§ [Relevant document: the First Special Report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests (HC 288).]6.11 pm
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I beg to move,
That if any select committee, or sub-committee thereof, considers that the presence at a meeting, or part of a meeting, of that committee to which the public are not admitted of any specified Member of the House not nominated to that committee would obstruct the business of the committee, it shall have power to direct such Member to withdraw forthwith; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such instructions as he may receive from the chairman of the committee in pursuance of this Order.That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.As matters stand at the moment, any Member of the House has a right to be present at meetings of a Select Committee of which he or she is not a member, even if the Committee is meeting in private. "Erskine May" tells us that Members usually leave if asked to do so, and it says that theyought, on the grounds of established usage and courtesy to the committee, immediately to retire when the committee is about to deliberate".But if they refuse to go, the Committee has no powers to make them, although it can ask the House to take action.
A difficulty of that kind arose earlier this year in the Select Committee on Members' Interests. On 7 February, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) attended a private meeting of the Committee. As the Committee proceeded to consideration of the draft report, the hon. Gentleman attempted to address the Committee. Although the hon. Gentleman was strictly within his rights in attending, it was clearly not appropriate for him, or consistent with the advice in "Erskine May", I would judge, to seek to interfere directly with the Committee's proceedings. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who, for health reasons, has apologised to the House for the fact that he is unable to be here this evening, asked him to leave, but he refused. The Committee then adjourned.
On 7 March, the hon. Member for Workington again attended a private meeting of the Committee, and again refused to leave when asked to do so. The Committee then reported to the House, seeking from the House the power to exclude the hon. Gentleman from its future private meetings.
In considering how to advise the House on how it might deal with that request, it seemed to me sensible to consider responding by introducing a general provision to cover such circumstances, rather than simply to propose an ad hoc resolution directed at one hon. Member in relation to one Select Committee. Accordingly, after consultation with the Chairmen of the Liaison Committee and the Procedure Committee, and through the usual channels, I have tabled the motion before the House.
The motion provides that any Select Committee that finds that its business is being obstructed in such a way by a Member who is not a member of the Committee would have the power to direct that Member to withdraw from a private meeting and, if necessary, to call on the Serjeant at Arms to enforce any such direction. It applies 384 both to deliberative meetings, which Select Committees are required by the rules of the House to conduct in private, and also to meetings at which a Committee has decided to take oral evidence in private.
There are two things that I should emphasise. First, this is permissive, not mandatory. Non-members of Committees will still be able to attend Committees' private meetings if the Committee does not regard them as obstructing its proceedings, and their rights to attend meetings at which evidence is given in public—that is to say meetings where the public in the more general sense are allowed in—are not affected in any way by the terms of the motion.
The second point that I wish to emphasise is that that power is not a dictatorial power vested in the Chairman of the Committee acting alone, but in the Committee as a whole. No Member could be asked to leave a private meeting unless the Committee had first discussed the matter and decided that, in the circumstances, it would be inappropriate for him or her to remain in the Room.
This matter needs to be resolved, so that the Select Committee on Members' Interests can make progress with its current inquiry.
But I commend the motion to the House not only on that basis, but because I think it represents a sensible power to be available to all Select Committees to ensure that their work, which the House rightly values highly, can proceed as the House would wish.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I make it clear in opening my remarks this evening that I do not intend to breach the privileges of the Select Committee on Members' Interest in any way by saying anything about evidence that is being given to it. I say that, Madam Speaker, to put at rest your mind and the minds of the Clerks of the House in so far as they might feel that I would be inclined to breach that principle. I do not intend to do that. I intend to speak to the motion and, if necessary, to call on the precedents of earlier debates, not only in this century but in the previous century, to justify what I am doing.
I stand accused of disrupting the Select Committee on Members' Interests. The motion would give a Committee the power to direct a Member who disrupted or obstructed the business of a Committee to withdraw. I will argue—indeed I do argue—that a Committee should not be given that power, and that the Floor of the House must crucially remain the forum for appeal for a Member who feels that a Committee is conducting its affairs contrary to the interests of Parliament.
Let me give the House an example of a Committee which, by its conduct, is failing to carry out the remit set by resolution from the Floor of the House of Commons—the Select Committee on Members' Interests. My view is that its proceedings are an abuse of Parliament, and in the way in which I acted I have been able—and will be able—to draw attention to its deficiencies. There is no other proceeding in the House that allows a Member to do this. I can ask a question: that is not a debate. I can apply for an Adjournment debate; I have no guarantee that I will be called, because I may not be selected or may not come up in the ballot. I can apply for the ballot for motions—I have no right to win the ballot. I have no right to catch 385 your eye, Madam Speaker, in any debate, and no right of laying down, other than through the process of ballot, a motion that is debatable in this place.
If hon. Members think about what I am saying, it is the only proceeding open to me as a Member of the House of Commons to initiate a debate of this nature. Let me use the Select Committee on Members' Interests as an example. Its members cannot do what I am doing, because, being members of that Committee, they cannot reveal what is, in effect, unreported evidence to the House. They cannot comment publicly on its proceedings. I can, if I find out, by whatever means.
Indeed, in this case I was able to read about it in The Guardian. They have no rights to do what I am doing. My view is that any Member of the House of Commons who believes that the proceedings of a Committee of the House are being abused has a responsibility to use proceedings to draw the wider attention of Parliament to what is happening, as indeed I would argue is happening in that Committee. This is the only procedure that I know can be used.
Let me be more specific. There are two Committees of the House of Commons that are, effectively, quasi-judicial—the Privileges Committee and the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I heard, during the debate that took place on the report into John Browne, some eloquent speeches by Conservative Members of the House, arguing that the proceedings were so judicial that they required a different approach by Westminster. So I think that we would generally concede that they are quasi-judicial.
What happens if a Government Whip—a Minister of the Crown—is placed on that Committee? Does it inspire confidence in the public to know that that Committee is adjudicating on matters that are quasi-judicial and yet can be subject to the influence of a Whip—the person who fixes the pairings, and may arrange foreign delegations; the person who, perhaps, allows a Member to go off and visit his or her family, and who may even arrange a promotion? I believe that, if a Whip's eye is on the proceedings of a Committee, it will influence the way in which the Committee works.
If members of such a Committee can say nothing—if the only way in which we can ensure that the matters that we are discussing are drawn to the attention of Parliament as a whole is for someone like myself to use the procedures of the House to that end—so be it. That is one reason for my actions; I shall give others shortly.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult for a Committee of the House ever to satisfy the House—and, in particular, the public—that it is judging issues of credibility fairly? Does not the judgment of credibility itself lose all credence in the public mind if a Whip is on the Committee, influencing the way in which members of his party vote on whether a Member of Parliament should be believed or not?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. and learned Gentleman has encapsulated my argument in fewer sentences than I have used. That argument concerns the Committee's credibility in the eyes of the wider public and, indeed, Parliament.
