I am aware that this is not a conduct debate and will therefore try to limit my remarks to why I believe the right hon. Member for Leicester East is at this time unsuitable for a role on the Committee to which he has been nominated, and to matters already on the public record and in the public domain. I am sure that should I cross the line or if my remarks are out of order, you will be as quick as always to advise and correct me, Mr Speaker.
I put on record that I have no objection to the appointment of Kate Green. In my view, it is unfortunate that her appointment has been linked with that of the other Member in question.
Mr Speaker, since I have been in this House, and on almost a weekly basis—from memory, it is usually on a Wednesday around about noon—you have reminded us how important the public perception of the workings of the House and the behaviour of its Members are in fashioning the public’s opinion of Parliament and our whole democratic system. You were quoted only last week, following the hugely successful Nottinghamshire event, as saying:
“There is a lot of evidence that people have a low opinion of politics and politicians”.
I agree, Mr Speaker, and that is unfortunately true. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Leicester East joining the Justice Committee will do anything to enhance the reputation and perception of Parliament among the public; indeed, it will do the opposite.
If that is the right hon. Gentleman’s belief, I suggest he speaks in the debate on behalf of the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Representing a Committee of the House reflects on this House. As a Member of the House, I have right to object.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could clarify to the House what the rights of Members of other parties—parties that do not have nominating rights—are in these matters now that we have changed our rules so that each party selects and nominates its preferred candidates.
It is the House that appoints to the Committee, and it is for the House to decide. It is on that basis that these matters are brought to the House and subject to motions moved by the Committee of Selection. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman’s long experience will tell him, it is normal and commonplace for these matters to go through without objection, but it is perfectly orderly for someone to object if he or she so wishes.
Order. I will come to the hon. Gentlemen —he will continue his speech in a moment. He himself anticipated the possibility that the Chair might take an interest if he were to cross the line between what was legitimate and orderly to say and what was not. Thus far, the hon. Gentleman has observed that distinction and, on that basis, I am content for him at this stage to continue.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is absolutely right that we have procedures, but we also have conventions, which evolve. The convention that has evolved in the House, as far as I am aware, is that each of the parties, within their own ranks, decides their members of the Committees, although the whole House votes, rightly or wrongly, on who the Chairs of the Committees should be. Therefore, gratuitously for a Member to try to disrupt that convention is extremely unfortunate, even if it might be just the right side of the Standing Orders.
I entirely understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I am not insensitive to him or to his point, which he has made with his usual force and eloquence. That said, a convention is one thing and a binding rule is another. I must simply make the point that, at this stage, Andrew Bridgen is in order. He may have offended the sensibilities of the right hon. Gentleman, and indeed departed from what is normal convention in this place, but he is at this stage in order.
Order. Mr McCartney, calm yourself. Be quiet, young man. We do not need to hear from you. You add nothing and you subtract from the proceedings. Mr Bridgen is perfectly capable of addressing these matters to the best of his ability and according to his own lights. He does not require a sedentary interjection from you.
I am here to try to address matters pertaining to the reputation of this House. If Mr Spellar wishes to make light of that, it is for his conscience, not mine. I am here to make my speech and force a vote, in which he will be at liberty to make his opinion known.
In July this year, the Home Affairs Committee published a report calling for the decriminalisation of soliciting by sex workers and of sex workers sharing premises. It also looked at the use of poppers. The Committee, at the time, was chaired by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Following the much publicised exposé in the Sunday Mirror, he decided—belatedly, in my view—to resign from his position. But here we are, only a relatively few weeks later, and the same Member seeks a position on the prestigious and influential Justice Committee while matters relating to his recent resignation remain unresolved.
I wrote to Scotland Yard on
It is fair to say that the right hon. Member for Leicester East has quite a history regarding parliamentary standards. He was subject to extensive inquiries by Elizabeth Filkin, the then commissioner, into allegations of misconduct in 2001 and 2002. He was suspended from the House for one month in 2002 for breaches of the MPs’ code of conduct. I do not intend to list all the right hon. Gentleman’s brushes with parliamentary standards as I do not wish to detain colleagues longer than necessary.
Further to my letter to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in which I urged Scotland Yard to liaise with Leicestershire police, it has been stated that four witnesses have confirmed that they were recently interviewed by Leicestershire police and that their inquiries have been going on for at least a year. Those inquiries concern allegations that the right hon. Member for Leicester East abused his position in public office—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. He will know that I take advice on these matters. Having treated of matters that are very much within the public domain until now, his speech has strayed from there. I have consulted on the matter and he is now treating of matters that are not in the same category. He must desist.
Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. Let me say clearly to the hon. Gentleman, and in terms that brook no contradiction, that he would be unwise to go into those matters. He has written to me and I have written back to him. I explained to him factually—factually—in a manner that cannot be disputed or gainsaid that it is not for the Speaker of this House to seek to persuade someone to step down as the Chair of a Committee because of suspicions that some people might have about him. That is not the role of the Speaker of the House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman were a more experienced Member, he would probably be aware of that fact. I urge the hon. Gentleman to focus on those matters which it is proper and legitimate for him to raise, and not upon those which it is not.
Thank you. Mr Speaker, you have often said that this place must reflect the society for which we make the laws—I agree with you. I respectfully point out to the House that in any other sphere of activity, a candidate with so much hanging unresolved over him would be very unlikely to be considered for such an important office. If the right hon. Gentleman were in the Chamber today, I would ask him to stand down from his nomination, but he is not, so I ask the House to reject his appointment. Otherwise, we cannot blame the great British public for having a low opinion of its politicians and its politics; we can only blame ourselves.
In conclusion, I will leave the House with this question. If the right hon. Member for Leicester East thought himself only last month not fit to be a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and given that the matters relating his resignation are, as I have explained, unresolved, what makes him think that he is a fit and proper person to be a member of the Justice Committee this month?
Before my hon. Friend draws his remarks to a conclusion, some correspondence has been referred to this evening. I wonder if he will say whether it is possible to publish that correspondence to ensure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have an opportunity to consider all of the facts.
Order. That is nothing to do with the debate, as I have just been advised by the Clerk of the House. Don’t frown at me, Mr Berry. I know the facts and you’re about to learn them. That is nothing to do with the debate tonight—point one. Secondly, there is no uncertainty or dubiety whatsoever about the correspondence between the hon. Gentleman and me. Indeed, I do not think there is any uncertainty at all about the advice that was proffered not just by me but by the Clerk of the House. Whether he wishes and is astute enough to take that advice is another matter.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend’s failed attempt to help in this debate.
It is clear that the right hon. Member for Leicester East felt the need to resign last month from the Home Affairs Committee. I think it would be a huge mistake for this House now to place him on the Justice Committee when he has so many questions to answer. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to vote against his appointment this evening.
The House divided:
Ayes 203, Noes 7.