Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2001
(Mr Major) And I understand that concern, but I am
not entirely sure I share it. I am trying to remember whether
it was Oscar Wilde or not who asked a lady whether she would spend
the night with him for £1 million and she wondered about
61. George Bernard Shaw.
(Mr Major) He then asked a similar question for a
much lesser sum, sixpence let us say, at which point the lady
was outraged and said, "What do you think I am?" "Well,
we know what you are," said Shaw, "all we are haggling
about is the price." The analogy I would draw from that is
that this House has the right to know that such speeches are being
made and whether he is being paid sixpence or more seems to be
less relevant than the fact that such speeches are being made
should be known. The key again turns upon what the subject is.
Was it arising from his membership of the House or was it arising
from his general public profile which preceded his membership
of the House? That is not clear. I think it is at least as arguable
that it is the former as it is the latter. I think in the case
of former Ministers that is equally the case, not necessarily
just Prime Ministers but former Ministers. There are former Ministers
on both sides of the House and former senior members of the Liberal
Democratic Party as well who make such speeches. I am perfectly
sanguine about the effect of that being known but I do not see
why they should have to declare the amounts and be caught under
the relatively artificial ambit of an "employment agreement",
and again I put that in inverted commas. If they are earning extra
money doing something additional so are lawyers and so are many
other people. We are not asked to declare, nor should we in my
judgment, how much we earn. I keep coming back to the crucial
point. The point at issue is are they abusing their membership
of the House? I do not think that they are. I think that is the
crucial issue. I think there is a danger of over-regulation and
there is a danger of asking for such informationI know
some people feel strongly about it and I dare say you dobut
there is a general disadvantage to the House of Commons if we
get ourselves into that position. I would not like to discourage
people from coming to this House because we have got a system
of regulation that begins to become too invasive.
62. In the case of the lawyer, the fees he charges
for representing someone in court relate a client. It is a matter
between the client and lawyer. Surely you cannot compare that
with a Member of Parliament who can go out and earn hundreds of
thousands of pounds on this speaking circuit, when almost entirely
(certainly in the case of the Mayor of London) all that income
arose out of discussing matters relating to the House of Commons
and activities in the House of Commons.
(Mr Major) But you have just raised a new dimension
in the content of the speeches. Speeches that many other people
make bear no relationship to their work as a Member of Parliament.
The rules at the moment state quite clearly are they "providing
services in their capacity as an MP"? It is arguable if they
are making speeches about currently political matters in this
country that they are, that is arguable, but if they are making
speeches unrelated to domestic political affairs in the United
Kingdom as they currently are, if they are talking about historical
matters or foreign affairs or international economics, then they
plainly are not providing a service in the form of a speech in
their capacity as an MP. I come back to the point I made at the
outset; one has to be clear what the definition means. Some people
may fall within the definitionand as you have re-described
it perhaps that case doesbut in other cases it certainly
does not. If your point clarifies anything, it clarifies the need
for the rules to be unambiguous and to state what qualifies as
a "service in their capacity as a Member of Parliament".
For example, suppose the person concerned, a mythical MP, is not
talking about current political events but about something utterly
unconnected with politicsI happen to spend a lot of my
time (not in paid speeches, I hasten to add) talking about the
Magna Carta, it is a particular interest of mine, I know a certain
amount about itunless he has been a Member of Parliament
since 1215 it unlikely to relate in any way to his membership
of the House of Commons.
63. John, to my mind you have set up a compartment
in which what you do somehow is unrelated to Westminster.
(Mr Major) It would be improper to give you names
but I could give you, and so could the Commissioner, the names
of ten other Members who fall into that sort of capacity, maybe
64. Ken Clarke may be in this box as well that
you are seeking to erect. I cannot see how you can separate foreign
affairs, economics, whether it is domestic or international, and
perhaps even the Magna Carta from the very institution of Parliament.
We are not talking here about nuclear physics or engineering or
aspects of chemistry which clearly are totally unrelated. What
you are talking about in your speeches are matters deriving directly
from your activities as a Member of Parliament and formerly Prime
(Mr Major) What does "in their capacity as an
MP" mean? What does "may offer advice about parliamentary
matters" mean? That is what the rules say. That is the rule
you are trying to link onto these miscellaneous Members of Parliament.
Are they offering advice about Parliamentary matters if they discuss
the Magna Carta? Certainly not contemporary, that is for certain
sure. Are they doing it in their capacity as an MP? MPs have lives
outside the House of Commons as well. The point where I agree
with you is if they are making speeches that involve advocacy
of one sort of another relating to current political or economic
events under consideration by the House of Commons and Ministers,
then you are plainly right, but if they are not I think you are
catching people that ought not to be caught. In order to deal
with a few you are catching the many.