That is the first abuse that, in my view, requires protest: in that context, this forum is essential for the identification of a deficiency. The second, however, is far more 386 important, and one in which I would expect parliamentarians to take a particular interest. I refer to the relationship between a Committee of the House of Commons and a court of law.
We know that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) is bringing a libel action against The Guardian, and I know that, subject to the rules of the House, members of the Committee cannot speak about these matters outside the Committee. What happens if, during that Committee's proceedings, the fact that a libel action may be brought by an hon. Member—the subject of a complaint—begins to interfere with the Committee's judgments and the way in which it conducts its inquiry? What happens if the Committee decides, in its wisdom, that it is not prepared to address a particular subject because it feels that that might prejudice—I use the term advisedly—action that may or may not subsequently arise in a court of law?
That is precisely what is happening in the Select Committee on Members' Interests. If members of that Committee are not free to speak on such matters, who will speak—except people like me, who are prepared to take on the House's procedures to bring Parliament's attention to what we consider a deficiency?
I put it to the House that the timing of the inquiries—I stress that the word is plural—by the Committee is being determined by a civil action in the courts. I ask hon. Members to think of the implications. Let us suppose that someone's action—whatever it might be—had to be referred, by way of complaint, to either the Privileges Committee or the Select Committee on Members' Interests; the Member involved might say, "Ah: if the Committee will have the probability of a libel action in mind, perhaps I"—that is, the person about whom the complaint is being made—"should bring a libel action in the courts, knowing that it may be delayed for two or three years."
That is a way of effectively destroying Parliament's right to debate issues and carry out full inquiries, and that is what I object to. That is why I say that we must have the right to protest on the Floor of the House: Committee members cannot speak about the matters to which I am referring now.
The libel action that I mentioned is not even listed, and may never be listed. I understand that there are some judgments that have a bearing on whether it will be listed. My hon. Friends cannot refer to the matter, but I can, because of the procedure that I have used. I refer to Burdett v. Abbott in 1811 and Stockdale v. Hansard in 1839. The jurisdiction of the Houses over their Members—their right to impose discipline within their walls—is absolute and exclusive.
It is possible that, if someone faced a libel action brought by a Member of Parliament when the House was dealing with a complaint, it could be argued in a court of law that the matter must be dealt with in Parliament rather than the courts, and the Member concerned might well have to petition Parliament before he could deal with the issues with which he wished to deal in court. My argument is that the Committee is being manipulated by proceedings in a court of law, in a way to which my hon. Friends cannot refer. I am using the only procedure open to me in order to refer to it.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
My hon. Friend has made a powerful point about the relationship between 387 a Select Committee and courts of law, but may I return him to his first point? He referred to Whips sitting in on Select Committees. Surely it is accurate to say that—as my hon. Friend suggested—when a Government Whip is involved he is, in practice, a Minister of the Crown. Moreover, he is a paid Minister of the Crown: he is paid to do the work of the Executive, which we accept for reasonable purposes as individuals sitting in the Chamber. Is it not a practice, however, for no Minister to be a member of a Select Committee, and is that not an even more powerful argument for resisting the incursion of the Executive on the legislature?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I must dissent slightly from my hon. Friend's comments. There are Committees to which there have been Government appointments, but I am talking about quasi-judicial Committees—special Committees.
Another abuse requires protest. It, too, is linked with the libel trial. To what extent should a libel trial determine who gives evidence to a Committee? If Mr. Al-Fayed, Mr. Greer and the hon. Member for Tatton do not give evidence to that Committee because of the possibility of a subsequent libel trial, I would argue that Parliament's proceedings are being interfered with. But my hon. Friends can say nothing to the Committee, because they are locked in by an oath of secrecy and confidentiality—which, I must say, I have always supported in a different context involving non-reporting of proceedings.
§ Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I take the hon. Gentleman's point about Whips on Committees, and have some sympathy with his view about the relationship between Committees of the House and outside judicial proceedings. I may not have followed the hon. Gentleman closely enough, but I do not understand what parliamentary procedures he seeks to invoke to put matters right. Does he argue that he has the right to disrupt Committees to bring these issues to the attention of the House?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am speaking against the motion. The Leader of the House has tabled a motion that would give the Chair power to exclude those who wished to protest about what goes in Select Committees, when it is known that members of those Committees can say nothing because they are bound by an oath of secrecy and a principle of not speaking on unreported evidence.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He has just said that a problem arises if the individual is bringing a case of defamation, or of libel as he termed it, against someone or a newspaper, as that conflicted with the interests of this place in so far as the Committee could not hear evidence from those people. Surely he must be careful that the individual, by being a Member of Parliament, has no fewer rights to defend himself or herself in a court of law if that is their chosen venue.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman has not quite grasped what I have said. I am not saying that those things conflict, but that Committee members have decided that they are prepared to give the court action precedence. That is interfering with their judgment on the way in which the Committee should proceed.
388 Protest should take place on the basis of another argument. It relates to the way in which the Committee has been taking evidence. We know that a libel trial is going on outside. We find that when Peter Preston, the editor of The Guardian, was giving evidence to the Committee, the hon. Member for Tatton was present in the room to hear the evidence. However, when the hon. Gentleman submits his evidence to the Committee, whether it be oral or written, The Guardian editor is not allowed access to that evidence.
The Committee, therefore, is being used as a sort of discovery forum where a Member can discover the case of The Guardian, but The Guardian cannot discover the case of the hon. Member for Tatton. It seems to be a very unlevel playing field, if I might use that term. I object to the fact that the Committee's proceedings are being used in a way that favours one party in his action, in the event that it were to take place in a court of law.
Another abuse certainly requires protest. It is one that should be close to your heart, Madam Speaker. When a Committee leaks, there is normally a leak inquiry. We know for a fact that the Committee has been leaking like a sieve because, in early March, The Guardian published an article that, I understand, was based on the Committee's draft report. The article stated: "Hamilton breached MPs rules".
Who objected? Did the Committee convene to consider that leak? Whenever I have been on a Committee where a leak has occurred—thankfully, over the years, there have been few—normally we have had a leak inquiry. If I remember rightly, a leak happened only once when I was on the Public Accounts Committee, whose Chairman is present, and we went to Liaison Committee. A discussion had to take place in the Liaison Committee about what action would be taken, yet the Select Committee on Members' Interests, for whatever reason—I shall come to it in a minute—is not prepared to ask for a leak inquiry.
