Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards from Mr Tony McWalter MP
Following our telephone conversation on the above
matter, I believe it behoves me to put on the record my disquiet
about reports that a Member or Members placed bets on the outcome
of the above election. I hope it will prove within your powers
to investigate these claims and if there is substance in them
to take appropriate action to preserve the good name of the House.
My disquiet arises because my votes for the current
Speaker were in some ways marginal decisions. I thought he had
been the most effective Deputy Speaker, but I had to think very
carefully before making that judgement. I thought also he spoke
well in the debate on October 23rd, but there were a large number
of matters on which I would have liked to know his views but which
I was not able to ascertain from what one might call the official
record. I am strongly in favour of what is called modernisation,
for instance, but as it happens I am rather in favour of historic
formality in ceremonial aspects of proceedings of the Housewhat
one might call the gown and wigs agenda. What I was interested
in was voting for a candidate who seemed most likely to support
reform in two areas. First, I wanted a Speaker who would recognise
that a long summer recess now makes it more difficult for conscientious
Members to perform their duties, and that adjustment of the Parliamentary
day would provide scope for reform of the Parliamentary day. Secondly,
I am concerned that the current regime with respect to office
costs has many deleterious consequences, and among other things
it forces MPs to be poor employers.
Given that I wished to cast my vote for policy reasons,
the fact that Mr Martin had not attended the hustings meant that
I had to ask other Members, particularly those involved with the
Modernisation Committee, where Mr Martin stood on issues I was
concerned about. Those Members gave me the kind of assurances
which made it much more likely that I would vote for Mr Martin.
I do not know whether any Member to whom I spoke
had placed a bet, but clearly if it turned out that one of them
had done so I would feel that was a major breach of trust. I suspect
very strongly that none of them had placed a bet, but that then
raises a different issue. If a Member had placed a bet, then he
or she would be effectively excluding himself or herself from
communicating to other Members information which perhaps should
have been vouchsafed. If for instance someone knew something negative
about a candidate on which he or she had placed a bet, even staying
silent when that candidate was being praised in the tea-room could
be regarded as an omission performed in a financial interest.
I think all of this reflects badly on any Member
who placed a bet on an event which he or she could not only influence
through a vote, but whose outcome he or she was in a position
to influence, whether or not that Member chose to exercise such
influence. Such action in my view does bring the House into disrepute,
and I say that even if sadly it turns out that it is a colleague
(or colleagues) who were involved in such action.
I now ask you to consider action, should your investigations
elicit that indeed a Member or Members did bet on this outcome.
There are two cases. First, where a Member bet on and voted for
Mr Martin. Secondly, where a Member bet on Mr Martin, but who
then voted for other candidates particularly in those votes which
were regarded by most Members as decisive (the closer votes).
The former case is clearly more serious, but even the latter should
in my view be an offence, since even if you do not vote personally
for a candidate you could influence several Members to vote for
that person, and hence Members are in a position to help secure
victory for a person on whom they might have placed a bet.
In the case of Member who bet on and voted for a
certain person (which I suspect is the more likely event), I do
think that it is likely that the person did not see at the time
the sense of outrage which would be felt by those whose votes
were in part decided by conversations with other Members. In my
view it would be condign to ask the Member to apologise to the
House and to confirm that any winnings will be transmitted to
a charity not of that Member's choosing. I would hope that we
could then make this an offence to be dealt in future by suspension
from the House. In other words, I am asking for leniency to be
shown in this case, if as I suspect the behaviour was unwitting,
but I would not want that leniency to establish a precedent.
I am very sorry that we seem to be forced to make
rules on this matter. I would have thought it obvious that one
ought to adopt a disinterested stance with respect to such proceedings.
I note that in one of the publications which depicts
the character of Members I am described as something of a puritan.
While I am pleased at that description when it comes to some matters,
for example the use of foul language, I want to emphasise that
I am not of puritanical disposition when it comes to betting or
gambling. I accept that betting can be a pleasurable activity,
and I took to heart some years ago the late Iain Macleod's judgement
that one should pay rubber bridge for the maximum stakes one can
afford. My objection comes, not as an objection to betting as
such, but to the action of betting on a process in which it is
assumed that one is acting in an honest and disinterested way.
The disinterestedness arises because in the election for Speaker
all Members are assumed to be voting entirely on what is for the
best for the House, and hence on what is best for the country.
Betting comprises that irrevocably, and in future (in my view)
it should be subject to the strictest sanctions.
4 November 2000