§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I beg to move,That Sir Gordon Stanley Downey, KCB, be appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the terms of the Report of the House of Commons Commission (HC 789), dated 30th October.It might be helpful if I say a few words about the role of the House of Commons Commission. It was given the task of coming up with a name acceptable to the House, believes that it has done so and invites the House to accept the proposal.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I want to raise a number of points. As a Government Back Bencher, I find it offensive that the. House, through the House of Commons Commission, should seek to appoint Sir Gordon Downey as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at a salary of £72,500. I admit that he is a distinguished person, but he is retired and in receipt of a very substantial index-linked pension, yet he will be assessing the position, salary and circumstances of Back Benchers who, for a full week's work, will be in receipt of less than half of his salary. Setting up this gentleman in the position that he will hold is offensive to Parliament. I believe that it is the first time in history that this High Court of Parliament will, to all intents and purposes, have an outsider deciding its behaviour—in short, the behaviour of Members of this House. I do not believe that we should agree to that.
Tonight, the House of Commons has committed suicide. The independence of the House is now very much in doubt, as is its authority and influence. To all intents and purposes, we have set up a House of Commons that will be ruled by the civil service, because the overwhelming majority of hon. Members will have neither the experience nor the authority to exercise an influence that is good for Government, good for Parliament and good for this country.
I say to the House that it will rue this day and rue the decisions that have been taken. It is a pity that the Press Gallery is almost deserted, because it is only a matter of time before Sir Gordon, or a successor, will be looking at the interests of those privileged individuals, the Lobby journalists, who exercise immense influence—dare I say it, much more influence than a Back Bencher? The abilities of Back Benchers will be immensely restricted by the decisions that the House has taken.
I must ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) what expertise Sir Gordon has—
§ Mr. Winterton
The hon. Gentleman is, from time to time, pertinent and accurate in his remarks. I must confess that, while I disagree with the language, I admire his plain speaking.
We have an outsider to this High Court of Parliament. Surely this High Court of Parliament can rule itself, judge itself and, when necessary, penalise those who abuse their 684 position. But to have an outsider, indeed, a retired outsider, on such a substantial salary—more than twice as much as a Back Bencher and more than a Cabinet Minister—presiding over the standards of those in public life and responsible for standards in this place is offensive.
I know the problems that you face, Madam Speaker, and I well understand why the amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) have not been selected, but perhaps there are times when we should look to other democracies to see how they would operate in such circumstances. Of course, in the United States of America no public servant is in receipt of a salary higher than that of a member of Congress. That rule should obtain in this House. If it did, Members of Parliament would be very much better paid—which they all deserve for the hours that they put in and for the increased work that Parliament decides they should undertake—and, dare I say it to hon. Members on both sides of the House, would better meet the expectations of their electorates.
I rise to speak briefly on this part of our debate in sadness and with regret. I put the question again to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—
§ Mr. Winterton
Indeed, he is a Liberal Democrat—educated in my constituency at King's school, but that is only an aside.
What qualifications does Sir Gordon Downey have to undertake the tasks that the House is allocating to him? What justification is there for giving him, as a retired civil servant in receipt of a substantial index-linked pension, a salary of more than twice as much as the people whose standards of behaviour he will be assessing? That is an insult to democracy and a disaster for Parliament. I am very unhappy and sad at what the House has done today to the authority of Parliament.
When I came to the House nearly 25 years ago—
§ Mr. Winterton
My hon. Friend says a quarter of a century ago. It is not yet that long. I hope that I may be honoured to serve my constituents for a quarter of century and beyond. I hope that they will accept that at no time in the years that I have been the Member for Macclesfield have I done anything dishonourable about which I would not be prepared to talk to them openly.
How can the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who chairs the House of Commons Commission—I apologise Madam Speaker: you chair it and he speaks on its behalf—justify to the House what the Commission is doing in appointing this individual to deal with what I agree are very important matters? I believe that standards of behaviour are critical. Sadly, I do not believe that what the House has done tonight will improve the image of Parliament in the eyes of electorate. That can be done only by the individual examples of every right hon. or hon. Member.
I seek to set an example and I know that many other hon. Members do so too. The fact that there are a few rotten apples in the basket does not mean that the whole House should be summed up in that way. I believe that Parliament has served the United Kingdom well. I fear 685 that it will not be able to do so in future and I hope that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will justify what we are supposed to agree to tonight.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
I understand that some years ago the Government Whips Office offered a jeroboam of champagne to anybody who spotted the late Bonner Pink and Sir Frederic Bennett in the Division Lobby at the same time. I do not know whether that champagne was ever called upon but it could also have been offered for the first occasion on which my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) appeared together on an amendment to a motion.
