Dr Julian Lewis: I am delighted to have secured this Adjournment debate, and I am touched by the fact that so many  colleagues have stayed behind to listen to it at this extremely late hour [11.05 pm].
On 12 March a letter arrived in my party leader’s office, complaining about my registering anonymously rather than publishing my address on the New Forest East electoral roll. That is a basic security precaution, taken because of the work that I did before, and to some extent after, becoming an MP, against political extremists at home and abroad. The letter demanded to know:
“Who are these political extremists and who has sanctioned such involvement of a sitting MP?”
It ended with the following pretentious declaration:
“I view this matter extremely seriously and have therefore also written to Jonathan Evans the Director General of Security Services” [sic] (MI5), Sir John Scarlett Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and Mr Alex Marshall the Chief Constable of Hampshire, in an effort to throw some light on this situation.”
Nonsense of this sort can safely be ignored when it comes from the cranks with whom we occasionally have to deal. In this case, however, the author is a Liberal Democrat prospective Parliamentary candidate, a 63-year-old retired military policeman who aims to oppose me at the next General Election. His name is Terry Scriven, and his previous attempt to compromise my home address was drawn to the House’s attention on 22 July last year. Since then, his campaign to blacken my name has intensified, most recently with the connivance of the News of the World. It has therefore become necessary to return to this subject.
I realise that the Deputy Leader of the House will not be able to address my situation in detail, and he knows that I can give him only a little time in which to reply, but I trust that he will confirm that not just the press but even political opponents have a duty to show some restraint where the personal security of Parliamentarians is at stake. What has happened to me illustrates the mischief that malicious adversaries can make.
In setting their prospective candidate’s antics on the record, I mean no disrespect towards Liberals in my constituency in general. I have worked with Liberal Democrats to save community hospitals, and even now I am working with their group leader on the district council on an issue on which we agree. Several of them have told me privately of their dismay at Terry Scriven’s tactics.
I have previously fought three General Elections in the New Forest without experiencing anything comparable to the events of the past few months. In 1997, when my seat had just been formed, the Liberal Democrat candidate was a New Forest District Councillor, George Dawson. He fought a clean campaign. In 2001, my Liberal Democrat opponent was a County Councillor called Brian Dash. I had worked with him on a cross-party basis to oppose the construction of a container port on sensitive land at Dibden Bay. Before the 2001 election, I spoke to Mr Dash about my constituency home. I told him my address and explained that if he looked it up on the electoral roll, he would find that as a basic security precaution, I was registered under a nom de plume. I added that that was by arrangement with the electoral registration officer at the District Council, and I invited him to visit my home so that he could satisfy himself that it was genuine. He assured me that no such visit was necessary, that he fully appreciated why I had made the special registration arrangements and that they would never be an issue between us in an election campaign.
Brian Dash kept his word, not only in the 2001 campaign but in the 2005 campaign, when he stood against me for a second time. By then, my seat had become a target for the Liberal Democrats and that campaign was not clean. ‘Tacticalvoter.net’, a left-wing group, infiltrated the local Labour party and installed Stephen Roberts as the Labour candidate. He worked hand in glove with the Liberal Democrats to try to oust me. Yet, despite the bitterness of that battle, the Liberal candidate, Brian Dash, kept his promise not to make an issue of the steps that I had taken to protect my home address.
Following my improved majority in 2005 – which may have had something to do with Tacticalvoter.net – and a boundary change helpful to the Conservatives, I learned that the Liberal Democrats would not be targeting my seat next time. That is apparently why they allowed Terry Scriven to become their candidate, despite the fact that he lives miles away from New Forest East, on the far side of New Forest West, and has given no indication of moving into the constituency that he says he wishes to serve. Since becoming a prospective Parliamentary candidate in 2007, Mr Scriven’s impact on my constituency has been vanishingly small. Knowing that he cannot defeat me politically, he has gambled everything on trying to smear me personally.
When I worked as a political researcher in the 1980s and early 1990s, I spent a lot of time ferreting out facts about left-wing political opponents. For example, I am holding a 250-page directory of Labour Members of Parliament and left-wing causes, which was published in the run-up to the 1992 General Election. Yet nowhere in that book or in any of my other political research work will hon. Members find cases of my using personal rather than political information against any of the people featured. Indeed, until I encountered Mr Scriven, I had never felt it necessary to consider personal misbehaviour by a political opponent.