I shall tell hon. Members why no request for a leak inquiry has been made. It is simple. No inquiry has been requested because that Committee is leaking like a sieve through the Tory Whips Office. That is where the leaks are coming from. A Committee member is in the Whips Office. Furthermore, everything that happens in the Committee is going not only into the Tory Whips Office, but to the hon. Member for Tatton, who knows chapter and verse what is happening in the Select Committee on Members' Interests.
I challenge anyone on the Government Bench to deny what I am saying. They know the truth. They know that, if they come to the Dispatch Box and deny what I am saying, it is contempt of the House. It is contempt deliberately to mislead Parliament. The hon. Member for Tatton knows in detail what is happening during proceedings in that Committee, which is discredited.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has strong views on the matter, but, in effect, he is complaining about the procedures of the House. Is not obstructing that Committee the wrong way to complain about those procedures? May I give the hon. Gentleman one example of where he is wrong? He has complained about one of the Committee members. He probably knows full well that a procedure exists in the House for appointing Committee members. When that 389 hon. Member was appointed, neither the hon. Gentleman nor anyone else objected to that Member's inclusion on the Committee.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
This is obviously a time for honesty. My hon. Friends will be surprised by what I am going to say. The hon. Gentleman may remember that, last year, an argument took place in the House about the conduct of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). After I had objected to every Select Committee appointment for four months, I did a deal with the Tory Whips—I admit it. I agreed that I would not object to any more Members being appointed to any Select Committee.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) has required me to breach a confidence. He presses me across the Floor. He is a Conservative Member. I did a deal saying that I would not object, and, of course, the nomination went through. I kept my side of the bargain—I did not object—but Ministers of the Crown should have known that it was improper to appoint a Minister to that Committee. They must have realised that that would lead to an argument in the House.
Some people are sceptical about the reason why Ministers put that Whip on the Committee. It might be that, at that time, they knew that an argument would take place about the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). I will not go into that today. They will certainly have known about the complaint about the hon. Member for Tatton. They may have foreseen that a number of complaints would be considered by that Committee over a period of months, which would be highly embarrassing, and that they needed the services of a Whip to ensure that the Whips Office was kept informed of what was going on in the Committee.
The hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) smiles, but I ask her rise to her feet and challenge anything that I have said. She has been a member of the Committee for 10 long years, nine of them with me. I know her well on these matters. Normally, she would protest. Please protest.
§ Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)
The hon. Gentleman has asked me to intervene and I am nothing if not obedient. I know him to be a man who feels strongly about things. May I take up one point that he has made? My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) was sitting in at the deliberations, but, as things are at present, he was entitled to. Do I understand from the hon. Gentleman, who is a great constitutionalist, that he thinks that we should not allow Members to sit in? We should allow them to do so.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Lady makes my case for me. If she and her hon. Friends had the libel action in mind in determining the Committee's proceedings, she should not have allowed the hon. Member for Tatton to sit in on Mr. Preston's evidence as she would be destabilising the playing field, or it would not be level in terms of the information made available. It is she and her colleagues who would introduce the element of libel action.
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Committee has its authority as a result of the resolution of this place, that it is therefore arrogant of him to say that its decisions, which are made with that authority, are wrong, and that he is entitled just to walk into the Committee and speak in breach of all the 390 rules? What does that say about this place's powers and the Committee's authority? Is he not breaching it through arrogance?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I thank my hon. Friend. To some extent, the hon. Gentleman is correct. What I have done might be perceived to be arrogant, but I put the question back to the hon. Gentleman: what alternative did I have to draw attention to all those undeniable deficiencies?
§ Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)
May I try to clear up the question of Peter Preston's evidence? It should be set against the background of the four principal players in the whole inquiry. The whole tenor of the Committee changed as soon as the Whip was appointed to the Committee and walked in part of the way through the inquiry. We were left in a position where discipline was imposed and three of the four principals were excluded from the Committee's examination. I know of no Select Committee which was to examine people which examined one person and excluded three.
When Peter Preston came, his case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said, was prejudiced because the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) exercised his right, as a Member of the House, to sit in on that investigation and inquiry and to take notes. To my mind, that is unacceptable. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington on raising this matter for debate.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
It is unacceptable only because a majority of the members of the Committee were prepared to have the possibility of a libel action in mind when they were deliberating on the pace of proceedings. It is clear that, to begin with, the delay of six weeks since my alleged sin was committed was very convenient for the Government. I understand that the Whips were crowing. They said, "We may well get this case listed before we can get on to the second part of the inquiry." I do not want to go into the detail of those allegations, but many would argue that they should have been dealt with in the first part—
§ Mr. Etherington
If I go wrong, I am sure that you will put me right, Madam Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that the libel action was well known about before Peter Preston was called? It had been agreed that witnesses would be called. Only after Peter Preston had given his evidence, which was heard by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), did the Conservative majority decide to hear no more evidence.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
We are learning something new by the minute. If that is the case, the Committee is discredited and what I did was absolutely right. It means that the great British public cannot rely on a parliamentary Committee to be objective when it sits down to adjudicate on matters of that nature. The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) 391 harden my resolve and my feeling that what I have done is right, even though it might be described as arrogant by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald).
I have used the only procedure available to me in the House of Commons to raise the issue. There is no other way and that is why the motion is wrong. It is ill-conceived because it means that, if such things happen again in future and members of a Committee are constrained in respect of what they can say in public because of issues of privilege and contempt of the House, no one will be able to do what I had the right to do and that is to get up today and reveal what is happening. I did that in the public interest.
The Leader of the House is today closing down the public interest. He is closing down the opportunity for debate. He is taking away the right to protest. The right that I have used is not being abused. It has been used very rarely over the years. It was used once in 1991; once in 1994; once in 1989; once in 1982; once in 1974; once in 1952; once in 1827 and once in 1849. The point is that the procedure has been used very rarely over the years. However, when it has been used, it has been used to defend the interests of Parliament.
§ Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)
I should like to return to the motion, which relates to procedures in Select Committees, not to the detail of the procedure that has been partly completed in one Select Committee. The time to discuss the behaviour of a Committee and the way in which it called evidence and the evidence that it published is when the evidence has been completed and is published for the House. The minutes of the Committee are published for the House, as are the recommendations. That would be the normal procedure. However, those of us on the Select Committee on Members' Interests faced a situation that became quite intolerable.
At this point, I must stress that I am not usurping the role of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. He is indisposed and I am not seeking to speak for him or to take on his mantle. The important feature of this debate is that we should make it possible for a Select Committee that was given direct and clear instructions by the House to continue and complete the work that it was authorised to begin.
It is entirely improper for there to be discussion outside the Committee on matters discussed by the Committee before the Committee has had a chance to reach a conclusion. It is wrong to suggest that the Committee has been behaving other than according to the normal rules that apply to Select Committees of this House. It has been meticulous in its respect for the rights of Opposition Members and it was courteous when it was interrupted, not once, but twice.