My hon. Friend and I proposed amendments because we both have a keen sense of the ridiculous. As someone who has wanted to be a Member of the House for as long as I can remember, and as someone with a sense of history and of the traditions of the House, I am worried that, despite all the partisan glee on the Opposition Benches—which will continue as the night goes on—we are in severe collective danger as a House of Commons of making ourselves ridiculous.
It is worth pausing and reflecting for one moment on how we got into this position at all. It was because two stupid, silly greedy Members did something that most of us would never do. The story that both sides of the House should have run with was that, of the 20 hon. Members approached, only two behaved in that way—80 per cent. did not. That is the message that we should have communicated to the people outside. We signally failed to do so.
After that, it was downhill all the way, with a committee presided over by a judge who made it clear at the outset that he had already reached his conclusions and was hoping to find some evidence to back them up. Those of us who have made a living in the courts often suspected that that is what the judiciary did but we had not expected to have it confirmed in such a spectacular way.
From inauspicious and tiny beginnings, we have reached the position that we are in today. Whatever else we say, we should not disguise from ourselves the anomalous and paradoxical situation that we have created. How on earth can we ask Sir Gordon Downey to police a distinction between our advisory work and the other things that we do?
For example, I heard the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on a radio programme yesterday. He was being employed not for the lightness of his wit or the elegance of his table manners but because he was a Member of Parliament.
I have a high regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) but having briefly, in a misguided moment, dipped into "A Parliamentary Affair", I should think that people would read that book not because they think that she is the personification of Tolstoy but because they think that, as a Member of Parliament, she might have something to say.
Those are examples of hon. Members receiving remuneration that arises directly from their membership of the House. They are not included in the proposed arrangements. Why not? It is because too many Labour Members would suddenly find that they had to declare 686 their income. It would mean that we would have to find out—because morality is absolute and does not start only tonight—from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) how much she was, until recently, really paid by Westminster Communications. We could find out how a former Labour Prime Minister was able to buy a Suffolk dairy farm on the wage of a Back-Bench Member of Parliament.
We could go into a great deal to try to get a vision of the matter. A commissioner for ethics? I do not know where Opposition Members have been. I have about 75,000 commissioners for ethics—my electorate. I have the judgment of my peers, of my hon. Friends and of Opposition Members. There are many examples of hon. Members whom one may not like but whose probity one understands. The idea that we can substitute the judgment of our electorate, of our hon. Friends and of the House of Commons by setting up a commissioner for ethics is bizarre.
Consider the salary involved. Ethics are relative; they vary. One has to put oneself, to an extent, in the position of those who are making those difficult judgments—the judgments that we all have to make. We make those judgments when we back our Government's view against our inclinations. As party people on both sides of the House, hon. Members realise that we can make progress only if we combine in a political party. That can produce some pretty hard choices for hon. Members, especially for those in government.
There are all sorts of difficulties, such as when one feels that one has a duty to one's region but there is a conflict with the interest of one's county. Such conflicts happen all the time. All hon. Members deal with them by working a seven-day week and by earning £33,000 a year.
I understand why some of my hon. Friends have done so, but I have never criticised the payment of a parliamentary salary under the present arrangements. If, however, the commissioner for ethics is to do anything other than sum up what a ridiculous spectacle we have made of ourselves, he should have some insight into the people on whom he passes judgment. He might even care, as my third amendment proposes, to be on the salary of a Back Bencher. Alternatively—I note that he thinks that he can do the job in four days a week—perhaps he would like to work for four sevenths of the salary of a Back Bencher and nod along on £18,000 a year.
I tabled the amendments to make the point about how ridiculous this proposal is. I do not suggest for a moment that Members of Parliament—we may hear cries of "Shame" in a moment—should be paid £126,000 a year, but if Sir Gordon Downey is giving us an example of what a Member of Parliament should be paid for his four days, that is what the salary would amount to. It would make us look ridiculous. The idea that, ultimately, we shall impress our electorate, raise the standards of this House or serve our constituents better by employing somebody at that salary makes us a laughing stock.
When was the job advertised? Are we supposed to believe that, despite all the efforts of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), no one could be found to do a four-days-a-week job for less than £74,000? Perhaps it comes to this: if one is to do such a ridiculous job, the very institution of which underlines and undermines everything that the House should stand for, the salary must be made very high indeed.
