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 Mr. Galloway, in the course of this debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House—
(i) approves the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 909); and
(ii) accordingly suspends Mr George Galloway, Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, from the service of the House from Monday 8th October for a period of eighteen sitting days; and in calculating that period paragraph (3) of
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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.
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 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—
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.
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.
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. 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—
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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—
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
Even more serious is this: the commissioner said to me, "There was an employee of the Mariam appeal by the name of E. Laing. She was paid £13,000. Do you know who she was?" I said, "No. I have no idea. I've never heard of E. Laing". "Let me put to you", he said, "the suggestion"—although allegation would have been the correct English word, because the suggestion of an illegal act is an allegation—"that E. Laing is your former wife, Elaine Galloway", who happens to be a respected civil servant working in Her Majesty's Treasury across the road. The point was that the name "E. Laing" on a cheque could easily be altered to the name "Elaine Galloway". In other words, the suggestion was that she and I had been involved in what can only be described as a criminal conspiracy to defraud of £13,000.
When I asked the commissioner who made that suggestion, he said, "I have forgotten". I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and every Member here to search their hearts on this. Does anyone really believe that a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards involved in a four-year investigation of a Member of Parliament can hear a suggestion of criminal behaviour against that Member of Parliament and then forget who made that suggestion? I put it to you that it is impossible that he forgot the person who made that allegation. Only if he was a bungling nincompoop could he have forgotten who made that suggestion or, more properly, allegation. I am sure that you would pull me up if I were to describe Sir Philip as a bungling nincompoop, Mr. Speaker.
It turned out that E. Laing was the personal assistant of the director of the Mariam appeal, who told the commissioner that he did not know who E. Laing was—I will come to that later. It turned out that E. Laing was paid, perfectly properly, by the director of the Mariam appeal as his personal assistant, but that that was just not the name by which she was commonly known.
Did the commissioner apologise to me for the suggestion that I had been involved in a criminal fraud? No. Was I irredeemably angry with the commissioner about the episode thereafter? Yes I was, and so would any of you be. If any of you were asked such a question—if any of you were implicitly accused so unjustly and in such a way—you would be as angry about the person who made the allegation as I was. You would be even angrier when he did not have the courage to tell you either who made the suggestion or that he could not have told you the name. That would have been perfectly acceptable. If he had said, "Well I'm not able to divulge the identity of the person who made the suggestion", that would have been a perfectly defensible position. But to claim that he had forgotten who made the suggestion made me very angry indeed.
The commissioner also ambushed me with documents. He had had two days notice of them before my meeting with the Committee, but he sprung them on me at the meeting in a coup de théâtre—his Perry Mason moment. That made me angry, too.
Even more serious than anything that I have said so far, however, is that the commissioner claimed that he was involved in an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial inquiry; and yet he refused point blank, over and over again—a refusal endorsed by the Committee—to pursue the existence of forged documents about me that emerged in Baghdad in the very same week and in the very same city, and which passed through the hands of a journalist from the very same newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. I refer to the forged documents published by The Christian Science Monitor and almost published by The Mail on Sunday in England. By the way, Mr. Speaker, those documents looked really authentic. They were on proper headed notepaper, with the right margins and the right terms, and were written in the correct style and signed by the correct people. The documents even almost got it right about my whereabouts vis-à-vis Iraq, on the dates that they suggested that I had gone to lift $20 million personally in cash, corruptly, given to me by two sons of Saddam Hussein. Those documents were very plausible and convincing. They emerged in the same week, in the same city, in the hands of the same newspaper— The Daily Telegraph—that published the infamous stories about me.
Not only that, but the identity of the man who gave the documents to The Christian Science Monitor and to The Mail on Sunday is known. His picture was in the paper and his address is known to our men in Baghdad in the embassy. The commissioner steadfastly refused to inquire as to why that general had either constructed those forgeries himself or passed them on to newspapers and on to Philip Smucker, the journalist concerned—a Daily Telegraph stringer who worked also for The Christian Science Monitor.
I asked the commissioner to send our people from the embassy to interview that general and ask him on whose behalf those forgeries had been produced and why that had been done. The commissioner said that he would not do so, because those forged documents were not in the complaint filed by Mr. Robathan, even though the same commissioner went on, for almost four years, to examine and inquire into practically everything other than Mr. Blaby's complaint.
I said, "It must be relevant that forgeries about me were produced". We know that they were forgeries. The newspapers concerned accepted that they were forgeries. Harvard university tested the ink on the documents and proved that they there forgeries. That was possible in the case of those documents because, unlike The Daily Telegraph documents, to which I shall return, they were original documents and not photocopies or, later, faxes. It is inconceivable that a man carrying out an inquisitorial examination of such an important affair would not even try to find out who was responsible for the forgeries against a Member of this House. In fact, it is inconceivable to me that when those forgeries were exposed such a man would not have wanted to know why a Member of this House was the victim of such a conspiracy.
It is sometimes said, and was said by members of the Committee—I hear them saying it now, sotto voce—"Oh, as far as you're concerned it's just a big conspiracy". But we know that there was a conspiracy. It is not an allegation by me—we know that there was a conspiracy. The documents were published in The Christian Science Monitor and almost elsewhere—I stopped the presses at the last possible minute, only by giving my passports to the editor of The Mail on Sunday, for which I then worked, to prove that I could not have been in Iraq on some of the dates on which it was suggested I had lifted that money.
It is inconceivable that anyone carrying out an inquisitorial investigation would not seek to investigate examples of parallel behaviour, yet the commissioner refused to do so on the utterly fatuous ground that they were not covered by the complaints made by the hon. Member for Blaby. He clung to the credibility of witnesses whom I have proven to be telling lies. He accused me in his report of not co-operating, yet Members who can bear to do so can go through his correspondence with me and not find a single trace of unhappiness on his part about the level of my co-operation. Indeed, as late as the end of last year, he was thanking me, and he was not just grateful, he was "very grateful" for the way in which I was co-operating with him. The truth is that, because they found no evidence of personal gain by me, they switched the goalposts and made an attack on my conduct in defending myself too successfully through the course of this inquiry, driving liars' evidence to the periphery, where they now claim that it rests.
The commissioner claimed that there was a discrepancy in my account in The Mail on Sunday of my meeting with Saddam Hussein in August 2003. He had to drop that, once I had drawn to his attention my book, which I had given him on the date of publication, in which I laid out exactly the circumstances of who was present and who was not at my meeting with Saddam Hussein. However, he claimed that there was a discrepancy that never was.
