suggestions that they have done something against the rules or order of the House are investigated by such a Committee. He talks about the damage caused when investigations are conducted in private, but it can hardly be other than that that damage would be compounded if the investigation were in full view of television cameras.

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Newton

I shall give way, but I should advert to the fact that Madam Speaker has asked hon. Members to keep their speeches reasonably brief and that interventions are considerably extending this one.

Mr. Ashby

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if proceedings were conducted in public, the person being investigated should have the right to have counsel cross-examining all witnesses and to call witnesses on his own behalf, as would happen in a court? Does he further agree that anything less than that would amount to a kangaroo court?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend makes another important point which I am sure would be raised and many people would wish to pursue were the House to take the decision that the Opposition have invited it to take today.

The effect of the potential prejudice to witnesses giving evidence in public could operate in two ways: on the one hand, it might result, as I have already said, in damage to witnesses; on the other, it could constrain Committee members from asking questions that they think should be answered. In either case, the Committee's objective of achieving a thorough and fair investigation and of reaching balanced and considered conclusions in the light of all the evidence would be gravely damaged.

Moreover, we need to be clear that this cloak of parliamentary privilege would be available not only to hon. Members called before the Committee and to members of it, whom we would all expect to use its protection responsibly, but to any outside witnesses called before the Committee who could, if they wished, use the opportunity to make any allegation, however unfounded, against anyone that they chose to name. In the light of some of the things that we have read in recent times, I do not think that anyone can say that that is a negligible risk.

If Opposition Members think that these arguments have been assembled only in the circumstances of today, perhaps I may remind them—this is why I said that I did not entirely accept that the circumstances are unprecedented, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) suggested—of the words of Lord Callaghan. I make no apology for quoting what was said by Lord Callaghan, then Prime Minister, in the debate establishing the Select Committee on the Conduct of Members in 1976 following the Poulson affair. He said: There are important differences between the proceedings of the courts and those of a Select Committee. In the courts, there are specified charges, known to defendants beforehand. The evidence brought forward has to be relevant to those charges. In this case there are no specified charges, nor is the identity known of all those against whom allegations might be made. There are no rules of the House which say this or that evidence is inadmissible.

There was a great deal of comment along those lines.

Lord Callaghan went on: It is our view"— that is, the then Labour Government's view— that, if the Committee sat in public, evidence, whatever its basis—whether it was groundless or not—would be subject to daily public sifting. A lie can be half-way around the world before truth has got its boots on. We should have instant judgments on allegations before the Committee had been able to weigh them, before the reputations at stake could be properly upheld or cast down, which might do unnecessary harm not only to the individuals concerned but also to the standing of this House."—[Official Report, 1 November 1976; Vol. 918, c. 973–-76]

I am bound to say that I see nothing that has happened in the intervening period to lead me to dismiss what Lord Callaghan said then; and the introduction of television, in my view, multiplies the risk.

Mr. Prescott

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the Poulson case involved Members from both sides of the House. There had already been an investigation by the prosecuting authority and a royal commission inquiry into standards of public life, and the Committee itself was specially set up for the circumstances. It was not related to the Privileges Committee.

Mr. Newton

That point does not dent my argument one bit. I am of course aware that, in a sense, the motion recognises these problems by conceding the risk to natural justice. It has the air of attempting to suggest some kind of halfway house, in which the Committee might take part of the evidence from individual cases in private and part in public—or even perhaps move from one mode to the other in the course of a hearing. There is no evidence, either in the motion or in anything else that I have heard or read, to show that such arrangements could be made to work.

In relation to the cases that have been referred to the Committee, I cannot see how it would be fair to hear some witnesses in public and others in private—perhaps the Members of Parliament in private and The Sunday Times in public, or vice versa. That would not be seen to be fair. Nor do I see how, in practice, the Committee could make judgments in the course of a hearing as to whether matter might be introduced that would more appropriately be heard in private. Even if it did, the result would all too readily become a form of complete chaos, with the public shuffling in and out of the Committee in accordance with what was going on.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not, however, of some interest to note that Lord Nolan observed to the press that a large amount of the evidence that he is to hear—much of it allegations—will be heard in public? Does not that show that times have changed and that people believe that such allegations should be aired mainly in public? Obviously, as the motion concedes, some cases should be heard in private, but generally the public should be satisfied that justice has been seen to be done. The secrecy that used to prevail must no longer be allowed.

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has already effectively made the point that Lord Nolan's committee will not be looking into complaints against individuals. It will scrutinise general issues surrounding standards of conduct in public life—so the hon. Gentleman's parallel does not stand up.

I very much doubt whether the difficulties of this halfway house can be overcome. I am sure, however, that unless it is sure that they can be, it would be very unwise of the House to pass the motion.

There are also wider arguments for not proceeding as the motion proposes, and they are reflected in the Government amendment: this House reaffirms the long-established practice that decisions as to how a Select Committee once established should proceed are for the Committee itself. The House is rightly firm in its defence of the integrity and independence of its Select Committees. I have to say bluntly that it seems to me no more acceptable for the official Opposition to seek to determine how such a Committee should go about its work than it would be thought acceptable for Ministers or the Government to do so.

If we are to go down this path, I believe that we put at risk exactly those attributes of our Select Committees which the House itself most values and which is the basis of their public reputation: the fact that Members, once appointed, serve as individuals, not party representatives; not as part of a caucus, and not on the basis of voting in accordance with a party line. I believe that the House should think long and hard before going down the path to which the motion invites us, and I hope that it will instead endorse the amendment.

Mr. Barry Porter

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If, as has been claimed, this is a House of Commons issue and not a party issue, it does not seem to me to matter much whether the motion or the amendment is passed. Will it not still be for the Privileges Committee to determine its own procedure, regardless of what the House decides this evening? If that is so, it is a matter for the Committee to decide whether it is to be a party vote. I intend to vote as a House of Commons man.

Madam Speaker

What meaning is attached to the motion is for Members to decide. It is not for me as Speaker to interpret for Members what is before them. They must make their own judgment as to what is in the motion and the amendment.

4.29 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

This is a major parliamentary debate, and it is appropriate that the Clerk of the House, Sir Clifford Boulton, should be in the Clerk's Chair for the last debate of his period of office. I am sure that his background advice will have been helpful.

I declare my interests, as recorded in the Register of Members' Interests, as a writer, broadcaster and shareholder, but my real interest is as a Member of this House. I have been 10 years on the Privileges Committee, and I moved the Leader of the House into the Chair, which demonstrates a non-partisan inclination. I must be the only Member of Parliament who was expelled from the House by the Privileges Committee on a motion.

When my father died, I was summoned to the Committee and ordered to produce my birth certificate and my father's death certificate. On the advice of the Privileges Committee, the House moved to declare a by-election in my room, which I won. I was subsequently removed by the House. I therefore have some interest in the workings of the Privileges Committee.

I have been in the House for 44 years and have been elected 15 times because, by a coincidence, I have won four by-elections. I shall not go into those. My only interest in this matter is that of the people who sent us here. I do not accept the view that we are here to protect Parliament, as if Parliament were a little club. We are here to protect our electors. That is the basis of privilege, because it protects Parliament only in so far as it can do its business in the interests of our constituents. The word "privilege" is an unhappy one because it gives the impression that it relates to the privilege of hon. Members, whereas it relates to the privilege of an elected body to do its job without improper interference.

The debate is not a trial of Members who may be involved in the matters that we are discussing. I am not by instinct a muck-raker and I do not think that the House should today consider who may have done what. It is not a trial of the Government because they are responsible for their own conduct. Happily, the electors will judge both Members and Government—all of us—at the next election. We are accountable to the electorate and the only consideration in deciding how to vote must be based upon that.

Serious allegations have been made about individuals, hon. Members, lobbyists and the media. My argument is extremely simple: that the only way in which the electors' rights can be considered is for everything—evidence and deliberations—to be held in public. Otherwise, rightly or wrongly, there will be a feeling that the parliamentary club has got together to cover up what is happening so that Parliament's reputation can survive. Parliament must live on the confidence of the people or people will not have confidence in it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As my right hon. Friend says, the Privileges Committee has certain duties and powers in respect of the electorate. Notwithstanding that, does he agree that it would make much more sense if the Committee did not investigate Members of Parliament—that such investigations should not be undertaken by members of the club, as my right hon. Friend calls it—but by an independent body?

Mr. Benn

By a strange coincidence, I have experience of that too, because after the House had thrown me out and when I reappeared and was kept out, I was referred to an election court. In the 19th century, the House used to deal with contested elections but, in view of the partisan nature of election Committees of the House, the matter was referred to a judge. In fact there were two judges, and they came to an absurd conclusion, which I need not go into, which kept me out of the House.

The principle mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—that the House is not the right place in which to consider these matters— has been recognised. My point, however, is that not just the evidence but the deliberations should be heard in public.

I do not know whether I will be on the Committee after I complete my speech, but some of the matters that we on that Committee will discuss are of the highest importance. What rules should there be? Why should not hon. Members be entitled to hear the views expressed by Committee members about what the rules should be, what the obligations should be, what the sanctions should be and what legislation is required?

I have my own opinion, and I have expressed it already—that the rules should be similar to those that apply to Ministers and that those who do not adhere to them should be dealt with by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Of course, that is just one view; others may wish to put their views. The whole Committee should be held in public.

Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

I shall do so only if it is a serious and important point; otherwise, I want to get on with my speech. I rely on the hon. Gentleman to assist me in that regard.

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but that is rather like the problem of deciding, before one has heard the evidence, whether it is in breach of natural justice for it to be heard in public.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept a serious point? It is that, as a new Member, one of my privileges in this House is actually being able to listen to him. Will he explain where any problem arises, as all the evidence, any motions—including defeated motions—and the report will be published and debated in full on the Floor of the House? Taking part in that debate will be members of the Committee as well as hon. Members who did not serve on it. How can that be secret, and in what way is the public interest not served? In what way is information hidden from the public by that procedure?

Mr. Benn

The Clerk or the Attorney-General would be better able to give an authoritative view, but, as I understand the matter, and as the Attorney-General said in the Committee, the Committee is entitled to do as it likes and either hear evidence in public or refuse to do so. The Committee voted, for the reasons given by the Lord President, on his casting vote, against my motion that we should hear the evidence in public.

Of course, the deliberations have never been heard in public in the Privileges Committee. My argument, to which I shall return, is that the deliberations are important because they will set the framework for the recommendations that I hope the House will pursue.

I want to make a statement—

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn

No, I am on a serious point.

As Madam Speaker said earlier, I sought permission today to move a manuscript amendment in the following terms: That the House instructs the Committee of Privileges to hold all its meetings, both when evidence is taken, and when it deliberates, in public. As I said a moment ago, I moved a motion in the Committee that the evidence be heard in public. The Lord President will recall that I argued that all the Committee's deliberations should also be held in public. That is because I am no longer prepared to accept the traditional practice of the Committee of Privileges that its proceedings, including the hearing of evidence, should be held in private. My first responsibility is to those who have elected me to Parliament and who are entitled to know what is being done in their names. In my judgment, that duty must take precedence over any conventions of the House.

House of Commons debates were held in secret for many years. There was great resistance from some Members of Parliament to the public reporting of proceedings. From 1803 to 1811—a year or two before I came to the House—William Cobbett reported the proceedings of the House in the pages of the "Political Register" and was reported to the House for an alleged breach of privilege in the way in which he reported them. Cobbett, who later became the Member of Parliament for Oldham, was at one stage imprisoned for sedition for a pamphlet that he wrote, as was Thomas Hansard, who printed it. It was not until 1855 that parliamentary reports by Hansard were officially sanctioned.

The secrecy of Committee proceedings raises exactly the same questions as the proceedings of the House, and the time has come when they, too, should be held in public and properly reported. I very much hope that the House will now intervene to change the existing practice of the Committees of the House, including the Privileges Committee, so that the evidence taken and the deliberations of those Committees are held in public.

Whatever the decision of the House or the Committee, I am no longer prepared to accept the present restrictions, and if I return to attend future meetings of the Committee of Privileges, it is my intention to issue my personal report of those proceedings that I attend. My reports will be based on notes made at meetings of the Privileges Committee and they will be as fair and accurate as I can make them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It will be For the House to determine how to deal with that matter, but I believe that I have a duty to make my own position plain in advance. I hope that the House will understand and respect my reasons for doing so.