Last year, I began my campaign to neutralise the extraordinary decision of three High Court judges that MPs’ home addresses should be revealed in response to Freedom of Information requests. In part, the judges based their ruling on the fact that all General Election candidates had been required since the late 19th century to disclose a home address on nomination and ballot papers. We changed the law on MPs’ addresses by Statutory Instrument in July 2008 and we are in the process of doing the same on candidates’ addresses after the free vote on 2 March 2009. Significantly, the date of that vote was only 24 hours later than the smear story against me in the News of the World – I do not think that that was a coincidence.
I began the campaign to protect MPs’ home addresses by making a speech on 22 May 2008, in the debate on the Adjournment, and I openly referred to my practice of registering under a nom de plume by arrangement with the electoral registration officer. That gave Terry Scriven his first opportunity. As I now know, on 25 June 2008, he e-mailed the chief executive of New Forest District Council, Mr Dave Yates, who is in overall charge of electoral registration, as follows:
“As you are aware Julian Lewis MP, I am led to believe, lives at” –
he then gave my constituency home address –
“and is registered on the Electoral Role” –
typically spelt like that –
“under a false name (I am able to provide the name if helpful). Are you able to confirm that this is the case? Would you also state under which regulation this procedure is authorised and by whom? I am not trying to create any waves here just to understand facts so that I do not ask silly questions in public. I must also add at this moment I have no intention of making information I have in my position” –
I presume that he meant “possession” –
“if correct, public”.
Mr Yates replied that I had indeed registered in that way, by arrangement with the previous electoral registration officer, for reasons of personal safety. That had happened for a number of years but, Mr Yates told Scriven, now that a new system of ‘Anonymous Registration’ existed, I would be asked to use that instead of the nom de plume method in future.
On 11 July, Mr Scriven replied to the chief executive in the following apparently generous terms:
“Your email is very clear. I fully understand the reasons for Julian wishing to keep his private address confidential despite it appearing on the election forms and the agreement that was clearly entered into. I am sure both Julian and I understand the need for security.”
That was the first but by no means the last time that Mr Scriven professed to support me in keeping MPs’ home addresses confidential. However, his private conduct has been utterly incompatible with his public position.
As I told the House last July, New Forest District Council chief executive Dave Yates was contacted by a Sunday newspaper just seven days after Scriven’s supposedly supportive e-mail. The exchange of e-mails between Mr Scriven and Mr Yates had been leaked to a journalist called Ben Leapman – the very reporter leading the campaign for MPs’ home addresses to be published to all and sundry. The leak could have come only from Terry Scriven, if we exclude impropriety by the staff of New Forest District Council, which I am sure we can.
I have repeatedly asked Mr Scriven to explain why he approached Ben Leapman to investigate a supposed irregularity in my electoral registration arrangements, when he had indicated to Mr Yates that he fully accepted the need for those arrangements. Time and again, Mr Scriven has refused to answer that question. I have also asked him why he chose Ben Leapman as the journalist to approach, given that reporter’s hostility towards me for thwarting his efforts to force MPs’ addresses to be published. If Mr Scriven is sincere in his proclaimed support for my campaign to protect MPs’ home addresses, Mr Leapman is the last journalist in Britain whom he should have contacted. That question, too, Mr Scriven refuses to answer.
In the end, the Sunday Telegraph decided not to run Mr Leapman’s story, which simply tried to catch me out for having used a nom de plume for one year too long, rather than the new procedure of ‘anonymous registration’ that had succeeded it. But Scriven was undaunted. After trying to smear me in the Sunday Telegraph, he immediately wrote to the Chief Constable of Hampshire, demanding that I be criminally investigated for having registered in that way.
Mr Richard Bacon: That’s Liberal Democrats for you.
Dr Lewis: I agree. That despicable manoeuvre was carried out in full knowledge of the fact that my use of the nom de plume had been explicitly approved by the electoral registration officer. In any case, I had always accurately stated my real name on the voter registration form when signing it, while clearly indicating that the different name on the register was an agreed nom de plume.