The commissioner even said that there was a discrepancy in my attitude to the Telegraph documents, to which I shall return—I told you this was going to have to be a long speech. Those documents were never an issue in the libel case against The Daily Telegraph. Throughout, the commissioner had more faith in The Daily Telegraph's documents than The Daily Telegraph did. If The Daily Telegraph had had any confidence in its photocopied documents, it would have made them its defence in the trial, but it did not do so because it knew that that would fail. There is no discrepancy at all in how I have described those documents. I said at the time, and I still say now, that those documents are either forgeries or an example of someone corruptly doing business in Iraq behind my back, without my knowledge and using my name. I say, as I said on the first day, that there is no discrepancy here. I said on the first day that, whatever the case, whoever produced the documents, whenever they produced them and for whatever reason, the information in them is false. There is no discrepancy in that at all.
One of the issues that came up during the investigation, which I had not known before, was that there was a power for the hon. Gentleman to ask that the commissioner should not investigate alone before the matter went to the Committee, and that an investigatory panel comprising the commissioner, a lawyer and a senior Member of the House should do the job, possibly to give a bit more authority to the investigation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he considered using that process and, if he did, why he rejected it? It seems to me that it would have been a worthwhile initiative for him to take, because it would have brought some independence from this building to the investigation.
That is exactly the point to which I shall now turn. In fact, the power to do that lies with the commissioner, who may do it, or with the Committee. If the Committee asks the commissioner to do that, he must do it. There is no power on my part to insist on such a panel. Perhaps there ought to be.
As I said at the beginning, I am being suspended for 18 days, and the Committee has singled this issue out because I described it as a politicised tribunal. Of course it is a politicised tribunal. How could it be anything other, when it is composed of politicians? It is po-faced, pompous and preposterous to ask the public to believe—as the Chairman of the Committee asked me to believe—that the individual politicians on the Committee leave their politics at the door. That flies in the face of everything that we know about ourselves, and of all the history of the existence of this Committee— [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members shake their heads. I shall have to educate them with some recent examples. Perhaps they were not here at the time. My problem is that I have been here for a long time and have an elephantine memory. I remember when the very considerable brain of Mr. Willetts—forgive me, I forget his constituency—[Hon. Members: "Havant"] I remember when the very considerable brain of Mr. Havant, when he was a Government Whip, revealed that the Tory Members of the Standards and Privileges Committee had wanted the Whips' advice. Because he is so clever, his defence was: "No, it was not that they wanted our advice. They were in want of our advice as they proceeded with the business in front of them."
Then there is the matter of the former Home Secretary, John Reid and the former Member for Cathcart, our old friend, now Lord Maxton. They appeared in front of this politicised tribunal, but they were lucky. The politicised tribunal trying their case threw out the parliamentary commissioner's findings using the ingenious device of changing the burden of proof that should have been applied to the allegations against them. That parliamentary commissioner, Miss Filkin, then got the sack for having had the temerity to take on the powerful. I predict that the current commissioner will not get the sack. In fact, he has just been promoted. I do not know where you go from being a knight of the realm; perhaps he can get elevated to the House of Lords without having to make a campaign contribution. But Miss Filkin got the sack because she prosecuted the case against the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts and the former Member for Cathcart in a way that the politicised tribunal of Members of Parliament did not like, and every person in here knows that that is true.
Even if the Committee were composed of saints—we will see in a minute just how short of sainthood some of them are—they would, by definition, be party political saints. I had no friends on the Committee. I am the sole Member of Parliament for my party. I said that this was a politicised tribunal, Mr. Speaker, and you know that I mean it when I say it. I swear before God that this is true: I made the comment about this politicised tribunal before I had even looked to see who the members of the tribunal were. Once I knew who they were—
There is an issue here, because I understand that a conspiracy is afoot. Will the hon. Gentleman just tell me whether I am part of that conspiracy, as I would really like to know?
I am coming to you in just a minute—not you, of course, Mr. Speaker. I suppose I have to call him the hon. Gentleman—he has sneaked up on me. [Interruption.] You were sitting over there the last time I looked. I warn the hon. Gentleman that just because there is a lot of him and not many of me, he need not think I am outnumbered. Short-sword fighting is my speciality—believe me. I never made it into the armed forces, but I can handle the hon. Member for Blaby. No one should worry about that.
Once I looked at who was on the Committee on Standards and Privileges, I could not believe my eyes. Mr. Dismore was one of them—a fanatical supporter of Israel, against which I have fought all my political life. Is it really true that he left his politics at the door when he was judging me? Does anybody really believe that?
Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that on many occasions Members have had to gather together to look at a case independently and when they do so, they leave their private and political views behind them. Whatever organisation the hon. Member for Hendon supports is irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman seems to be encroaching on saying that there was motivation other than the evidence of the case being put before the Committee. The hon. Gentleman cannot say that because the hon. Member for Hendon is a supporter of the state of Israel, he did not give a fair hearing to the case, based on the evidence put before him.
Order. I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. In a less heated situation, I would not allow anyone to attack the honour of an hon. Member—and I cannot allow it in this situation either. The support that the hon. Member for Hendon gives to the state of Israel or any other political view he expresses is perfectly legitimate: he is quite entitled to hear a case on the Standards and Privileges Committee.
The point I am trying to make, Mr. Speaker, is that the Chairman's claim that members of the Committee leave their politics at the door is unsustainable. I can tell you that the hon. Member for Hendon used to heckle me when I was making speeches on his own side. He used to heckle me during my speeches, even though we were members of the same party. In any sane system—
Order. I have known many members of the same party to heckle the hon. Gentleman. I have already said that I have known him for 30 years. That is what happens—and the hon. Member for Hendon is not alone in that respect. The hon. Gentleman has questioned his motives, but the hon. Member for Hendon is an hon. Member who is entitled to sit on a Committee that takes evidence—it is an evidence-taking Committee—and he would do so in an impartial manner.
Well, that may be true in theory; but it is my case that it is not true in practice—and it could not be so, because we are politicians. It is not credible—I mean literally incredible and it will be seen by the public as incredible—that this Committee will deal impartially with someone who is regarded, particularly on the Labour side, as a heretic and who was expelled from the Labour party for political reasons and who leads a party whose councillors took seats from the Labour party. Indeed, I defeated the Labour party in an electoral campaign into which the Labour party threw everything, including the kitchen sink. The Labour party is much preoccupied with which Labour Minister I am going to stand against at the next election. All I can tell you is that he is in the building right now. The idea that Labour people could be unbiased about me in all those circumstances is ridiculous. It is true only in theory, Mr. Speaker, that someone who is as passionately in favour of Israel as I am against it would leave their politics at the door.