Sir John Gorst (Hendon, North)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, will it be in order at some stage to table a manuscript amendment seeking to have him removed from the Committee?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

No. That would be beyond the scope of our proceedings today.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given the information shared by the right hon. Gentleman, may the House be told what Standing Orders say would happen if he does as he says?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I trust that all right hon. and hon. Members are capable of reading Standing Orders.

4.40 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

The Government's amendment refers to the long-standing practice whereby the Select Committee on Privileges makes its own decisions. That is absolutely right and is why I shall support the Government amendment tonight. Later, however, I will make certain suggestions about the Committee's consideration of the problem, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

There are other long-standing practices of the Privileges Committee. One is that debates in the House on such matters are always treated with the utmost seriousness and on a non-party basis, for two reasons: first, such a debate can affect either side of the House—reference has already been made to some cases that have been heard by the Privileges Committee—and, secondly, such matters are of the utmost seriousness to the right hon. or hon. Members directly involved. We have heard little about them this afternoon, but we know from past exercises that an hon. Member's life can be at stake, as can the future of his family, his relationship with his constituency and other interests of a political nature.

Mention was made of the Poulson case, which involved hon. Members on both sides of the House and a member of the Cabinet, who resigned. He was cleared, but that incident affected the whole of Reggie Maudling's life. I hope that debate on the Opposition motion and on the Government amendment continues with the utmost seriousness.

I fully accept the four points made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in opening, and I am glad that he made them. I am sure that he was perfectly justified in doing so.

On the question whether the hearings should be in public or private, I served on the Privileges Committee in the 1968 and 1969 Sessions. I acknowledge that that was 25 years ago and that many changes have occurred since in not only the House but public life and in the presentation of politics and technology. Twenty-five years ago, the proceedings of the House were not heard on radio, let alone seen on television. Similarly, our Committees did not exist in their present form. Today, they are televised as well as heard on radio, and the press attend them. We must take account of that.

All the signs are that the standing of the House in the eyes of the public has fallen in recent years, and that is a matter that we all want to redress. I do not place quite the emphasis on that as does the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), but it is essential that the House re-establishes itself in public high opinion. I should like the Committee to re-examine the problem and to consider again whether its proceedings should not be in public.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is unnecessarily worried. Some newspaper leaders have already commented that, if people offer to give evidence in public, that would lead to some persons showing off—asking to appear and then using the Committee for their own purposes. When I served on the Privileges Committee, the Attorney-General attended—and I believe that he does so today. He is at the top of the legal profession, and is there to challenge any witness on anything that he says, at the very moment that he says it. The dangers foreseen by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could be dealt with by the Attorney-General.

I agree that we would have to face the fact that persons called before the Committee might request legal assistance, but there is a precedent. When Robert Maxwell's sons were to appear before a Select Committee, they asked to be accompanied by their lawyers, and the Committee agreed. Everybody knew that a case was to be taken before the courts, but that did not present any constitutional problem. The Maxwells' lawyers were there to advise them on the spot and to make suggestions to the Chairman of the Committee on how matters should be handled. We should have to face up to that with the Privileges Committee.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, when the Maxwell brothers appeared before the Committee, they did not answer a single question? They merely said, "Our legal advisers have advised us to say nothing."

Sir Edward Heath

The Committee drew its own conclusions, and the Privileges Committee would do the same.

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I suggest that there is an important difference between the Privileges Committee and run-of-the-mill Select Committees, if I may use that term. In any case, the Maxwell brothers were not accused of possible contempt of Parliament.

Sir Edward Heath

My right hon. Friend says that there is a difference. The question is whether that difference should continue. In the present situation of public doubt about the House and the operation of politics, political parties and political systems, we must face up to that new situation.

Another point that affects right hon. and hon. Members in particular is the inordinate length of time that the House takes to deal with such matters. The House sent the present case to the Privileges Committee before the summer recess. We are now heading for prorogation, followed by the Christmas recess, and no progress has been made. Change is essential. We cannot carry on like that in the modern world.

A Committee dealing with matters of such personal importance to an individual Member of Parliament must be prepared to sit continuously until it has reached a decision. That must be taken into account by the Whips in regard to parliamentary proceedings. In fact, it should please the Whips because they would know that members of the Committee would be here in any case. The time factor is of immense importance for particular Members of Parliament.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

The lives of the persons who are under investigation and who are perhaps accused are of great importance. If my right hon. Friend's suggestion were adopted, does he believe, in absolute fairness, that the persons concerned should have legal representation to cross-question other witnesses, rather than leave it to the Attorney-General or to the Committee to protect their reputation? Would not that alter the structure of the Committee as we know it?

Sir Edward Heath

That, again, will have to be decided by the Committee, but the Attorney-General could advise on the matter. If it means changing the structure, so be it, because I believe that it is necessary to deal fairly with Members who are brought before the Committee. I am dealing with the fair treatment of Members as well as with the status of the House.

Sir John Gorst

Will my right hon. Friend address himself to another consideration—that some of the matters to be considered might be the subject of criminal charges at the end of the hearing? If they were, would not that prejudice the cases of the individuals concerned? Is it not better, therefore, that matters be considered in private until it has been decided whether any criminal charges might arise?

Sir Edward Heath

Of course it must be taken into account, but that could not have arisen in most of the cases that have come before the Privileges Committee.

I shall now deal with the last point made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield about the Committee's deliberations and evidence being taken in public. In his years in politics, the right hon. Gentleman has made many persuasive and many important points, but again—it has characterised the whole of his political life, and I have known him since Oxford days—he went a bridge too far. Anybody who sits on an organisation that must reach final decisions knows that there will be a point at which one will want to discuss the matter informally and not take up a fixed position—to say, "I want to ask about this to clarify my own mind and decide exactly where I stand."

That cannot be done in a public hearing; people have to take a fixed position. They are then accused of abandoning their previous positions and are asked why they have done so. I cannot see any difficulty in having private discussion. There is nothing that I regret more than people coming up to me after a meeting and saying, "Of course, what I really wanted to ask was so and so, but I didn't like to because I knew that it would then become known outside." That is a great drawback. In fact, it is a great loss not only to any Committee but to the individual.

I ask the right hon. Member for Chesterfield to reconsider and agree that there can be such discussion—there will be in any case, because he cannot stop it—before people take up fixed positions, which they then feel they must justify in public.

Mr. Benn

The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the public are intelligent. They know that, in arriving at a new recommendation about a matter, views will have been put tentatively, and then a final view taken. He underestimates the extent to which people understand the tentative nature of deliberations leading to a recommendation.

Sir Edward Heath

I have taken part in a good many tentative deliberations in my time, and I am absolutely convinced that they are necessary to reach a sound solution.

I support the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I agree with its first four points, which are absolutely right, but I hope that the Committee will reconsider its position to permit public hearings, after which it could continue its discussions in private and publish its report, which would be discussed in this House.

4.53 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

The Father of the House has given us wise advice today. I particularly support his remarks about the wisdom of having deliberative meetings in private, as that enables members to move their positions should that be then- wish.

We have listened to some interesting points, but it should be said at the outset that the motion that was moved by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) establishes a clear principle, and it is on that principle alone that the House will be invited to vote this evening. I will be supporting the right hon. Gentleman's motion and I shall recommend my right hon. and hon. Friends to do likewise.

It does, perhaps, illustrate the way in which the Committee has been proceeding that the points that were made, first, by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East about there being a third way, and, secondly, by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) about the value of deliberative sessions, were put before it.

Indeed, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and I suggested that there was a third option—that we should assert the value of meeting in public but be prepared to derogate from that. There would be times when we would want to meet in camera—for example, where issues of natural justice were involved; where we might be given compelling advice by the Attorney-General; or for whatever reasons we might sometimes wish to meet behind closed doors. But the principle should be that we should start out with the determination to meet in public wherever possible.

That is not an unknown principle to the House or to democratic bodies throughout the nation. I was sorry that that compromise—if I may call it that—was not accepted. That was no fault of the Leader of the House. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman—and without digressing too much into the meanderings of what happened in the Committee—it should be said that he took on board the voices in that Committee; that everyone put their view; and that there was a genuinely held difference of opinion. Those differences were arrived at for different reasons of principle.

The issue tonight is whether any Conservative Members have changed their minds, because if they have not, I cannot see how there will be any change in the way in which the Committee should proceed. Perhaps the most interesting speeches this evening will be those of Conservative Members, who, having listened to the thrust of the debate, will recognise the importance of trying to re-engage Her Majesty's Opposition in the debate. It will be interesting to see whether they will be prepared to find any room for manoeuvre. If they are able to do so, it will serve the House well, not least for the reasons advanced this evening by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup: the reputation of this House has been damaged publicly and that reputation needs to be reasserted.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

Let me make a little progress first, because time is short and many other hon. Members wish to speak; then I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

A week ago, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House of his intention to set up the Nolan committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said that he supported that move—indeed, there was a general welcome for it throughout the House. The Prime Minister set out the terms of reference of Lord Nolan's committee and said that it would be established to look at standards, the level of integrity and the level of ethics in public life and the proprieties of lobbying. He said that, if it wants to, it can go on to look at accountability and appointments to quangos, perhaps the political honours system and the remuneration of Members of Parliament. In all those respects, the Nolan committee is long overdue and welcome.

The Prime Minister also said in his statement that specific allegations concerning Members of the House or the conduct of the House would have to be met and dealt with by Committees of the House. That must mean the Procedure Committee or the Committee on Members' interests. So we have not only been charged with a responsibility by Parliament itself—the House of Commons having passed a motion establishing the Privileges Committee for the duration of this Session: we have been told quite clearly by the Prime Minister that the terms of reference, which have already been established for that Committee, must be continued and maintained as our inquiry proceeds.

Mr. Winnick

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, although this is not a matter for those outside the House, it is certainly a matter for us in the House, and that we must bear in mind the fact that much opinion outside is undoubtedly in favour of the Committee meeting in public, of which I am in favour? Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, if justice is to be done, the Committee should meet in public, but that, if the deliberations are also to be in public, it could well be argued that that is a denial of justice, because the Committee should be in a position, as the Father of the House said, to deliberate? It will be extremely difficult to do that in public and could well be a denial of justice for the people involved.

Mr. Alton

I agree. I made that point a little earlier in my speech. The hon. Gentleman makes a proper point. There are areas between which we much distinguish in determining the way in which we proceed.

Mr. Ashby

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

I will give way once more, but after that the House would expect me to get on with my speech.

Mr. Ashby

The hon. Gentleman's party has always believed in justice. We have always heard that, if justice is to be done, it must be seen to be done. That is nonsense, because this is an inquisition. The Committee is not a court; it is conducting an inquiry. Once it has opened its doors, its procedures—which give defendants no rights whatever—will be exactly the same as those of the old Star Chamber courts that were hated by everyone because they were so unjust. The hon. Gentleman is opting for injustice, not justice.

Mr. Alton

It is precisely because I believe in natural justice that I readily agreed to serve on the Committee. I used the very phrase that the hon. Gentleman has just used: I said that I would oppose any move to turn it into a Star Chamber or a kangaroo court. I believe that the Committee could consider many matters in public rather than in private.

There is no question of the Committee's meeting in secret. All the transcripts will be made public eventually, apart from those relating to the deliberations. The issue is whether the proceedings should be transmitted simultaneously by television, radio, journalists and, indeed, members of the public who might wish to be present.

Mr. Jenkin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

No, I will not give way again.

A longer-term issue is the question of self-regulation, and whether ours is indeed the right body to make such decisions and conduct such investigations. We should ask ourselves whether we ought to employ procedures that smack of the blackballing associated with the more prestigious gentlemen's clubs, or whether, in all cases such as this, we should invite someone from outside to sit in deliberation.

The Father of the House alluded to the Poulson scandal. I was in local government at that time, and local government was a difficult place to be: everyone assumed that all those in local government were on the make, with their fingers in the till. Indeed, during my service as deputy leader of a city council and as its housing chairman, I often had to deal with contracts and tenders involving considerable sums.

After the Poulson scandal, the House decided that it was not enough to expect local government to deal with its own affairs on a self-regulatory basis. A panoply of bodies was established—comprising the fraud squad, district auditors and local government ombudsmen—to be called in when a local councillor was thought to be in disrepute. The councillor might then risk criminal proceedings. I hope that Lord Nolan will examine the precedent of local government.