65. If we take the nuclear engineer who does
the "rubber chicken" circuit
(Mr Major) We must get you a few more invitations
and then you will know what is it is called.
66. If we take a nuclear physicist I could understand
you putting that case, but you are not; you are putting the case
for you and a number of your colleagues
(Mr Major) Let's be quite clear about that, I said
expressly earlier that ex-Prime Ministers do fall into a different
67. I withdraw that.
(Mr Major) I have not come here to plead my particular
case. After all I am leaving the House of Commons. The next ex-Prime
Minister may have this problemwho knows whenbut
I am not going to have it.
68. You are putting the case for a group of
Members who will perhaps come later but they will all be talking
on matters which relate to matters which are dealt with in Parliament
such as foreign affairs. They are those sorts of areas, they are
political areas. Would you be doing this circuit if you were not
a Member of Parliament?
(Mr Major) Yes, and I will be doing it when I am not
a Member of Parliament.
69. On what basis? If you had not been
(Mr Major) That is a different questionif I
had not been a Member of Parliament. Are you suggesting that I
should register when I am no longer here? Of course you are not
because I will not be making representations, and nor am I nowexactly
70. What I am saying to you is if you had not
been a Member of Parliament and had not been Prime Minister (which
arose out of you being a Member of Parliament) you would not be
invited to make all these speeches on matters relating to economics
and international politics. Whereas the nuclear engineer would
have been in a completely different category because he would
have been a nuclear engineer before he was elected.
(Mr Major) You are forgetting what the rules are for
and you are forgetting from whence the rules came. The rules were
built up because of a distaste for paid advocacy and consultancies.
That is where the rules came from. I think you have battened onto
it your puritanical distaste for people making large sums of money
out of making speeches.
(Mr Major) Maybe not.
72. They can earn it but they should reveal
(Mr Major) What you should batten onto it is the idea
that they have to submit copies of "employment agreements"
because they are providing services in their capacity as an MP.
They are not doing it in their capacity as an MP and neither,
in my judgement, are they offering advice about Parliamentary
matters. If their speeches are offering advice about Parliamentary
matters, then you are right, but I think in many cases they are
not. I think the generalist rule that they all necessarily are
because they happen to be a Member of Parliament is not sustainable.
73. I can only finally say that you are arguing
that in the case of the Mayor of London
(Mr Major) Forget the Mayor of London. I do not know
the details of that case. It was a flippant illustration which
I am beginning to regret. It is the general principle not the
Mayor of London case. You dealt with that case, not me.
74. In the case covered by the Seventh Report
of this Committee, the fact he earned £220,000 in 18 months
should not necessarily be made public?
(Mr Major) It depends what the speeches were about.
75. They were about Parliament.
(Mr Major) I do not know that. If you mean on the
general principle that a Member of Parliament makes money by making
speeches, should they necessarily declare the amount, I would
say only if that money directly relates from services they have
offered relevant to their membership of the House of Commons.
If they relate to other matters the fact that they made speeches,
fine, but it is too invasive to ask them to declare the amounts
and I refer back, thanks to my erudite colleagues on my right,
to the George Bernard Shaw illustration.
76. Can I make a point of clarification, Chairman.
John, you referred to the fact that you had been given wrong advice
(Mr Major) No, I do not think I was.
77. At one stage what you said was that where
wrong advice was given that should not be held against an individual.
Do bear in mind that when we dealt with the reference of your
case, it so happened that when it arrived in the Committee I was
temporarily chairing itand no doubt the Chairman would
have given exactly the same rulingand a rule was given
straightaway that where a Member had acted in good faith on wrong
advice then this Committee would never find a Member guilty.
(Mr Major) That was specifically set out in the Committee's
report, but I do not think I was given the wrong advice because
the Committee upheld the advice I was given by the previous Registrar,
but the danger exists that that could happen. That was probably
the point I was making. I cannot remember at this distance in
time. I have no criticism of Roger Willoughby, I think he gave
me good advice and I think the Commissioner confirmed he gave
me good advice in her report, and this Committee acknowledged
it. It did set down the useful principle that Members would not
be criticised if they acted in good faith, which I think is a
Chairman: We are very grateful to you
for your valuable evidence.
Mr Bottomley: I think I should point
out that while Mr Major was giving evidence about the Magna Carta
the debate in the House of Lords was about the role of Parliament
in calling government to account, which is not quite Magna Carta
but it is getting close.
Chairman: Thank you very much.