Another example is Mr. Barron, with whom I battled for years regarding his role, in tandem with Robert Maxwell, in the setting up and smearing of Arthur Scargill—president of the union of which I am an honorary member and the right hon. Gentleman is an expelled member. The idea that all that would be left at the door is ridiculous. When Tam Dalyell and I were trying to expose Roger Windsor, the British intelligence agent in Arthur Scargill's office during the attempt to smear him, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley was Maxwell's man, who could be found here actually selling books at half price from his parliamentary office. The idea that he could be—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going too far. [Interruption.] Order. The noise in the Chamber does not help when I am trying to speak to these matters. The hon. Gentleman is making personal attacks on members of the Committee. That is wrong and I cannot allow it. The hon. Gentleman may complain that I have interfered too much, but I promise that I will not interfere again if he gets back to the report before us, rather than the personalities of individual members of the Committee.
Order. What I am seeking to do is to help the hon. Gentleman. If he feels that he is being attacked, it is via this report. If he speaks to the report and rebuts it, I can assist him in every way, but attacking hon. Gentlemen on the basis of who they are connected with or what books they are promoting is something that I cannot allow. If the hon. Gentleman intends to go through every individual member of the Committee on Standards and Privileges and do the same thing, let me tell him that I cannot allow it.
Of course, I hear what you say, Mr. Speaker. Having dealt with the hon. Member for Hendon and the right hon. Member for Rother Valley, I will leave this line of argument—or particular seam that I have been mining—at that. I think that the public know the truth about these issues and if they do not, they can read Seamus Milne's masterpiece, "The Enemy Within", about the miners' dispute, who was who and who did what in it. I have been a proud member of the National Union of Mineworkers—south Wales area, Mardy lodge—these last 25 years. I am very proud of that, which is one of the reasons why the right hon. Member for Rother Valley and I do not get along very well.
A politicised tribunal is what I say it was, Mr. Speaker. If it were not a politicised tribunal, why did I learn of its establishment from the media rather than from the parliamentary commissioner or the Member who made the complaint? That Member was on my left a few minutes ago, but he has now disappeared. I predict that he will pop up somewhere over there any minute now. I hope so, at least, as I have much to say about him.
I learned of the existence of this inquiry from the media and I learned of its conclusions from the media. I did not need to wait for the Chairman's report, which was published on the Tuesday, because I read it on the front page of The Sunday Times on the Sunday. Given the closeness of new Labour to Mr. Murdoch and The Sunday Times—the sewer of choice for so many such things—I knew that it must be true.
Apparently, it is not a politicised tribunal, but a Committee on Standards and Privileges, yet it is so unconcerned about the breach of privilege implicit in that lack of standards that an hon. Member being inquired into learns of his fate from the newspapers. When I wrote to the Chairman complaining about the leak, he answered me without even referring to that leak, so unconcerned was he at that fact that his Committee of non-politicians, his unpolitical campaign, his depoliticised Committee leaked the conclusions of this inquiry to The Sunday Times before it had time to publish the report. And you ask me to believe that that is not politically motivated! Mr. Speaker, what other motivation could there have been for these 10 pristine Gentlemen, as I must now refer to them—what reason could there have been for one or more of these 10 paragons of virtue and honour—leaking the conclusion of this report, other than a political reason?
Order. I know that it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman, but once again he is questioning the honour of members of our Standards and Privileges Committee and makes an accusation that a leak came from one of them. That is not necessarily the case. My experience in Parliament is that many, many people have their eyes on documents. What I am trying to say is that it could go beyond the members of the Committee. I am not making any accusations, but the situation of the leak, which I deprecate, does not allow the hon. Gentleman to question the honour of the individual members of our Committee.
Mr. Speaker, you began these proceedings by saying that you would protect me, but every time you have been on your feet it has been to protect the Committee or the Parliamentary Commissioner. If I had said that the leak had come from a civil servant, you would, on the basis of your previous intervention, have told me that I must not impugn the integrity of a civil servant. Now that I am saying that I believe the leak came—
Order. The best thing that the hon. Gentleman can do is not to seek to twist the words that I have used. I am in a difficult situation today, and I am trying to help and assist the hon. Gentleman to put his case, but he must abide by the rules that I have been given. He cannot question my judgment on the case that I put—that the motivation of hon. Members of this House should not be questioned in the way that he is questioning it.
I am really at a loss, Mr. Speaker. The report was leaked on the front page of The Sunday Times: ergo, somebody leaked it. Based on what you have said, I may not impugn the integrity of a civil servant and I must not allege that one of the Committee members leaked it. That only leaves the printers. Is it all right to impugn their integrity? I tell you candidly: not only do I believe—not only does any sensible person believe—that it was neither the printers nor the civil servants who leaked it, but I believe that it was leaked for political reasons by a Committee that you are asking me to accept is non-political.
Order. I have to give a warning to the hon. Gentleman. He is defying my ruling and is very close to being named. This I do not want to do, but this is what he is doing: he is defying my ruling, and he will be named if he wishes, as he says, to seek to mine this particular seam. I urge him not to do so, to move on and to get back to the report.
Of course I must obey your ruling, Mr. Speaker, because I do not want to be named because I do not want to be thrown out of the House an hour or two before I am going to be thrown out of the House anyway. We all know that that is what is going to happen.
I said that I was a short-sword fighter, but I am a short-sword fighter in Spartacus's army. It is Caesar's legions gathered here tonight who are going to expel me from the House. Everybody knows that that is true. Everybody knows that I am going to be expelled from the House this evening— [Interruption.] Some say, "Get on with it." I am trying to get on with my case, but I am not having as much success with this audience as I suspect I may be having beyond these walls—
I have spent 10 hours on live phone-in radio this week, in front of hundreds of thousands of listeners— [Interruption.] My pay is in the Register of Members' Interests—I thought Mr. Jones was a friend of mine; it appears that he has joined the legions.
There were 10 hours of live radio, with hundreds of thousands of listeners, and I am here to tell you, in case you do not know, Mr. Speaker, that this report has sunk like a stone and has no credibility among the general public. It is popular in here, I can tell, but it has no credibility among the general public, in part because they suspect that which I am trying to prove to them, if I am able to develop my case.
