Previous Section Index Home Page

23 July 2007 : Column 608

Members Sworn

The following Members made the Affirmation required by law :

Virendra Kumar Sharma Esq., for Ealing, Southall

Philip Wilson Esq., for Sedgefield

23 July 2007 : Column 609

Point of Order

6.1 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, could you advise me of what procedure there is, when a Member of this House has been responsible for activities which have cost the public £1 million, for bringing him here on a charge of wasting police time?

Mr. Speaker: That is certainly not a matter for me.

23 July 2007 : Column 610

Standards and Privileges

Mr. Speaker: Before I invite the Government to move the motion relating to the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, I wish to remind the House that references to all right hon. and hon. Members should be in proper parliamentary language. The Chair will offer the customary protection to all Members, in particular the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), in the course of this debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

6.2 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your earlier remarks.

I want to begin by apologising to the House for the fact that the important business that was transacted before we came to this matter necessarily had to be truncated because this is going to be a significant piece of business that must finish at 10 o’clock. Thus hon. Members who wished to speak on the devastating flooding that is inundating their constituencies were not called or had to be more succinct than they would have preferred. The great issue of public housing, which is the flagship of the new Labour Prime Minister’s first term—at least I hope it is his first term—had to be dealt with in a very perfunctory manner because of the other business that awaited. We have dealt with the important issue of intergovernmental relations within the European Union. We have had the happy occasion of the entry into the House of two new Members, just as one long-serving Member is about to go out the door. It just goes to show that as one door opens another one shuts.

I apologise for the fact that after this mighty labour, which has brought forth really quite a little mouse, we now have to spend four hours, as we shall, discussing this matter. There was no trace of irony in the report. I suspect that that is because British baronets do not do irony, or at least not very well, and that there will not be much trace of irony in the speech that is to follow mine. Once the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had decided, as he said not once but six times in his report, that, in the course of a four-year investigation described by the Committee as being of unprecedented length and complexity, he had found no evidence of any personal gain by me, this whole story became a dispute about the funding of political campaigns. Being lectured by the current House of Commons on the funding of political campaigns is like being accused of having bad taste by Donald Trump or being accused of slouching by the hunchback of Notre Dame. This House stands in utter ill repute on the question of the funding of political campaigns.

23 July 2007 : Column 611

I shall develop that argument later. Suffice, for the moment, to say this. The police found a document with a list of secret lenders to the Labour party, every single one of whom was nominated either for a “K” or for what Lord Levy described as a “big P”. This Parliament is stuffed full of political parties that were in turn stuffed full of secret loans and donations from millionaires or billionaires. None of the parties here—all three of them are culpable, a matter to which I shall return—ever asked the millionaires and billionaires who gave and lent them money where they got the money from. I am tempted to give just one example. Richard Desmond is a substantial benefactor to the Labour party. Did the treasurer of the Labour party ask Richard Desmond from which part of his considerable wealth he was donating handsomely to new Labour’s coffers? Did the treasurer of the Labour party—I apologise to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for the language that I am about to use—ask if Mr. Desmond was giving from the profits of “Spunk-Loving Sluts”, “Asian Babes”, XXX pornographic television, or the profits of the Daily Star

Mr. Speaker: Order. As I said, I wish to give the hon. Gentleman as much leeway as I can, and I promised—of course I would do this for any hon. Member—to make sure that he has the protection of the Chair, but we are discussing the report of the Standards and Privileges Committee. The matters that he is raising at the moment are not relevant to that report, and he must come back to it.

Mr. Galloway: With respect, Mr. Speaker, they are highly relevant. It is a question of glass houses and people throwing stones. It is a question of a committee of politicians criticising me for political fundraising when they themselves are responsible for political fundraising on a gigantic scale, from the most dubious of sources, in which they never applied to themselves the standards that they seek to apply to me in this report. It is a question not of standards, but of double standards. The more worldly members of the Committee may know that it is now known as the double standards Committee—the double standards in defence of privileges Committee.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that all members of the Committee acted in good faith. They were nominated to that Committee by the House and conducted their affairs properly. There has been no complaint whatsoever about the way in which they have conducted their affairs. In no way can I tolerate any hon. Gentleman—I know that feelings are running high for the hon. Gentleman—saying that they indulge in double standards. They do not.

Mr. Galloway: Mr. Speaker, you say that there is no complaint whatsoever, but I have one, and I wish to lay it before the House and the country. It would surely be intolerable to forbid me to argue that the Committee has acted unjustly because of the notion—

Mr. Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman says that he feels that the Committee has acted unjustly, he is legitimately able to put that case, but to say that it indulges in double standards is to say that it is acting in
23 July 2007 : Column 612
dishonourable way. If, the hon. Gentleman says that he has not had justice, put that case. You are highly articulate and you are able to do so. I know that from the period of years that I have known you. I say to you that having a complaint against the Committee is one thing, but you are entitled to say that you have not had justice without attacking the good character of any Committee member.