687 I have no criticism of Sir Gordon Downey, who has clearly had a career of distinguished public service. In his twilight years, he must have thought that this was the best thing that had ever happened to him. On one level, so say all of us, but when this House legislates not to try to take forward the condition of the people but to exact political revenge on its opponents, it has a good night out but it demeans itself and this institution.
In due course, the lawyers among us will swarm over the fine print of the recommendation to make sure that it hangs Opposition Members when we really get stuck into the nature of their trade union funding. The mere fact that we can enjoy that does not alter for a moment the fact that what we have done tonight, in a spirit of rancour on one side of the House and sheer cravenness on the part of many of my hon. Friends, undermines an institution to which our constituents sent us to preserve. Many of us should be ashamed of ourselves.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)
I favour the appointment of Sir Gordon Downey. It is sad that we have had to make such an appointment, but we have had to do so because there have been abuses. It is a red herring for Conservative Members to argue about his salary. When unemployed people in my constituency look at my salary and those of other hon. Members, they wish that they had such a salary. It cannot be argued that a Member of Parliament should not be appointed because of his salary.
I have seen problems that could be referred to an independent body. I left the Select Committee for Trade and Industry because I was deeply concerned about what hon. Members were doing when they visited countries at the expense of this House. When I went with the Select Committee to China, we were treated like royalty. I was deeply ashamed when members of the delegation handed out their business cards, which were written in Chinese for the benefit of their hosts, and said, "This is my business card. Get in touch with me if you need advice on a particular industry." One day, an hon. Member took an interpreter supplied to us by the Chinese Government to a meeting on private business for a telecom company with which the hon. Member was involved. Now that this appointment has been made, hon. Members can at least go to the commissioner, say that something is worrying them and ask whether he will look into it so that standards do not deteriorate.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have seen the setting up of all-party groups. Anyone can tell that those groups are set up to become involved in lobbying in the House. Sir Gordon Downey, and even we in this House, could look into that ridiculous set-up. We have the best facilities that can be offered in the centre of London. They are given free of charge to hon. Members with an important all-party affair that they want to bring forward. Yet at this very moment, lobbyists are going around Parliament seeking to set up all-party groups for their own ends. Perhaps Sir Gordon will also look at the activities of those so-called all-party groups.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Surely, a Member who suspects that another Member is 688 doing something wrong can report that either to Madam Speaker or to the Chairman of the Privileges Committee, or some such body. What is wrong with that?
§ Mr. Martin
It is getting to the stage when so many complaints are made that the Chief Whips and you, Madam Speaker—I know that I should not draw you into the argument—are fed up with listening to Members like me talking about the type of abuses that are going on.
§ Mr. Martin
The hon. Gentleman and many others have attacked me because I am a sponsored member of a trade union. I have put on my declaration the information that my constituency party, not me, gets £150 a quarter. There is a big difference between that and what some hon. Members are getting from promoting their consultancies in the House.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton
We appreciate the service that the hon. Gentleman gives to the House. I have never cast any aspersions on what sponsorship or support he may get, but a little earlier he cast aspersions on a member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry which visited China. He said that one or more members of that delegation handed over a business card, as he put it—a visitors' card, or personal card—to those Chinese people whom they met in the People's Republic of China.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, when Members of Parliament go abroad, those whom they meet, whatever their position—Members of Parliament, civil servants, business people and people in social work—frequently give them a card? I have thousands in my desk that I have been given over the years. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that that frequently happens?
§ Madam Speaker
Order. Let me remind hon. Members that we are straying from the motion on the Order Paper. We have little time for this debate. Many wish to speak, so I hope that Members who are called will make their points briefly.
§ Mr. Martin
I will be brief, but I should like to point out that I sat through the previous debate, so I have not just come into the Chamber.
Let me spell it out to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—I do not think that he listened to what I said. Certain Members gave out their private business cards when they were part of a delegation visiting China on the business of the House. One hon. Member took away the interpreter who had been supplied for the benefit of the Select Committee in order to do business for a private company. That is the point that I am trying to make, and if the hon. Gentleman has not picked it up, there must be something wrong with his hearing. You are right, Madam Speaker: perhaps I am straying from the motion. I see standards deteriorating all the time. That must stop, for the benefit and good name of the House.
I hope that the commissioner will also look at the activities of some people in the press, because they are not so honourable. They are prepared to take payments to write certain stories that suit their own ends. There are also lobbyists going around this building who are interested not in our constituents or in the honour of the House but merely in their own private and personal gain.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)
I regret that the decisions made earlier this evening will make it necessary for us to appoint Sir Gordon Downey. That is no criticism of Sir Gordon, whom I have known for many years. He is a man of great ability and integrity. There are few people we could choose who would do the job better than him.