I am not able to say who leaked the report, Mr. Speaker, because of your ruling and your threat to name me, so I can only say this: it was leaked. I wrote to the Chairman of the Committee complaining about the leak. He replied to me without reference to the fact that it had been leaked. I then replied to him to say how outrageous it was that he had not even referred to the leak, at which point he wrote to me again saying, "I am instituting an inquiry into the leak." But of course the story was leaked on the Sunday before polling day in a by-election in which my party was a contestant.
I just ask you this, and ask you and other Members, Mr. Speaker, to answer it honestly in their hearts: would this Committee have published such a report against the leader of the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties two days before polling day in a by-election in London? Every one of you knows that it would not. A kind of freemasonry would apply, and we know about that, Mr. Speaker, you and me— [Laughter.] Of course we know it as victims, not as practitioners of those black arts; we know it as those who have been on the end of their discrimination and bigotry. Does anyone really believe that if this report had been about the leaders of the other parties represented on the Committee, it would have been published two days before polling day? You all know in your hearts that it would not, and it would not therefore have been leaked on the Sunday before polling day.
Now, Mr. Speaker, you will be glad to know that I intend to move on to the report. I warn the House that I have even more to say about that. I am going to start with—I suppose I must call him the hon. Gentleman—the hon. Member for Blaby, on my left, who is moving around the House on manoeuvres, you might say. It was the hon. Gentleman who made the complaint against me. I have here the letter with which he made the complaint:
"Further to our telephone conversation this afternoon, I note that you have yet to receive a request to investigate the extremely serious allegations made by the Daily Telegraph against George Galloway MP.
Since serving in the last Gulf war in 1991, I have been very interested in the situation in Iraq ever since"—
I apologise for his English. He is a soldier. I merely left school at 17, like you, Mr. Speaker, to go and work in a factory—
No wonder he wants to draw a veil over this English, which is now enshrined for ever in the history of this Parliament.
The letter says:
"Since serving in the last Gulf war"—
I cannot resist reading it again—
There are many new Members in the House, Mr. Speaker, so let me tell them about the organisation Indict. Indict was a political campaign to indict the former leaders of Iraq. It was foreign-funded to the tune of millions of dollars by the United States Government.
"That's all right, then," as the hon. Gentleman says. The organisation was funded to the tune of millions of dollars from the United States Government. The complainant was a member of it. There, he met a lot of Iraqi opposition figures. It operated from this House. Parliamentary facilities, I surmise, were used by its members—their offices and telephones. I do not know if the computer was invented then, but perhaps their faxes were used—and perfectly properly, as these were hon. Members engaged in a political campaign that happened to be foreign-funded to the tune of millions of dollars.
I am more interested in the Iraqi opposition figures that the hon. Gentleman met therein. Who might those Iraqi opposition figures have been? Let us speculate.
Order. That is not a point of order, but a matter for debate. The hon. Gentleman might catch my eye later—some time later, by the sound of it.
The verbal facility of the hon. Member for Blaby is not even as good as his written facility.
I do not why anyone would want to deny it; everybody here knows that MPs use parliamentary resources for political campaigns. My hon. Friend Mr. Purchase, whom I respect very much, sent me a document this week in the internal post every word of which I agree with, and which I wholeheartedly support, on the campaign against city academies. I hope I have not got him into trouble. Everybody in here knows that every Member involved in a political campaign uses parliamentary facilities in part, whether they have an office somewhere in south Lambeth or not.
The right hon. Lady shakes her head; that is even more extraordinary. She was the chairman of Indict. If she is going to claim that Indict never once used parliamentary facilities, I will risk being named by you, Mr. Speaker, because no one in their right mind could believe that the campaign that the right hon. Lady led for years never once used parliamentary facilities in pursuit of its objectives.
I simply want to put the record straight. Indict was an organisation funded not just by the Americans but by other countries. Indict employed six, sometimes seven, full-time people and had an office directly across the river that was staffed throughout a seven-year period. I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to repeat that untruth; it was not run from the House of Commons.
I am more grateful for that intervention than the right hon. Lady can imagine. It now turns out that the organisation of which the complainant was a member was funded not by one foreign country but by several, and so handsomely that it could afford to employ seven people in an office just across the river. How extraordinary that is.
Order. I know that it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman, who is frowning. I have a difficult job this evening, but I say to him that it is one thing to mention an organisation in passing, but he is now entering into a full-blown debate about the organisation. We should get back to the report.
This is a question of double standards. It is about the fact that I am being thrown out of the House for running a campaign about Iraq that sometimes used parliamentary facilities and was funded by foreigners. It is based on a complaint by a member of an organisation that campaigned about Iraq, undoubtedly used from time to time some parliamentary facilities, and was funded by not one but several foreign countries. That is my point: the double standards give rise to the injustice. I had not intended to spend as much time on the organisation Indict, but two members of it have intervened, which has expanded what I had to say on this subject.
My real point is not about Indict, but about the Iraqi opposition figures that the hon. Member for Blaby was hanging out with during his time across the river in Lambeth with Ann Clwyd and Indict. Let us speculate on who these Iraqi opposition figures might be. Might they be the Iraqi opposition figures that put us into so much trouble in the run-up to the war? Might they be the Iraqi opposition figures who fabricated and forged their way into this House, the White House, Congress and Whitehall with their canards that have led us to the pass that we are in, and which we cannot avoid discussing this evening? Might they be the Iraqi opposition figures—
Order. I know it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to take a telling, but he must get back to the report. He is entering into the detail of an organisation called Indict and he is not allowed to do so. He must obey my ruling.
So you keep saying; having told me you would protect me, we are now getting to the stage where you are going to have to throw me out of Parliament prematurely because—
The hon. Member, having wilfully disregarded the authority of the Chair, was named by Mr. Speaker, pursuant to
That Mr. George Galloway be suspended from the service of the House— [ Ms Harman . ]
Question again proposed.
Let me begin by dispersing some of the smokescreen that Mr. Galloway constructed as he sought to divert attention from the issue that is at the heart of the debate and that appears on the front of the report: the conduct of the hon. Gentleman.
Let me make one thing absolutely clear. As fellow parliamentarians, we defend absolutely the right of free speech. We said as much in our report; as far as we are concerned, the hon. Gentleman has the right to hold and express his views and use any legitimate means to pursue them. That applies as much to his views on sanctions as it does on anything else. He has stated that my Committee is pro-sanctions and pro-war. As a matter of fact, of the nine members who signed the report, five voted in favour of the war and four did not.