Terry Scriven did not even have the decency to inform me of what he had done, but at once telephoned a local reporter in order to use the press to twist the knife that he had aimed at my back. Fortunately it missed its target, as the following report in the Lymington Times, dated 16 August 2008, makes clear. The headline is “Chief Constable Scorns Call for MP Investigation” and the story reads as follows:
“A political rival who reported a New Forest MP to the Police for the way he registered to vote has been blasted by the Chief Constable for wasting officers’ time. Liberal Democrat Terry Scriven – who will contest the New Forest East seat at the next General Election – had complained about a discrepancy in Conservative MP Julian Lewis’s habit of using a false name on the electoral roll, to keep secret where he lives for security reasons. But Mr Scriven’s action was scorned by Hampshire’s top policeman, Paul Kernaghan, who rejected his request for an investigation and said Dr Lewis had acted ‘in good faith’ on the advice of the District Council officer in charge of electoral registration. Mr Kernaghan wrote to the MP: ‘I sincerely hope that [Mr Scriven] will decide to move on, as it is my personal view that this “complaint” does not enhance our collective respect for democracy and the electoral process.’ ”
[HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear.”] I am glad that colleagues agree.
Mr Kernaghan continued:
“The employment of scarce police resources to investigate whether or not a technical breach of the legislation had taken place would be a total waste of effort and not in the public interest”.
After that outrageous episode, I realised that I was dealing with an extremely unscrupulous individual.
Some of the publicity surrounding Terry Scriven resulted in my being contacted by people who had previously suffered at his hands. Three were from the Military Police, but I cannot report what they said in language permissible in this Chamber. It boiled down to the fact that Terry Scriven’s conduct had shown him to be a devious and two-faced bully who operates in the dark and never owns up to what he has done. My experience has confirmed that assessment in every respect.
He blatantly refuses to answer any questions put to him about his own conduct, his sole response being to accuse me of trying to “intimidate” him by posing such questions. That is irony indeed, coming from a man who has to date put in no fewer than 16 Freedom of Information requests to the House of Commons, 12 of which directly relate to me and my staff. He has refused to say, inter alia, why he used the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to request – unsuccessfully – the address of my flat in London, given his repeated statements of support for my campaign against the disclosure of MPs’ home addresses. He has also refused to say why, when he tried to have me investigated by the police, he told the Lymington Times reporter that he had done so but did not tell me, or why he complained, also unsuccessfully, to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards about my Parliamentary Caseworker, but did not tell her about this. He would not say why, when he complained to Sir Neil Thorne about the frequency of my participation in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme – the AFPS – this was yet again done behind my back.
Sir Neil is admired in all parts of the House for setting up and running the AFPS. On 16 March this year, he wrote to tell me how much disruption Scriven’s vendetta was causing. Sir Neil states:
“Since my last correspondence with him, it has come to my notice that Mr Scriven has been in touch with at least six different officials about the Scheme…although I am not directly affected, those who are being asked to respond to these numerous questions about the AFPS are being deprived of time which they ought to be able to spend on operational matters. As you” –
that is me, Julian Lewis –
“seemed to be the target of Mr Scriven’s original questions, I wonder if you can throw any light on what is the basis for this barrage of further enquiries about the Scheme? Until now, the Scheme has enjoyed unparalleled cross-party support and I am frankly concerned that someone seems intent on trying to disrupt or in some way undermine it in pursuit of some personal political objective.”
The only advice I could give Sir Neil was that this manic and disruptive activity was part of a consistent pattern of behaviour that I have pieced together with the help of those who have encountered Terry Scriven in the past.
John Bercow: He’s a nutter.
Dr Lewis: Well, it’s not just that he’s a nutter.
In May 1999, Scriven was elected unopposed as one of half-a-dozen members of the Parish Council at Hyde in New Forest West, the constituency in which he lives. Although he was elected for a four-year term, he lasted just six months as a Parish Councillor. During that time, he attended only four of the first nine meetings and resigned at the tenth – which was his fifth – after constant disagreements with his colleagues.
The same happened when he was ‘elected’, again unopposed, to Ringwood Town Council in 2006 and put on the Planning Committee. He attended his first Council meeting on 26 July, but resigned from the Planning Committee on 25 October, only three months later, after a blazing row with the other members. In April 2007, the Mayor of Ringwood announced, with some relief, that Scriven would be stepping down from the Council completely.
Christopher Fraser: They’ll give him a peerage!
