HL Deb 25 October 1994 vol 558 cc465-77

4.23 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on the conduct of public life. The Statement is as follows:

"Madam Speaker, with permission, I shall make a Statement on the conduct of public life, and put some proposals before the House. Before I do so, I shall refer to the report which I asked the Cabinet Secretary to undertake on allegations of impropriety against named individuals that had been made by Mr. Mohammed Al Fayed.

"I have now received Sir Robin Butler's report and am publishing it in full in a Written Answer this afternoon. Before turning to wider matters, I should like to draw on that report. Perhaps it would be best if I quoted paragraph two of Sir Robin's report to me. It reads as follows: 'In reporting those allegations the informant said that Mr Al Fayed wanted a meeting with the Prime Minister, principally because of Mr Al Fayed's wish to have the DTI Inspectors' Report on the takeover of the House of Fraser revised or withdrawn. He had made a number of allegations against Government Ministers and was contemplating passing them to others'. "Sir Robin then sets out my reply. He records that I replied that it would be impossible for me to see Mr. Al Fayed in these circumstances. If Ministers had been guilty of wrong-doing—as Mr. Al Fayed alleged—I was not going to make any sort of deal, regardless of the cost to the Government's reputation. I said that I would consider how to proceed, and suggested that, in the meantime, my informant should make no response to Mr. Al Fayed.

"I said that I was not prepared to enter into discussions with Mr. Al Fayed on any of these issues. However, it was clear to me that I would need to establish whether there was any substance in the allegations. If there was, it was unlikely that they would remain private. Nor was it right that they should.

"Upon the substance of the allegations, the House now knows that my honourable friend for Beaconsfield has resigned from the Government.

"My honourable friend, the Member for Tatton, has vigorously rejected, both orally and in writing, the allegations of impropriety made against him and is taking legal action. Sir Robin's report makes clear that he has found no evidence which controverts my honourable friend's assurances on these matters.

"I have however to tell the House that since Sir Robin completed his report, other unconnected allegations, which were not the subject of his investigations, have been made against my honourable friend. I must consider whether the combined impact of these allegations disables my honourable friend from carrying out his responsibilities as Minister for Corporate Affairs. I believe they do and my honourable friend agrees and has resigned from the Government.

"On the other allegations put to me, Sir Robin found that they are either demonstrably false or, so far as he has been able to establish after careful inquiry, are entirely unsubstantiated as well as being denied by the Ministers concerned.

"I now turn to wider issues. It is important that the public have confidence in our system of public administration, our methods of making public appointments, the conduct of people in authority, and the financial and commercial activities of public figures.

"It has always been the wish of this House that British Government, Parliament and administration should be entirely free of malpractice. I am determined to ensure it is.

"In the present atmosphere there is public disquiet about standards in public life and I have concluded that action is imperative. I have listened carefully and have reflected upon the points raised by right honourable and honourable gentlemen in all parts of this House in framing my recommendations. I have decided to establish a body with the following terms of reference: 'To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life'. "For these purposes, public office should include: Ministers, civil servants and advisers; Members of Parliament and UK Members of the European Parliament; members and senior officers of all non-departmental public bodies, and of NHS bodies; non-Ministerial office holders; members and other senior officers of other bodies discharging publicly-funded functions; and elected members and senior officers of local authorities. This is a wide-ranging list and is intended to be so.

"I have considered the nature of the body to be established. A Royal Commission tends to be cumbersome and would probably take too long. A committee composed solely of Privy Counsellors might be seen as too narrowly drawn, A Speaker's Conference traditionally only deals with electoral law. And a formal board of inquiry or judicial inquiry tends to carry out specific investigations rather than considering broader issues and making recommendations to the Government. Arguments can be made for any of those bodies but I believe that a better way ahead exists.

"The body needs to be able to respond quickly and to be sufficiently flexible to deal with the wide range of issues that I have outlined.

"I have decided therefore to establish standing machinery to examine the conduct of public life and to make recommendations on how best to ensure that standards of propriety are upheld. It will contain prominent individuals who have practical experience of Parliament and public life but also others with expertise and knowledge of our principal institutions. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, has accepted my invitation to chair the committee.