In local government, people do not simply declare a pecuniary interest in advance; they must subsequently withdraw from all proceedings connected with that interest, and take no further part in them. That is a good precedent for the House of Commons to follow. We should be open to the same charges of dishonesty, fraud and criminal action. Many of my friends and colleagues who are still in local government do not understand why we exercise such double standards.

For now, the Committee of Privileges is the body charged with investigating the most recent accusations levelled against Parliament. The first issue, on which I have already touched, is whether it should meet in private or in public. I believe that we should meet in public unless there are good reasons for us not to do so. Secondly, there is the question of precedent, which has been mentioned regularly during the debate. Precedents need not be slavishly adhered to; there are times when we can change the way in which we go about things.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was right: times have changed over the past 30 years. It is not a partisan issue. People expect our affairs to be more open—which is why the Prime Minister himself has identified a more open approach to many realms of Government life as one of the features that the Government can be proud of. I believe that, on the whole, such openness will be possible in this instance as well.

Thirdly, there is the question of natural justice. Let me take up a point made by a Conservative Member. It can be argued that, when criminal proceedings are likely or writs have already been issued—we can think of one example immediately—the Attorney-General will in any event advise the Committee that that part of the proceedings cannot take place in the open. Any hon. Member who did not accept that, or who left the Committee and reported the circumstances, would prejudice the outcome of any court hearing that subsequently took place. In that context, I ask the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to reflect on one of the points that he made in an otherwise excellent and thought-provoking speech.

The fourth issue is reputation. That is the most important issue of all. Parliament's reputation has been damaged in an extremely high-profile way, and unless we put the matter right in a high-profile way, confidence in our institutions will continue to be sapped. Public cynicism about our institutions and politics has reached dangerous new depths: the Church, Parliament, the royal family, the City, financial institutions and publicly appointed bodies are all among the casualties of the new cynicism.

Thoreau said, prophetically: If you cut down all the trees, there will be nowhere left for the birds to sing. If our institutions are cut down one after another, we shall leave it to others with whose views we may strongly disagree to provide the answer to the new civic reckoning that is now under way.

Another issue that arises—as it did in the Committee—is what should be done if the motion is rejected tonight. Before our Committee debate, we had already agreed a timetable and modus vivendi: the Committee's proceedings have already been put in motion. We met last week to listen to tapes, and it is no secret that two hon. Members will come before the Committee tomorrow to give evidence. It will continue to hear evidence as the House has charged it to do, come what may. The inquiry has been proceeding as we all agreed that it should, but it must now be deepened and widened.

We need to hear from other hon. Members who have been named, from Mr. Al Fayed and Mr. Tiny Rowland, from the editor of The Guardian and from a number of others who have been mentioned—very publicly—in the media. I hope that members of the official Opposition will be present at tomorrow's meeting to support calls for the widening and deepening of the inquiry, but even if they are not, the Committee will be duty bound to proceed with the task entrusted to it by the House and by the Prime Minister last Tuesday.

Mrs. Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

No. I said that I was going to conclude my speech, and it is nearly finished.

Until the House makes a resolution to do otherwise, it is the House's duty to proceed. That is why I, for one, will remain a member of the Committee until it has completed its task. That task is no more or less than what the public want and expect: they want us to clean out the Augean stables, and to put our own house—the House of Commons—in order. Political trench warfare would be a pitiful response to that expectation.

Sir Edward Heath

Is it not possible for the Committee, when it next meets to discuss the proposal of one of its members, to reconsider the decision to hear all matters in private and to decide that it is prepared to hear witnesses in public?

Mr. Alton

Of course that is open to the Committee. I should be happy to raise the issue, but, if the right hon. Gentleman could persuade one of his colleagues on the Committee to reflect on the issue, the proposal would be far better coming from that source. As the Leader of the House has told the Committee, the issue was determined on a single casting vote.

In 1695, the House of Commons resolved, in not dissimilar circumstances, that the offer of money, or other advantage, to a Member of Parliament for the promoting of any matter whatsoever, depending or to be transacted in Parliament, is a high crime and misdemeanour. Surely it is not too much to expect that, 300 years later, we may effectively circumscribe the malign effects of an industry that is suffocating Parliament and destroying its reputation. It will be a sorry reflection on the state of our contemporary House of Commons if we cannot find a common-sense way forward tonight.

5.8 pm

Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking)

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made a typical speech; I rather agreed with the criticism made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). The views that the right hon. Gentleman expressed about the results of a vote on deliberation in public are not the views that he held when he was last a member of the Privileges Committee. On that occasion, the question which he put to the vote was defeated; all three of his colleagues voted with the rest of the Committee against his proposition. I am glad to say that he attended at least two subsequent meetings of the Committee and I am not aware that he has divulged, except in the privacy of his diaries, the proceedings that took place. I hope that he will reflect carefully on the threat which he seemed to issue.

To come back to the motion and the amendment, the House should remember that it has given the Privileges Committee two distinct tasks. One of them is an instruction to investigate matters relating to the conduct of two of our colleagues, and the involvement therein of The Sunday Times; to establish the facts so far as we can to give our opinion on whether they show that a contempt has been committed; and to recommend in a report the appropriate action to be taken by the House as a whole.

I want to devote most of what I have to say to that specific matter, but the other wider-ranging remit contained in the Speaker's instruction to the Committee is much more general. It relates to matters which are complicated and involved; which may bring the Committee into a position of overlap with the Nolan inquiry; which may bring us into conflict with the Committee on Members' Interests; which we certainly cannot resolve in a hurry; and which will require a great deal of deliberation on all parts.

Against that background, it is important that the Committee should be allowed to go on as fast as possible with the first part of its inquiry and try to get that out of the way as expeditiously as we can. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup knows, as I do, that it is not the Committee's fault that it has not been able to make more progress throughout the autumn. The Committee is not empowered to sit when the House is not sitting but perhaps it should be so empowered. That point could be pursued. As matters stand, my right hon. Friend must not blame the Committee; he must blame the House's rules of order.

We must also bear in mind the requirements of natural justice. I am glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to that; my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to it as well. It may surprise hon. Members to hear that "Erskine May" is not an authority on the subject of natural justice. Even the law books are not especially helpful. I asked someone I know well, who is a lawyer, to see if he could provide me with any authority on the subject. I received a note from him which says: The courts in the interest of fairness impose certain obligations upon those with power to take decisions affecting other people. These obligations arise from the rules of natural justice which, although 'sadly lacking in precision' have generally been subsumed under two heads"— the House will understand the rules when I read them in Latin— the audi alteram partem rule and the nemo judex in re sua rule". I will not insult the intelligence of hon. Members by attempting to translate them. The note goes on to say: By virtue of these rules decision makers must act fairly, in good faith and without bias, and must afford each party the opportunity to adequately state his case.

I do not believe that if we met in public to consider the specific matters relating to the conduct of our two colleagues and The Sunday Times, it would be at all easy to meet the requirements of natural justice, even if we were a court of law, which the Privileges Committee is not. Not being a court of law, the Committee has no provision for legal representation, as my right hon. Friend and others have pointed out. There is no possibility of cross-examination and there are not even any charges set out—not even that old catch-all of section 40 of the Army Act 1955 with regard to conduct that is prejudicial to good order and military discipline. The whole situation is inverted, in that the Committee's task is first to establish what the rules may be and then to judge whether its opinion is that someone has offended against them.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the Committee's task would be made much more difficult by the introduction of television and, to a lesser extent, radio? When the hearing takes place, the atmosphere in the Committee will be charged. Does my right hon. Friend realise that those who are accused cannot expect a fair trial or hearing? If he has any doubts, he should look at what is happening in America, where a celebrated murder trial is in absolute chaos because television cameras are giving it wall-to-wall coverage.

Sir Cranley Onslow

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who anticipates the very point that I was about to make. I do not need to look to America for evidence to support his argument and mine. It is essential that individual witnesses who come before the Privileges Committee should be protected when the proceedings may result in the Committee recommending a penalty against them, whether they are Members of Parliament or editors of national newspapers. We have a duty under natural justice to provide protection in those terms for those who appear before us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) pointed out, to do otherwise—to meet in public—would be an absolute media circus. For a start, we should need to hold our meetings in the Grand Committee Room, if not in Westminster Hall, No room on the Committee corridor would be big enough to contain all those who want to come and listen to our proceedings and report them.

As I said, we have evidence on our own shores of the way in which press coverage can frustrate the purposes of justice. On 15 June 1993, The Times Law Reports reported the result of an appeal hearing in an important case. The appeal was based on two grounds, the second of which was the concern that arose as a result of press coverage of the trial. I quote: In granting the appellants leave to appeal the single judge described that coverage as 'unremitting, extensive, sensational, inaccurate and misleading'. Having had the opportunity of reading a substantial selection of the newspaper reports in question, their Lordships saw no reason to dissent… They were satisfied that the press coverage of the trial did create a real risk of prejudice against the defendants and for that second reason as well the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory and had to be quashed. We are not in exactly that position with regard to the offence or the forum in which it was heard, but we do not need to use our imaginations vividly to see that there might well be unremitting, extensive, sensational, inaccurate and misleading reporting of Privileges Committee sittings if they were held in public.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I have a great deal of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, especially with regard to publicity. Can he explain who the publicity will influence? Clearly, in a court of law, there is a possibility that jurors can be influenced by publicity. How can the publicity which might attach to the right hon. Gentleman's illustration influence the members of the Committee who will, in the final analysis, make the judgment?

Sir Cranley Onslow

The hon. Gentleman's imagination must be limited if he cannot see that. Even if he thinks that some of his colleagues may sometimes think that there is a compromise position to be adopted—a sort of halfway house where witnesses can be interrogated half in public and half in private—I recommend that he read the second leader in today's Evening Standard, which points out that it is disingenuous for Opposition Members to think that interviewing witnesses partly in private and partly in public would work. I quote: Can they imagine the effect on press coverage if reporters were removed from the room for part, and only part, of the proceedings?

The leader goes on to recommend that the status quo—the traditional precedent by which the Committee meets in private—should continue.

Whatever view one takes of that, it must surely be right that the Committee must make up its own mind as to how it does its work. It is not for the Leader of the Opposition to request the Prime Minister to allow the Committee to meet in public. It is not for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to blame someone else if we choose to meet in private. The decision depends on the individual views of members of the—and it is not members hunting as a pack or acting in concert but making up their own minds in their own way and in accordance with their own beliefs.

The editorial in the Daily Mail, which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, was misconceived in its arguments. I have no sympathy with them. It is up to each of us to make our own judgment and to do so in the light of our interest in Parliament as a whole and our belief in the parliamentary process. I do not believe that we shall be able to retain the public confidence we need if we are to keep authority over our procedures unless we pass the amendment tonight.

5.19 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Happily, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir Edward Heath) took a much higher view of the abilities and standing of the Privileges Committee's membership than some of his colleagues have taken in their interventions today. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the legal profession is represented by some distinguished lawyers, not only by the Attorney-General but also, for example, by my right hon. and learned Friend and namesake the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). He also is held in the highest respect in this House.

I have no intention of exciting any avoidable controversy in the debate, and I know how seriously and conscientiously the Leader of the House takes his role and responsibilities in this extremely sensitive affair. In that spirit, may I ask him for a response, not now but before the debate concludes, to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about whether there will be a free vote for Conservative Members of Parliament as well as on this side of the House?

I want now briefly to explain, as a member of the Privileges Committee, why I oppose the holding of its proceedings solely behind closed doors. In my view, secrecy is permissible only when there is a clear and compelling reason, more especially a legal reason, and even more especially any risk of infringing natural justice.

For me, the issue is not one of party or parliamentary tactics. The accusation has been made that the Committee's Labour members acted like spoilsports, taking our ball home because we did not get our way. But we were not playing a game. The issue was one of very important principle and, for my part, I simply could not bring myself to say, when the vote for secrecy was decided, "That's fine. I will change my principles."

There was no meeting of the Committee's Labour members to discuss its proceedings before the meeting on 18 October. Nor at any time have we met outside the Committee since then. Those are matters of ascertainable fact. We voted as individuals and were joined in opposing the motion for secrecy, as you heard, by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), the representative on the Committee of the Liberal Democrats.

