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Mr. Gerald Howarth: My right hon. Friend amplifies some of the points that I made last night. I am most grateful to him because he has put them even more succinctly than me. Given the grave importance of the issue, and if--it is a big if, as I said last night--there is another Labour Government, the proposed commissioners, who have had the opportunity by now of reading last night's proceedings, should tell us precisely how they would approach a referendum on the euro. They should try to reassure the House that they would be impartial. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should postpone consideration or voting on the motion until we have received such reassurances?
Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be as willing as your predecessor in the Chair this evening to accept a manuscript amendment during our debate to require the commissioners from the BBC to declare that they would take no part in and absent themselves from deliberations in the Electoral Commission about a referendum on the euro because of the biased nature of their former employer. That former employer is doubtless paying their pensions. I assume that the two relevant commissioners have a reasonable pension fund that is connected with the BBC. In those circumstances, part of their financial interest is with their former employer and paymaster, which will be leading a fanatical join the euro at all costs campaign. The commissioners must deliver the Government's prime aim of ensuring integrity and openness.
I want to comment on a side issue, which, I hope, is relevant. The permanent secretary to the Home Office was one of the people who was involved in the selection process and in reducing the list to 16. In his former life as head of GCHQ--the Government communications headquarters at Cheltenham--he was faced with the task of rooting out spies, getting to the bottom of matters of this kind, and uncovering leaks that would have damaged the safety and security of this country. Yet that same permanent secretary, aided by his successor at GCHQ, when confronted with the evidence possessed by all the press of a leak of the Macpherson report by the Minister of State, Home Office--the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng)--was unable to find the culprit, even on the seventh floor of the Home Office building.
Mr. Maclean: I accept your instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise if I have strayed from the strait and narrow. However, it struck me as relevant that one of those who were to select others on the basis of their openness, and their ability to probe the goings-on of political parties and find out whether we were spending money properly and sticking to the law--
Mr. Maclean: Exactly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I hope you will accept that the two issues are connected. To suggest that there may be a flaw in the ability of the selectorate may be to suggest that the person selected is not ideal for the job.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can help the right hon. Gentleman. There is, in a way, a connection, but I think that what we are now debating is simply the suitability of those who have been selected, by whatever means.
Mr. Maclean: Of course not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but let me put the onus on the Minister to reassure us--if it would be in order--that Sir David Omand, who was unable to find the leaker among his own Ministers, has, in selecting these people, been able to ensure a greater depth of scrutiny, and to assure himself that all six possess the necessary qualities. I want to know that Sir David could obtain, for instance, Sam Younger's full curriculum vitae and all the details of his background, so that he and other members of the panel could tell the Home Secretary that no impropriety was involved, and no blot on the copybook.
We have raised some important issues. As I said earlier, I have no particular worries about the individuals concerned. I think that they may be suitable for the job; I have seen no evidence suggesting that they are unsuitable. I have tried to suggest that there may have been others who were eminently more suitable, who could have provided a better balance on a commission that will apparently consist entirely of representatives of the BBC and the media generally. Unfortunately, those better people may have been disqualified from serving on the commission for 10 years by the fact that they had not stuffed the Labour party full of money and received their peerages and knighthoods. I look forward to the renewal of the terms in four years' time, in the case of Miss Pamela Gordon and Sir Neil McIntosh--not the Cameron Mackintosh who gives money to the Labour party.
I was going to say, in conclusion, that I looked forward to being back here in four years' time, when some of these people will be due to retire, although their appointments may be renewed. We shall then be able to suggest to the Minister the appointment of some of the other able people in the media and business worlds whose time bar will then have expired, because they will have paid their money and got their peerages or knighthoods and will therefore be eligible for service on the commission. They would have detailed knowledge of the workings of political parties because they knew to whom to give the money to get their gongs. Those may be the people who should serve on such a commission, in addition to the six worthies we already have.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I do not intend to detain the House long, but I would like to put a number of points to the Minister. First and foremost, he might be able to help me out and so, to a certain extent, curtail my remarks, if he assured me that some of the points that were raised last night will be considered. Or should we raise them again tonight to ensure that they are on the record?
Mr. Howarth: That is most helpful. I am grateful to the Minister. May I just remind him of the point that I made yesterday? I should be grateful if he commented on it. It was on the question of political party membership. Clearly, none of the six individuals is currently a member of a political party. They would be debarred had they given to a political party in the past 10 years, but someone who has been a member of a political party recently--for example, last year--would not be debarred from being a commission member. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us if he knew whether they have been members of any political party. I say that not simply to try to ensure
I see the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) in his place; he is a fellow member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which originally proposed the idea of an Electoral Commission. I know that he shares my view, despite the fact that he is a former journalist for The Guardian. He has been trying to go straight since he came here and repent of his many sins. No doubt he, too, would like to ensure that the appointees are genuinely independent.
Let me return briefly to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) about the BBC, Europhilia and the position that Sam Younger and Glyn Mathias may take on the issue. I repeat what my right hon. Friend said because it is important that Labour Members should understand how we feel about the matter. It is not that we believe that people in the BBC are necessarily committed to the Europhile cause and will do all that they can to promote it in contradiction of their obligation to be impartial, which the corporation's charter lays on them. It is that they come with a mindset. We can detect that from the way in which some of the presenters address the issues and question politicians from different vantage points, according to whether they are federalists, integrationists or believers in the sovereignty of these islands. Those presenters genuinely do not seem to understand how things appear to us and to the ordinary listener, who is concerned about those issues.
It is imperative that we are clear about where Glyn Mathias and Sam Younger stand on this issue. I cast no aspersions upon them. This is not a witch hunt and I am not suggesting that they are not men of integrity. We have all seen Glyn Mathias on television. I happen to have a rather higher regard for the World Service than for any other part of the BBC. I listened to Argentina's surrender during the Falklands campaign on a portable radio in Lagos, Nigeria. It was a wonderfully proud moment to hear Lillibullero coming over the airwaves and the wonderful words, "This is London", with all the authority that the BBC World Service commands. It is not--