"I have invited the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party to nominate a member of the committee, and I shall announce the full membership shortly. I hope that the committee will be able to produce at least a first report covering the main areas of current concern within six months—and then stay in being as a standing body to advise the government of the day.

"It will be open to the committee to take evidence in public, though it could also invite evidence in writing, or in private, and would probably wish to deliberate in private. But the committee itself must determine that. Naturally, I would expect Ministers and Members of Parliament to give evidence to the committee if requested to do so; but I should make clear that the purpose of the body is not to replace the House's own machinery, which is the proper way to consider issues affecting individual Members of this House.

"The new body will advise on general procedures, including procedures governing public appointments, rather than investigate individual cases. When the committee has reported I will publish its report, I hope in full, lay it before the House, and take appropriate action upon it. Recommendations affecting Members and procedures of this House will of course be for the House itself to decide.

"I hope that I have made it clear that I am determined to ensure that this is a wide-ranging review of the safeguards of standards of public office.

"It is vital that the system is seen and recognised to be beyond criticism. I shall naturally make available to the committee Questions of Procedure for Ministers and any other documentation concerning the proprieties in Government that they may seek.

"This country has an international reputation for the integrity and honour of its public institutions. That reputation must be maintained and be seen to be maintained.

"I hope that the Standing Committee I have announced today will enjoy the support of this House and reassure the people of this country about our determination to maintain high standards of conduct in public life".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has just repeated a most sombre Statement. I am bound to say that my first reaction to the Statement is that it is about time. Up until recently, the Government apparently did not recognise that the problem even existed. However, we are now told that it is so bad that a major committee has to be established to inquire into all such facets of public life.

I have some questions to ask on the detail of the committee which I shall put to the Minister in a moment. However, I should like to say, first, that it is perfectly true to say that the country needs reassurance; indeed, I do not believe that any of us can have any doubt about that fact. I hope that the committee will go a long way towards providing that reassurance. But it will only do so if its deliberations are, on the whole, in public and the people know what the committee is doing.

Obviously there will be occasions when evidence will have to be taken in private. I accept that fact. However, the bias so far as concerns the committee should be for the evidence to be taken and tested in public and for as much of the committee's work as possible to be conducted in public and not in private. Indeed, much too much has been going on in private in this Administration.

I turn now to my questions on the detail of the committee. First, is the committee to have powers of subpoena, both in relation to individuals and to papers? If it does not, it would seem to me that its powers of investigation will be severely limited. Secondly, can I take it from the Statement that individual cases affecting Members of the House of Commons will continue to be investigated by the Privileges Committee of that House rather than by the new Standing Committee? Further, does that apply in the case of Mr. Hamilton? I have to point out that, three days ago, the Prime Minister did not seem to think that it was necessary for Mr. Hamilton to leave his Administration. However, today, apparently, the Prime Minister does believe that he should do so; and, indeed, Mr. Hamilton has done so.

I do not know quite what has changed, except for that rather elliptical phrase that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House used about some additional matters coming to light which, on reflection, Mr. Hamilton felt made it impossible for him to continue in the Government. I believe that the country is entitled to know the nature of those additional matters. Either it was a massive misjudgment on the part of the Prime Minister three or four days ago, or there is something about which we are unaware and about which, with respect, we should know.

I turn now to the scope of the inquiry and the matters that it is to investigate. Page 6 of the Statement refers to, Members of Parliament and UK Members of the European Parliament". I take it that Members of this House are Members of Parliament for the purpose of this committee's investigations. In that case, I also take it that, if one of the matters that is to be investigated—and it clearly is— is whether the Register of Members' Interests in another place is doing the job it should be doing, then the issue of whether there should be a register of interests for Members of this House is another matter which is now on the table before the committee.

In conclusion, I have to say—and it is a reflection rather than a question—what a mess. What a reflection after 15 years of the Administration of the party opposite that they now have to announce that there has to be a major cleansing operation of such magnitude. So far as we are concerned, if the Augean stables need to be cleansed, so be it; we will help with the hoses.