Who in this debate can deny that, on 18 October, we acted in accord with the wishes of the vast majority of the British people? We put our votes where the Prime Minister's rhetoric was when he said that standards in public life should be seen and recognised to be beyond criticism".—[Official Report, 25 October 1994; Vol.248, c.759.] That cannot be achieved on the basis of total secrecy.

Urgency is now extremely urgent if we are to allay mounting public disquiet at the failure of this House to deal effectively with allegations of malfeasance. The public resent being kept in the dark.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am listening carefully. The proceedings will not be secret. They will be published in full. Therefore, every member of the public who wants to read the whole transcript will have the chance of doing so.

Mr. Morris

I am glad to have an opportunity to correct what the hon. Gentleman says. It was said also by some other hon. Members earlier in the debate. Let me make it clear that it will be for the Committee of Privileges to decide whether the evidence is published in total, just as it was for the Select Committee on Members' Interests to decide, as it did, that large sections of the evidence given in the case of our former colleague, John Browne, the then Member for Winchester, would be deleted from its report.

Sir Jim Spicer

It is not a matter of dispute—certainly with me—that the evidence should be given in total at the end of the proceedings. The only exception would be that, where criminal prosecutions might follow from the proceedings, of necessity and on the advice of the Attorney-General, the evidence would have to be debarred from going into the public domain. That surely negates half of what has been said in the Chamber tonight.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman has already entered his own caveat. I repeat that it would be for the Committee of Privileges, not for any individual member of the Committee, to decide whether or not the proceedings were to be reported in their entirety. I am certain that the Committee will consider in due time very carefully whether it is legally proper for it to publish every aspect and detail of the evidence.

Sir John Gorst

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris

I must proceed. The hon. Gentleman has intervened several times previously. I must proceed because I have been asked, as we have all been asked by the Chair, to speak as briefly as possible.

I was saying that the public resented being kept in the dark: "They have lost faith in their leaders."

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)


Mr. Morris

The hon. and learned Gentleman says no. They are not my words. They are the verdict given last Friday by Lord Nolan, appointed by the Prime Minister to chair the committee which will review standards in public life. His verdict makes it all the more important that all Committees of this House should now meet in secret only where sensitive or potentially prejudicial evidence makes it essential for them to do so.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly insisted that the Privileges Committee must meet only in private because it has always met in private, but other important Committees have already dragged themselves into the 20th century while there are still a few years of it left. Until fairly recently, the Defence Select Committee always met in private, but today, like other Select Committees which always used to meet in private, it now very often meets in public.

There has been a sea change since my book "The Growth of Parliamentary Scrutiny by Committee" was published in 1971. Then it was almost unheard of for Select Committees to meet in public, but millions of people of all persuasions now find it incomprehensible that the Prime Minister is insisting on secrecy. Not only The Guardian and the Observer, but the Daily Mail and The Sun, among many other national newspapers, most strongly back the motion for this debate.

The Prime Minister must presumably have known since 18 October of the suggestion to allow the Committee to meet in camera if, for any legal or other compelling reason, more especially one of natural justice, it was proper for it to do so. The same balance is struck between open and private hearings in thousands of courtrooms up and down this country every week. It is the British way. The Prime Minister must also know that Select Committees and other important Committees of the House would still be meeting by lamp and candlelight if precedent had been all that mattered.

Why then is he so obviously angry, notwithstanding the safeguards available, about all suggestions for open sittings of the Committee? The anger of his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) last Tuesday, and again in replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) last Thursday, was seen by huge audiences. Perhaps the most charitable way of describing his behaviour in this House on both occasions is to say that he blew in, blew up and blew out.

In 16 years as a Privy Councillor, I cannot remember a moment when the need to improve Parliament's standing with the British people was more pressing than it is today. Not only is the conduct of Ministers and Members of Parliament under attack. Parliament as a whole is demeaned and diminished by the widely held conception now that the democratic process can no longer be trusted. That was why I wanted, and want now, the compromise between total secrecy and meeting only in public that I suggested on 18 October.

A question put to me at the weekend was why, in the very week when the Government ended the right to silence by means of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, the Prime Minister should so strongly have insisted on secrecy for proceedings in this building. There is public concern as well that the majority of 9:8 for allowing the Privileges Committee to meet only in private—as revealed in the statement by the Leader of the House to parliamentary journalists after the Committee's meeting on 18 October—included two senior members of the Government. Had they left the non-Ministers on the Committee to decide the issue, the Committee would now be meeting in public.

This debate provides all of us with the opportunity to restore confidence in this House. Let us grasp the opportunity without either individual or party animus, as our contribution to improving standards in public life.

5.30 pm
Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I agree with all those hon. Members who have said that this ought not to be a party political matter, and that in a very real sense the public's faith in Parliament is at issue. Having said that, we must recognise that the public expect things to be done in public. Since I support the amendment and believe that the existing arrangements for the Privileges Committee should stand, I have a responsibility to explain why the Committee should not sit in public. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House put forward the usual fundamental, traditional and entirely valid arguments as to why that should be so.

I shall elaborate on those reasons, and I hope to persuade even those hon. Members who have spoken—perhaps even the Leader of the Opposition—why the amendment to the motion should be carried and the matter left in the hands of the Privileges Committee. I hope that it will continue to press for the traditional view, which successive Committees have set out.

I am Chairman of the Liaison Committee, and have for a long while been heavily involved with Select Committees. The fact that those Committees take evidence in public has been of tremendous importance in holding the Executive to account. Very often, the evidence given in public and on television has been more important than the reports produced, or even than debates on the Floor of this House. Having said that, I go along with the traditional view that the Privileges Committee ought not to sit in public.

One thing that one learns in this place is that our proceedings might seem old-fashioned, anachronistic or strange, but it is only when one changes them that one discovers why they were as they were in the first place. It is therefore worth while setting out the reasons for the precedent—which is not to say that the Committee cannot change it if it so wishes, as that is its right. None the less, the traditional arguments why the Committee should sit in private are very strong.

The Leader of the Opposition exemplified some of the confusion when he said: the normal procedure in courts of law is that hearings are held in public… Why will the Prime Minister not allow the investigations by the Privileges Committee

to be held in public?"—[Official Report, 27 October 1994; Vol.248, c. 1003.] First, it has nothing to do with the Prime Minister: it is a matter for the Privileges Committee. In any case, the Committee is not a court of law, and none of the protections of natural justice that people have in a court of law exist in that Committee.

The Opposition motion refers to "natural justice" and the need to preserve it. The dilemma is that it is difficult to understand how the Committee will be able to ensure that natural justice is preserved if the hearings are held in public. To elaborate, the Committee will have to make some difficult choices about which evidence to take in public. The decisions will undoubtedly create a furore. If we have a problem at present because people ask why the Committee sits in private at all, there will be constant questions in the press once it is decided that some matters are to be discussed in private and others in public.

Even if the Committee makes that difficult choice, it is still far from clear whether the protections of natural justice will apply overall. Some of the people who give evidence and are discussed and examined in private might be protected, but they will not be protected from what other people might say in public. It is not merely a question of protecting the accused, even if they have been accused only in very vague terms: it will also be a question of protecting them from what witnesses may say in public.

To recap and elaborate on some of the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—

Sir John Gorst


Sir Terence Higgins

With great respect, my hon. Friend has interrupted the debate about four times, which is quite enough for one sitting. If he will excuse me, I will continue.

As was said earlier, no formal charges are laid before the Privileges Committee. There is also no legal representation. The Attorney-General is a member, and other members—for example the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who is on the Opposition Front Bench—have legal experience, but they are not appearing as counsel for the accused; that is the case where cross-examination is concerned.

In the Maxwell case, it was possible for legal counsel to appear on behalf of witnesses. Of course, that would be possible in this case, but it would fundamentally alter the way in which the Committee operates, leaving aside the question of who would pay for counsel.

There are other arguments. Witnesses would not normally appear on oath, although there is some precedent for that. If they lied, it would be a contempt of the House, but there is virtually no limit to what anyone could say or what allegations he or she could make—whether he or she was a newspaper proprietor, editor or whatever—under the protection of parliamentary privilege. If someone made false allegations or lied, it is not clear what sanctions could be imposed on them, as it is not set out clearly in our proceedings. Witnesses could make wild allegations to the Committee.

All those reasons—the traditional reasons why the Privileges Committee sits in private—seem overwhelming. Having said that, some hon. Members have argued that it is important for justice to be seen to be done. I fear that, if the hearings were held in public, justice would be seen not to be done. People would be open to false allegations, with no effective defence.

We must take into account another fundamental change—the advent of television—which is important. If the Committee decided to sit in public, it would have no control over whether it was televised. That is a matter for a separate body. It would be inconceivable that it would not be televised if it decided to sit in public—a vastly different situation from that described by the Father of the House when he quoted Lord Callaghan. We have a very real problem.

Worse than that, the end result would be trial by television, but trial of a very distorted sort. The O. J. Simpson trial is on television in the United States, but at least there are some legal restraints on what is said, and some legal protections. Someone appearing before the Privileges Committee would not have that same protection. Allegations could be made, which would appear on television and be reported long before anyone could rebut or deal with them. That is a very dangerous path down which to go. In particular, we know perfectly that we would not see the entire interview or session of the Committee. A quick sound bite from Mr. Al Fayed, the editor of The Guardian or whoever is making an accusation against a Member of this House would appear on "News at Ten" or "Newsnight" totally out of context. If that is likely to be justice, I take leave to doubt it.

I believe, for all those reasons, that there are strong arguments against the Privileges Committee sitting in public. Having said that, it is a matter for the Committee to decide. I hope that, in making a very difficult initial decision, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and others will take into account the points which I have just made. It is a very dangerous road down which to go.

Four Opposition Members so far, who appear to have expressed the view that the matters ought to be taken by the Privileges Committee in public. I hope that they will reflect carefully before they continue to go along that particular route, and that they will realise some of the dangers which that would involve.

I agree with the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), that it is crucial that the matter is proceeded with as rapidly as possible. The law's delays—even though the Committee is not a court of law—ought not to apply in this affair, and we must reach a rapid conclusion. I believe that it is right that the Committee should examine the matter and deliberate in private, and that it should then publish very carefully the evidence that it has received and the conclusions which it has reached.

5.41 pm
Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

I shall remind the House of my interests, which are declared in the Register. I am sponsored by the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, I have a subsidised office in Sheffield which is provided by the council and I receive other small donations.

I admit that I never imagined that asking the simple question whether the whole or part of the sittings and investigations of the Privileges Committee should be made in public would create such a gnawing and gnashing of teeth. I find it incredible; it is not as if the evidence that will be presented is not already in the public arena. Nor did I ever imagine standing in the House and being restricted from making relevant points because I happened to be serving behind closed doors on the Privileges Committee. I intervened earlier during the speech of the Leader of the House, and I was slapped down for being out of order.

There is a vacuum in this debate as to how the decision was reached, and whether it was creating a precedent for the Chair to have a casting vote and for the Attorney-General to be offering advice every five minutes when hon. Members were raising points. We are in a very difficult position. I do not know exactly how I should put my case, but I shall do my best.

I shall give one instance where it seems that I was creating precedent, although I did not know it. I phoned the Clerk of the Committee to ask whether I might see the minutes of the meeting on 18 October. There was silence for a time—basically because I do not think that an hon. Member had ever asked for the minutes of a meeting of that nature. I was told bluntly that minutes were taken and recorded, but that they were not for the eyes of Committee members until the final written report was published.

That means, of course, that not only can I not speak on what happened in the Committee, but I cannot even read the minutes until months later to see whether they are accurate. If that is not a good argument for opening the Committee up to the public from day one, I do not know what is. My experience of the Committee—limited though it may be—has convinced me that that should be the case.

When I decided to withdraw from the Committee, some of my hon. Friends reminded me that it was a very big step to take because some hon. Members had served on the Privileges Committee for 30 years. My answer to that was, "That is their decision. I have been on it for 30 days, and I'm off." I did that because I felt that I was under a tremendous strain.

I do not blame people outside who ask what is going on here. We are talking about the most powerful Committee of the House and it does not even have to accept the vote tonight if it is in favour of the Opposition motion. The Committee does not need to take any notice, and there are no instructions that this place can give to the Committee. I have always argued that the more one has an inner sanctum of power, the more essential it is for democracy that that sanctum be opened up to public scrutiny. I feel that very strongly.