It was explained to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who interrupted the Committee, that the matter he raised was not one for the Committee because the Committee does not decide its own composition. The House decides who shall sit on a Committee. If any hon. Member has the slightest objection about a nomination, that protest should be made when such a nomination appears on the Order Paper, when there is an opportunity to vote on the matter.
392 If hon. Members do not read the Order Paper, that is not the fault of the Committee or a fault of the proceedings of this House; it is a lack of diligence. If someone wishes to accept that he or she lacked diligence, that is a matter for that person. The issue of who should be a member of a Select Committee is not the issue before us tonight, and who interrupted the Select Committee on Members' Interests is not of particular importance.
The hon. Member for Workington is overweening in his suggestion of his own significance in this matter. The matter that he wanted to raise was raised in the wrong place. He was in the wrong place and he was discourteous. Until that time, it had been assumed that, if an hon. Member wished to attend a Select Committee meeting, particularly a Select Committee of the nature of the Select Committee. on Members' Interests, he would do so. An hon. Member was not expected to interrupt such a Committee.
I have been a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests for as long as any serving Member. I cannot remember the Committee being interrupted in that way. However, had such an interruption occurred, I would have assumed—and I believe that most hon. Members from all parties would have done so too—that the Chairman would request the hon. Member to withdraw. If the Chairman had asked the hon Member to withdraw, I assume that he or she would have done so. That may not have been a well-founded assumption, but that is what I assumed.
However, once it has been found possible to stop a Select Committee deliberating, what prospects have been opened up if we do not take firm action immediately? Any Member of the House who decides that he does not like what a Select Committee is doing and who thinks that there may be some party political or personal advantage to be gained can simply disrupt the Committee in the knowledge that it will take some time to bring the matter to the Floor of the House.
One person, whose name has been referred to in the debate, is a victim of the tactics of the hon. Member for Workington—my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton).
§ Mr. Griffiths
I will certainly come on, and say that justice should be done as swiftly as possible. I do not reveal secrets from the Select Committee, except to say that we have made progress; we are moving towards a decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton has a right to know the decision of the Committee at the earliest possible moment.
The result of the two interventions by the hon. Member for Workington has been simply that the Committee has not been able to sit. It has not been able to listen to the comments of his hon. Friends who, on occasion, have had my support in that Committee. [Interruption.] Opposition Members have never found me taking a purely party political line, and I object to the suggestion that that might be so.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about his conduct. As he is so worried about the delay, does he agree that it is disgraceful that we have had to wait six weeks since my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) came into our Committee proceedings to have this debate? In the 393 past, such matters were always dealt with on the same day or the day after. Will the hon. Gentleman admit that that is the fault of the Leader of the House?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I certainly regret that there was a delay. Had the hon. Member for Workington made his protest on the one occasion and then left the matter at that point, the Committee would have met again the following week. It would then have proceeded to deal with the matter in hand. But the hon. Gentleman repeated the interruption, and that meant that it was not possible for the Committee to continue its work.
As for the suggestion that there is some division between the two parties on the Select Committee—which I resent—I am sure that many hon. Members will recall that, on two occasions, I pressed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for an early debate. I also pressed that he should initiate the debate on a substantive motion, which would have dealt with the impasse that had arisen.
I believe that the Select Committee on Members' Interests has behaved properly. Individual members of that Committee have also behaved properly according to their consciences. That has always been so on the Committee. I do not recall any breaches at any time in this Parliament or previously.
I do not want to delay the discussion. I simply ask that we consider the needs of Select Committees to carry out the remit of the House. They need the opportunity to discuss matters privately on occasions, and to discuss matters with care. The contributions of individual hon. Members should be equal, regardless of their party or their length of service. Each person who is properly appointed by this House should be allowed to express his view.
§ Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Committee has become moribund for two reasons? First, the libel action has stopped progress in the Committee. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one evening the Committee sat from 6 pm to 9 pm. We did much work, but since the libel action was initiated that work has stopped. Secondly, in respect of a Minister being appointed to the Committee, hon. Members objected at earlier meetings, not later.
Those two matters are of great concern to certain members of the Committee. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has been very co-operative with the Chairman of the Committee and has been trying to behave in a non-partisan way, but the Committee is making no progress for those two reasons.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Those matters can be resolved within the Committee when it is permitted to meet and to carry on its discussions. It can decide its own procedures. It will report its conclusions and the minutes of the discussions will be made available. There will be no secrecy about what happened and when. Any evidence that is called will be reported fully to this House and there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter at that point. To call in the jury before the evidence has been heard is grossly unfair to the person who is the subject of consideration by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
According to The Guardian, in so far as part of a report has been leaked to The 394 Guardian, the Committee was dealing with a draft report. That being so, is it true that, when that draft report was being considered, members of the Committee had in mind the existence of a potential libel action? Did they have it in mind?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not think that the House would expect me to answer a question about what was said in Committee. I would not presume to say what was in the minds of my fellow members of the Committee. All that I know is that the matter was discussed and that we were moving, having taken some evidence, towards the point where we would seek to reach conclusions. That is what was being done.
§ Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that we took advice in Committee about the libel case? We were told by the Clerk to the Committee, who had taken advice, that we could proceed to deliberate on all those matters because the case had not been put down. Is that my hon. Friend's understanding? It is certainly mine.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I had rather hesitated to say what legal advice we were given. Certainly, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who raised the matter earlier, was aware that the Committee was told that it could discuss whatever it wished and that it could proceed, regardless of what was happening outside, until the question of sub judice arose. I would not wish to go beyond that. That was the legal advice that the Committee had; it was available to every member of the Committee. It would be available to any Member of the House who sought legal advice, presumably.
The point tonight is that the Select Committee on Members' Interests needs to complete its discussions. We ask for the protection of the House in carrying out the duty that the House gave us. We need, therefore, the right for our Chairman to exclude any person who seeks to disrupt our proceedings—no one else.
As this matter has been the subject of so much discussion, there is a danger that others may be tempted to follow along the very undesirable path trodden by the hon. Member for Workington. Therefore, it is necessary that all Select Committees have a power in reserve so that it can be used if it becomes entirely necessary. Whenever it is used, of course, it will be used on behalf of the House, and the House will make the decision. The House is the final arbiter. Select Committees are simply the instruments that do their humble best to carry out the duties that are given to them.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution. I do so as the complainant in both complaints made to the Select Committee on Members' Interests in relation to the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). In normal circumstances, I would agree with almost everything said by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), who is well known for his independence and for not being a slave to the party Whips. However, extreme circumstances call for extreme actions. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has rightly been driven to extreme actions in this case.