However, the Government will not be able—indeed, we will not let them and neither will the country—to evade their responsibility for the fact that the stables have to be cleansed at all. The dirt has accumulated not within the past six months but slowly over a long period of time. However, despite warnings given to them, the Government have done absolutely nothing about it. I hope that the committee will restore public confidence in the honour and honesty of our institutions. My goodness, that is sorely needed under this Government.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, we also are grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating the Statement. We welcome the establishment of the Standing Committee of inquiry and its scope and level. First, the fact that the Government have taken that grave step indicates that they recognise the dangerous undermining of public confidence which the drip, drip, drip of a series of scandals—some perhaps petty, some of them even squalid —has caused; in other words, its accumulative effect which has been extremely damaging and which points to some underlying malaise.

Secondly, I turn to the composition of the committee. We accept the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, as a distinguished judge who is to chair the committee. We note that there will be one member nominated by each of the three parties. However, the Government also reserve the right to appoint an unspecified number of other members. Will the Government consult as to the nature of those other members so as to ensure that the overall shape of the committee commands cross-party and widespread confidence? One of the difficulties which forms part of the background to the problems that we face at present is that the Government have a record of showing inadequate regard for anything except Conservative opinion in their appointments policy. It is important that that is not repeated in the composition of this committee.

Thirdly, will the committee have the right to recommend legislation? Surely its continuing function, which is specifically referred to in the Statement which states that it will advise the Government, should also be to advise and reassure Parliament and the public.

I turn now to the report of Sir Robin Butler, whom we all like and respect. However, I must express grave reservations as to whether sitting in even superficial— and this appears to have been rather superficial— judgment on Ministers is a suitable role, from his own point of view, for the Cabinet Secretary. He should not be turned into a cross between the Lord Chief Justice and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The behaviour of Ministers is a matter for the head of the Government and not for the head of the Civil Service. It is also undesirable that officials should be too closely involved in the political process. That is another unsatisfactory aspect of the way we live now.

The report itself does not seem very reassuring. It exonerated Mr. Hamilton, on his own ipse dixit. That exoneration appears to have stood for a few hours, or at most a few days. If the committee, rightly, is to concern itself with general policy and not with individual cases, it is important that individual cases should be properly investigated. It should not be the position that someone against whom charges are made should only have to wait until the next scandal comes along in a few weeks and hope that his particular problem will be buried. That has happened in the past to some extent.

I welcome the establishment of the committee and the fact that the Government are at last taking this grave matter seriously; but I should welcome replies and assurances from the noble Viscount on the points that I have raised.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Jenkins, for the general welcome which they have given to the committee. In particular, I am grateful for the welcome which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, gave to the idea that the committee should concern itself with general principles.

So far as concerns the individuals who have been named, a number of avenues are open. In your Lordships' House we are always careful about commenting on House of Commons matters. However, a number of committees, not merely the Privileges Committee but also the Committee on Members' Interests, can concern themselves with individual matters affecting Members of the House of Commons. If matters of graver import are brought before any other authorities, it is open to the authorities to take the appropriate action. Naturally enough, Ministers are not exempted, any more than any other subjects of Her Majesty.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that it was about time. I remind the noble Lord that as soon as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister heard about allegations concerning members of Her Majesty's Government he immediately referred the matter to the Cabinet Secretary. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said that the Cabinet Secretary is not a cross between a judge and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, he is not. However, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that the Cabinet Secretary is an entirely appropriate individual to conduct a preliminary investigation and to advise my right honourable friend on the appropriate action which might result from that inquiry.

Inevitably, there was little time to go into the details of those allegations. However, it was perfectly clear to my right honourable friend that there were matters which needed attention. As soon as the Cabinet Secretary's conclusions were made available to my right honourable friend—and three weeks was a remarkably short time in view of the complexity of the matters under consideration—he acted in the way which has been made clear to both Houses of Parliament this afternoon.

The noble Lards asked a number of specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked whether the committee would sit in public. I have to say to the noble Lord that that is something which we would very much like to leave to the committee. However, the noble Lord is right to say that openness in matters of this kind is desirable if there is no good reason for that not to be the case. While I cannot speak for the committee, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, will read what the noble Lord said.

