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Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Before we leave the question of unwisdom, should not the House have some explanation as to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) on the matter of leaks from the Committee? To some of us, that seems very unwise.
Sir George Young: I take the leaks seriously, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) says. I have launched a leak inquiry. I hope that he will discover who leaked those documents as the leaking of them is damaging to the investigative process and the integrity of the Select Committees.
Returning to the matter of the punishment, we reflected carefully on the appropriate punishment. We did as Sir Gordon Downey proposed and had a tariff before us of all previous punishments. We were anxious to be consistent and to be fair to the hon. Gentleman and others who came before us. We unanimously agreed on the punishment, which hon. Members are now considering. It is for the House, not the hon. Gentleman, to decide whether it is disproportionate.
The report was not rushed out, as the hon. Gentleman asserted on Friday. The commissioner's report was completed on 13 December, two months before her term of office ended. It would have been submitted earlier if the hon. Gentleman had co-operated. I vigorously reject the claim that our report was rushed out to meet a deadline. We sat for many hours in January and February to complete it. We wanted to do that sooner rather than later because we believed that it was in the interests of the House and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman to conclude our inquiry. However, nothing was rushed about our proceedings and, as Chairman, I resent that implication. No voice went unheard, no argument was stifled. We deliberated responsibly and fairly, as hon. Members would expect.
The hon. Gentleman said, "Natural justice should prevail." Our findings against him show that he was perhaps ill advised to make a plea for natural justice. His strategy appears to have been to throw mud at the
We know that the hon. Gentleman has little time for the commissioner. The House is not debating her report, but that of the Select Committee. We read the commissioner's report and the annexes, we interviewed the hon. Gentleman and read all the documents that he presented to us. We then asked ourselves whether his behaviour fulfilled the code of conduct that the House has set.
In two similar debates, I said that the House is a forgiving place if an hon. Member admits that he has made a mistake. Even at this stage, the hon. Gentleman appears unable to acknowledge that he has done anything wrong. He has failed to apologise to Miss Eggington for what happened.
Our conclusion that the hon. Gentleman committed serious breaches of the code of conduct and contempt of the House was reached unanimously. We also unanimously concluded that he should be suspended for one month. I believe that we have been fair to the hon. Gentleman and to the House. I ask the House to endorse the Committee's report.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I want to make a small but important point, which I hope will be helpful. I have not read the whole report; I suspect that few hon. Members have. However, I read the summary with great care and anxiety. Paragraph 50 states:
We have to ask whether the relationship between the code of conduct that applies to ordinary Members properly interrelates with the ministerial code that the Prime Minister issued in July 2001. Several aspects clearly need reviewing in the light of the case. I appreciate that that is not the Committee's responsibility, but the Leader of the House is responsible for representing the House's views to his colleagues in the Government.
Even the seven principles of public life, which are set out as an annexe to the ministerial code, do not provide the clarity to which we are entitled. They mention a number of qualities, including selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability and openness. Openness seems to be the most applicable to this case, and to the report from the Committee. The part of the code dealing with openness reads as follows:
All that I ask is that the Leader of the House gives us an undertaking that there should be a review of the interrelationship between our code of conduct and the ministerial code. They cannot be completely separated. Ministers have authority only under the House and under our parliamentary democracy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an undertaking that this issue will be reviewed as a matter of urgency.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has fully accepted the findings of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. I think that the whole House accepts the Chairman's statement that the report was drawn up with all due consideration and no undue haste, and that it was unanimous. Clearly, however, findings of this kind will cast a long shadow over the reputation of any Member of the House.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I say a few brief words about the report and the punishment that it advises. I have known my hon. Friendand his mother, a redoubtable woman who, in another era, would have been an MP of a peculiarly frightening typefor more than 25 years. This is a serious report and its findings are serious, but it is also the case that my hon. Friend has always been a conscientious and hard-working Member for all the people of his constituency, and he remains a very popular Member to this day.
Much has been made of my hon. Friend's relationship with the Asian community. Some of the allegationsboth in the report and in the pressturn on that relationship. I remind the House, however, that when my hon. Friend entered the House in 1987, he was the only Member of Asian descent in this House or the upper House. For years after that, he dealt with casework from the Asian community across the midlands, and raised issues of policy in relation to the Asian community across the country. I hope that the findings of the report will not detract from the diligence with which he has pursued those issues and helped those many thousands of people.
I first entered the House in 1987, along with my hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), and the then Member for Tottenham. It is hard to look back now and remember the euphoria with
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): This is indeed a sad occasion, as the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has just said. My view, for what it is worth, is that I would rather that there were no Register of Members' Interests or Committee on Standards and Privileges. I take what I recall to have been Enoch Powell's view on the Committee when it was set up, which is that we are trusted by our constituents to come here, and that we should be honourable people who can be trusted. About four years ago, a Labour Member informed me that he had been told that the rottweilers were after me because I had registered my disapproval of an action by the Prime Minister. We all dislike witch hunts; they do not add to the esteem of the House, and neither does this sort of occasion. I would rather that this did not happen, but, sadly, we do not live in an ideal world.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) is a neighbour of mine in Leicestershire. That is why I am speaking in the debate, and why I submitted two complaints to the Standards and Privileges Committee, both of which were upheld. The hon. Gentleman and I have always had perfectly cordial relations, and I should hate to think that anyone believed there was a vendetta against him on my part or on the part of other Conservative Members. That is not the case. Indeed, it has been alleged that to make the complaints is in some way racist. That is not the case either. I made the complaints because in Leicestershire, as in all constituencies, allegations will be passed to a Member of Parliament if someone does not like what is going on in a neighbouring constituency and cannot obtain satisfaction from his or her own MP.
As I have said, both my complaints were upheld, although the Committee described them as not serious. I take issue with that slightly. My first complaint was that the hon. Gentleman had not registered a £3,000 donation from the Caparo company, or from Lord Paul, in 1993. That had been in The Sunday Telegraph some time last year, which is why I raised it. I hasten to add that I do not criticise Lord Paul in any way; but the explanation given for why the donation had not been registered was unacceptable.