Dr Lewis: No, I do not think they will give him a peerage. His career as a Town Councillor in his local area in New Forest West had lasted less than nine months from beginning to end. This fiasco followed hard on the heels of an even shorter dalliance as a Trustee of an educational charity – the Vocational Training Charitable Trust – to whose board he had been formally elected at an annual general meeting on 4 October 2005. Such was his disruptive behaviour that, after attending only two meetings, he was twice asked to resign by the other trustees. He did so on 6 December, only two months later.
[HON. MEMBERS: “More! More!”] I must ask colleagues to restrain themselves, as I need to get through my speech in the time allowed.
All this shows a consistent pattern of deviousness and disruption. Normally, one would simply write Scriven off as a malevolent failure and put one’s faith in the good sense of the voters when the General Election is called. However, this brings me back to where I began, for Terry Scriven has finally had a success. He has managed to get the News of the World to publish a story falsely accusing me of hardly ever “visiting”, as it puts it, the home in my constituency where I have lived continuously for the past 11 years when I am not at Westminster. My genuine neighbours state, correctly, that I am constantly using my home; yet, unnamed people, described as “neighbours” and “locals”, supposedly told the newspaper that I am “HARDLY THERE” – the quote is all in capitals – enabling it to denounce me for claiming my Parliamentary allowance on my London flat, which I am perfectly entitled to do.
The newspaper’s story contained one factual item: the date on which I changed my main home designation from my flat in London to my house in my constituency. That had never been published before, but it had been disclosed by the House of Commons to Terry Scriven – and to nobody else – on 11 July 2008, at the same time as his Freedom of Information request for my home address in London was rightly rejected.
As Mr Scriven never responds to any questions that I put to him, other than to accuse me of trying to “intimidate” him by asking them, I had my solicitor write to him on 12 March pointing out that it appeared that
“the internal evidence in this false” –
News of the World –
“story demonstrates that you were the initiator of it”.
The letter gave him
“the opportunity (i) to deny any role in the concoction of the News of the World report and (ii) to explain how else the newspaper could have obtained knowledge of the change of designation in June 2004, which was disclosed by the House of Commons only to you”.
It concluded as follows:
“Our client intends presently to mention these matters publicly” –
I am doing that tonight –
“and is offering you this chance to put forward your explanation of events, before he proceeds…Our client’s questions are, of course, not intended in any way to intimidate you but are designed to provide you with a full opportunity to respond and to correct any alleged inaccuracies of fact before he comments publicly about your behaviour ... If we do not hear from you by 25 March 2009 our client will proceed as indicated, and people will be able to draw their own conclusions from your continued and persistent silence”.
Mr Scriven replied on 20 March stating that he had
“previously informed Dr Lewis on a number of occasions, in writing, that I find his actions intimidating ... I will place this latest letter with a growing pile of other letters, emails and a message left on my answer phone which I have received from Dr Lewis over a period of almost nine months”.
What Scriven did not do in this letter was to deny for one moment that he had indeed been the initiator of the News of the World smear. As my solicitor has now informed him, the only reason that a “pile of other letters” exists has been his own behaviour towards me and my staff, and his constant evasion of all questions put to him about it.
I have little doubt that at some point during the next General Election campaign Mr Scriven will seek to distribute, perhaps unattributably, and perhaps with its date removed in order to make it look current, large numbers of copies of the News of the World smear story against me – that is, assuming that decent Liberal Democrats who, unlike Terry Scriven, actually live in the New Forest East constituency, have not finally realised that they made a disastrous mistake in selecting as their candidate someone whose behaviour makes him unfit for any elected position in public life.
My only defence against the covert tactics of this man is to bring them out into the open in the hope of inoculating the community against their intended effects. I have given him numerous opportunities to explain and justify his conduct, and his only response has been to claim to feel intimidated by me – that is the classic refrain of the bully when an intended victim actually stands up to him.
What can we expect next? Will it be a press smear against Sir Neil Thorne or the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, or just another smear against me, as a Shadow Defence Minister, for daring to spend so much time with the military? Can we expect a demand for the abolition of Parliamentary privilege, so that hon. Members cannot rebut scurrilous critics such as Mr Scriven? Actually – I am not making this up – he has tried that one already. Perhaps we can expect a police raid on my home, because Terry Scriven feels “intimidated” by my asking him to confirm or deny his role in the News of the World smear?