The noble Lord also asked whether individuals could be subpoenaed. As yet, that is not settled. However, I shall make sure that the noble Lord's suggestion is brought to the attention of my right honourable friends. The only gloss which I would put upon my answer is that it is important that the committee should be given sufficient powers to carry out its job adequately. The noble Lord's suggestion will be taken urgently into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, wondered in particular whether individuals would be examined by the other place. The other place already has extensive powers to summon individuals. It is for the other place to exercise those powers, and it is not for the Government to circumscribe them in any way.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, also asked whether Peers would come within the scope of the committee's activities. So far as I am aware, your Lordships are Members of Parliament. I therefore have to conclude that your Lordships are indeed within the scope of the investigations of the committee. I am sure that your Lordships would not wish it to be any other way.

I turn now to the question of a register of Peers' interests. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, suggests that I should look behind me. I am perfectly certain that behind me there was nothing but a row of nodding heads when I made that remark! I detect from the reaction of the Opposition Front Bench that that must have been so.

Over the years the question of a register of interests for Members of your Lordships' House has become something of an old chestnut. Many of my predecessors, and indeed predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, have examined the question and rejected it for various reasons. I shall not go into those reasons now. All I shall say to the noble Lord is that in view of the current climate, it is clearly right that that question should be examined again. I should certainly be extremely happy, if it were the wish of your Lordships, for the matter to be raised at the next meeting of the Procedure Committee of your Lordships' House and a report to be produced in due course for discussion by your Lordships.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, talked about the composition of the committee. I agree with the noble Lord that the composition of the committee is extremely important. It is right that not only Parliament but the public should feel that the composition of the committee is of such a nature that it will satisfy the high standards of investigation which both Parliament and the public have every right to expect. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, will not be disappointed, in particular since his right honourable friend will be consulted on its composition.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, also asked me whether the committee would have the right to recommend legislation. The scope of the committee's remit is deliberately extremely broad. It necessarily follows that its recommendations will probably be very broad, too. It would be entirely open to the committee to recommend legislation if it so desired. Of course, it would then be for the Government of the day to consider whether such legislation should be introduced. However, we would be the last to suggest that the committee should have no right to make such a recommendation.

If I may, I wish to conclude by saying this. I apologise for having taken so long to answer the points made by both noble Lords. It is a matter of supreme importance to Parliament and the public of this country that they should have confidence in the institutions of public life and of government. I have to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is a shining example of honesty in public life. It is also extremely important that the administration over which he presides—the public administration, the local administration, and all the machinery of government of our country—in an age of supremely rapid change should not succumb to the pressures of today and should uphold the highest standards which the history of this country insists should obtain in our public life.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, if the statements contained within the earliest part of the Statement are accurate—I am sure that they are—then it was a most improper proposal for Mr. Al Fayed to make. I hope that the noble Viscount will convey to the Prime Minister that anyone knowing him would not have expected him, or I hope any of his predecessors, to have made any other response.

However, I wish that the Statement had contained what I believe to be absolutely true: that in the hysteria which has accompanied this matter in recent weeks the overwhelming number of Members of Parliament in another place understand perfectly well what is seemly behaviour in their dealings with other bodies and institutions. I do not believe that we should allow that possibility to go unchallenged in view of some of the statements made in the press today. I hope that that point will be made clear.

I wish to raise one point. The Government have chosen to cover a wide-ranging area. There is no doubt that there has been disquiet. I believe that it is the arrogance shown in their pursuit of patronage in relation to appointments to other bodies which has aroused much of that disquiet. I trust that the new commission will be able to make recommendations which will avoid such arrogance in future.

