CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

BUSINESS QUESTION – NORMAN BAKER'S ANTICS (1) – 5 March 2009

Dr Julian Lewis: May we have a statement from the Leader of the House herself on the basic standards of ethics expected from hon. Members when they endorse scurrilous charges in the press against the personal conduct of other hon. Members? I declare a personal interest in this, because the day before the vote on secrecy of Members' home addresses, an article appeared in the sleaziest tabloid in Britain, accusing me of hypocrisy, lying and abuse of the Parliamentary housing allowance. Those issues are for another time, but at the end of the article was a statement by an hon. Member whom I do not propose to name today, and who is not present even though I warned him that I was going to raise this issue. The article said that he

'fumed: "This is all further evidence that the second homes allowance has to be tightened up so the public can have confidence MPs only claim what they need".'

That was a clear endorsement of the charges. He has now written to me and said:

'I can confirm that I did not see the final story before it appeared and was unaware of much of its contents.'

I believe that this is despicable behaviour, and I would like a statement from the Leader of the House to advise hon. Members at least of basic standards of decency towards other hon. Members.

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): All of us as Members of this House know that we are fair game for rumbustious political debate; we expect that, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about allegations of wrongdoing, dishonesty and the like. In this Chamber, there are very strict rules which govern that people have to have some evidence before they throw mud. In terms of personal accusations, Members should not make allegations against other hon. Members outside the House; that maligns the reputation of hon. Members and the House as a whole. I have a lot of sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman says.]

* * *

[Mr Edward Leigh: My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is one of the most honourable, straightforward and honest Members of this House. A grave disservice was done to him on Monday night when his proposal was put to the vote without a proper debate. Since the Ballot Act 1872, which was one of the great achievements of the Victorians, there has been a requirement that one must put one's home address on the ballot paper. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Yes, since that Act – and as far as I know nobody has been attacked in their home. This matter is vitally important, because it is about the liberties of the people. Will the Leader of the House now commit to our having a proper debate on it?

Ms Harman: That Bill was dealt with in the usual way, and the question of the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker.]

[For later developments, click here.]