HC Deb 30 March 1998 vol 309 cc882-3
2. Mr. Cranston

If he will make a statement on his plans to make bribery of hon. Members an offence. [35149]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

We are committed to tackling all forms of corruption, including bribery of hon. Members. We expect to make a statement as soon as possible on the reform of the law, taking account of the results of various consultation exercises—including the views of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, if those are available.

Mr. Cranston

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. However, may I press him a bit further? The legal and conceptual issues are quite simple, and have been discussed over many years—in the 1970s, in the Salmon committee's report; more recently, by the Nolan committee; and now, in the Law Commission's very clear paper on corruption. Where is the delay? Is there a problem with the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege? May I have a specific assurance that, in the next parliamentary Session, the next criminal justice Bill will contain a provision to deal with the matter?

Mr. Howarth

Obviously, this is a matter of concern, and my hon. Friend is right to say that we are concerned about it. In June, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement on the Law Commission's report on corruption offences. The work of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, and all the emerging conclusions, are under consideration. We hope to take action as soon as is reasonably possible, given the Government's other commitments.

Sir Sydney Chapman

In the Minister's definition of bribery and corruption, would he include an attempt by one hon. Member to induce another to give up his seat in return for a peerage? As the Minister is a reasonable person, will he have a quiet word with the leader of the Labour party on that exact point?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is himself a nice person, but I am not prepared to take any lectures from Conservative Members on the use and abuse of power in that type of activity—in which we are not involved, although he and the Conservative party know plenty about it.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the past 18 years— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh yes, 18 years. Does he agree that, in that time, nearly every single Tory Back Bencher, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), has been given a knighthood for services to the Tory party? On top of that, scores of them were given peerages to keep quiet. I tell my hon. Friend that I do not want one, because I am going to keep opening my mouth.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend will disappoint not only other hon. Members but the public, all of whom would like to refer to him as "Sir Dennis". Every sensible suggestion that we made when we were in opposition was resisted by Conservative Members because—my hon. Friend is quite right—they had no interest in cleaning up our politics. However, we will do it.

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