However, the commission does not cover one area. I refer to the infestation of our public life by the lobbyists who surround us in Parliament today. Perhaps I may ask the Minister this question. I do not see the issue referred to in the Statement. Will the committee be able to investigate the methods of work, the power and the influence of lobbyists in their activities in seeking to secure the interests of their clients or their members? I do not wish this House to become a monastic institution. It would be quite wrong for us to be cut off from every outside influence. I believe that people who have outside interests bring valuable experience to the House. But I believe that the activities of the lobbyists are extremely suspect. Will the committee be able to investigate those activities?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, for a number of the points he made. First, he recognises that outside experience is valuable to Members of Parliament. Perhaps your Lordships' House is the greatest shining example of that. It is perhaps the greatest collection of people with much outside experience of any legislative chamber anywhere. We all know how much your Lordships' House benefits from that experience.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord for his instant recognition of the impropriety of Mr. Mohammed Al Fayed's suggestion. I shall say no more on that matter.

I am grateful too for what the noble Lord said about the vast majority of Members of Parliament both in this House and another place. The noble Lord spent many years in another place; I spent very few. However, it is one of the great sadnesses of such moments—whether it is the atmosphere of 1994, Maundy Gregory, or other periods of scandal in history—that the overwhelming majority of honourable public servants are besmirched by the activities of a few. That is why it is important that we make sure that those few do not flourish, and cannot be allowed to flourish. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said.

With regard to his other two questions, the issue of patronage is clearly within the remit of the committee. So far as concerns lobbyists, the committee has a wide remit to investigate any activities or individuals who influence the conduct of public life. It seems to me that lobbyists come firmly within that definition.

Lord Colnbrook

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend to pass on to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister my feeling of pleasure—I believe that it is shared by many noble Lords —at the establishment of this committee with these terms of reference. It seems to me exactly the right type of committee because it can act speedily and, with the composition that we have heard discussed already, will command public confidence. I believe that it will be able to make recommendations soon. That, unfortunately, is very necessary at present. The current atmosphere in which allegations of all kinds, about all sorts of people, are being flung about almost daily, and avidly pursued by television, radio and press, whether or not there is any factor which substantiates the allegations, is extremely damaging to our democracy.

I hope that the committee will be able to re-establish our belief that our form of democracy is the best that there is.

I ask my noble friend to pass on one point. In any recommendations which the committee makes, I hope that it will not seek so to circumscribe those who hold any form of public office that they become totally removed from ordinary life. One of the charges that can be made against the "professional politician" is that he does not understand about ordinary people. If suggestions are made that anyone in public life should refuse to have any contact with ordinary people, that charge will be able to be maintained; and that will be a disaster. Therefore I hope that the committee will not make such a recommendation.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I shall of course pass on to my right honourable friend the messages that my noble friend asks me to do. I am glad that my noble friend likes the remit for the committee to act with speed and to report rapidly. I am also delighted to find that he supports the view of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, about the importance of outside experience in our public life. It is a message which I am sure will go out loud and clear and will be all the stronger because it comes from both sides of the House.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Viscount two questions. First, will the committee be able to examine the financing of political parties and the relationship between people who contribute to political parties and the political parties themselves? Secondly, the approaches made by Mr. Al Fayed were at least improper and perhaps illegal. Is any action being taken to refer the matter either to the police or to the Director of Public Prosecutions?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that there will be a general remit for the committee to examine the propriety and conduct of public life and that the specific financing of political parties at the moment will not be included within the remit of the committee. In addition, if there is sufficient evidence for any criminal prosecution to be taken on any allegation arising from investigations, whether by the Cabinet Secretary or the committee itself, it will be up to the proper authorities to refer it to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Earl of Carnarvon

My Lords, as someone who has spent some time in local government, I wish to congratulate the Prime Minister on the Statement repeated by the noble Viscount to the House. I am certain that all political parties involved in local government and all chief officers of local government will welcome the committee.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for what he said. I know that his experience of local government is extremely long and I shall ensure that the message he gives is transmitted to my right honourable friend.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, as regards honour, it is reasonable to assume that, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, in this country we have a much higher standard than other countries. That is perhaps why we are so upset when our standards lapse from the perfection that we demand. After all, it is only relatively recently that our standards of public life have increased to the present heights.