The issues have already been in the public eye. The very hon. Members who are likely to be interviewed by the Committee have already been in public themselves and made their contributions in front of the cameras. There is nothing that has not already been in public view, and I do not understand why we should suddenly close all the doors and make sure that nothing is said or done in public.

Today, the public demand far more information than they have ever done before. There is a bad taste which I believe must be washed away, and we cannot wash it away in secret. I was not elected—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said the same—to come down here and to sit on secret Committees of this nature. The longer I am in the House, the stronger I feel that we should open up the doors even more to clear the air. That means opening the doors of the Privileges Committee to the public.

It has been argued in the Committee and since the Committee first sat that we cannot trust the broadcast media or the press. If we think about it, the argument goes further than that—it means that we cannot trust the public, and that we must leave it to right hon. and hon. Members to do the job for us. It has also been said that we are all right hon. and hon. Members, and that surely we can trust ourselves. It is said that we trust one another across the Committee, although I am not sure whether we do to that extent. But even if we did trust each other, that is not the issue. The issue is whether the public trust us.

Following the leaks and innuendoes which have come out of this place during the past few months, if not years, the public are less inclined to trust us on issues of this nature. That is the real issue, and hon. Members cannot run away from that. It is no good the House threatening the press, or threatening hon. Members if they say anything untoward, try to break ranks from the so-called "traditions", create precedents, start a whole new ball rolling, and cause problems that will embarrass the House more and more. I say "threatening hon. Members", because to some extent I feel threatened by the fact that I must be careful what I say, and I cannot present my feelings about the procedures of the Committee.

I almost feel as if I were a little naughty boy who is talking out of school, out of turn and out of class. I do not mind being treated like a little boy who cannot be trusted. I would rather have that than the public thinking that I was a bent big boy. I will always do my best to make sure that the people who elected me get as much information as possible. If the Committee insists on remaining secret, its report will not have credibility among the public.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I do not think anyone would object to the public's being given information, but the anxiety is that the public could be given misinformation of a kind that damaged someone's reputation—I do not care whether that person is a Member of Parliament, a journalist or a hotelier. Someone could appear before a Committee and, under the guise of parliamentary privilege, say something that was manifestly untrue. Even if that statement was believed by a handful of people for just five minutes, it would do enormous damage.

Mr. Skinner

Ministers do it every day at Question Time.

Mr. Michie

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just said, such statements are made in the House every day at Question Time and in other Committees. After all, some scandals that have been reported in the media for years finish up as a ding-dong argument between spokesmen at the Dispatch Box. There is nothing new in that. There is no difference between such behaviour and the protection offered under privilege.

The argument put by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent about the media misinterpreting information was also put to the Privileges Committee. We were told that if the media were allowed to attend the Committee we would end up with a media circus. I do not know where those hon. Members who argue that have been for the past few months, because we are in a media circus already. It exists because the media do not really know what is going on; they are putting two and two together and are sometimes getting five. When that happens, the press is accused of inaccuracies.

If the House does not allow information to be recorded verbatim and truths to be published, the result is bound to be inaccurate reporting and speculation that damages the House and hon. Members, both those who are involved and those who are not.

The conclusions that the public and the press arrive at may not always be correct, but they are the best that they can reach given the amount of information that they are allowed to glean from leaks, conversations behind closed doors and little whispers here and there. I do not blame the media and the public for getting things wrong; I blame the House, because it is hiding behind secrecy on issues that should be debated in the public arena.

I feel strongly about this matter and that is why I withdrew from the Committee. I will not attend any further sittings if they continue to be held in secret. I have no doubt in my mind about that. I therefore plead with the House to show a little bit of common sense today. It should accept the Opposition motion because times have changed. We have television in the House and more and more members of the public walk around this building in the morning because they have an interest in the place—an interest created by the press and television. If we take away the public's right to have more and more information in this modern day and age, this place will be looked on not only as quaint but as strangely out of touch with reality. Such a decision would do a disservice to the House.

Therefore, I repeat my plea to hon. Members—let us open the doors, let us have the truth and let us have no misleading statements. Let the public judge and not just peers of the House.

5.52 pm
Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)

It is right to declare my interest as a member of the Committee of Privileges.

In my view, it would be quite wrong if the Committee sat in private and produced a recommendation to the House and kept its proceedings secret. That is not in accordance with precedent, however, which dictates that the Committee sits in private and publishes a full transcript of everything that is said and done.

I have in my hand the report of the Committee of Privileges for the 1989–90 Session. The table of contents includes the Committee's report; its proceedings; the list of witnesses; the list of memoranda included in the minutes of evidence; the minutes of evidence, which give hon. Members' contributions word for word; and an appendix to the minutes of evidence. That is not a secret document; it is a full and complete account of what happened in the Committee.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) is not still in his place, because he said that the Prime Minister had insisted on the Committee's proceedings being conducted in secret. That was not the Prime Minister's decision, but the decision of the majority of the Committee. Labour Members have left that Committee en bloc because they have refused to accept the democratic decision of a majority on that Committee.

There are three cogent reasons, hallowed by time, why we should sit in private but publish everything afterwards. First, I do not want a witness to come before the Committee with his account of a conversation having had the benefit of hearing someone else's account of that same conversation. I want the pure water of the evidence as to how that witness recalled events, without having been nudged or fudged by his having heard someone else's account of the same conversation. Secondly, I do not believe that we will have an objective approach through a televised, American court, Perry Mason type public hearing. I remind the House that the Press Complaints Commission does not sit in public and if it does not, why should we?

Thirdly, I fear that the Committee's proceedings will be turned into a media circus. I can just imagine the full television coverage. The editor of The Sunday Times might be asked to appear before the Committee and asked why he published the story. No doubt he would say that he did so because the paper is a great British institution, which holds the high moral ground in leading the campaign to improve ethics in Parliament. He would no doubt also claim that his was the only paper with the courage to expose the full horrors and that it was his determination to bring his readers the full story; and so on and so on.

We would present a marvellous media opportunity to a particular national newspaper. There is no way in which we could stop that from happening, because the editor is almost certain to be one of the witnesses called. We would offer that newspaper prime advertising time and no doubt it would follow that up with its own suitably selected report of the Committee's proceedings.

I have been in the House for 30 years and, from time to time, people ask me whether things have changed much. I reply that they have not, but that what has changed are the media, and the press in particular. Thirty years ago, one used to know that the news and the facts would appear in one part of a newspaper and the editorials and an editor's views in another. Now we have an amalgam and it is very difficult to distinguish the views of a newspaper, depending on what campaign or crusade it is running on a particular day, from the facts. They are no longer kept sacrosanctly separate.

I am interested in the Opposition's motivation in wanting to change precedent. Put simply, they want to ingratiate themselves with the media in the hope and expectation of a quid pro quo—that the press and other media will repay them with favours in the years to come. For that reason, I hope that their grubby little motion is thrown out.

5.57 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

I should like to put the Ulster Unionist party's point of view, on behalf of my colleagues.

We noticed that the motion is intended to allow public access to the Committee of Privileges, in the belief that that will restore public confidence not only in Members individually but in Parliament as an institution. We came to the conclusion that the reason for a lack of public confidence in this place and its Members is the various allegations of misdemeanours and "sleaze", to use the popular term which has been bandied about in the past few weeks. Those allegations have tarnished the reputation of Members and the standing of Parliament in the public mind.

There is an old truism that hard cases make bad law. That would appear to fly in the face of the reaction of most people whenever they are confronted with a hard case. The truth of that saying remains, however, because changes in law in response to a particularly bad case normally result in bad law. Those changes are normally forced by the emotions aroused rather than because of a careful consideration of the facts relating to the general class of evils that that change in law is intended to correct.

In recent years, two examples have passed through the House. The first was the community charge legislation, which, although it appeared to have, a sound base, red to all sorts of horrendous uproar. In a more recent example—the Child Support Agency legislation—a whole field full of dragon's teeth is now sprouting. No one foresaw all that would follow the passing of those two pieces of legislation.

The current procedures in Committees of the House, especially the one that we are discussing, were arrived at after considering how best to deal with allegations made to the Privileges Committee in a calmer atmosphere than has prevailed in recent days.

The motion is an effort to give a measure of direction to the Committee, and it would set a bad precedent if we followed that line. It applies pressure on the Committee to follow a certain course and if, for any reason, the Committee failed to follow that course, what a hullabaloo would then arise. A considerable number of hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have already alluded to that fact in some form.

My party believes that the Committee should be free to make up its own mind at all times, for if it followed the motion, it would make matters much worse. It is not a court of law and the normal rules do not apply. There is no way in which the Chair could prevent allegations being blasted out and broadcast on radio and television as if they were the gospel truth. We all know what has happened about the allegations that have already been made. They are presented as proven facts and some are in the process of court action.

Moreover, whenever the Committee moved into private session, even greater suspicion would be aroused, much inflamed by the media if their behaviour to date is anything to go by. I foresee endless allegations that the juiciest bits of the scandal under discussion in the Committee were being covered up. In those circumstances, we also have difficulty with the fact that if a criminal wrongdoing became evident, no prosecution could follow because the whole matter would already have gone through a kangaroo court in the press and the Committee.

May I end with some advice that originated from America: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That is sound advice to follow in this instance.

6.1 pm

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Although the Privileges Committee, of which I am a member, has never sat in public, that is not the major reason why it should not do so now.

Allegations made against hon. Members must be thoroughly investigated for three reasons: first, so that the House may know precisely what happened, without innuendo or suspicion; secondly, so that the public may also know; and, thirdly, in fairness to the Members concerned. The question now before the House is whether those three objectives, which are entirely equal in importance, can be better met by the Committee meeting in camera or publicly. I have no doubt about the answer.

If the proceedings are held in camera, the House will know precisely what occurred. I could not believe that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) could think that there would be no report. The whole point is that the public and, particularly, the House want to know, and the Members concerned want justice. It is nonsense to say that, at the end of all the proceedings, the full details of what was discussed, who answered what questions, put by whom, will not be made public. Nothing will be secret or withheld unless there are clear legal reasons why certain sections of the proceedings should be withheld. The Leader of the House has already alluded to those.

Broadly, no member of the Committee would want to keep the proceedings secret once conclusions have been reached. When the Committee report is published, the public will be able to see, read or buy the whole report, and Parliament will debate it. How could Parliament debate it if no report is published?

Sir Peter Emery

The important fact that my hon. Friend has missed out is that the evidence will be published. Thus, all the evidence will be known at one time rather than in dribs and drabs, as it would be if the Committee were held in public.

Dame Jill Knight

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I was coming to that point, but I shall not reiterate it because of the lack of time. All the Committee's deliberations will be published at the right time. The public will then know what has happened and be able to judge, not in fits and starts from sound bites, headlines, Jeremy Paxman, Rupert Murdoch, screams and yells, bias and innuendo, and daily mudslinging, but the complete and balanced report will be there for everyone to see.

The Members concerned will be able to answer questions freely, speak in their defence, and have their words noted, although they are certain to have to face extremely tough questioning. There is no doubt about that, whoever attends the Committee.

If the proceedings are entirely public, with television cameras and radio microphones, the matter will undoubtedly become a media circus. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) made that point. We all know how grossly unfair the media can be. The public will have no chance of getting a balanced or accurate idea of what is going on. Somebody once said, "Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book?" I would say, "Why read the book when you can call on your own experience?"

Most of us know perfectly well what often happens when we agree to take part in a television programme and put forward a certain point of view, or explain or justify why something has happened or why our party is not culpable in the way described. Along we go and put our point of view. Then what happens? When the programme is broadcast, it has been chopped about and altered because it does not fit the picture that the producer wants conveyed. That has happened to me countless times and I know that it has happened to hon. Friends, too. "I have made up my mind," say the producers. "Don't confuse me with the facts," and on they go. All too often, they do not produce a fair and balanced report.

Over the weekend, a national newspaper carried a letter from a member of the public saying that he had written to a different national newspaper making what he considered an important point. The editor had phoned him and said, "I will print your letter, provided that you chop out the middle of it because that is not the story that I am trying to put forward"—[Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends have clearly seen the case, too. My point is that editors and producers of radio or television programmes have no conscience. They want to put a certain picture to the public, never mind the facts.

