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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to have got in through the back door, when I thought that I had bolted the front door. However, he had some encouragement from the right hon. Member for
Let us consider the key point in the report: did the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West receive a cheque or not? I think that it is beyond any reasonable doubt that he did so. We have seen the invoice on his own private notepaper. We have seen clearly that it was receipted and paid. In those circumstances, it is a little surprising that the Committee did not follow Elizabeth Filkin's recommendations. If it had done so, we would be talking about a suspension not of three weeks, but a lot longer.
You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, unfortunately and regrettably, we have had debates similar to this one in recent years. Previously, hon. Members who have erred have rightly been punished, often by suspension. However, the mere three weeks' suspension in this case is in no way proportionate to the hon. Gentleman's misdemeanour, which has been confirmed by Elizabeth Filkin, Tom Bower and, most important, Mr. Aldous, the completely independent inspector whom the then Department of Trade and Industry asked to look into the affairs of Hollis Industries, the then Paymaster General and the companies of the late Robert Maxwell.
There are serious lessons to be learned. In future, the Committee must take a tougher stance when it is dealing with serious offences. I entirely endorse what has been said by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) about the need to throw out frivolous cases. I also support what the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said about the need for the guidelines to be reviewed. We are, however, considering an immensely serious case. My constituents and most people outside the House will think that our procedures are something of a closed shop and that we have joined together, patted the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West on the head, said "Dear, dear, you made a modest, rather rambling apology; at least it was a little longer than the statement that you made at the Dispatch Box last time" and then suspended him for a mere three weeks. That approach brings the House into disrepute and we will live to regret this day.
What has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire about the report and the role of the Department of Trade and Industry and its then Secretary of State needs to be explained with greater clarity. I should like the Leader of the House to pay a little attention to these remarks, as what happens on the Floor of the House is his responsibility. We need a statement and then a debate. It is intolerable that the independent inspector's report has not been published. It raises questions about the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that can be properly resolved, in his interests, only when we see the report and have confirmation from officials about why they did not let him know about its seriousness in respect of the tax allegations and related matters. I accepted his assurance that he knew absolutely nothing about the detail of the report, even up
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the report should be made public, not least because, until the matter of the £200,000 payment is cleared up, the pensioners and minority shareholders in the companies that were involvedA. M. Lock Ltd. and Hollis Industries plccannot be certain of their true position?
I am very cross because, like my hon. Friend, I can remember entering my constituency office and finding Maxwell pensioners in tears. Many had never met or worked for the crook Maxwell, but their companies had been taken over by him after they retired, and they suddenly found that they had no pension to live on. That was a disgraceful state of affairs. That is the sort of man we are talking about; never forget that he was the most evil crook and it is a great pity that he was ever elected to this House for one Parliament.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee and the Committee members to reflect further on whether they genuinely think that this sentence is long enough. The Committee should reflect on what the hon. Member for North Cornwall said about a debate on and a review of the guidelines, because I entirely agree. In the interests of his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that there is a proper debate on the DTI report and that that report is published so that it clears the air.
Mr. Levitt: To put some of the right hon. Gentleman's earlier comments into context, will he acknowledge that the sentence is the second heaviest that the Committee has recommended since it was set up in 1997?
I do not believe for one moment that we have seen the end of the matter. The fact that the sentence is only the second most serious that the Committee has recommended confirms to me that it is totally inadequate.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I rise to support the findings of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and the able speech of its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). We have also heard a fulsome apology from the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) for the two findings of the Committee against him. That would normally be an end of the matter. This House has a certain dignity in handling such problems. Where an hon. Member has been found
Today we are faced with a rather bigger conundrum, which is deeply unsatisfactory for the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West and for the rest of the House. We heard the hon. Gentleman state categorically, as he did when he appeared before the Committee on several occasions, that he did not receive the payment. We read in the Committee report that it cannot rule out the fact that he might have received the payment, but that it did not have the overwhelming weight of evidence that it would have liked to be able to determine the matter one way or the other.
That means, unfortunately, that this debate today, and whatever may ensue, does not draw a line under all of the issues that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have been voicing. For the sake of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West and the rest of us, the Government owe us a fuller statement on all the circumstances surrounding the Hollis company and the Maxwell group of companies with which it had a working relationship so that we can get to the bottom of the issue.
It is possible that the answer is already known to the Department of Trade and Industry. It would be normal, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said with considerable force and eloquence, for the DTI to sanction a full inquiry under section 432 of the Companies Acts. I remember when I was a Minister responsible for such matters in the DTI, when I had to make difficult judgments, and advise the Secretary of State accordingly, as to whether we should go for a full public inquiry into a set of problems or one of the private inquiries available under another section of the legislation. The overwhelming case against section 432 was always and only that it could damage a live trading company which might not be guilty of the charges that were being investigated, but could suffer severe commercial damage if it were widely known publicly that it was being investigated.
Clearly that does not apply in this case. We are talking about investigating companies and events from some time ago and things have moved on, so that these companies' reputations or trading could not be damaged further by knowledge of a full public inquiry.
I urge Ministers, for the sake of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West and of the rest of us, to publish what they know already, especially if it answers the $100,000 or £200,000 question at the heart of this debate, or to order a full public inquiry, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells has urged more than once, with the express intention of getting to the bottom of this issue and the many others that remain on the table in relation to the pensioners, the other trading companies in the Maxwell group and the various rights and wrongs.
Many people think that wrongs were committed, but there are no wrongdoers. That is very unsatisfactory. A proper Government inquiry could establish with acceptable certainty whether wrongs were done, and then go on to say who was responsible, so that other action could be taken if necessary. It is certainly important for the hon. Member at the heart of this debate that the DTI should assist us in answering the £200,000 question: whether the money was receipted into an account operated by him or one of his companies.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, the case would be much more serious were it to be established that the hon. Gentleman had misled the House over a payment, in addition to the two charges that he has accepted today. I am prepared to accept his word, in the spirit adopted by the Committee, but I understand that the Committee was unclear about the exact nature of the payment and where it went. We need to clear that up to lift a shadow from someone or some company and attribute the blame where it belongs.