Mr. Galloway: I am really in a bit of a difficulty here. If I am saying that I have not had justice, that means I have been treated unjustly. How can I argue that I have been treated unjustly without alluding to the fact—

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman can put the case that he felt that he was treated unjustly; I understand that. It is for the House to decide after this debate finishes whether it feels that the strength of argument is with the hon. Gentleman or with the Committee.

Mr. Galloway: Indeed, and I am just 10 minutes into what I am afraid is going to be a long speech, which has now been regularly interrupted by a teasing out of what is in order and what is not. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that there is considerable interest in this debate in the country, and I do not think that the country would consider it had been well served by the House of Commons if a Member who is about to be thrown out was not allowed to proceed with an argument against that—one which he had come here to make. I appeal to your spirit of generosity, because it will not be possible for me to make the case that I have been treated unjustly without criticising the way that I have been treated. I know that the notion is that we are all honourable Members here, but I am accused of being dishonourable, and it is not possible for me to defend myself without dealing with the way in which I have been treated. I hope that I will be able to make my case—always, of course, at your direction, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker knows how much I respect him personally. I respect Parliament. Having spent 20 years in Parliament, and having been five times elected to Parliament, I consider the words “Member of Parliament” to be the most honourable appellation that it is possible to wear in this country. I respect the fact that I have been elected to Parliament five times—always against the odds—from the beginning, when I defeated the now-deceased Lord Jenkins, right through to the last occasion, on which I became the first Member of Parliament in England to be elected from the left of Labour for 60 years.

I respect Parliament. I respect the Select Committees of Parliament, even though I never managed to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, or that of any other previous Speaker, in order to be appointed to one. Despite my areas of expertise, I never reached those pinnacles. I respect the Standards and Privileges Committee, but that does not mean that I can honestly tell you that I respect every person currently in the Parliament. It cannot mean that I respect every decision made by a Select Committee. It cannot mean that I must respect the findings of this Committee, which I consider—and I am not alone in this—to be unjust. When considered as a whole, it is an example not of standards, but of double standards, and not of privilege, but the defence of the privileged. That is the case I want to make this evening.

23 July 2007 : Column 613

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can help us; I shall try to put this neutrally. The report suggests that the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the Committee, and believes that it is a politicised tribunal, but I understand from the report that he has no objection about the commissioner for standards, or his judgment, process and conclusion. Is that a fair representation of the hon. Gentleman’s views?

Mr. Galloway: Alas, no. In fact, the opposite is the case. My complaints against the commissioner are even more trenchant than the complaints I intend to adduce against the Committee. If hon. Members will allow me to proceed with my case, I think that they will find some justice in what I have to say. I am accused in the Committee’s report—indeed, I am sentenced by the Committee to 18 days’ suspension—precisely because of the way I have conducted my defence against the accusations made. It says that in black and white. Rather surprisingly and sensitively, it states that if it were not for the way I had conducted my defence, I would merely have been asked to apologise to the House. I am being suspended for 18 days because of the way I conducted my defence. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it has caused you some anxieties already this evening.

I want to make the case in my speech, which I warn the House will necessarily be a long one, for the reasons why I conducted my defence in the way that I did. I shall begin, if I may, with my criticism of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, who, in one of the delicious ironies—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am very reluctant to keep interrupting the hon. Gentleman. In these situations, I usually leave hon. Members who have had an accusation made against them to develop their case, but I could put it to the hon. Gentleman and the House that there is a long tradition of not attacking individuals, such as Officers of the House, who are not able to defend themselves. I remind the House that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language.

Mr. Galloway: Mr. Speaker, this is now beginning to verge on the ridiculous. I say again that there are many people watching this debate this evening who would like to hear my defence against the charges of the standards commissioner, and the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Although you do so in the gentlest way, Mr. Speaker, if you are to come over the ball at me every time I make a couple of yards advance in my argument, we will really get nowhere. I cannot criticise the conduct of the inquiry without criticising the conduct of the person who conducted it. I shall try to do so as temperately as I can, but it will be seen as an attempt to gag me—as an attempt to silence me.

Mr. Speaker: I have known the hon. Gentleman for 30 years, and I do not think that I have the power to silence him. I do not think I have been able to do that. All I am saying is that the House has given me a set of rules that I must abide by, and see that they are enforced. It is not an attempt to gag the hon. Gentleman, but he must abide by the rules that Parliament has given me. I am the custodian of the rules, even in a situation such as this.

23 July 2007 : Column 614

Mr. Galloway: Mr. Speaker, Dr. David Kelly was a civil servant who could not defend himself, and look what happened to him. Are we really saying that an important official of the British state, who has conducted a four-year inquiry into me, cannot be criticised because of the position that he holds? That will not seem tenable to the public in the country. It might pass muster here, although not, I suspect, with everyone, but it surely cannot be the case that I cannot develop my criticism of the commissioner’s inquiry into me, because I am gagged as far as mentioning the commissioner—the man who carried out the inquiry.