395 As one of the lawyers in the House, I am used to hearing the courts and lawyers criticised for being slow, indecisive and inefficient. I have to say, as the complainant, that the Select Committee on Members' Interests has been slow, indecisive and inefficient. Even the enormous charm of its Chairman can do nothing to hide those conclusions. The complaints made against the hon. Member for Tatton have not been adjudicated upon; the Committee has delayed for months.
In relation to at least one set of those complaints, there is an issue of credibility, although I shall not go into it on the Floor of the House. It is well known, and it has been expressed in the public domain, that the allegation is denied. Witnesses are available to give evidence about the complaint, and, of course, the hon. Member for Tatton, if he wishes, can give evidence to deny the complaint. The task of the Committee is to adjudicate on who is telling the truth—or so one would have thought. Yet, months after I made the original complaint, not only has neither of the protagonists been called to give evidence before the Committee but the Committee has resisted calling witnesses to give evidence.
If a complaint is made on the basis of an hon. Member being paid cash or vouchers in return for assisting a particular business, and if that allegation is denied, how on earth can anybody inside and outside the House have any confidence in a Committee that does not even have the courage to adjudicate on the issue of who is telling the truth? In this Committee's action we have the very evidence necessary, if it were necessary, to convince the country that the implementation of recommendations made by Lord Nolan's committee that there should be some independent scrutiny of issues of factual credibility is very much needed.
In circumstances such as those under discussion, it would be quite wrong for the House to approve action against the hon. Member for Workington when what he did was to highlight serious shortcomings in Committee procedure. I am not satisfied with the failure of the Select Committee to adjudicate on my complaints. I feel like a litigant left without a solution, a remedy. Surely the House cannot possibly be satisfied with that state of affairs.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)
This House has entrusted the Select Committee on Members' Interests with its authority. In doing so, I believe that we, as Members of this House, should respect that. We should, in a sense, set a standard. If we invest a Committee with authority, especially an authority which, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) explained, is absolute and exclusive in a certain area, it should be wrong for individual Members, whether they be the hon. Member for Workington or, indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), to say that their judgment is greater than that of the House, greater than that of the Committee, thereby abandoning an essential principle. If one sets up such a Committee, as we have in this House, we should not interfere with its authority.
That principle has been this place for more than 150 years. In 1844, the Speaker observed in a similar issue: 396no Member who was not a Member of the Committee had any right to interfere with the proceedings … though he might be present in the room.
§ Mr. Heald
Not just yet. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I shall in a minute.
It is important to look at why we have those rules. The manner of the investigation of a Committee of this sort is important. If the investigation is to be judicial, it must be made in an atmosphere that is not sullied by sympathy or prejudice and is not interfered with by individual Members who put their own opinions above those of the Committee and seek to interfere with its business. There is a danger of improper pressure on Committee members if hon. Members attend the Committee's deliberations and make personal attacks on its members, as the hon. Member for Workington has today with reference to a particular Member.
§ Mr. Heald
Not just yet.
It is certainly a personal attack to say that somebody who is there to do his duty on a Committee and who has been placed there by the House is likely to interfere and place undue influence on the Committee's members. There would be very little point in having such Committees—we might just as well go back to having a Committee of the whole House with witnesses brought to the Bar of the House—if all Members were entitled to attend Committees and to interfere in the processes. There must be a remedy.
§ Mr. Heald
Not just yet.
The only remedy is that which the motion suggests—in fact, the traditional remedy. On other occasions when it has been necessary to exclude a Member from a Committee, a motion has been placed before the whole House and that person has then been told that he must not attend the Committee at the behest of the Chairman. If there is no remedy, such Committees will become meaningless.
It is wrong to say that there have been only a few instances over recent years. In the present climate, many interest groups which are represented—trade unions among them—by hon. Members from all parties, campaign for this, that and the other issue. If it becomes the practice that a Member may attend a Committee that is deliberating on one such issue and interfere with its process, Committees will not be able to do a proper job.
§ Mr. Heald
Before I give way, I wish to say that it is worth remembering the words of Gladstone, who was involved in the debate in 1844. He said: 397great inconvenience would result from investing Members of that House, who were not Members of the Committee, with a recognised authority to appear as advocates…sitting in the Committee, and possessing every authority except that of voting, but taking part in the discussions equally with the Members of the Committee.
§ Mr. Heald
He made that point. He also said:
to adopt such an arrangement, while it was totally unnecessary as aiming at supplying a defect which did not exist, would be exceedingly mischievous, because it would impair the authority which belonged to the Committee, and would constitute a number of Members of the Committee, who would be swayed by different interests, and must render the tribunal less competent to conduct the proceedings in such a manner as would be conducive to the interests of the public".—[Official Report, 8 March 1844; Vol. 73, c. 724–25.]The hon. Member for Workington wishes to attend the Committee and to put forward his own point of view on issues that are sub judice, and so on, with the aim of interfering with the views of its members. He also wants to be able to make unfair and unjustified attacks—I believe—on members of the Committee when he did not object to their selection or their election to that Committee. It is all very well and good to say, "Oh, I did a deal with the Whips," but that does not show the sort of campaigning spirit that he seems to be parading today.
The hon. Member for Workington described himself as somebody who could not find a remedy on the Order Paper and could not find a way in which to express his opinions. As a new Member in the House, I have noticed the hon. Gentleman in operation: nobody uses the Order Paper more, nobody is present more often at business questions, during points of order and at all the other opportunities that exist for Members to put a point of view if they wish to do so.
§ Mr. Heald
I am going to give way to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) in a moment.
The hon. Member for Workington is known as an operator—somebody who can make decisions and find ways in which to put forward a point of view. He may even wish to attend a debate on the Committee's report—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths). For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that he is an innocent abroad, who cannot find a way in which to put over his point of view, is frankly wrong. Everybody here knows that.
§ Ms Eagle
We are talking about a particular and rare instance. What does the hon. Gentleman suggest that hon. Members should do if they believe that something is overwhelmingly and utterly wrong with the way in which a Committee is proceeding? If this motion is passed tonight, there will be no way in which to deal with such rare circumstances—ever. This is a very serious issue. I enjoy the hon. Gentleman's light-hearted speeches, but he is missing the point. What would he do if he were on a Committee and unable to speak, but he believed that 398 something utterly wrong was being allowed to go on and that there would be no way in which to draw the very serious matter to the attention of the House?
§ Mr. Heald
I have already suggested six or seven ways in which Members can make their points of view known, including objecting to the appointment in the first place. There are many opportunities available here.
In the past, there have been occasions on which, because of. their powerful views on a particular issue, Members have been drawn to challenge a Committee and to interfere with its proceedings. In 1849, Bernal Osborne felt so strongly about the Irish Poor Law Committee that he tried to interfere with its deliberations, and was told to go.
§ Mr. Heald
It was the Irish Poor Law Committee, but there have been numerous examples down the years.
