Committee of Privileges (Evidence)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:42 pm on 31st October 1994.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd , Aldridge-Brownhills 6:42 pm, 31st October 1994

The raw, corrosive view expressed by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is the one that the House must address. There is a crisis of confidence in the workings of the House, and we must address that if we are to preserve the House's authority. We make the laws, and if we are disreputable or perceived as disreputable, what authority can the law of our land carry? That is fundamental to our system of government.

The motion is reasonable, and I see nothing in the arguments against it. They gainsay public anxiety on a level that I have never before perceived. One does not lightly throw away the arguments of precedent, because they were argued and reasoned in their time. In the debate, we heard the echoes of yesteryear when they were reinforced again.

Hon. Members have spoken about natural justice, but have not the cases of my two accused hon. Friends who will come before the Privileges Committee been splashed in the most malign way, insensitive to the sensibilities of their families, their constituencies and the reputation of the House? Have they had the might to defend themselves against that? Not one of my hon. Friends has argued, "Is there not a man who wants to shout out in front of a committee, 'I am innocent'? Have I not the right to ask that hearings be in public? Is there not an opportunity to dispel the more sleazy allegations that are laid against one?"

The issue is of confidence in our system, and, as I have tried to emphasise, the outcome rests on our authority. The importance of the House, why we are here, is to attest to the respectability and responsibility of our people.

I spoke earlier about the making of laws. If we are perceived as undesirable, as people on the make who are here only for what we can get, the authority of our laws will fall. What else are we, as a democratic people and as ordinary citizens, but the instrument by which we perceive ourselves—the House of Commons? It is fundamental to get that right.