The difficulty is that what we have done this evening has created a situation in which we will be seen as naughty schoolchildren, who have had to put someone above us in order to ensure that we behave. That is a tragedy.
As you know, Madam Speaker, I was one of those who voted against the first motion, and I then voted against the amendment tabled by the Opposition. I did so, as you know, not because I was worried about disclosing what I receive in consultancy payments for the British Venture Capital Association and for the British Insurance and Investment Brokers Association—because you know that I had intended in my speech, before the Division, to reveal what I was paid by those organisations. I shall reveal it now, because I do not want it to be thought that I was in any way going to be forced to do so.
I am paid by each of those organisations a sum of between £10,000 and £15,000, to use the bracket of revelation that we must now use. I have never done anything for either of those organisations of which I would be ashamed. However, what we have done tonight is to ensure that, because of the ban on advocacy and because we shall have to go to Sir Gordon to obtain permission to do things now, we cannot now speak freely in the House in the way that we might have done previously—a right that we won from Charles I and have given away this evening.
For example, when we introduced the insurance premium tax a little while ago, I and other hon. Members who represent the insurance industry in the House said to the insurance industry, "You cannot resist the imposition of that tax, but we must ensure that the way in which it is implemented is as efficient as possible, both for the public and for the industry."
The Government were proposing that the tax should be implemented on net payments after commission. The problem with that was that it would have been impossible to calculate the tax because of the various commission structures and bonus commissions and everything else, so I, along with others, went to Ministers and said, "That is a crazy way to proceed; it must be calculated on gross commissions." The net effect of persuading them that that was the case is that it is much easier for the Inland Revenue to collect money, and the industry has a much easier way to proceed.
In future, we shall not be allowed to do that; we shall have to go to a commissioner and obtain permission.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
The hon. Gentleman can do those things. Nothing in the world stops him from doing them. All he has to do is to resign his consultancy.
§ Mr. Butterfill
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but he knows that those of us who take on that work engage in considerable additional work to do so, and it is not necessarily unreasonable that we should be paid. I do not 690 suppose that the hon. Gentleman takes on consultancies of that nature free, although I have done some free. I acted, for example, for—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I must bring the attention of the House back to the motion before us. We are not concerned with an earlier debate. We are simply concerned with the appointment of a parliamentary commissioner, and that is set out in three lines on the Order Paper. Hon. Members must relate what they have to say to that motion and not stray as far as they are doing now.
§ Mr. Butterfill
I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, and I shall return to that issue.
What I object to in the appointment of a commissioner is that we, as Members of the House, are making ourselves subject to someone who is not a Member of the House. We should not be accountable to a commissioner. We should not be accountable to a Select Committee set up by the Government and Opposition Whips Offices. We should not even, with great respect to your person and your office, Madam Speaker, be accountable to you. We should be accountable only to our constituents.
By doing what we are doing tonight, we are taking away that sovereignty of Parliament in a way that I believe is damaging. I believe that we shall not restore the confidence of the public because now we shall be seen to be behaving only because we have to behave.
If we had had a voluntary register and the opportunity to register all the details of our employment—I am grateful that we now have that opportunity because, as you are aware, Madam Speaker, I would have so registered—we should have had to account to each of our constituents as to why we were not registering those things that our constituents thought that we should enter. We would be behaving like honourable Members, and that is the only way ultimately that we shall obtain the respect of the public.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
As someone who has never sought to have paid interests outside the House, I have no personal problem in being made accountable to the proposed commissioner. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) spoke for many of us in the House, both in his speech tonight and in what he wrote in the Evening Standard earlier today, when he posed serious questions about the effect of tonight's business on the well-being of the House of Commons. I heartily agree with what he said and wrote.
To turn directly to the matter before the House, I shall ask a succinct question of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who speaks for the House of Commons Commission. Precisely how was the sum of £72,000 per year that Sir Gordon is to receive arrived at? What was the basis of fixing on that precise level of payment to Sir Gordon? Is there any truth in the suggestion that that was the minimum that he said he would have to be paid if he was to accept the appointment? Could the right hon. Gentleman answer those direct questions?
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
I do not take the same apocalyptic view as the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Teignbridge 691 (Mr. Nicholls) who spoke at the beginning of the debate. I wonder how the commissioner will be able to fill four days a week after the initial flurry of activity—I think that he will be pressed to do so. I think that there should be full disclosure of Members' incomes from all sources—that would resolve the problem, as we would not have to pay his £72,000 a year to arbitrate on the different sources of Members' incomes.