I do not believe that it is right for an individual Member to put his strong views above those of the House. When this place has decided by resolution to give a Committee authority to deal with an issue, it is simply wrong for another Member to be there trying to interfere with the members of the Committee and with its deliberations.
§ Mr. Streeter
I am greatly enjoying my hon. Friend's argument. Does he agree that the disturbing aspect of the case before us is not simply the fact that the hon. Member for Workington has clearly broken the long-established rules and procedures of the House, but the fact that he has done so solely to pursue his personal agenda? That agenda is not about an issue of national security or a threat to democracy but is designed merely to peddle his personal diet of sleaze, slur and innuendo, and to attack Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Heald
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that intervention. No doubt the hon. Member for Workington will have heard it.
A more fundamental issue is at stake—the law of Parliament, which has set out those principles for more than 150 years, and which the hon. Member for Workington, aided and abetted by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, now wishes to break and to treat with contempt. That says something about the form of campaign with which they wish to associate themselves.
In the House there are many methods of making a point or pursuing a campaign, and both those Members have used them over the years. I believe that that is the democratic way of doing things. The other way is to ignore the authority of the House, and to be prepared to flout its rules, to be chucked out of the Chamber, to interfere with Committees—
§ Mr. Heald
I had intended to make another point, which is that all those activities amount to a principle that 399 we often hear expressed by Opposition Members—that it is justified to break the law for a cause. But there are an awful lot of causes, and if everybody is entitled to say, "I can break the law, because of my cause," we shall end up with anarchy. That principle is a Labour trait. We have seen it applied to the poll tax and to the Members of Parliament who refused to pay it; we have seen it on the picket lines and in many other contexts.
The worrying aspect is the "demo-ism"—the wish to take direct action to establish a form of street cred. The House should have no truck with that. I do not say that we should uphold the institution for the sake of it, but in our earlier debate on the report of the Privileges Committee the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that the issue at stake was the upholding of our constituents' rights. I believe that for that purpose the law of Parliament is important. Once we start breaking that law, there will be no end to it.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
The motion is narrow, which is a pity, because the feeling in the Committee, and certainly among my hon. Friends, is that a wide-ranging issue of principle is involved. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on having taken action that will at least allow us a debate, even within the narrow terms of the motion.
There is no doubt that the Select Committee is in deadlock, but that has nothing to do with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington disrupting its proceedings; it stems from the make-up of the Committee itself. That is the problem, and it is a serious one. As has already been said by more than one Member, I am afraid that by its actions so far the Committee has discredited itself.
I sit on two Select Committees, and I tried to take part in the earlier debate on privileges but did not succeed. Comparing my experience on those two Committees, I can tell the House that the level of democracy in the Privileges Committee is years ahead of what happens in the Select Committee on Members' Interests.
Not only has the Committee been discredited by its own make-up but we have been mugged by the rules of the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington has made clear, there is no way, shape or form in which we can speak out of turn as members of a Committee committed to sitting in private. We have to rely on other Members to help us out, and that is an unfortunate position to be in.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) said that we should leave it to the Committee to make its report, and the House could then debate and deliberate on the issues and the rights and wrongs. That idea is beyond belief, because there is no confidence whatever in the Committee. I not speak not for myself alone but for many members of the Committee who now find themselves in an impossible situation.
How can such a Select Committee be impartial when a Government Whip is sitting there? How can there be an impartial judgment when we called only one witness before the majority on the Committee decided that one witness for one side was enough, and that we should now make a rational judgment? How can that be right?
400 There are papers before the Committee that—
§ Mr. Michie
As my hon. Friend reminds me, those papers have not been discussed and cannot be discussed. "We'll see to that later," it is said, "Let's deal with this issue first. We want a decision now, having heard one witness, all in private. Then we will deal with the other issues."
To my mind, some of the papers before the Select Committee on Members' Interests are more revealing than anything that came out in the previous debate on cash for questions. The two or three Members involved in that affair are in the Endsleigh league compared with what might happen—
§ Mr. Michie
Yes, those people are in the Vauxhall Conference compared with what might happen if the Committee were allowed to discuss or question some of the evidence before it.
Unfortunately, there are even greater restrictions, because some of that evidence may not even be within the remit of the Committee. Some have asked why we do not let the Privileges Committee deal with it, but unfortunately the rules of the House do not allow that to happen. I have some of them here. I shall not read them all out but, among other things, they say:It is not possible for Select Committees to exchange unpublished evidence",although there are certain powers that enable that to happen in some circumstances. Apparently, the only way in which it can be done is for a motion to be brought to the House by a member of the Government. I do not have enough confidence in the Government to think that they would allow even one of their Members to do that. So that is another serious problem.
§ Mr. Michie
My hon. Friend is right: we need a protest to ensure that that can happen.
The House should now free Members of Parliament and allow them to make the right investigations as responsible Members and as selected members of the Committee, rather than passing rules to restrict them as the motion would do.
The Nolan committee will respond to the Prime Minister and the House in May. It seems that the Select Committee and the Nolan committee—indeed, the House and the Nolan committee—are going in opposite directions: one, Nolan, is going for more openness and the other, the House, is going for more restrictions. The Select Committee on Members' Interests is battening down the hatches to ensure that information cannot flow, but it is battening down the hatches on a sinking ship.
Nolan is on the horizon, and unless the House gets its act together, Nolan will have to do it for us. The public are demanding more information and more transparency, yet the House—through a Committee with a Whip as a member—is restricting the rights of Members and information. I honestly believe that, unless we change our ways—we must have fewer, not more, restrictions—we 401 will come to a point where it will not be the Committee that is in disrepute and not looked upon with confidence, but the whole House.
§ Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I had not intended to speak in this debate, so I shall be extremely brief. I am as anxious as anyone that the Select Committee system should work effectively. If it is not doing so, that must be of concern to the whole House. Equally, I have considerable sympathy for some of the points made by the hon. Member for Woking.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
I am sorry. I have sympathy for the particular point he made on the matter of Whips serving on Select Committees. Having said that, I feel bound to say that a number of Committees of the House—for example, the Committee of Selection—have Labour Whips among their members. I personally have qualms about that, because there is a tendency for the Labour Whip to take rather more of a role in selecting Committee members than is the case with Conservative Whips. There have been previous debates on the matter in which I have expressed similar concerns. It is for the House itself to decide who serves on a Committee, and it will be interesting to see which way the House votes when the matter next comes up.
Having said that, I have considerable sympathy for the point which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) made with regard to the position of the Committee on Members' Interests and the Privileges Committee. I have given evidence to the Nolan committee and I believe, in the light of recent experience, that that matter ought to be looked at by Nolan, and I hope that he will make recommendations. The overlap between the Privileges Committee and the Select Committee on Members' Interests creates an unsatisfactory situation, and certainly the time taken by either of the Committees to reach a decision is of concern.