The hon. Gentleman further asserted that he is being suspended because he robustly defended himself. Not so. The problem with his defence was not that it was robust; it was that it was not credible. He has accused us of being a kangaroo court composed of his political opponents, incapable of reaching an objective conclusion. As an aside, one member of the Committee is a Welsh nationalist, a party that has no ambitions on Bethnal Green and Bow.
What the Committee does mind about is our duty to maintain the reputation of the House. Nothing could more damage that reputation than if a Committee of this House were to dispense summary justice in a partisan manner to settle political scores. None of us will be complicit in that, least of all—if I may say so, and without wishing to embarrass him—Mr. Mullin, who has a justified reputation for championing the causes of those who have been wrongly accused. It would, however, damage the House's reputation if we were to fail to uphold our own rules and code of conduct. We have addressed this case objectively and impartially—as we have addressed all cases since I became a Committee member.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has asserted that since he has
"been cleared of taking a single penny or in any way personally benefiting from the former Iraqi regime" the complaint should fail. What the commissioner actually said—and what the Committee endorsed—was that no evidence had emerged from the inquiry that shows whether the hon. Gentleman has
"directly and personally, unlawfully received monies from the former Iraqi regime".
The commissioner did, however, find clear evidence that his former wife, with whom he shared a joint account, had received two substantial sums from the oil for food programme.
Where the money for the Mariam appeal came from and where it ended up is of interest to the House. This is not a debate about party political funding, as the hon. Gentleman maintains. It is about openness, accountability and integrity, and it is also about our rules on advocacy. We know that the hon. Gentleman was, by his own admission, in charge of the Mariam campaign and that that was, in his words,
"a campaigning organisation campaigning for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq."
We know that it had total resources of £1.4 million, only a fraction of which was used for the treatment of Mariam herself. The central issue before us is: when the hon. Gentleman argued in this Chamber against sanctions on Iraq, did he know—and therefore was the House entitled to know—that the vehicle for that campaign was funded in part by Saddam Hussein? The evidence led us to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman solicited the funds, was instrumental in securing them, directed their expenditure and was complicit in trying to conceal their true origin. Let me briefly explain how the commissioner and the Committee reached that conclusion.
I should first put on record our thanks to the commissioner for his painstaking work, and state that I bitterly resent the hon. Gentleman's gratuitous and offensive attack on him. This inquiry was the longest running, and probably one of the most complex, ever undertaken by any commissioner. A number of unusual features contributed to the complexity: the overlap with the interests of other bodies, such as the Volcker committee and the Charity Commission; the foreign dimension; the difficulty in authenticating documents; language issues; and unobtainable witnesses. I am also grateful to the Committee. It has discussed the case on five separate occasions for a total of between nine and 10 hours and has reached a unanimous conclusion.
At the heart of the debate are the so-called Telegraph documents. Their discovery led to the articles that gave rise to the complaint, and their authenticity and credibility was the key question we had to answer. What did the documents say? They are printed in full on pages 8 to 11 of volume II of the report, and I shall quote extracts referring to reports of meetings that concern the hon. Gentleman. First, the intelligence chief's memorandum says that the hon. Gentleman's
"projects and future plans for the benefit of the country need financial support to become a motive for him to do more work and because of the sensitivity of getting money directly from Iraq it is necessary to grant him oil contracts...his only representative on all matters relating to the Mariam Campaign is Mr. Fawaz Abdullah Zureikat and the two partners have agreed that financial and commercial matters should be done by"
"with emphasis that the name of Mr. Galloway or his wife should not be mentioned later...Therefore he needs continuous financial support from Iraq...he suggested to us the following...first increase his share of oil."
A later document, known as the Tariq Aziz memorandum, states:
A translation of the presidential response gives an order that the hon. Gentleman's request be studied:
"But the belief is that the person who is promoting the right path, even using western methods, needs exceptional support which we cannot afford."
The final document is the Izzat Ibrahim document. It recommends:
"continuing the co-operation with George Galloway about the oil contracts and other commercial contracts...It is better not to engage the Mukhabarat"— the Iraqi intelligence service—
"in the relationship with George Galloway, as he has been a well known politician since 1990 and discovery with the Mukhabarat would damage him very much."
If true, those documents have serious implications both for the hon. Gentleman and the House. My Committee and the commissioner have seen the documents in their entirety—all 2,500-plus pages of them. The hon. Gentleman has chosen not to do so, despite a range of opportunities during both the libel proceedings and our own inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman denounces the documents as fakes or forgeries. Let us examine that proposition. He asserts that some, or possibly all, of the Telegraph documents were not found in the burnt-out Foreign Ministry building in Baghdad, as the journalist David Blair described in sworn testimony during the libel proceedings and confirmed in evidence to the commissioner, and as has been independently confirmed by other witnesses. Instead, the hon. Gentleman asserts that they were handed to David Blair by agents of our intelligence service. On that scenario, those behind his alleged plot would have needed not only to have operated a shadow office over a period of some four years to create 2,500 documents of the wide-ranging appearance found by Mr. Blair, but also somehow to have stolen the various original documents in the files without arousing any suspicion from the Iraqi authorities who held them. This incredibly sophisticated, dangerous and expensive exercise would have been undertaken by the very agency whose energies at the time were primarily focused on a search to discover whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The House might agree that that seems to be a wholly disproportionate effort for our security forces to have expended to silence a Back Bencher, however troublesome.
The other proposition advanced by the hon. Gentleman is that the shadow office that produced the fakes or forgeries might have been run by someone within the then Iraqi regime, but that is even more far-fetched. Is it likely that at a time when the country faced the imminent threat of invasion so much resource would have been committed at the highest level to a plot using extraordinarily skilful forgery techniques, to bring down one of the few friends the then regime had—and a plot whose ultimate success, undertaken for motives never explained, depended on Mr. Blair or some other inquisitive journalist happening to come across the documents among a mass of files on the floor of one room in one specific Iraqi Government building following a successful coalition invasion, assuming of course that they survived the process? I have seen all the documents in the files—the several originals as well as the copies, including documents certified as true by the hon. Gentleman, and all the many post-it notes and annotations in Arabic on them, and the careful indexing—and I and the Committee were struck by the sheer implausibility of the forgery or fake theory.