I have a few questions to ask the Leader of the House—who appears to have made a run for it—or his representative on earth about how the commissioner was appointed. Was the job advertised? I believe that it was. How many applications were received? How many names were short-listed? What form did the interviews take? I hope that before the end of the debate the Leader of the House or his representative will answer those questions, as I am curious to know the answers.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I am deeply concerned about what we are doing this evening. When, over the passage of time, people look at the votes that took place earlier and at the appointment to which the motion refers, they will wonder why we went to so much trouble when the mechanisms required to discipline, organise and manage this place already exist.
The unwritten United Kingdom constitution was our inheritance and we were fortunate to inherit it. As a Member of Parliament who represents a minority of the UK population who live in Scotland and look to this place to look after their interests within the UK, I am aware of the deep concern among my constituents that the High Court of Parliament will no longer take the final decisions on matters affecting their representative. I do not represent a narrow partisan view, any more than does anyone else in this place. All my constituents have the right to come to me and to expect me to be able to ask questions on matters that directly affect them as constituents.
I am concerned that we are putting in place a structure, a mechanism, that is substantially flawed. Anyone who has attempted to read the measure on which we voted earlier will realise that the commissioner will face considerable problems. How does one ask an individual to arbitrate on articles that have been written in newspapers about specific matters affecting future votes in the House on how money is spent? Often, the individual concerned is paid handsomely for his efforts because he is a Member of Parliament.
Articles written by hon. Members appear in the Scottish press every week. Will those hon. Members be debarred from leading parliamentary delegations that may affect the national health service or from asking questions or initiating and participating in debates? I believe that we have put in place the most appalling, structurally deficient measures, which are comparable to what has come out of Europe in recent years. They do the House no favours.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. Hon. Members would be debarred only if they had already entered into some form of commercial contract with a pharmaceutical company, for example, and they are not obliged to do that.
§ Mr. Walker
I make it clear that I do not have any problems with the measures personally. However, I am concerned about what we are asking the ombudsman to do. 692 I believe that lawyers will have a field day with the measures that we have attempted to insert into the structures and rules of this place. The hon. Member for Newham, South shakes his head, but he may live to regret his actions.
I return to the example of hon. Members who write articles for newspapers. Those individuals are paid to write articles because they are Members of Parliament and because they have direct access to the House. In fact, they often base their articles on questions that they have asked in this place. I do not want those hon. Members to stop writing articles, any more than I want other hon. Members to cease gaining similar experience outside the House. It is that sort of experience that makes the Chamber what it is. If all hon. Members shared the same backgrounds and experiences, the Chamber simply would not function properly. The unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom depends vitally on the independence of hon. Members who represent all their constituents.
As an aside, I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) criticise all-party groups. I think particularly of the delightful Scotch whisky all-party group, of which I regularly speak in favour although I am a teetotaller. I digress for a moment because I find his comments horrendous.
I believe that the House is more important than any narrow, partisan point-scoring exercise. I want my grandchildren to inherit what we were lucky enough to enjoy: all the benefits that the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom provides.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I did not intend to speak in the debate until a few moments ago. However, the tone of the debate that has followed the voting suggests that Conservative Members are bitter about what has occurred tonight. That underlying bitterness is coming through in the debate.
I am among those who have followed the debate very closely over the years and I suspect that many hon. Members are exaggerating the effect of the changes that we have made. There will be much discussion about the changes in the Committee that is to be established. I believe that a number of rulings will be arrived at through precedent and, when those rulings are laid down, hon. Members will be able to identify to what extent they are in order when they speak in the House of Commons or use the procedures of this place. Hon. Members must take stock and not react in the hysterical manner that seems to have characterised the debate tonight.
§ Mr. Butterfill
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in what he says about feelings of bitterness: we accept what has happened. However, even if we ban advocacy, there is not a legislature in the world where that does not occur. Surely all that we have done tonight is drive it underground, and that is never a good thing.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I do not want to stray from order and it would not be in order for me to reply directly to the hon. Gentleman, but he should consider what he has said. To suggest that advocacy will be driven underground suggests that some Members are prepared and are now giving notice of the fact that they intend to breach the 693 rules of the House of Commons. That would be a grave error of judgment and I hope that the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to correct what he said.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I have cautioned the House before that we are dealing with a very small motion and hon. Members in their interventions are leading those hon. Members who have the Floor down quite the wrong path. I hope that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will not give way. He must speak to the motion that is before us. The hon. Gentleman's interventions do not deal with the motion at all.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Let me say something in defence of Sir Gordon Downey. Together with other members of the Public Accounts Committee, I worked closely with him for many years. I was on the Public Accounts Committee for 11 or 12 years and Sir Gordon was there for about six of them. He has an extremely incisive mind and sees his way through very complicated issues. That came out often during deliberative sessions of the Public Accounts Committee. Anyone who was on that Committee in those years can only endorse what I have to say.