I have served on the Privileges Committee on every occasion recently except the present occasion, and it is my opinion that it is too large to operate expeditiously—not least because of the difficulty in getting all of the members in one place at one time, as so many are senior Members of this House. An appropriate compromise may be to look at the terms of reference of the two Committees, and perhaps have a specific sub-committee which could report to the Privileges Committee on investigations into matters such as the one we debated earlier today.
Having said that, I intervened on the speech of the hon. Member for Workington because I had terrible difficulty in understanding what he was saying. He said that he was using the only procedure available to him to bring the matter to the attention of House. It gradually dawned on me—it had not occurred to me when he started—that he regards having the right to disrupt a Select Committee's work as a procedure of this House. That is intrinsically an absurdity. A Committee is set up by the House, and the hon. Gentleman says that one of the procedures which Members may use is to disrupt the work that this House wishes that Committee to carry out.
402 I take the point made by the hon. Lady, the Member for Hertfordshire, North. She is a relatively new Member, for whom I have considerable respect.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
I apologise. I have respect for my hon. Friend as well.
I respect the contributions which the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has made to a number of debates, and I accept that she feels passionately about this subject. I am bound to say to her that Committees are set up by the House to deliberate on a matter, and their proceedings and deliberations are then published. If there is a problem, the right moment at which to raise it is when the report is brought to the House.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
No, the deed is not done. The matter is then before the House to consider, and the House can decide whether it agrees with the view that the Committee expresses. That is the right way to deal with the matter. To say that individual Members have the right to disrupt the work of a Committee that has been established by the House to carry out that work is intrinsically absurd.
The motion this evening is reasonable. It does not infringe the rights of Select Committees and, far from that, it seems to me wholly to facilitate their work.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
As it happens, I am the only Committee member who is not a member of either of the two major parties and, to some extent, I have been a spectator of the private quarrels which seem to go back and forward between the two parties.
Since we are talking about a Committee that has a wide remit to decide the form and content of the Register, we must tread with great care on that narrow ground between what is really in the public interest and what is private business. It became clear to me during the gathering of information on Lloyd's just how easy it is to stray over the line. A great many of those who sat on the Committee at that time would agree that the Lloyd's rules had ramifications that were not immediately apparent when the rules were first drawn up.
The Committee makes recommendations as to changes in the form and content of the register.
§ Mr. Ross
I will abide by your guidance, Madam Speaker. Frankly, the hon. Member for Workington 403 (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was not present during all the discussions. If he had been, he might not have made those comments.
The rules of the register change and develop over time. A consequence of that is that things that were formerly not registered now fall within the rules, and those things will certainly fall within the rules in the future as the intention behind the rules becomes more precisely defined. Sometimes the rules are applied in what seems to me as a layman a retrospective manner. The time of clarification of the rules should be the cut-off point for the declarations that Members may have to make.
The financial interests and benefits of Members of this House are treated as a rich hunting ground by the press, and by some Members, and as an opportunity for political mud-slinging. That is true of Members on both sides of the House, if I may say so.
One complaint made by members of the Committee was that there was a Conservative Whip on the Committee. I noticed that, the first or second time that matter was raised, the complaints were confined strictly to the fact that the hon. Gentleman concerned was a Whip. When I pointed out that I was a Whip also, matters developed somewhat, and they have developed considerably further this evening.
It was pointed out that the Conservative Whip would have a power of patronage that was denied to me. [Interruption.] I see the Leader of the House smiling at that, and he knows that that is correct. It may be, however, that during a debate in the House I could say to an Ulster Unionist Member that he would find great favour with his Whip if he went down a particular line. That is not likely to happen, since my right hon. and hon. Friends are strong-minded individuals, but no one objected to my presence on the Committee on the grounds that I was a Whip.
I can only assume that that was because it was understood that when I came through the door of the Committee room, I left my Whip outside the door. I believe that we all should do that, as we are members of a Committee whose reports could have a destructive effect on the integrity, character and personal standing of any individual whose conduct we are investigating. I believe that if everyone behaved in that way, some of what we see and hear might not happen.
We must be able to consider the questions before us in a calm and non-partisan manner, and to reach conclusions that are clearly understood by the House and the public. The behaviour of the hon. Member for Workington was designed deliberately to disrupt the proceedings of the Committee.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman agrees. I heard him say earlier that there was a leak of the draft report to The Guardian which occurred in March. However, I understand that the first disruption that he brought about was before that, so any possibility of the Committee carrying out an investigation into that matter was immediately aborted.
§ Mr. Streeter
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to send signals to and receive replies from someone in the Press Gallery who works for The Guardian? Does that not show the real story going on?
§ Madam Speaker
I cannot see the Press Gallery and had not noticed that signals were being given. If that is the case, it is certainly not in order and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise such a point of order. If that is taking place, it must cease forthwith. Mr. Ross must not be interrupted further.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
This has been an interesting and unusual debate. Without wishing to denigrate the debate that preceded it, this debate has probably been more important to the future of the House than the debate on the conduct of hon. Members.
I accept the motion and, if it is put to a vote, I shall vote for it and encourage my hon. Friends to support it. The motion is permissive. The decision would be made not by the Chairman or Chairperson of the Committee but by the Committee itself. It must be based on a reasonable view that the presence of a specified hon. Member, not being a member of the Committee, would obstruct business. To that extent, the motion would not stop any hon. Member attending a meeting of any Select Committee that is held in private to listen to its deliberations and take notes, because that could not be held to be obstruction. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) attended a previous meeting of the Select Committee on Members' Interests and took notes, but nobody held that to be obstruction; therefore, it forms a useful precedent.
I see no case for disrupting Committee procedures, whether they be Select or Standing Committees held in public or in private. Hon. Members can always find a suitably convenient time and place to raise any issue that they want on the Floor of the House. I remember those long distant days when we had a Labour Government—those times will soon return—and, as a humble Back Bencher, I found that I could raise any issue I chose whenever I chose to do so by using the procedures of the House.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I would have had more sympathy for the motion had it referred to the disruptive conduct of a specified hon. Member. Instead, it talks about the presence of an hon. Member. I am concerned that an hon. 405 Member who attends such a Committee and behaves honourably and courteously could still be put out of the Committee's sittings.
§ Mr. Rooker
That would be unreasonable if the hon. Member simply attended, listened to the deliberations and took notes. That could not be held to be obstructing the Committee's proceedings.
§ Mr. Clappison
On the subject of raising matters on the Floor of the House, is the hon. Gentleman aware that, contrary to the impression that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) may have given, the hon. Member for Workington raised exactly the same matters regarding membership of the Committee on the Floor of the House in a point of order last year and was given the answer that he should have raised the matter at the appropriate time by objecting to the motion? We now know that he was busy doing deals.
