POINT OF ORDER – NORMAN BAKER'S ANTICS - 4 – 23 April 2009

Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On 1 March, the News of the World smeared me in a story about parliamentary allowances, based on a false claim that I “hardly visit” the home in my constituency where I have lived every week for more than a decade. That story is now before the Press Complaints Commission. It was given credibility by a clear endorsement by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who knows that I am mentioning him and was in this Chamber earlier today, but who could not possibly have known whether the specifics of the story were true or not.

Instead of apologising for not even consulting me first, the hon. Gentleman has claimed in correspondence that he gave only what he describes as “a generalised non-specific quote” that “does not even name” me, that he was “unaware of much of [the story's] contents” before commenting, that he has not accused me

“of breaking the rules or indeed doing anything wrong” 

and that he

“did not, for example, ‘fume' ”

about my behaviour as the newspaper alleged.

I have now seen the newspaper's evidence to the Press Complaints Commission. Its reporter, Jamie Lyons, states that

“before publication I had a lengthy telephone call with Mr Baker in which I went through in detail the specific allegations about [Julian] Lewis. He was then happy to give me the quote used in the story. I have spoken to Mr Baker since and he has absolutely no complaints about the quote.”

Is there any general guidance that you can give, Mr Deputy Speaker, about standards of decency and integrity to be adopted by hon. Members when publicly criticising the personal conduct of colleagues, particularly when the person making the criticism has previously claimed very large sums of money from the public purse, including tens of thousands of pounds to pay rent to himself for a constituency office inside his own main home?

[Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman's point of order is obviously not a matter with which the Chair can deal in detail. I will say to the House, however, that I think that all right hon. and hon. Members should be very careful in their dealings with the media, particularly when reference is made to colleagues in this House. On every occasion, colleagues in this House should deal with each other with the greatest possible care and respect.]

[For later developments, click here.]