If Conservative Members are concerned about what will happen in the Committee, they will find that Sir Gordon, in bringing his mind to the problems that may confront us, will certainly find ways to resolve those problems that will be endorsed by the Committee.
§ Mr. Winnick
Does my hon. Friend accept that, if the proposal had been put before us some years ago, I probably would have opposed it? Does he agree that it was the failure of the Select Committee on Members' Interests time and again to tackle some of the issues which undoubtedly embarrassed the House and which has now made such a measure inevitable? It is right that we should go ahead with the appointment.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Sadly, that is the case. When I was on the Select Committee on Members' Interests we had a very good team. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) was here this evening, but he is not in his place at the moment. He will recall that we had a particularly good team and worked very well together through a number of difficult inquiries. However, late last year and at the beginning of this year, the Committee ran into the long grass and found that it could no longer proceed. I was not on the Committee, as I came off it two years ago.
The Committee was required to examine a couple of complaints. It was almost impossible for it to proceed because, for a variety of reasons outside the Committee's control, Parliament was polarising on those issues in the light of the scandals that had been reported in the national press. In my view, that polarisation made it difficult to proceed without the intervention of an independent person or persons to adjudicate on those matters. We effectively started with Nolan. Nolan was there to some extent to adjudicate on the best way forward and make recommendations to Parliament with which we could then proceed. We have now reached the next stage and perhaps an independent element will help the Committee avoid the log jams that will inevitably arise over the coming months.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I would like to bring the hon. Gentleman back to the central point of our debate this evening. He has given his opinion of the gentleman who will preside over the new Committee. The hon. Gentleman has now recommended him to the House. No one is making slighting references to the gentleman in question. The point surely is that many hon. Members on both sides of the House think that a salary of £72,000 is obscene—not to mention the cost of his secretarial back-up, his office and so on. Perhaps if the man in question has retired on an index-linked pension and is comfortably off, he should be public-spirited enough to offer to do the job for nothing.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Lady's intervention reminds me to correct an error in what her spouse said earlier. Sir Gordon Downey was an Officer of the House of Commons: he is not an outsider. He understands this House. If, over time, he believes that his salary is not warranted, it will come as no surprise to hon. Members to hear me say that he will probably ask for the salary to be renegotiated. He is not the sort of man to demand such a salary ad infinitum if he knows he does not warrant it. He sought a salary of that grade on the basis that he felt that the amount of work required of him would go with a substantial salary—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) has already made a contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I do not usually spend my time defending salaries of this size; but in certain circumstances we have to pay the market price if we want good people. Sir Gordon will not be working four days a week. He will probably spend much of his week just as we spend ours. The public think we work three and a half or four days a week, but the hon. Member for Teignbridge talked about our working seven days a week. During his first year in the job, Sir Gordon will certainly not work a four-day week. He will find that he has to do an immense amount of work that will certainly warrant a large salary in the early period. But eventually he may volunteer to have the salary renegotiated.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The resolution refers to a four-day week, although there may be a little more work to begin with. The hon. Gentleman appears to be saying that he is authorised by Sir Gordon to say that he will apply for a pay cut in the near future. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House, so may I ask him whether he thinks £72,000 a year is too much, too little or just right?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I must sit down soon, but I will end on this note. My party has stood accused for decades of promoting the politics of envy. I sense a little envy in what the hon. Gentleman is saying this evening.
§ Mr. Beith
With the leave of the House, I shall try, in the time available, to reply to the main points of the debate. I do so not, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) thinks, on behalf of the Leader of the 695 House, nor, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) thinks, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, but on behalf of a Commission on which Front and Back Benchers of all three parties are represented, under the independent chairmanship of Madam Speaker.
Aspects of the debate have gone over the same ground as the previous debate. The Commission had no authority to question the House's decision to appoint a Commissioner for Standards, which was taken on 19 July. The Commission has no power whatever over the salaries of Members, which are decided on a resolution of the House. So we could do nothing about either matter even if we had chosen to do so.
The Commission considered the question of salary carefully and at some length. In fixing the annual salary at £72,000, on the basis of what has been determined as a four-day week, the commission was obliged to take account of a number of factors. They included the importance attached to the duties involved, the previous salaries of likely suitable candidates and our statutory responsibility to pay salaries in line with those in the civil service. We also had regard to the problem presented by the difference between salary levels suggested to us and the salaries of right hon. and hon. Members, with whom the commissioner will have to deal. Some of us held particularly strong views on that point.
