HC Deb 30 October 1997 vol 299 cc1051-2

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House—

  1. (i) approves the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (HC 182);
  2. (ii) accordingly suspends the honourable Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Robert N. Wareing) from the service of the House for one week, with suspension of his salary as a Member for that period; and
  3. (iii) requires him to withdraw from the precincts of the House for that period.—[Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

4.46 pm
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

I begin by offering my apologies to the House for failing four years ago to register a shareholding in a company under the name Robert Wareing Ltd., a shelf company listed on the public register at my home address and, of course, registered at Companies House. I hope that the House will accept that there was never any intention of concealment on my part. I receive no financial benefit of any kind and the choice of name and registered address was indeed the only reason this oversight came into the public domain.

Let me take a few moments of the House's time to explain the background and circumstances which have led to today's motion. On 28 May last, an anonymous letter posted in south Lancashire was sent to the Government Chief Whip. He held that letter until Tuesday 17 June, before he showed it to me. He said that he would show it to Sir Gordon Downey and I had no objection to that. The Government Chief Whip then said, "I will see you this evening." He made no attempt to see me that evening, but I looked him up in the Division Lobby when I was voting on the Local Government Finance Bill. Among 400 other people I was able only to ask him, "What did Sir Gordon say?" He told me that there had been a breach of the rules and he then said, "I will see you tomorrow." On 18 June I heard nothing from the Government Chief Whip and indeed I have not seen him from the time that I spoke to him in the Lobby on 17 June until now.

On Wednesday 18 June, the parliamentary Labour party passed a new rule allowing for suspension. I understand that my name was not mentioned at that meeting, but that afternoon I bumped into my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) as I was coming out of the lift having taken constituents into the Strangers Gallery. She told me that the Government Chief Whip was planning to move my suspension at the parliamentary committee meeting that afternoon. I was in such a state—a state of great shock. I sent a letter to the Chief Whip. I had no response to that letter nor to two other letters that I sent him.

I was then presented with a statement, which I felt obliged to sign. I understand now how confessions are forced on people. The statement was drafted not by an hon. Member but by Mr. David Hill, a party apparatchik. I signed it and was told to get myself off the premises as soon as possible. I was then in the presence of the Deputy Chief Whip.

I shall deal now with the matter of non-registration. I have never been asked by anybody why I ticked the "no" box on the registration form. The committee—not, the House should note, Sir Gordon Downey, who did not recommend any punishment—never asked me about the ticking of the "no" box. In fact, the committee never asked me anything because I was never called before it.

The reason why I ticked the "no" box—this is my first opportunity to explain—was that I believed that what I had was a retainer. That was maybe a misconception; perhaps I was wrong. I apologise for being wrong—but it was a misconception. I did not think that a retainer was within the definition of shareholding, and, of course, the company issued no shares. The retainer was paid back, with interest, from my own pocket. All the allegations in the anonymous letter were dismissed by Sir Gordon Downey and the Committee on Standards in Public Life—except the one of non-registration.

On 24 June, Sir Gordon Downey received a letter from the Government Chief Whip. That letter contained further allegations which were not in the original anonymous letter. They were new allegations of the Government Chief Whip that, in particular, I had avoided paying income tax. I would have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury would know that companies do not pay income tax and that corporation tax is paid only when there are profits.

The worst allegation that the Government Chief Whip made was that I had a covert relationship with a company which was believed to be a front organisation for the Bosnian Serbs, whose leaders were wanted for war crimes by the international community. That was a disgraceful allegation. All the Government Chief Whip's allegations were dismissed by Sir Gordon, who said that I would not be too distressed by his findings. He was right, I was not.

The committee, though, without ever seeing me, went on to recommend my suspension for not ticking the "no" box. I have explained to the House why I did not. Subsequently, I asked twice to appear before the committee, but both requests were turned down. I have never been before the body that now seeks my punishment. No hon. Member should ever again be sent to the Chamber to serve penance without having had a hearing before his peers.

I feel that I must say that an attempt has been made to create a scandal out of an oversight. Allegations were invented and added to those in the anonymous letter, covered by privilege and given currency. I trust that that will never happen again.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. Robert N. Wareing be suspended from the service of the House for one week, with suspension of his salary for that period; and that he do withdraw from the precincts for that period.

The hon. Member accordingly withdrew.