Personal Statement

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:26 am on 25th September 1992.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 10:26 am, 25th September 1992

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have attended many personal statements; explanations are in order. Why was the advice of Lord Rothschild and of the National Trust

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I respect the hon. Gentleman as a longstanding Member of the House, but he must respect the views of the House, too. He is not putting a point of order to me; he is simply making a statement, and I cannot hear it. The House and I are ready to hear the personal statement.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to let the House proceed and to hear the personal statement.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am on my feet. I ask the hon. Gentleman to respect the Chair and the views of the House.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney 11:01 am, 25th September 1992

I should like to thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for your courtesy in permitting me to make a personal statement. I apologise to those who are engaged in a serious debate on real tragedies in the world for interposing my altogether rather smaller matter, but I thought it right, having resigned, to give an account of myself to the House, rather than doing a round of press conferences.

I want to make it clear to my colleagues and Members of the House that, while I have my regrets, this is not a sad moment for me. After what my family and I have been through over the past two months, it is with almost a sense of relief that I make this statement. There were times during that period when one wondered whether one was living in Ceausescu's Romania rather than John Major's Britain, with bugged telephone calls and the other things that came out.

I want to make it clear to the House that I resigned for what I hope the House will agree was the best of reasons. I could not expect my colleagues in government or Parliament to put up with more of the ceaseless flow of stories about me in the tabloid press. Having grown heartily sick of my private life myself. I could hardly expect others to take a more charitable view.

When the first of this stuff started to appear in July, I made it clear that I was willing to resign from the Government. The Prime Minister, who has been a constant friend and has shown his personal qualities to the full throughout, decided not to accept my resignation, and that was the view of my colleagues. That offered me the opportunity to do two further months in my Department —an opportunity which I shall never regret having—in which we were able to do some important work on the Green Paper on the BBC, preparation for the national lottery Bill and so on. From then on, I regarded myself as, in effect, the servant of the Government and of the party and believed that if the time came when my presence was an embarrassment, that was the time to go, and the time to go was yesterday.

To those who think that I could have resigned sooner, I say that it was legitimate for the Prime Minister and other senior colleagues to take the view that in this day and age—sorry and distressed though I was at the revelations of this affair, and despite how cheap and sordid it must have looked—this was not a reason for a Cabinet Minister to resign.

Inevitably, there were other stories as it became clear that this matter would not be allowed to rest. I am glad to be able to leave office with its having been made clear that there has been no breach of ministerial rules. That is not to say that people are not entitled to challenge my judgment on the other issues that have been raised. I have to accept that, in the jobs that we do, one has to take a view and I do not resent the fact that some say that they would have taken a different view, just as others, in the same situation, would have done the same as me. It is clear that there is no question of impropriety, and I hope that I can leave office with that fact clearly established.

It will be for others to decide the rights and wrongs of this business. I certainly was the author of my own misfortune, which permits me to make this statement today. Perhaps of all the many good, bad and indifferent things that have been said to me, the one comment that I prefer was from the friend who said to me, "There is no self-pity". We make our decisions and must accept responsibility for what we do, and I can assure colleagues that there is no more heavy responsibility than laying down a burden of office that one enjoys in order to take responsibility for one's actions.

It will be for others to decide the role of the media. I have always been very relaxed about the media and have never taken the view that statutory interventions would be the answer. To be fair, most journalists and newspapers have behaved in the professional manner that one would expect in the circumstances in which they found themselves. Some hon. Members have been through the experiences that I and my family—who have been a tower of strength throughout all this, particularly my wife—have been through, but it has been an illuminating episode for me. Endless hordes of people appeared not only outside my home but outside the homes of relatives, friends and acquaintances. Extraordinarily offensive things were said in the context of those visits, and a lack of respect was shown for age and infirmity when pressing the point home. Legions of cameramen took 10 or 12 pictures knowing that none would appear and rushed around as if they were in a Rambo film, banging against the side of the car, and even stayed outside our house last night until the wee small hours, long after it was obvious that all we were trying to do was get a good night's sleep.

Perhaps that is the way in which an alternative criminal justice system, run by the media, should work, but when the criminal justice system, which we have all played our part in creating, was established, it had checks and balances and principles of fairness. Some will want to reflect on chequebooks being waved for stories, however lurid, on people being offered at the beginning of a conversation, "We would like to talk to you; we will make it worth your while", and on bugged telephone calls, which we now have to accept. That does not apply only to me. I should not play any part in that because I would be parti pris. I was determined on leaving office, just as when I held it, never to allow my own experiences to interpose themselves, but I think that they are relevant and interesting.

It is a paradox that, as the BBC said today, some tabloids—and it is only some—have expressed unre-strained glee at what has happened because of the sense that they have exercised power, but the issue is whether they exercise power with responsibility. The paradox is that the only basis on which this could be justified is that a greater public good is thereby being served. But can anyone explain the paradox that in serving a greater public good one is entitled to bug and buy and abuse and use methods that are, therefore, themselves amoral or at best morally neutral? At some point the House will have to consider that issue.

I do not want to detain the House much longer, but I have two or three further points. The first is that I have had 11 years as a Minister. I have thoroughly enjoyed them. I have been fortunate in that I have served in many interesting Departments, some of them in the cockpit of party-political debate and some of the more interesting ones giving me the opportunity to work with colleagues in all parts of the House on legislation that was important, relevant and non-partisan. I think of the Broadcasting Act 1990, the Children Act 1989 and the work on the misuse of drugs. I shall treasure these 11 years. My great sadness is that having had the opportunity to establish the Department of National Heritage, I will not now have the chance to carry on with that task, but I blame no one but myself for that.

Amidst the welter of charge and counter-charge, the one thing this morning that is of great comfort to me is the extraordinarily nice things that have been said by the people who have worked with me in my Department and by the interest groups that I have tried to serve. There is no doubt that I have had a genuine passion for what we have been trying to do in the Department, and, although it is entirely my own fault, I deeply regret that I shall not be able to carry on that work. In one of his last songs John Lennon wrote the following line which is always relevant to all of us: Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". As to the future, I hope and intend to be an active Member of the House. I intend to continue to serve the interests of my constituents. The people of Putney have been kind enough to increase my majority at each of the past four elections. They have stuck by me through this sorry mess, and I owe it to them at least to redouble my efforts on their behalf. That is what I shall endeavour to do as I try to fit in with the life and work of the House as best I can.

I should like to tell colleagues and friends here that last night, coming into the Division Lobbies to vote, I was offered tremendous acts of friendship by Members on both sides of the House. The House is at its best on these occasions, and that certainly made me feel a lot better about myself after what has happened.

Finally, as I leave the warmth of Government for the icy wastes of the Back Benches I want everyone to know that there is precedent for this: Captain Oates was born and raised in my constituency.