§ Mr. Rooker
My view, which is shared by many of my hon. Friends, is that the Select Committee on Members' Interests is a classic example of the failure of self-regulation by a quasi-judicial body in this House. That is one reason why I sincerely hope that the Nolan committee will get to grips with that failure. Self-regulation has been a failure ever since it started. I cannot recall the Committee ever taking a proactive view in making the Members' interests register a serious tool for the House and those outside. We hope, therefore, that the Nolan committee will get to grips with the problem. The House will rue the day that we ignore any recommendations by the Nolan committee on reforming the Members' Interests Select Committee.
As has already been said, Ministers sit on Select Committees. For example, a Treasury Minister is a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee. By convention, Ministers attend only once on appointment, but they receive all the papers. None the less, it is open to them to attend. The Attorney-General is a member of the Privileges Committee. [Interruption.] So, too, is the Leader of the House.
However, whereas Ministers sit on Committees in their departmental capacity, Whips are part of the House's business management and deal with the discipline of party management of their party. They are wholly different animals from departmental Ministers. Anyone can read the rules of the House. Nothing stops the Government placing a departmental Minister on any departmental Select Committee if they choose to do so. Nothing in the rules prevents that. By convention, the Government do not do so but, by convention, they never put Whips on the Members' Interests Select Committee. The matter must therefore be tidied up so that we know which Ministers of the Crown are eligible to serve on investigatory Committees of the House. That serious matter must be dealt with.
I do not wish to go into the details of the incident in question, because the Members' Interests Select Committee has an inquiry under way. I do not know whether it conducts inquiries in tandem, but I have reason to believe that other inquiries are mounting up behind it. On the inquiry that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington disrupted and on which he has allegedly prevented the Committee from making a report to the House because only one witness out of three has been called to give evidence, subject to how that has been 406 handled, my Front-Bench colleagues and I will seriously consider advising the parliamentary Labour party as a whole to withdraw complete co-operation and participation from that Select Committee if it is clear to us that a legitimate inquiry has not been brought to a satisfactory conclusion because there has been a whitewash. That matter may be overtaken by the Nolan inquiry, but if there is a whitewash—in this case, there are prima facie grounds for believing that there will be—we shall play no part in it.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am one of those Committee members who, by consensus, has been diligent. I am considering my position because of what has happened over the past several weeks.
My hon. Friend said earlier that hon. Members could raise matters by some device or other on the Floor of the House or elsewhere. Over the past few weeks, all Committee members who have held an alternative view have felt inhibited by our responsible attitude towards privilege and the amount of information that we have in our hands. We are behaving responsibly by not using those devices. Will my hon. Friend take that on board?
§ Mr. Rooker
I fully accept the constraints under which my hon. Friends have been placed, which is why this difficulty has arisen. If it appears that that Committee has been unable to function because of interference by Government business managers, we shall have no part of it. Only a bent and twisted Government would seek to manipulate investigative Committees of the House.
The Labour Opposition know exactly where we are coming from and how we want to reform the system. That does not mean that we must put up with manipulation of existing procedures. This matter is extremely serious, and, subject to what happens in the Committee and the approval of the motion tonight, we may reach that conclusion. It is not being done in haste, but we consider the matter to be extremely serious and are disturbed by the way in which the Government have behaved.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate, as a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I strongly endorse the arguments that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), who serves on the Committee with me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald).
What the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has done is wrong. I appreciate that he holds strong opinions about the matter, but it must be wrong for any Member of the House to override the procedures of the House and take it on himself to decide the way in which Committees operate. As a result of the hon. Gentleman's behaviour, the Select Committee has been obstructed.
At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to respect the privacy of the deliberations of the Select Committee. However, by the end of his speech I had reached the conclusion that we would have had more privacy if we had conducted our proceedings in the middle of Trafalgar square, because he blatantly used his speech as an opportunity to ventilate as much as he could.
407 Turning to the merits of what the hon. Gentleman says—one does not need to do so for long—he undermined his own case about the membership of the Committee by not taking—
§ Mr. Clappison
No. I do not have time.
The hon. Member for Workington undermined his own case by not taking advantage of the proceedings—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [19 April].
§ The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 35.
|Division No. 133]||[7.40 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Amess, David||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Hague, William|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)||Hayes, Jerry|
|Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)||Heald, Oliver|
|Baldry, Tony||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Bates, Michael||Hendry, Charles|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Booth, Hartley||Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Horam, John|
|Bowis, John||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Jack, Michael|
|Bright, Sir Graham||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Burns, Simon||Jones, Roberts B (W Hertfdshr)|
|Butler, Peter||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Knight Greg (Derby N)|
|Clappison, James||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Lidington, David|
|Coe, Sebastian||Lightbown, David|
|Congdon, David||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Conway, Derek||Luff, Peter|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||MacKay, Andrew|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Maclean, David|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Malone, Gerald|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Mandelson, Peter|
|Dover, Den||Mans, Keith|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Eggar, Rt Hon Tim||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Merchant, Piers|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Evennett, David||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Faber, David||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)||Norris, Steve|
|Forth, Eric||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Page, Richard|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Paice, James|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|French, Douglas||Richards, Rod|
|Garnier, Edward||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Rooker, Jeff|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Ross, William (E Londonderry)|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Ryder, Rt Hon Richard||Thurnham, Peter|
|Sackville, Tom||Trend, Michael|
|Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Shersby, Michael||Ward, John|
|Sims, Roger||Watts, John|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Wells, Bowen|
|Soames, Nicholas||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Whittingdale, John|
|Spink, Dr Robert||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Spring, Richard||Wood, Timothy|
|Sproat, Iain||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Streeter, Gary||Mr. Sydney Chapman and|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher)||Mr. David Willetts.|
|Barnes, Harry||Livingstone, Ken|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Campbell-Savours, D N||MacShane, Denis|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)||Madden, Max|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Pickthall, Colin|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Pike, Peter L|
|Enright, Derek||Rendel, David|
|Etherington, Bill||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Vaz, Keith|
|Gerrard, Neil||Wallace, James|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Welsh, Andrew|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Hanson, David||Winnick, David|
|Hardy, Peter||Wray, Jimmy|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Mr. Terry Lewis and|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Mr. Piara S. Khabra.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That if any select committee, or sub-committee thereof, considers that the presence at a meeting, or part of a meeting, of that committee to which the public are not admitted of any specified Member of the House not nominated to that committee would obstruct the business of the committee, it shall have power to direct such Member to withdraw forthwith; and the Serjeant at Arms shall act on such instructions as he may receive from the chairman of the committee in pursuance of this Order.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.