The recommended salary, which is at the bottom end of the permanent secretary scale reduced by one fifth because of the four-day week, represents a compromise—and one that I hope that the House will accept, so that there will be no delay in the detailed implementation of the decisions taken by the House this evening.
§ Mr. Beith
First, I must try to answer the questions of right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) asked how the choice was made. The Commission was assisted by the board, chaired by the First Civil Service Commissioner, and benefited from advice given by consultants who contacted 135 individuals in a general trawl. Eighty applications were received in response to advertisements in two newspapers. Short and long lists were devised. At the end of that extended process, the commission was unanimous in approving the appointment of Sir Gordon Downey.
I say to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that Sir Gordon's wide experience and considerable reputation suited him well for the post. The details of his career are set out in the report on which the resolution is based, which the hon. Gentleman can read. As Comptroller and Auditor General—and I attach particular importance to that post, as did the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—Sir Gordon had extensive experience of the workings of the House, of Committees and of Members of Parliament individually, as well as of the pressures under which they work. All those represented compelling reasons for appointing Sir Gordon.
§ Mr. Whitney
Against the background that the misdemeanours that gave rise to the whole Nolan process 696 have been so few and far between, is the right hon. Gentleman telling the House that he and the Commission seriously believe that when the arrangement is in operation, there will be a sufficient number of problems of the kind in question to keep Sir Gordon occupied four days every week? Did the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Commission really reach that conclusion?
§ Mr. Beith
We were advised by the Select Committee. If the hon. Gentleman will read its report, he will find references to the possibility of full-time and part-time work in the post. Initially, the Commission reached the conclusion that for the first year or two at least, a full-time post could be fully justified. Only after some discussion was the post reduced to one of four days a week. We recognise that once the system has become established, it may prove possible for the work to be undertaken with a smaller commitment of time. We envisage that happening, and it is assumed that the post will be reviewed at an appropriate stage. Perhaps the number of days will be reduced, in which case the salary will be adjusted accordingly.
§ Mr. Harris
Can the right hon. Gentleman refute the suggestion that £72,000 was the absolute minimum that Sir Gordon would accept? In other words, that he insisted on being paid £72,000—true or false?
§ Mr. Beith
If I had been a party to any negotiations with individuals, which I was not, I would not disclose them on the Floor of the House—any more than one would expect any person to do. The Commission made a decision as to the level of salary and made a recommendation to the House. It did so having considered a range of factors that go in conflicting directions. The salary is less than that paid to others in the service of the House. Even the full-time equivalent—I touch on a point made by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins)—is less than the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is paid significantly more.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
I did not actually say that. As right hon. and hon. Members will be required to deposit their contracts with Sir Gordon, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether Sir Gordon's contract has been deposited in the Library? In particular, can the right hon. Gentleman remind the House of the term of Sir Gordon's contract and the circumstances under which it may be renegotiated?
§ Mr. Beith
The Select Committee made it clear that the commissioner should be in a position of some independence and be capable of being dismissed only on a resolution of the House. The contract is, if I recall rightly, a three-year term, and it can only be ended short of that period on such a resolution. Most of the details of the appointment are set out in the report itself. I commend it to the House.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
Briefly, as it seemed appropriate to ask what the term was. I am not at all clear why, if we are to renegotiate the terms, it should be a three-year term.
§ Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)
I had not intended to get involved in the debate, but I am a bit stunned. I follow the excellent speeches that were delivered by my hon. Friends the Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I find it astounding that, month by month, year by year, we hear from Opposition Members how wrong it is for individuals with high salaries to be appointed, particularly to run industries where wealth can be accrued, but where, as suggested by Opposition Members, individuals should not benefit to the full level of their contribution.
Here we have an individual who is in retirement, who has undoubtedly given great service to this country in the past, but who is being brought out of retirement on a salary of £72,000 a year. I feel quite sure that Opposition Members will find it very difficult indeed to justify to their constituents how they can support such a move.
I honestly feel that the House has got it wrong on this issue and that it is setting a very bad example indeed.
§ Mr. Mullin
Did the hon. Gentleman hear me ask a moment ago how many people were on the shortlist for that particular job and how many were interviewed? Did he notice that I got no reply and that when I attempted to intervene to follow it up I was the only person who failed to catch the attention of the hon. Gentleman concerned? Does he think that we should have an answer to that question?