We then addressed the alternative theory: that the documents were authentic. We went to some trouble to do so. Mr. Oliver Thorne, the head of the questioned documents group at LGC, a leading forensic science firm, and also the man originally instructed by the hon. Gentleman's legal representatives in his libel action against The Daily Telegraph, was asked to conduct a forensic analysis of the documents. His conclusions are to be found at document 32 in volume II of our report. They are as unequivocal as any careful scientist is likely to be. Mr. Thorne found that neither the possibility that all the documents are forged, nor the possibility that some forged documents were later seeded among genuine ones, is at all credible. In short, the hon. Gentleman's various accounts of the origin of the Telegraph documents are not underpinned either by the evidence or by expert opinion. Indeed, as he admitted when he gave oral evidence to us—an exchange that was more productive than that with the Senate sub-committee—even he could not give us a reason why we should have preferred his version of events. He promised us proof of his case, but never provided it. He mentioned to the commissioner that he had information of nuclear importance. That information turned out to be a damp squib. So the commissioner and the Committee were driven to the conclusion that the documents were authentic and that the story they told was credible. I am not saying that every fact in every document is accurate, but—putting all the evidence carefully assembled by the commissioner together—a coherent, plausible and convincing sequence of events emerges.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Committee felt that it was able to come to its views on, I understand, a balance of probabilities, rather than the stiffer test that has been used in some other deliberations by the Committee?
The commissioner, in his report, sets out why he chose the balance of probabilities. Unless one is involved in a criminal case, that is the criterion that is normally used, and it is the one that we used. Having said that, if I had to put the case on a spectrum, it would have been more than just the balance of probabilities. The Committee would take the view that it was nearer the top end than the middle end.
Our conclusion was underpinned by two further considerations. First, it was underpinned by other evidence. For example, the allocations by the Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organisation on page 75 of volume I show allocations in the name of the Mariam campaign, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow and Mr. Zureikat. There was evidence from the United Nations that the oil allocated in those names had been lifted. All that and much other circumstantial evidence pointed to the conclusion that the hon. Member's campaign against sanctions through the Mariam appeal was in effect supported for a substantial period by the former Iraqi regime, through Mr. Fawaz Zureikat and the oil for food programme. As the commissioner concluded, he chose at best to ignore what was going on, but more probably was complicit in it.
The second consideration was the translation of the minute of the hon. Member's meeting with Saddam Hussein on
"Mr Tariq Aziz has helped us with his contacts and has used his influence to facilitate our job and facilitate the mechanism by which we have been able to obtain the funding necessary to finance our activities. But we are now suffering from the problem of the price of oil which has resulted in a reduction in our income and delay in receiving our dues."
The hon. Member has applied the same conspiracy theory to that document, whose provenance is explained in appendix 3 to volume I of our report, and has denied that that interview was ever recorded. However, as the appendix shows, we received credible evidence that the so-called private meetings with the President were routinely recorded and transcribed. The Committee concluded that this was important independent confirmation of the story that emerged from the Telegraph documents.
The hon. Member sought to portray himself as a passive spectator, neither knowing nor even asking where funds for the Mariam appeal came from. The House may well ask whether that was a wise stance for any hon. Member to take in circumstances in which £1.4 million was levered in largely to support campaigning for one of that Member's political objectives. All the evidence, however, points in the opposite direction. The hon. Member was an active player on the field—complicit in the procuring of the funds and in covering up their provenance. In so doing, he deceived the public and he deceived this House.
I turn now to one other aspect of the hon. Member's conduct that concerned the Committee—his habit of blackening the names of those who gave evidence against him. Using parliamentary privilege, the hon. Member in effect accused David Blair of perjury. In his Adjournment debate on
"that Mr. Blair was not led to those documents but had merely chanced upon them while wandering around a looted and burning building, and that he had found all of the documents published by the Telegraph in the same place, at the same time and in the same box, is quite simply a lie."—[ Hansard, 8 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 144.]
If the hon. Member was right, and his assertion had been proved to the relevant standard, David Blair could have gone to prison.
In the same debate, he attributed a claim to another journalist—Philip Sherwell of The Sunday Telegraph—which, if true, would have undermined Mr. Blair's story. When approached by the commissioner, however, Mr. Blair insisted that everything the hon. Member had said about him was untrue. Mr. Sherwell said that his comments had been misrepresented during the hon. Member's contribution to the Adjournment debate. The commissioner asked, as did we, the hon. Member for evidence to substantiate the serious allegations he had made about the integrity of Mr. Blair. He never provided it. He relied in making those allegations on second-hand evidence that he claimed to have received from another journalist whose name he has consistently declined to provide in a way that would enable anyone to attempt to corroborate his story.
The hon. Member has asserted on several occasions that we should award him a medal for his part in these events. That action was the action not of a hero, but of a bully. As the Committee pointed out, the hon. Member has given inconsistent evidence on a number of occasions in the course of this inquiry—including on important points such as whether he was ever a signatory of a Mariam appeal bank account. So he himself has failed to observe the standards that he demanded of others.
The hon. Member finally accepted in oral evidence to the Committee last month, that it would have been wiser to have registered the Mariam appeal, and individual donations above the registration threshold. He also accepted, and apologised to us for, his failure consistently to observe his obligations to declare his interest in the Mariam appeal. The Committee also felt that the extent to which resources provided by the House at public expense to assist the hon. Member in discharging his parliamentary duties were used to run the Mariam appeal was excessive.
The hon. Member's partial apology for those more technical offences, although welcome, does not address the seriousness of the overall charges against him. The manner of his dealings with the Iraqi Government was such as to lead him to breach the advocacy rule and the Nolan principles of openness, honesty and accountability. That is why my Committee is recommending more than the apology to the House that the more technical offences alone would warrant. The hon. Member has fundamentally and consistently fallen short in a number of important respects of the specific standards the House expects of its Members. Perhaps most seriously of all, despite the lengthy inquiry, the overwhelming weight of the evidence and the unanimous judgment of colleagues drawn from four political parties, he still remains trapped in a fantasy world of conspiracies and victimisation for his political beliefs.
Today marks the end of an inquiry that began more than four years ago. It has been the subject of the most exhaustive and painstaking inquiry ever undertaken by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is entirely independent of the political process. His findings that the hon. Member has consistently denied, prevaricated and fudged in relation to the now undeniable evidence that the Mariam appeal—and he indirectly through it—received money derived, via the oil for food programme, from the former Iraqi regime, have been upheld unanimously by a Committee that has interviewed the hon. Member, seen the evidence and cross-examined the expert witness.
The hon. Member is entitled to defend himself vigorously. What has sunk him is not his vigour, his oratory or his views. What has sunk him is the evidence. Neither he nor any other Member is entitled to abuse the privilege of free speech in this Chamber to malign those outside this House, to distort and manipulate the facts to suit his argument in an attempt to mislead the House and the public or to breach the integrity of the House's conduct arrangements while doing so. We have recommended to the House a response, which lies on the Order Paper, that we believe to be fair and proportionate. I invite the House to endorse it.