Having said that, there is a slight difficulty about the way in which we are going. If we make too many individual rules on honour as opposed to leaving it to people's sense of honour—hoping that they have one— we will possibly encourage a certain legalism in what is right and wrong. That must be avoided at all costs. Will the committee bear that in mind? Otherwise, my right honourable friend must be congratulated on being both right and honourable.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. That has always been one of the arguments advanced in this House against the institution of a register of Members' interests. I have already said that I would be happy for it to be discussed in the proper quarter. Of course, I agree with my noble friend Lord Onslow; I am sure that people who are involved in public life in this country have a fair degree of Grecian taste but a little more obvious Roman virtue would be more than welcome.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, returning to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, perhaps I may ask the noble Viscount about the financing of political parties. Given that he referred to the need to investigate improper influences, is he aware of the many allegations which have been made in that area? Does it not seem odd that the issue will apparently be excluded from the committee's work, even if the committee wishes to look into it? Will the noble Viscount consider whether, if the committee indicates that it would like to look into the matter—all the more so because, as I understand it, it will be a permanent committee—the Government will agree to allow it to do so?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that there are already arrangements in place to examine such matters. Those arrangements, particularly in relation to donations by individuals to political parties and any possible subsequent rewards for those donations that might be available, are already the subject of considerable scrutiny.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, following the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, can my noble friend tell me whether the membership of the committee will include someone who properly understands the working of local government? I feel that it will be important, in looking at local government matters, that that understanding exists in the committee.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend will take careful note of the advice which my noble friend has given. I fully understand the force of what she said and will draw my right honourable friend's attention to it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the noble Viscount agree that it would be most unfortunate if a convention or rule were to be introduced which obliged Ministers to resign the moment an unsubstantiated allegation of misconduct was made against them in the press? If that were to happen, government of this country—whatever the political complexion of the Government—would become impossible.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord has a point which is incontrovertible and I wholly agree with it.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question on a matter referred to in passing by my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. The remit of the committee is wide, it has a wide umbrella, and rightly so. We all know, however, that Ministers, Members of Parliament, lobbyists and anyone else are like dumb mutes unless what they say or do is expanded by the newspapers and all the various forms of the media. If the media misuse their powers, they are more dangerous to our standards and belief in our integrity than anything else. Will they come under the remit of the committee so that we can see that the matter is properly protected all the way through?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He will be aware that I have already described that the committee will have a wide remit. If it wishes to investigate the effects of the media upon public life, it would be open to it to propose to do so.

In addition, I should say to my noble friend that a considerable amount of work has been conducted, sometimes by Members of your Lordships' House, examining the position of the media. However, if we control the media too much there is a strong risk that it will become easier for interested parties to cover up much of the kind of allegations that have been made. We must always be aware of the importance in any parliamentary democracy of a free press.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, am I right or wrong in thinking that any suggestion that there should be a power to subpoena witnesses would require primary legislation? I should like to know the answer to that, simply as a matter of information.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I have to confess to my noble and learned friend that I do not know the answer. I hoped that he would be one of the people to whom I could turn for advice on the subject! However, since he cannot tell me the answer, I recognise that I should be able to answer it. I apologise for not being able to do so; I shall write to him on the subject with an opinion which he might be able to confirm or deny. I shall put the letter in the Library of the House.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, will the noble Viscount be good enough to answer the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition as to what were the additional matters which caused Mr. Hamilton's position to become untenable and which were not known three days ago?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, that is an entirely legitimate question from the noble Baroness. If she will forgive me, it is a little early for me to do that, for me to reveal all, for the very reasons that the noble Lord who spoke from the Cross Benches gave. It is important that when allegations are made, it is in such a way that they do not encourage baseless rumour, but at the same time, it is important that when they are made, it is in such a way as not to prejudice anything that may subsequently be judged.

Lord Richard

My Lords, with great respect, that is a most incredible answer. The additional allegations are raised by the noble Lord, not by this side. As I understood it, the part of the Statement which dealt with Mr. Hamilton's position made reference to additional matters which caused his position to be so eroded that he resigned. If that is what the Government say, we are surely entitled to ask what those matters are. I do not think that that is unfair. It is certainly not illegitimate.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I never said that it was illegitimate. I said that it was a perfectly legitimate question. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to correct that misapprehension. It is of course an entirely legitimate question. It is a specific allegation, and such allegations are susceptible to investigation by other bodies, and they will be so.