I began by discussing Scriven’s preposterous letter to my party leader, which, typically, was labelled “In Confidence”, so that I should not see his latest attempt to disparage me. It revealed that Terry Scriven expects the Director-General of MI5 and the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service to tell him if I have ever been involved with either organisation. Perhaps he does not realise that, just as people who work with or for such bodies have a lifelong obligation of confidentiality towards them, the reverse is also true. I can only apologise to them, to the Chief Constable of Hampshire, to Sir Neil Thorne, and to everyone else whose valuable time is being wasted by intrusive and inappropriate correspondence from this person, who likes to describe himself as the ‘Prospective Member of Parliament’ for my constituency.
[HON. MEMBERS: “Never!”] I am glad that my hon. Friends say, “Never.”
This is a calculated effort to blacken my reputation in the eyes of my constituents. Thanks to the internet I have been able to respond quickly to the smears of the News of the World and to post the full documentation about Terry Scriven’s antics in a special section of my website so people can read them and make up their own minds. Despite the co-operation of a certain sort of journalist, I do not think that Mr Scriven will succeed in the end, but as he has to some extent poisoned the politics of New Forest East, I thank the House for this opportunity to expose his behaviour and to set it on the record.
[HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear!”]
[The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): This is far too much excitement for an Adjournment Debate. There is obviously also too much excitement in politics in the constituency of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis), although he rather lost me when he was going on about the Mayor of Ringwood, which sounds like a veterinary equine condition.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is not only one of the most fastidious Members, but one of the most respectful, and indeed the most fastidiously respectful of hon. Members. I have never found him intimidating, not even when he has been trying to be intimidating, so I am delighted that he has managed to see off the gentleman in his constituency. I am also fascinated by the idea of having a nom de plume. It sounds like having a nom de guerre, and again is far too exciting. I have also never known anyone be quite so public about being private about their address.
I can be dispassionate on this issue as mine is the only constituency in the country in which both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have lost their deposits on the same occasion. I, too, increased my majority at the last election, and I am sure that that had nothing to do with anything on the internet – [Laughter]. It pays to advertise.
We can agree on many issues in this debate. First, the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme should not be taken lightly. It has provided an invaluable service for many hon. Members, including me, who would otherwise know very little of the Armed Forces, and we should thank Sir Neil Thorne. Secondly, the security of all hon. Members and their families and staff – we should not forget them – is a very serious matter. There have been very serious incidents in the past that the Liberal Democrats and other parties have had to face. That is a matter for the whole House.
In my own case, I had a stalker turn up outside my front door in London who had to be removed by the police. He rang me up and asked, “Is that Chris Bryant?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’m Malcolm, I’m outside.” I told him to go away. He said, “I’m very submissive.” I used an expletive and he said, “I’m not that submissive.” The police took him away. On a second occasion, someone was sent to prison for harassment, not because they were particularly aggressive towards me, but because they were making it impossible for me to do my job at my surgery.
All hon. Members will be aware of cases in their constituencies where they have had to deal with people who have mental health problems or who are fixated on them. It is incumbent on the whole political community to work together to ensure that such situations do not infect the body politic.
The House took a clear decision, on a Free Vote, to change the law in relation to candidates and whether they had to put their full address on the ballot. It is permissive, and if people want to put their address on they can do so. There were 235 votes in favour of changing the law and only 176 against. We also introduced a Statutory Instrument under the Freedom of Information legislation to ensure that Members’ residential addresses could be kept secure for the obvious reasons that the hon. Gentleman has elucidated.
I think we can all agree that police time should not be wasted on nonsense such as this. We can also agree that a free press is absolutely vital, but with a free press must surely come the duty to be accurate, to tell the whole story and to give the opportunity for a right of reply.
Finally, and most importantly of all, politics is an honourable profession and it should be entered into honestly and with magnanimity. When we show magnanimity across the House, we earn the respect of all voters.
Question put and agreed to.]
[NOTE: FOR THE PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION'S CONDEMNATION OF SCRIVEN'S FALSE STORY IN THE 'NEWS OF THE WORLD', CLICK HERE, AND FOR SUBSEQUENT DEVELOPMENTS INVOLVING LEAPMAN, CLICK HERE AND HERE.]