Standards and Privileges

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 23rd July 2007.

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Photo of George Galloway George Galloway Respect, Bethnal Green and Bow 6:02 pm, 23rd July 2007

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.

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