Only today on the front page of The Daily Telegraph, broadcaster and writer Jonathan Dimbleby said that his words in a book about Prince Charles were distorted and misinterpreted to the point where they became lies and reported…around the world as if they were true". If they can do that to the great Jonathan Dimbleby, and the possibly even greater Prince Charles, and members of the public, is any of us safe? We live in a world of sound bites, and if the Privileges Committee proceedings are filmed and broadcast, the words on the evening television news or the front page headlines will—there is no doubt about it—convey an entirely inaccurate impression of what is going on.

Picture the scene. A Member puts a question to the accused: "You took other money from other sources, didn't you?" Next day, we will read, all over the front pages: "Fresh allegations" or "Other bribes were taken", when nothing of the kind has happened. Every hon. Member knows quite well that that will happen. Is there anyone, even on the Opposition Benches, who thinks that that would be fair to the Members concerned?

Mr. Prescott

It is happening.

Dame Jill Knight

If the deputy leader of the Labour party has any doubt that I am well aware, I am pleased that he is aware that that is happening.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have one Member aving the Floor and other hon. Members, including Front Benchers, making seated interventions.

Dame Jill Knight

My argument is absolutely clear—there is no hope of any hon. Member who appears before the Privileges Committee obtaining a fair hearing and a balanced judgment if the television cameras are present.

We all care deeply that the reputation and honour of the House should not be compromised. There is no question of keeping any misbehaviour or dishonourable action hidden—none of us wants that—but the honour of the House also demands fair treatment for those who are accused. They will have no hope of fair treatment if the wolves and hyenas of the fourth estate are unleashed while the Committee is sitting.

In the past few weeks and months, we have watched the press and broadcasters lie, cheat, forge and distort to obtain a story. Make no mistake—when they do, all of us are diminished by the process. It is no news to say that the overwhelming number of Members on both sides of the House are honourable men and women, but it is true. It is not, however, headline news. What is headline news is the very few who do not match up to the House's standards. We must guard our reputation, especially our reputation for fairness to colleagues.

6.12 pm
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

Most of the debate has involved procedure, which, I admit, I do not find especially interesting in many respects. I may be heavily criticised from both sides of the House, but I want to suggest that we look at the state of affairs that has brought the debate about.

We need to be a little more profound than to decide who is right, who is wrong, who is honourable, who is dishonourable, how a certain Committee should work and whether things should be held in public or in private. If we examine the underlying problems that have brought all this about, we will find that the underlying problems do not lie with the law, but with what the public perceive and the morality that they would like us to observe.

I am conscious of what the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), said when he spoke about our moving with the times. What was probably considered satisfactory under Lloyd George, and possibly later still under Clement Attlee, would not be acceptable today. We live in an era when the public are much more conscious of what goes on in this place and are much more conscious of the activities or inactivity of Members.

Until such time as we tackle the underlying problem, all the procedural alterations in the world will not make an iota of difference. What is required is that when people come here as Members of Parliament, that is their only source of employment and their only source of remuneration.

If it is said that Conservative Members are heavily involved with business and receive payment for advice, consultancies, or any other activity, there is almost sure to be the riposte from the Government Benches: "On the Labour side, the trade union movement has a heavy involvement and it too makes a financial contribution to the Labour party, and indeed to Labour Members". If any Conservative Member wishes to say that, I would accept that argument.

It will not make me popular with Opposition Members, but I believe that the only way that Members of the House will regain the respect of the public is to be seen not to have any vested interests, and not to be involved with paid remunerative work purely because they are Members of the House of Commons. Few hon. Members would be considered to be good consultants or advisers if they were not Members of the House. If they were simply members of the public, they would not be considered, and the various companies and organisations would not want their services, and would not be prepared to pay them.

Until that problem is tackled, and until Members of Parliament are solely paid for the job that they do here on behalf of the public, the public who put them here—with great trust, because they respect them—there will be no improvement. We might get the present problems out of the road, but they will recur. They will continue to recur until such time as there is a radical appraisal of the responsibilities and duties of a Member of Parliament.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I would point out to him that the purpose of the debate is to decide whether the Select Committee on Privileges sits in private or in public. He is now going very wide of that.

Mr. Etherington

I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I have got out what I wanted to say, but I wish to make the following argument about private versus public hearings. No one should fear evidence being taken in public, and no one who has to make a decision on that evidence should be afraid to explain why they made that decision. That is what the public send us here for—to consider things, and to make decisions. They have the right to have the evidence in the same way as we have, so that they can decide whether we are doing a good job.

I have said all that I wish to say on the subject. I hope that all Members in the House will consider a more radical appraisal of the present situation, because the present situation is a symptom of a malaise that we are not tackling.

6.17 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

Many of the arguments that I wished to make have been made by other hon. Members, but some were made over and over again. There is a danger, with the time running so short, that it will prevent some hon. Member presenting a new argument.

I briefly ask the House to consider the debate in the context of the experience of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I have been its Chairman for more years than I care to remember but, during that time, we have had to consider some delicate issues concerning Members on both sides of the House. That has led, in some cases, to public inquiries; inquiries that have led to public reports, which have led to considerable controversy. We have also considered Members' complaints, not only in private and oral hearings, but by correspondence.

In referring to our experience of the Committee, it is not my wish, nor would I presume, to tell the Select Committee of Privileges how to go about its business. Its current terms of reference are much broader than those to which we, in the Select Committee on Members' Interests, are accustomed.

Whenever possible, our attitude has been that we must try to make our affairs, and the decisions that we arrive at, as transparent as possible. That is why, when we consider evidence as to what action one should take about a specific issue such as lobbying, or the effect that outside interests may have on Members' behaviour, we have brought in the public to listen to the evidence that we take. That has contributed to the public's better understanding of the manner in which we carry out our duties, but we have drawn the line and we were right to do so.

I have not heard anyone complain publicly outside the House about the manner in which hon. Members conduct their proceedings privately, although one complaint has been made in the House. We consider a complaint against an hon. Member privately. For various reasons that have been adumbrated mainly by Conservative Members, we believe that there are occasions when respect for the public deserves a balance of view—we must also respect the right of hon. Members to privacy and to natural justice.

The arguments have been fairly well rehearsed. Hon. Members all recognise the points that have been made about the advent of television and the media and the instant reporting of often difficult questions to hon. Members who come before my Committee and who have no opportunity, as they would in court, to receive legal advice about whether they should answer a question that may be incriminating. Appositely, people have talked of the risks that exist when Committee Members give an account of what they are doing that is fair to the people who come before them, let alone to themselves. They are the subject of instant reporting by the media.

That is the media's job. I used to work in the media. I know their responsibilities. There is no reason why they should be put in the difficult and impossible position of being openly invited to a Committee that they wish to report and that they have been given permission to report but which they cannot report in the depth that is demanded or with considered, mature reflection. Reporting is bound to be instant and there are bound to be instant judgments. Many of my hon. Friends have advanced those arguments very well but we should not forget another point.

I was involved in a libel trial. If I had lost it, I would have been a liar and lost a lot of money. When an hon. Member comes before a Select Committee, certainly the one of which I am the Chairman, he faces serious charges. It is not pleasant to know that that experience awaits him. However nice or kind one may be, he knows that his reputation, his conduct and, in some cases, his career are on the line. It is wrong, therefore, for the press to give immediate publicity to what he says when he does not have the legal advice that he can obtain in a court, which also imposes restrictions on press reporting to ensure that justice is done and that a trial is not prejudiced. That seems obvious. I should have thought that the practical lessons that we have learnt from such cases justify the attitude that we have taken in Committee.

As I said earlier, I have presided over a number of complaints. It was not a pleasant task or something that anyone could enjoy but I have always been much impressed that my colleagues in Committee from both sides of the House have responded with objectivity and fairness and have faced up to their responsibilities honourably, as we would expect. Our private hearings have never been regarded by Committee Members as a hole-in-the-corner exercise designed to cover up an hon. Member's misdeeds. If they were, that would have been apparent when the House considered our published reports, the evidence that goes with them and the votes in Committee.

If hon. Members do not have the confidence to express confidence in the integrity of our procedures, how on earth can we expect the public to share that confidence? One of the more unfortunate things that has happened in the past few months has been the constant nit-picking by some people, who are not at all friends of the House, about the integrity of its procedures. How small the voice has been from time to time of hon. Members standing in our defence. When it comes to matters affecting hon. Members, we have an honourable tradition of upholding fairness and justice and of being courageous in dealing with such matters as we think fit.

As I mentioned earlier, one doubt has been expressed about the way in which we conduct procedures concerning complaints. It was first made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). Some hon. Members have suggested that we should pay closer regard to the practice of the courts, that we are not always as fair as we might be because we do not have the experience of learned counsel, and that people who come before us do not have the benefit of counsel. I understand those arguments. The Committee should always be prepared to listen to arguments that could strengthen the Register of Members' Interests, its enforcement—I shall not go too wide on this, Madam Deputy Speaker—and above all the way in which we handle complaints.

If we go too far down the legal path and adopt legal practices, that would give rise to the question whether the rules governing hon. Members' interests should be embodied in the law, which would then be enforced by the courts. The matter was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) in a debate on 7 March 1990 in column 926. He rejected that view, and I agree with him. We cannot wash our hands of such business and leave it to judges. In the end, hon. Members should shoulder the responsibility for how the Privileges Committee, the Select Committee on Members' Interests or any other Select Committee go about their business. We should not leave it to others.

6.26 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) was critical of the media. Labour Members have some experience of the media, especially at election time, when almost the whole of the national press is against us, so we know what it feels like to be the subject of harsh criticism. When she was speaking, I reminded myself of all the arguments that have been used in the long past against reporting of the House and against televising the House, a more recent debate in which hon. Members were involved prior to the last election. They stood up and said that televising the House would change its character and that it would be quite wrong. It is interesting to note that some voices I hear now say that those criticism were justified. We have not reverted back, however, and we are not likely to.

After opening our doors and allowing the public to listen to our debates—reporting of the House was once a crime—hon. Members did not decide to revert back to previous practice. Likewise, we decided that it was right to continue radio coverage and the televising of Parliament—we did not go back on that decision either. Some right hon. and hon. Members will remember that it is almost 28 years to the day that the motion that the House should be televised was lost by one vote.

When I spoke in the debate on 13 July that decided to refer the allegations to the Privileges Committee, I expressed concern that the public were already getting the feeling that all hon. Members were on the make. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be concerned about the reputation of the House, not because we are concerned about a club for privileges and rights, but because this is the very place that sustains our democracy. If the electorate form the view that they can have no confidence in Parliament, that in itself is a grave matter that will affect parliamentary democracy.

We do not join this place because we want to be members of a club. Despite all the great differences between us, first and foremost our concern must be to sustain the parliamentary democracy that has served the British people so well. I find it almost impossible to believe, given the serious allegations at stake, that Conservative Members really think that the public will have confidence in the outcome if the Privileges Committee decides to sit in private. Here I strongly disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). It would be wrong, however, if the Committee held its final deliberations in public. Like a jury, the Committee should decide these matters in private, given that the fate of certain hon. Members is in the balance. But I see no reason otherwise—apart from a few compelling circumstances—why sittings should be held in private. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has already pointed out that, if the Attorney-General comes to the view that certain matters are unfairly being raised, he will advise the Committee accordingly. What if the Scott inquiry had been held in private? It too dealt with a great many allegations. Could anyone seriously believe that that inquiry would have come to just conclusions if its proceedings had been held in private? The public's confidence in the inquiry is largely determined by its membership and by its proceedings, televised and reported, being held in public.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)


Mr. Winnick

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but there is no time left in which to give way to him.

Despite all the fears that have been expressed—no doubt genuinely—by Tory Members this afternoon, I find it difficult to believe that, if the Privileges Committee decides to sit in public this time, it will revert in future to private deliberation. Once it takes the decision to sit in public, it will keep doing so in future—and rightly so. I hope that the motion before us will be duly carried.

6.32 pm
Mr. Winston Churchill (Davyhulme)

I warmly welcome the establishment of the Nolan committee and the referral of recent allegations to the Committee of Privileges. It is vital that the standing of Parliament be restored to what we and our constituents expect it: to be.

There can be few in this House who do not believe that, whenever possible, the deliberations of the House and of parliamentary Committees should be held in public—unless there are very good reasons to the contrary. The Father of the House rightly said that grave matters of the type that are before the Committee have always before been dealt with in a non-party-political spirit. Judging by today's debate, that will, tragically, not be possible this time. It is clear that many Opposition Members seek not justice but party political advantage.