I am sorry that those things are causing you difficulties, Mr. Speaker, but I am now 18 minutes into my speech and have barely been able to get started with the critique that I want to make of the way in which I have been treated. I am, after all, being excluded from Parliament. It is not a small thing. I am, after all, about to face the situation in which my constituents’ Member of Parliament is banished from the building—a building in which I have sat for 20 years. I really would like to explain why I believe that I have been treated unjustly. I promise that the public will not understand the attempt to shield people from criticism, when I am the one who is being excluded from Parliament.

If I may continue; in one of life’s delicious little ironies, the parliamentary commissioner turns out—I am grateful to The Daily Telegraph for this—to have once been the principal private secretary of the present Lord Hurd, who, in the 1980s, sat on the sofa with Saddam Hussein, helping to facilitate, as you will remember, Mr. Speaker, having been here with me, the supergun. Remember it—the arms to Iraq affair? That was the period in which the British Government were best friends with Saddam Hussein and I was outside the Iraqi embassy in London, demonstrating for human rights and democracy. That was the first of the ironies, but it is not the last.

The commissioner is commended in the report for the assiduous way in which he conducted his inquiry, but yesterday we could discover in The Guardian that Mr. Andrew Murray, the chairman of the Stop the War coalition, which organised the massive demonstrations of millions of people in London, and the communications officer of Britain’s mightiest union, UNITE, which was formed through the merger of the engineers’ union and the Transport and General Workers Union, of which I had the honour to be a member in good standing for 33 years—a very considerable figure in the land—was not interviewed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. That was despite the fact that he was a founder of the Mariam appeal, an officer of the Mariam appeal and a trustee of the Mariam appeal. He was never interviewed by the commissioner, who either interviewed or sought to interview every other person who held such positions. Why did he not interview Andrew Murray as part of his inquiry, which was so assiduous, long and complex? Was it because Mr. Murray would have been able, as he did in The Guardian, to set him right about a few things? I believe that that was the reason. The only alternative reason is incompetence, inefficiency and inattention to detail. I am sure that you would not like me to draw that conclusion, Mr. Speaker.

I fell out badly with the parliamentary commissioner—very badly. I am going to develop the reasons why, and when I have finished, even if they cannot say so, many hon. Members will be sympathetic to the position in
23 July 2007 : Column 615
which I found myself. I fell out with the parliamentary commissioner when I read the transcript showing how he fawned on one of the witnesses, Mr. Tony Zureikat—about whom much more later. I am attacked in the report for having criticised Tony Zureikat as a malevolent fantasist. When I have finished bringing to the attention of the House what Mr. Zureikat said, which I demonstrated beyond contradiction to be lies, hon. Members will understand why I described him as a malevolent fantasist. Yet one of the reasons I am being suspended this evening is that I so robustly pursued his lies, and debunked them, to the point that every time I debunked a lie the witness was described by the commissioner more and more as peripheral. “Peripheral” was the word that he used; but it turns out in the end that such witnesses—and there are more—were not peripheral, because they were used as corroborators of the central charge against me, on the subject of the political funding of the Mariam appeal campaign.

Even more seriously, I fell out with the parliamentary commissioner over the missing part of the transcript of my discussion with him. It turns out that I was right about that, at least if I read correctly the feint—the sleight-of-hand—reference to it in the report. Let me tell you, Sir, what happened. In my meeting with the parliamentary commissioner, the subject of the so-called minute of my meeting with Saddam Hussein in August 2003 was being discussed. I asked for the provenance of that minute. Miss Alda Barry, a civil servant of unimpeachable integrity, whom I have known in this House for 20 years, said that apparently there was a tape recording of the meeting. Yet when I received the transcript there was no reference to a tape recording of the meeting in it. I asked the commissioner over and over again why the reference was not in the transcript. “Why don’t you ask,” I said, “Miss Barry, a person of unimpeachable honesty, whether she said it, and if she tells you that she said it, why don’t you now insert it into the transcript?” Answer came there none. So far as I am aware, Miss Barry was never asked whether she had said what I know she said, what she knows she said, and what the commissioner must know she said. Why was that not in the transcript? I suspect that it was not there because it was not convenient, because there was and is no tape recording. Therefore it was highly inconvenient for a senior civil servant like her to have said that there might be a tape recording of the meeting.

There is much more of that in the report, when we get to it, but I ask hon. Members honestly to reflect: if something important had been said at a meeting with the parliamentary commissioner where you were the accused, but it was not in the transcript despite your repeatedly asking—accepting that stenographers can make mistakes—that the person who said it should be asked whether she said it, and, if she did, that it should be inserted in the transcript, how would you feel about the person responsible for the omission? I suspect that you would be as angry about it as I am. Yet, as I have said, in the final report it is acknowledged that Miss Barry made the comment—but by sleight of hand, so as in no way to exculpate me of my criticism of the commissioner for its omission. The Committee wants to have its cake and eat it: to set the record straight with an en passant remark that would, if I had not adverted to it this evening, not even have been noticed, but still to condemn me for criticising the commissioner who left the remark out in the first place.

Next Section Index Home Page