I shall be brief because I do not have much to add to the contribution of the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, on which I have sat since the general election of 2005, in terms of the conduct of Mr. Galloway. I wish to put into context his case for the defence. He brought up an event that occurred in 1990, when I spoke out having read an internal report of the National Union of Mineworkers about the misapplication of funds by its then president, Arthur Scargill. As a consequence of my speaking out and the internal report, nearly £750,000 was returned to the NUM, although many millions of pounds remain today in foreign bank accounts. I know not what will become of that.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman brought that issue up. He suggested that I was some sort of emissary of Robert Maxwell. I met Robert Maxwell on two occasions, when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in the 1980s, and that was probably two occasions more than I would have wished to meet him. I have never been his mouthpiece, nor indeed anybody's mouthpiece, in this place, and it is not worthy to make such a case for the defence. It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman is not here to hear that.
None of us goes away without being touched by events when we are on Committees. I chair the Select Committee on Health, and Committee members are touched by events, by witnesses' accounts and by the evidence that is given. Some of the case for the defence that we have heard today is not credible—it never has been—and I would urge hon. Members to read the evidence that was put before the Committee before reaching the conclusion that it was credible.
The hon. Gentleman brought in a series of events that had little to do with how we found against him in the report and what we found. The standard of proof was the right one, because the Committee is not a criminal court. This case does raise issues in relation to the criminal court, which those who investigate criminal matters ought perhaps to look at, but that is certainly not something that the Standards and Privileges Committee did, and nor did the commissioner—he does not work to that level. No matter what the standard of proof, however, there was no question but that the hon. Gentleman had got money indirectly from the oil for food programme, and I do not think that anybody can question that, given the evidence before us in the report. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman solicited that money from Mr. Zureikat—not Tony Zureikat, and I would agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's analysis of him as an individual—but Fawaz, his brother, which was a different thing altogether—[Hon. Members: "Cousin."] Sorry, his cousin. Fawaz Zureikat had a note of introduction from the hon. Gentleman so that he could go to Iraq and do the business as far as the Mariam appeal was concerned.
As the Chairman said, the hon. Gentleman said on two occasions that he was wrong not to register, and he clearly should have done that. However, although he said that he felt that he was wrong on two occasions, he has not done so since the report was published last Tuesday and he has not done so again in the House today. The Committee's recommendation, which is before the House today, is that he apologise to the House and be suspended from its service for 18 sitting days. I have not yet heard whether we will get to vote on the 18 days now, but I would genuinely like to think that the hon. Gentleman will come to terms with the House and how it protects people's freedom of speech. It has protected mine in the past and it will protect his if what he says is well intended, although I do not think that that we are there yet as far as he is concerned.
I do not usually speak in debates such as this, although I am a member of the Committee. However, in the light of the attacks mounted by Mr. Galloway, I think that I ought to say a few words.
First, the commissioner had the patience of an absolute saint, given the terrible provocations that he was subject to during the inquiry. I have the utmost respect for the way in which he rose above them and conducted himself with complete dignity and objectivity in producing his report.
I should also like to say something about my Committee colleagues. Our Committee is set up with no party in the majority. It is chaired by an Opposition Member to try to ensure that we have a fair balance. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman says is that he should be tried by a Committee of his friends and, indeed, that any of us should be tried by a Committee of friends. That is not how it should be; the proceedings should be objective.
When I was first appointed to the Committee six years ago—I think that I am the longest-serving member of the Committee along with our Chair—I did not volunteer, but had my arm twisted. I was told that the Committee wanted lawyers because we could be seen to be objective and would follow the evidence because that is what we were trained to do. I am not surprised by the personal attack that we saw today, because it is typical of the hon. Gentleman's bullying style. However, he seems to want to deny me my right to free speech and to speak for Israel in the House, while at the same time claiming his right to speak for Iraq—a right that I am prepared to defend, even if he is not prepared to defend my right to free speech, as our report says.
It is typical of the hon. Gentleman that he uses parliamentary privilege to smear those with whom he disagrees—whether it is a Telegraph journalist or those of us in the House—with allegations of bias, such as those against me. However, I would simply say one thing. Over the years that I have been on the Committee, we have had to decide many cases involving Members from both sides of the House, including from my own party. As a whole, members of the Committee tend to be harder on those from their own side than on those from the other side, even when we sometimes find ourselves having to judge those whom we might regard as friends. The fact is that I approached this case no differently from any other on which I have sat, and there have been quite a few. We follow the evidence, we follow the precedent and we go where the evidence takes us, as with the strong evidence in this case and the huge files of documents that we saw and examined in detail, with the benefit of expert advice and opinion—documents that the hon. Gentleman could not be bothered to view himself. We put our party politics and personal views to one side and make our views known, and our decision is made on the basis of the evidence. That is what we did in this case.
These are always difficult debates for this place, Mr. Speaker, and as you evidenced, they are difficult for the Chair. We respect and understand that and therefore always come to such debates carefully.
I want to say two preliminary things about the process. When the present commissioner was appointed, he came here with an extremely good reputation, and nothing that he has done since has suggested that he has not entirely sustained that reputation. Indeed, when you, Mr. Speaker, announced to the House that he was to retire at the end of the year, that was regarded with sadness in a way, but a considerable amount of respect and thanks also went to him, and we have to bear that in mind.
The Chairman of the Committee said that the inquiry was the most difficult he had been asked to do and, on all the evidence, it was the most difficult piece of work the Committee had been asked to do—certainly in recent years. I hope that we will all give the commissioner the thanks he deserves; it was not an easy task and his report is evidence of that.
Secondly, I endorse what colleagues have said about the Committee. When we look at the list of members, we do not find many who are not robust and independent-minded colleagues, and they come to the Committee with that reputation. Of course, they come with political views, but experience shows that they do an extremely fair and balanced job on behalf of all of us. Unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary—and there is not—we should all be clear that the Committee came to the commissioner's report afresh and formed its own view. On behalf of my colleagues, I thank all those who served on the Committee on this case, which was difficult, and others.
I did not want to intervene more than once while the Chairman of the Committee was speaking, and he kindly answered my question, but I have some factual questions, two of which are for clarification and one other on which he may be able to help me. First, it is implied but nowhere said that before any colleague is called to appear before the Committee, or chooses to do so, they can be legally advised. It is not explicitly stated, but my understanding is that if Mr. Galloway wanted to take legal advice at any stage he could do so. I assume that it is implicit, too, that the Committee could take legal advice if it wanted to do so before coming to a view. That is an important point and I hope that the Chairman can clarify it.