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) admitted that it is unprecedented for the Privileges Committee to hold its deliberations in public, and there are good reasons for that. There can be few Opposition Members who believe in their hearts that those who stand accused before the Committee will be given a fairer hearing if its deliberations are held in public.

So I repeat that it is for party political advantage alone that the Opposition are standing on its head the precedent that they pursued when in government. Quotations from Lord Callaghan and others repeated here today have reiterated the sound reasons why previous leaders of the Labour party have felt it important that the Committee sit in private. As the High Court of Parliament, we have, above all else, a responsibility scrupulously to ensure that Members of this House or outsiders—possibly from the press—be treated as innocent until proved guilty. They must be given a fair hearing. Our constituents would expect nothing less.

The questions of probity at stake in this case go much wider. They include the press, notably that most sanctimonious of journals The Guardian. I trust that the curious behaviour of its editor will be considered by the Committee. Just what did Mr. Peter Preston think he was doing in allowing The Guardian to be used by Mr. Al Fayed as a pawn in his apparent attempt to blackmail the Prime Minister, and in his determination to destroy the careers of Ministers when the Prime Minister refused to bow to that blackmail?

The editor of The Guardian got so carried away with the role vouchsafed to him by Mr. Al Fayed that he stole House of Commons letterhead and committed forgery, fabricating a letter purporting to come from a Minister of the Crown. By his own admission this was done to protect the position of none other than Al Fayed himself. How fantastic that the editor of a once great journal of high repute should resort to such devices and apparently engage in a conspiracy to bring down Ministers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I must respectfully point out to the hon. Gentleman that this is a very narrow debate and that he has gone beyond the bounds of the motion. Would he please return to it?

Mr. Churchill

In our efforts to ensure that the standing of this House is restored to what it should be in the eyes of our constituents, it is also essential that the Privileges Committee safeguard the rights of those who appear before it. I happen to believe that that cannot be done under the glare of the television cameras and without the safeguards available to defendants in a court of law.

Few people in this country regard the O.J. Simpson trial in the United States as anything other than a media circus and a travesty of justice. I trust that that is not what the Opposition are trying to bring about in the Privileges Committee. Therefore, although I think that the Committee's report must and will be debated in public, and all its evidence must be published, its hearings should be in private, except when it decides to the contrary. I shall therefore support the Prime Minister's amendment, calling for the Committee itself to be the judge of whether it deliberates in public or private.

6.37 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

This debate is held against the background of Members of Parliament being extremely well paid, and against the background of 4 million people being without a job and pensioners without two ha'pennies to rub together.

For the past few hours, I have been listening to the Tory Members who have created all this havoc indulging in special pleading just because two, or possibly more, of them are to finish up before the Privileges Committee. It is high time we got rid of all this mumbo-jumbo about that Committee. It should not be the judge and jury of Members of Parliament. The Opposition complain about the police sitting in judgment on themselves. That is why the Privileges Committee should not examine the conduct of Members. There are millions of people outside who would welcome the opportunity of having their friends sit in judgment upon them. In the debate Tory Members have been saying, "We are special, we are above anybody out there. We want special treatment."

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)


Mr. Skinner

I should like to give way, but I do not have enough time.

The Committee has nine Tory Members and eight Labour Members— [interruption.] Well, seven Labour Members and another hon. Member: I do not know what he calls himself nowadays. There are eight Opposition Members on the Committee. Tory Members say that It is a kangaroo court, but not only do they have a majority, they will have a casting vote by a member of the Cabinet. They have the cheek to talk about not getting justice, but all the cards are stacked in their favour.

I do not think for a minute that the House will disband the Privileges Committee. Of course we will not: we will go ahead with it. I support my hon. Friends who have called for it to meet in public. What is wrong with meeting in public? All the other Select Committees meet in public from time to time, and many people are brought before them.

In any case, in the House any hon. Member can refer to anybody, as many do from time to time, and cannot be pulled up for it. The debate is about Conservative Members protecting their own. My guess is that, if two Labour Members had to go before the Committee, Tory Members would be telling another story. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh no, they would not!"] Oh yes, they would. The remarks of Tam Dalyell were apt.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was apt: we really need a Register that means something. We need to make sure that people do not register late, and that they register all their outside interests.

Members of Parliament should not have any outside jobs. We are paid £32,000 a year, and anyone who cannot li.ve on that should not put up for the job. As well as all the outside interests, all the money attached to them should be put in the register. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said that he could not live on his parliamentary salary, and made £300,000 a year from outside interests. That was reported in a newspaper. It is a scandal that, when many people outside are having a job to live, we should be discussing the debacle that arises from Members of Parliament making money hand over fist. Only when that has cleared up will the debate mean anything.

I support the idea of the Committee sitting in public, but the real problem is that it is high time we had a system in which there is no conflict of interests. If Members want to represent their constituents, they should do it every day of the week, and not represent outside interests—and not make a packet of money and line their pockets.

6.42 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

The raw, corrosive view expressed by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is the one that the House must address. There is a crisis of confidence in the workings of the House, and we must address that if we are to preserve the House's authority. We make the laws, and if we are disreputable or perceived as disreputable, what authority can the law of our land carry? That is fundamental to our system of government.

The motion is reasonable, and I see nothing in the arguments against it. They gainsay public anxiety on a level that I have never before perceived. One does not lightly throw away the arguments of precedent, because they were argued and reasoned in their time. In the debate, we heard the echoes of yesteryear when they were reinforced again.

Hon. Members have spoken about natural justice, but have not the cases of my two accused hon. Friends who will come before the Privileges Committee been splashed in the most malign way, insensitive to the sensibilities of their families, their constituencies and the reputation of the House? Have they had the might to defend themselves against that? Not one of my hon. Friends has argued, "Is there not a man who wants to shout out in front of a committee, 'I am innocent'? Have I not the right to ask that hearings be in public? Is there not an opportunity to dispel the more sleazy allegations that are laid against one?"

The issue is of confidence in our system, and, as I have tried to emphasise, the outcome rests on our authority. The importance of the House, why we are here, is to attest to the respectability and responsibility of our people.

I spoke earlier about the making of laws. If we are perceived as undesirable, as people on the make who are here only for what we can get, the authority of our laws will fall. What else are we, as a democratic people and as ordinary citizens, but the instrument by which we perceive ourselves—the House of Commons? It is fundamental to get that right.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shepherd

If my right hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like to continue for the few minutes left to me.

There is now a watershed in our affairs. People outside do not perceive us as benign, but they have an intuitive feeling that Parliament is somehow essential to their well-being, and they are right. But if we are perceived as corrupt, that concept will be undermined.

Why should the hearings be held in secret? It is because there is a fear that people will be traduced by headlines on each day's reporting. But who will write the report? Is not the judgment finally to be debated in the House, and will we allow ourselves to be traduced? We must speak up for ourselves.

Mr. Garel-Jones

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Shepherd

I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not. I have sat through the debate, and I should like to finish my speech.

I do not doubt that most hon. Members are absolutely honourable. I have no reason to suppose that anyone is dishonourable until that has been proven. Is that not the presumption that members of the Committee will have in their hearts when they hear the evidence, traduced as it may be by the despicable, low-life press in some parts of our society? Do we not know how to judge that? We must have confidence in ourselves and in our rights. We must go out and proclaim, "The House is decent and honest. We have nothing to fear".

6.46 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

No hon. Member has yet said that the Opposition motion will in practice require that nearly every sitting be in private. That is because the motion speaks of "natural justice" as an exception to the rule of having it open to the public. In this context, natural justice means fairness.

How can it ever be fair to allow an accusation against an hon. Member which will affect his whole future livelihood to be made through trial by television—because that is what it would be? Not the whole case, but only part of it, would be presented. There would be summaries, sound bites and excerpts at the end of the day. How can that possibly be fair? That is as absurd as it was for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to say that there was no party political interest in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman smiled as he said it. Opposition Members should have been honest enough to say that the whole reason for the motion is to try to embarrass the Government. Instead, they made portentous speeches.

How can it possibly be fair to make an allegation in public against an hon. Member without giving him notice of the details—a prior statement to which he can apply his mind? Is there any provision for that? How can it possibly be fair to try an hon. Member in public and not allow him the opportunity to be represented by a lawyer who can remind him of his rights, obligations and duties? How can it be fair to make an allegation in front of someone who is not a qualified judge, and who does not have the power to exclude evidence that may be intensely prejudicial and unfair? How can it be fair that a public hearing making a specific allegation of wrongdoing against an individual can stop him having the right to call witnesses in his defence if he so wishes? None of that is fair. It does not matter quite so much if the hearing is not reported all over the media, but it does matter very much if it is. At the end of the day, under the present procedures the report produced by the Committee can be sensibly doctored so as not to cause unnecessary harm and distress.

What would be the guarantee that the day-by-day media reports of a public hearing would ever be fair, when the editor of The Guardian can flout the rules of the House, flout the laws of the land, flout natural justice and fairness and flout common decency?

It must be patently clear from the events of the past few weeks that the media are interested only in witch hunts, and that they will go on extracting every single ounce of blood from the dissatisfaction, embarrassment or personal pain of someone in public life, provided that that helps to sell newspapers.

The Press Complaints Commission is no defence—we cannot complain afterwards to that body. Of course, if we did, who would we find on the commission but the editor of The Guardian, whose judgment is so poor that, even in today's broadcast, he could not understand that what he had done was wrong. We cannot ask for the help of the law of libel, because these occasions will be privileged.

It is absolutely naive of hon. Members to ignore the fact that most people believe that there is no smoke without fire. People believe what they want to believe, and if that belief can be fed by tittle-tattle and critical allegation, it will be. Where, in that, is the justice and fairness for which this House must stand?

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that we are here to serve the public, not to treat this place as a club. We serve the public by publishing the evidence and conclusions of the Committee. We serve them by ensuring that our proceedings are fair. If our proceedings to our own Members are not fair, what chance do we have of persuading those outside, whom we are here to serve, that when we deal with them we will be fair?

We serve the public by having less and less, rather than more and more, of the daily news media—whether it be television, radio or the press—dealing with sleaze allegation after sleaze allegation, most of which are too trivial for words. In this real world, feeding the media hunger for scandal, however trivial, is not the best way to serve this nation or to protect the honour of Parliament.

We are the least corrupt country in the whole of the western world. Unless we have confidence and belief in ourselves, and unless we ensure that our processes are fair to the people against whom allegations have been made and who stand accused, we have no right to be here.

I shall vote for the Government's amendment, because it makes sense. The Opposition motion does not change anything, because once they concede that, if the proceedings are to be fair they must be held in private, they are acceding to the Government's amendment.

6.53 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) rightly said that the issues we are debating today are fundamental, and that it is important for the reputation of this House that we make the right decisions.

I start by reminding the House of the motion that we are debating, and why the Opposition have tabled it. It states that the Committee of Privileges should sit in public, except in certain circumstances. In other words, there should be a presumption that the Committee meets in public, but that it is recognised that there may be compelling reasons why that cannot always be the case.

We tabled the motion to give the House the opportunity to express its opinion—not to give an instruction—to the Committee of Privileges, so that it knows the feeling of the House on how it should proceed from now on.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) rightly said that the issue is not, and should not be, one of simple party politics. I hope that, when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster replies to the debate, he will say that the Government have decided to follow the Labour lead and allow a free vote on this important issue.

I very much regret the remarks of the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), because the Opposition have not sought to make this a party political issue—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members believe that we have, they do not understand the very real questions in the public mind about the workings of the House. These matters raise very real issues of confidence in Parliament itself. It is important that every hon. Member realises that that is not healthy for democracy.

I agree with many of the comments made by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). He said that the standing of the House has fallen and that we should all want to deal with that problem. We must establish public confidence in the House of Commons, and we must all be concerned about the recent allegations.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor

No. There is no time left, because some hon. Members have taken too long. We must all be concerned about the allegation that led to the specific reference to the Committee of Privileges—that Members of Parliament have taken cash for tabling parliamentary questions. I take issue with the Leader of the House, who said that that was not unprecedented. I most sincerely hope that it is. We have certainly not heard that sort of allegation before, which is one reason why there has been a loss of public confidence in our institution.

Mr. Streeter


Mrs. Taylor

I am sorry, but hon. Members have spoken for too long.