§ Mr. Gallie
I believe that the hon. Gentleman should have had an answer. I believe that such a position should have been advertised to the fullest extent, in line with the wishes and desires of Opposition Members and so many expressions in the past—
§ It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [3 November].
§ The House divided: Ayes 231, Noes 71.699
|Division No. 239]||[9.42 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Bright, Sir Graham|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Browning, Mrs Angela|
|Amess, David||Burden, Richard|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Burns, Simon|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Burt, Alistair|
|Arbuthnot, James||Butler, Peter|
|Ashton, Joe||Callaghan, Jim|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Baldry, Tony||Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)|
|Barnes, Harry||Campbell-Savours, D N|
|Barron, Kevin||Canavan, Dennis|
|Bates, Michael||Cann, Jamie|
|Battle, John||Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Carrington, Matthew|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Cash, William|
|Bellingham, Henry||Chapman, Sir Sydney|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Chisholm, Malcolm|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Clappison, James|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)|
|Booth, Hartley||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Boswell, Tim||Coe, Sebastian|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Cohen, Harry|
|Bowis, John||Colvin, Michael|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Congdon, David|
|Connarty, Michael||Jowell, Tessa|
|Conway, Derek||Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Kennedy, Jane (L 'pool Br'dg'n)|
|Couchman, James||Khabra, Piara S|
|Cran, James||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Davidson, Ian||Knapman, Roger|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N)|
|Delvin, Tim||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Dewar, Donald||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lidington, David|
|Dowd, Jim||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Duncan, Alan||Luff, Peter|
|Eastham, Ken||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Eggar, Rt Hon Tim||McFall, John|
|Elletson, Harold||MacKay, Andrew|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Evans Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||McLeish, Henry|
|Evennett, David||Maclennan, Robert|
|Faber, David||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Fatchett, Derek||McMaster, Gordon|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Forman, Nigel||Malone, Gerald|
|Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)||Martin, Michael J (Springburn)|
|Forth, Eric||Mates, Michael|
|Foulkes, George||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Merchant, Piers|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Fraser, John||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Milburn, Alan|
|French, Douglas||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Fyfe, Maria||Moss, Malcolm|
|Galbraith, Sam||Nelson, Anthony|
|Galloway, George||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Garnier, Edward||Norris, Steve|
|Gillan, Cheryl||Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Ottaway, Richard|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Page, Richard|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Paice, James|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Pearson, Ian|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Pickles, Eric|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Pike, Peter L|
|Gunnell, John||Pope, Greg|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy||Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Hanson, David||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Hardy, Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hawkins, Nick||Reid, Dr John|
|Heald, Oliver||Richards, Rod|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Henderson, Doug||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Hendry, Charles||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Hill, Keith (Streatham)||Rooker, Jeff|
|Home Robertson, John||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Hood, Jimmy||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Sackville, Tom|
|Horam, John||Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley North)||Shersby, Sir Michael|
|Jack, Michael||Short, Clare|
|Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)||Simpson, Alan|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Sims, Roger|
|Jessel, Toby||Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)||Soames, Nicholas|
|Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Spring, Richard||Watts, John|
|Sproat, Iain||Wells, Bowen|
|Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)||Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Streeter, Gary||Whittingdale, John|
|Sweeney, Walter||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Wilkinson, John|
|Thomason, Roy||Winnick, David|
|Tredinnick, David||Wood, Timothy|
|Trend, Michael||Worthington, Tony|
|Walden, George||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Ward, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)||Mr. Michael Brown and Mr. Robert G. Hughes.|
|Alexander, Richard||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Maddock, Diana|
|Alton, David||Madel, Sir David|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Mills, Iain|
|Ashby, David||Moate, Sir Roger|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Robert||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Bendall, Vivian||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Budgen, Nicholas||Patnick, Sir Irvine|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Pawsey, James|
|Chidgey, David||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth)||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Dover, Den||Rendel, David|
|Dunn, Bob||Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Gallie, Phil||Skinner, Dennis|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Gorst, Sir John||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Stephen, Michael|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Sykes, John|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Hannam, Sir John||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Thornton, Sir Malcolm|
|Harris, David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Harvey, Nick||Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Haselhurst, Sir Alan||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Hicks, Robert||Viggers, Peter|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Walker, Bill (N Tayside)|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Wallace, James|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Whitney, Ray|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Knox, Sir David||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Leigh, Edward||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Lewis, Terry||Mr. Tony Marlow and Mr. Michael Stern.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That Sir Gordon Stanley Downey, KCB, be appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the terms of the Report of the House of Commons Commission (HC 789), dated 30th October.