Secondly, I have looked back at debates since the war on reports from the Committee or its predecessors. Many recommendations for suspension have been made, from short periods of two days to periods of a month, but an 18-day suspension has never been recommended and I wondered whether there was a reason why the Committee chose that period on this occasion.
I had not planned to intervene but perhaps I could answer the hon. Gentleman's questions. Of course, Members can take legal advice if they are under investigation and both the Committee and the commissioner have access to legal advice if we need it. The hon. Gentleman asked why we had recommended 18 sitting days. If the recommendation had been a month, when we did not know whether the House might be about to adjourn or go into a recess, we would not have been sure for how long the Member would actually be suspended. By setting an 18-day period, it is absolutely clear how many days the Member will not be in the House.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his clear answers on those two matters.
The third matter, which is only partly for the right hon. Gentleman but which was also raised, is that it is of concern to all Members and you more than anyone, Mr. Speaker, that it appears that the report was leaked before it was brought to the House. You have taken a very clear view about that in all your rulings, and I hope that the investigation that the right hon. Gentleman has initiated will be pursued with all the seriousness that we would expect. Whoever the people concerned and whatever the issue, we must be very clear that it is unacceptable that reports on any matter from Committees of the House go into the public domain in that way. I hope that that investigation will be brought to a speedy but fair and stern conclusion.
I want to make a couple of comments on the report itself. It is very clear from the recommendations and evidence that the judgment on the amount of campaigning done by the hon. Gentleman from the House was well based on the evidence. There is always a question of degree about how much colleagues do things here that trespass into their other political lives, but the evidence in the report is clear that the Mariam appeal was effectively run from here for eight months. The evidence is that it used a considerable amount of resource—people and so on—and that is a warning to all of us. I hope that that has been made clear, and the report reached an entirely reasonable conclusion on that matter.
My understanding is that we also have a system that makes it clear that, if there is any doubt about whether an activity should be declared at the beginning of a debate, when we table questions or in the register, there is now a process for checking that. Constituents sometimes come to us and plead ignorance for not declaring finances in a benefits case. That may be entirely understandable, but here we have a very clear system: where there is any doubt, there is a process for establishing whether we ought to declare. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman said that he was aware at some stages that he needed to make declarations. It is pretty clear that, even if he was denying some of the things, there was a process for clarifying whether he should be on one side of the line or the other, and he clearly failed to do that. None of us has taken a personal view. It is not a view based on the fact that the hon. Gentleman is a member of one party or has left another; it is a view based on the evidence.
On behalf of my colleagues, I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for their assiduous work in a very difficult case. This will be the end of a long and extended inquiry, made longer by legal proceedings. In the normal tradition of the House, although such matters are never whipped in any corner of the House, I shall certainly support the recommendation of the Committee, because it is absolutely against all our interests if we set up a cross-party, independently minded Committee to look into these things and it does a job over weeks and months, on advice, with a senior person helping, and we do not follow its recommendation. It was a unanimous report, and I assume and hope that the House will support it in the same way.
I wish to make only a few brief remarks on this matter. It is always with great regret that the House debates motions that relate to the standard of behaviour of a Member, and it does so only after a proper process of investigation, first, obviously, by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and then by the members of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. In this case, those processes have been properly followed and both the commissioner and the Committee have come to their decisions after a considerable period of investigation and consideration.
The members of the Committee are drawn from the House; they are our peers. We appoint them, we ask them to do this job, and we are grateful to them for undertaking this work on our behalf. I entirely refute the suggestions made by Mr. Galloway that they conduct themselves with anything other than absolute integrity in doing that job on our behalf.
I should also like to pay tribute to Sir Philip Mawer, who has conducted himself in all his inquiries in his position as commissioner with both rigour and integrity. This was a lengthy and complex case, and he should be commended for his hard work and the commitment that he has shown to his task sometimes in the face of considerable provocation, as has been made clear by my right hon. Friend Sir George Young.
My right hon. Friend has properly explained how the Committee came to its decision on the charges made, and it is absolutely clear in the report and it has been made clear this evening that, although some of the charges could have been rectified by an apology, there was certain conduct by the hon. Gentleman that the Committee considered damaged the reputation of the House. I want to make a brief remark on that aspect.
Self-regulation in the House works only as long as all hon. Members are willing to respect the process of scrutiny that has been established by the House. We ask the commissioner to do a job on our behalf. He can do that job only if we all comply with his requirements and are willing to submit ourselves to his inquiries when required to do so.
I note that, in paragraph 352 of the report, the commissioner says:
"I believe that any objective reading of the record of my correspondence and interviews with Mr. Galloway will show that he has consistently failed to live up to the expectation of openness and straightforwardness in responding to questions and in other dealings which is critical to the continued effectiveness of the House's self-regulatory conduct regime."
The reputation of the House depends on our willingness and ability to undertake that self-regulatory regime properly. The Committee has clearly found that, in failing to meet the standards required, the hon. Gentleman brought that process into disrepute and damaged the reputation of the House. I certainly intend to support the motion tonight and encourage all hon. Members to do so.
As Mrs. May says, it is always with great reluctance that the House has to debate a motion of this kind. It does so only after a full process of investigation and consideration by a recognised due process. The Committee on Standards and Privileges, following the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, published its sixth report of the 2006-07 Session, entitled "Conduct of Mr. George Galloway", last week.
The Government have arranged this debate at a time when Mr. Galloway could be present and as soon as practicable. The debate has considered the consequences of the hon. Gentleman's actions in relation to the standards of conduct that are set out by the House and that the public who elected us expect us all to uphold.
The hon. Gentleman's actions in relation to the matters before us have been investigated by the commissioner and then considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. I, too, thank the commissioner, Sir Philip Mawer, for his hard work and commitment to the inquiry. I also thank Sir George Young, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and all hon. Members who serve on that Committee for their work on behalf of the House.
The Committee has concluded that the hon. Gentleman has failed to meet the standards expected and that his conduct in certain specific areas has
"in our view damaged the reputation of the House" to such an extent that a suspension is called for. The right hon. Gentleman has explained the reasons for the Committee's view and for the specific term of the proposed sanction. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House—
(i) approves the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 909); and
(ii) accordingly suspends Mr George Galloway, Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, from the service of the House from Monday 8th October for a period of eighteen sitting days; and in calculating that period paragraph (3) of