The House must find a balance between trial by allegation on the one hand, and cover-up and the impression of secrecy on the other. If the Committee continues to meet only in private, public confidence will not be restored. Surely that must concern every hon. Member.

There is one point of agreement. It is clear—no one disputes this—that the Privileges Committee can meet in public. Standing Orders allow that. The real question is whether it would be wise for the Committee to do so. I believe that for the Committee to meet in public is the only way to quell public fears and to enhance the reputation of the House.

I say that for three reasons. First, we must re-establish confidence in the House and in our deliberations. Secondly, there must be clarity in our deliberations, which again requires openness. Thirdly, there must be consistency between the approach of the Privileges Committee and that of the Nolan inquiry, whose meetings the Prime Minister says should be held in public as often as possible. Indeed, the chairman of that committee, without knowing what evidence would be put before him, has already decided that the committee should meet in public whenever possible.

The public will have confidence in the findings of the Privileges Committee only if they also have confidence in its workings. We do not want trial by allegation, but public confidence will not be restored by the image of the House acting as a gentlemen's club, dealing with allegations behind closed doors. It would undermine public confidence even further if there were a feeling that we had joined forces to settle these questions between us in private. That would send the wrong signals to the public. This is their Parliament, not ours.

The question is whether there should be a balance between the Committee sitting in private and in public. Various hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) offered suggestions for arriving at that balance. The Leader of the House said that individual members of the Committee might feel inhibited about asking questions in public, but it would be open to them to suggest that certain sittings take place in private—and the Committee itself could decide such matters. We could have a parallel arrangement to that for Select Committees. That must be the way forward.

I was impressed by the speech of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and by the comments of other senior Conservatives outside the House, such as those of Lord Howe yesterday. They acknowledge that the world is changing, and that, since Select Committee procedures were adopted, the public have come to expect a new level of openness. We must make progress with that.

I remind the House of the issues that led to the matter being referred to the Committee of Privileges. One was the question of hon. Members accepting cash for tabling parliamentary questions. Another, raised by hon. Members themselves, was the actions of individuals who apparently tried to bribe individual Members of Parliament as an experiment. Both matters are before the Committee of Privileges.

I further remind Conservative Members that, when those issues were debated on 13 July, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), against whom allegations have been made, welcomed the reference to the Privileges Committee. He said on that and other occasions that he and other Conservative Members wanted to make statements about the role played by the press. Surely it is in the interests of those against whom allegations have been made for at least part of the hearings to be in public. Hon. Members facing allegations may want to have those allegations and their defence heard in public.

In the July debate, one hon. Member who had been invited to table questions for cash and refused said that he saw no reason for the Committee not meeting in public. At least two of my colleagues, the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), said that they would prefer the Committee's hearings to be in public.

I hope that the Minister for open government will not defend the idea that the Privileges Committee should meet in private. I hope that he will accept our suggestion that there should be a free vote, agree that public confidence in the House has been shaken in an unprecedented way, and accept that serious allegations have been made. If politicians want to be treated as professionals and to earn any respect from the public, we must not only get our own house in order but be seen to do so.

7.3 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. David Hunt)

I first welcome the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) to her new responsibilities. The hon. Lady must understand why she received the reaction she did when she urged the House to approach the subject in a non-partisan way. My right hon. and hon. Friends have been outraged at the way in which, outside the Chamber, many Opposition Members have irresponsibly sought to use trial by allegation.

I concede that this has been a responsible debate, thanks to the opening speeches. My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, in a statesmanlike way, set out all the problems and obstacles that would lie in the way of accepting the Opposition's motion.

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) followed the theme of approaching this important subject in a non-partisan way. In one or two ways, he struck a new approach. He advised the House never to lose its temper in public, and never to engage in party political banter when discussing such issues. The new, biologically improved right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is one whose progress we will watch most carefully. I do not have time fully to respond to all the important points raised, but I will comment on two in particular. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) urged that the Committee of Privileges should deliberate in public—and he warned that, if it did not, he would attend and report its activities. That would be most irresponsible. I do not believe that any right hon. or hon. Member who has spoken in this debate supports the right hon. Gentleman's view. His proposal is certainly not allowed under the Standing Order that we have been debating, which allows for Strangers to be admitted only during the examination of witnesses, not during the deliberative process. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will rethink his position.

I do not believe that many were persuaded by the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Father of the House that witnesses should give evidence in public, but we were persuaded that, very often, individuals coming before the Committee would have their very reputations at stake, and that matters should be dealt with as quickly as possible.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) and for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), and many other right hon. and hon. Friends, gave cogent reasons why natural justice is so important in all the deliberations of the Committee of Privileges. It would be risky to set aside a precedent of many years that underpins a unique parliamentary privilege, and suddenly to dictate to the Committee that it should meet partly in public and partly in private.

I took careful note of the words of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. He said: The House is generally agreed that members of the Privileges Committee will make their own decisions on the matter. "So why have the motion, because the right hon. Gentleman is following the words of the amendment? I strongly urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to do the same.

Question put, That the original words stand past of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 264, Noes 301

Division No. 315] [7.08 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane, Blair, Tony
Adams, Mrs Irene Blunkett, David
Ainger, Nick Boateng, Paul
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bradley, Keith
Allen, Graham Bray, Dr Jeremy
Alton, David Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Anderson, Ms Janet Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
(Ros'dale) Burden, Richard
Armstrong, Hilary Byers, Stephen
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Caborn, Richard
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim
Austin-Walker, John Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Barnes, Harry Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Barron, Kevin Cann, Jamie
Battle, John Chidgey, David
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Chisholm, Malcolm
Bell, Stuart Church, Judith
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clapham, Michael
Bennett, Andrew F. Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Benton, Joe Clarke, Eric (Midlothian}
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Berry, Roger Clelland, David
Betts, Clive Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Coffey, Ann Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Connarty, Michael Hutton, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Illsley, Eric
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Ingram, Adam
Corbett, Robin Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Corston, Jean Jamieson, David
Cox, Tom Janner, Greville
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mofln)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Dafis, Cynog Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Darling, Alistair Jowell, Tessa
Davidson, Ian Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Keen, Alan
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Khabra, Piara S.
Denham, John Kilfoyle, Peter
Dewar, Donald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dixon, Don Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dobson, Frank Lewis, Terry
Donohoe, Brian H. Liddell, Mrs Helen
Dowd, Jim Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Livingstone, Ken
Eagle, Ms Angela Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Eastham, Ken Loyden, Eddie
Enright, Derek Lynne, Ms Liz
Etherington, Bill Mackinlay, Andrew
Ewing, Mrs Margaret MacShane, Denis
Fatchett, Derek Madden, Max
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Maddock, Diana
Fisher, Mark Mandelson, Peter
Flynn, Paul Marek, Dr John
Foster, Don (Bath) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Foulkes, George Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Fraser, John Maxton, John
Fyfe, Maria McAllion, John
Galbraith, Sam McAvoy, Thomas
Garrett, John McCartney, Ian
George, Bruce McFall, John
Gerrard, Neil McKelvey, William
Godman, Dr Norman A. McLeish, Henry
Godsiff, Roger McMaster, Gordon
Golding, Mrs Llin McNamara, Kevin
Gordon, Mildred McWilliam, John
Graham, Thomas Meacher, Michael
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Grocott, Bruce Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Gunnell, John Milburn, Alan
Hall, Mike Miller, Andrew
Hanson, David Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hardy, Peter Moonie, Dr Lewis
Harman, Ms Harriet Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Harvey, Nick Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Henderson, Doug Mudie, George
Heppell, John Mullin, Chris
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Murphy, Paul
Hinchliffe, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Hodge, Margaret O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hoey, Kate O'Hara, Edward
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) O'Neill, Martin
Home Robertson, John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hood, Jimmy Olner, William
Hoon, Geoffrey Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Parry, Robert
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Patchett, Terry
Hoyle, Doug Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pope, Greg
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Speller, John
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Steinberg, Gerry
Prescott, John Stevenson, George
Primarolo, Dawn Stott, Roger
Purchase, Ken Strang, Dr. Gavin
Quin, Ms Joyce Straw, Jack
Radice, Giles Sutcliffe, Gerry
Randall, Stuart Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Raynsford, Nick Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Reid, Dr John Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Rendel, David Timms, Stephen
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Tipping, Paddy
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Turner, Dennis
Rogers, Allan Tyler, Paul
Rooker, Jeff Vaz, Keith
Rooney, Terry Wallace, James
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Walley, Joan
Ruddock, Joan Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Salmond, Alex Welsh, Mike
Sedgemore, Brian Welsh, Andrew
Sheerman, Barry Wicks, Malcolm
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Short, Clare Wilson, Brian
Simpson, Alan Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Wise, Audrey
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Worthington, Tony
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Wray, Jimmy
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Snape, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Soley, Clive Mr. John Cummings and
Spearing, Nigel Mr. Jon Owen Jones
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Carrington, Matthew
Amess, David Carttiss, Michael
Arbuthnot, James Cash, William
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Ashby, David Churchill, Mr
Atkins, Robert Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, Tony Coe, Sebastian
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Colvin, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Congdon, David
Bates, Michael Conway, Derek
Batiste, Spencer Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Beggs, Roy Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bellingham, Henry Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bendall, Vivian Cormack, Patrick
Beresford, Sir Paul Cran, James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Booth, Hartley Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Boswell, Tim Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Day, Stephen
Bowden, Sir Andrew Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bowis, John Devlin, Tim
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Dicks, Terry
Brandreth, Gyles Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Brazier, Julian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bright, Sir Graham Dover, Den
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Duncan, Alan
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Browning, Mrs. Angela Dunn, Bob
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Durant, Sir Anthony
Budgen, Nicholas Dykes, Hugh
Burns, Simon Egger, Tim
Burt, Alistair Elletson, Harold
Butler, Peter Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Butterfill, John Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evennett, David Legg, Barry
Faber, David Leigh, Edward
Fabricant, Michael Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lidington, David
Fishburn, Dudley Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lord, Michael
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Luff, Peter
Forth, Eric Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) MacKay, Andrew
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Maclean, David
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Madel, Sir David
French, Douglas Maginnis, Ken
Fry, Sir Peter Maitland, Lady Olga
Gale, Roger Major, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan Mans, Keith
Garnier, Edward Marland, Paul
Gill, Christopher Marlow, Tony
Gillan, Cheryl Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, Sir John Mates, Michael
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) McLoughlin, Patrick
Greenway, John (Ryedale) McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Grylls, Sir Michael Merchant, Piers
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mills, Iain
Hague, William Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Moate, Sir Roger
Hampson, Dr Keith Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy Monro, Sir Hector
Hanan, Sir John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hargreaves, Andrew Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Haselhurst, Alan Nelson, Anthony
Hawkins, Nick Neubert, Sir Michael
Hawksley, Warren Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hayes, Jerry Nicholls, Patrick
Heald, Oliver Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Norris, Steve
Hendry, Charles Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Hicks, Robert Ottaway, Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Page, Richard
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Paice, James
Horam, John Patnick, Sir Irvine
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Rt Hon John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Pawsey, James
Hunt, Rt Hon David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Pickles, Eric
Hunter, Andrew Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Porter, David (Waveney)
Jenkin, Bernard Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Jessel, Toby Powell, William (Corby)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Richards, Rod
Key, Robert Riddick, Graham
Kilfedder, Sir James Robathan, Andrew
King, Rt Hon Tom Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kirkhope, Timothy Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Knapman, Roger Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knox, Sir David Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Sackville, Tom Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Thurnham, Peter
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Shaw, David (Dover) Tracey, Richard
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Tredinnick, David
Shepherd, Rt Hon Gillian Trend, Michael
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Trotter, Neville
Shersby, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Sims, Roger Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Skeet, Sir Trevor Viggers, Peter
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Walden, George
Soames, Nicholas Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Speed, Sir Keith Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Spencer, Sir Derek Waller, Gary
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Ward, John
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spink, Dr Robert Waterson, Nigel
Spring, Richard Watts, John
Sproat, Iain Wells, Bowen
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch) Whitney, Ray
Steen, Anthony Whittingdale, John
Stephen, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Stern, Michael Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Stewart, Allan Wilkinson, John
Streeter, Gary Willetts, David
Sumberg, David Wilshire, David
Sweeney, Walter Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Sykes, John Wolfson, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Yeo, Tim
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thomason, Roy Mr. David Lightbrown and
Thompson, Sir Donald Mr. Sydney Chapman

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House re-affirms the long established practice that decisions as to how a Select Committee once established should proceed are for the Committee itself.